First-Year Seminar (FP0003)

Fall 2019

First-Year Seminar fulfills the Seminar in Composition requirement and includes Academic Foundations (FP 0001).  Due to this, additional meetings and activities will occur outside of scheduled class times.  Academic Foundations is designed especially for first-term students as an introduction to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Through class work and out-of-class activities, students will gain knowledge of the educational opportunities at the University, the cultural events on and off campus, and an understanding of what it means to be a liberal arts student.  All students who enroll in this course will receive a free academic planner on the first day of class.

Class Number Day(s) Time Topic
22209 Monday and Wednesday 3:00 - 4:15 p.m. Rereading Popular Culture
18352 Tuesday and Thursday 9:30 - 10:45 a.m. Writing on Art and the Body
11364 Tuesday and Thursday 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.  Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness
11363 Tuesday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. Idle Hands: Devil's Workshop?
11362 Tuesday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. SciFi, Heroes, and Myth
11365 Wednesday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. The Urban Idea
11533 Thursday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. Netflix & Quill
16258 Thursday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. Writing the Spiritual

Rereading Popular Culture
Class Number 22209
Monday and Wednesday
3:00 - 4:15 p.m.
This seminar uses contemporary popular culture as its subject matter.  We are all immersed in popular culture, both experiencing it and authoring it.  Through an examination of the history and contexts of popular culture in the United States, we’ll discover how it has been formed into this all-pervasive construct.   We will explore film, television, video games, fashion, food, and other cultural phenomena that tell us a great deal about who we are individually and as a society.  We will also examine the extraordinary impact the digital age is having on our world, even as the Internet and the myriad devices we access it with continue to evolve at a rapid pace.  Through a series of reading and writing assignments, as well as out-of-class explorations, we will develop new lenses and ways of seeing the dynamic world we live in with the aim of becoming more curious, critical, and active participants in culture. 

Writing on Art and the Body
Class Number 18352
Tuesday and Thursday
9:30 - 10:45 a.m.
We live so much of our lives in our heads and on our phones, remembering the past and dreaming of the future. It’s a virtual life, a life lived in the ether. Yet our experiences are shaped by the bodies we inhabit: bodies that are seen, defined, and received by others. In this course, we will explore — through writing that is critical and creative — what it means to move through the world embodied. How does living in a female, male, black, trans, young, or differently-abled body shape our perspective? How are social movements and science changing the way we think about ourselves and others? In addition to reading and writing about art and the body, we’ll visit the Carnegie Museum and attend a live performance downtown. Expect to be enlivened and challenged as a writer and human being.

Fitness, Nutrition, Wellness
Class Number 11364
Tuesday and Thursday
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.
Gyms filled with rows of sweaty bodies pedaling on orange bikes at the commands of a headset-clad trainer. Apps that help us quiet our minds and connect with the present moment. Labels that detail the nutrients of every yogurt and frozen pizza we buy, and memoirs recounting the writer’s journey to qualify for the Olympics. Regardless of our own relationships to the body and mind, we live in a culture preoccupied with health. But how do we reconcile the benefits of attending to our wellness with the obsessions and confusions that this attention so easily morphs into? In this First-Year Seminar, we’ll explore how writers—including students in the course—can engage with our culture of health by addressing issues related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Through an intensive series of writing and reading assignments, we’ll consider questions such as: How can we write critically and creatively about health and wellness without falling into the traps of cliché and weak thinking? How does our writing on exercise and diet both reveal and influence our assumptions about the body and mind, about culture, and about the individual? How do different modes of “taking care of ourselves” intertwine with expectations of gender, class, and identity, and how can we use writing to investigate these relationships? We’ll support our primary intellectual work with physical activities appropriate for all skill levels, as well as excursions to events related to fitness and wellness around Pittsburgh.

Idle Hands: Devil’s Workshop?
Class Number 11363
6:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Most of you are in college with the goal of getting “good” jobs. We all must rise and work, and we expect to work eight hours a day, if not more. But why? The answer isn’t as simple as “That’s the way it is.” Why do we Americans work as hard as we do? What makes a wage “fair”? What makes a job meaningful or menial? Are people right to look down at layabouts? In this first-year seminar, we will discuss your experiences and the roots of your beliefs, and we will dig deeper into the politics and culture of work by reading essays, oral histories, and short stories. You, too, will write essays that argue, explore, and narrate. In your own oral history project, you will interview family members, friends, and strangers about what work means to them.

SciFi, Heroes, and Myth
Class Number 11362
6:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Heroes and myths are everywhere and science fiction is no exception. In fact, science fiction may expand our understanding of what heroes are, what myth and religion are, and ultimately what it means to be human. Through a variety of readings and viewings, we will consider the way science fiction creates and uses myths and heroes to complicate our understanding of the past, the present, and the future. We will examine the language of this “speculative” fiction and engage in essay writing that moves away from argumentation towards exploration and speculation. Because science fiction is so much a part of our experience in the 21st century, it provides a unique and metaphorical language to engage in new forms of college-level writing and boldly go beyond the structures of high school writing. This seminar would be of interest to someone with a strong interest in science fiction, mythology, the idea of a super-hero, and a familiarity with religious traditions.

The Urban Idea
Class Number 11365
6:00 - 8:30 p.m.
What is a city? This course, designed specifically for Freshman, will explore the many possible answers to that and other questions that investigate the nature of urban places. We will consider the urban idea in its past, present, and future incarnations and take a look at urban issues related to ethnicity/class/culture, gentrification, urban planning and architecture, sustainability and environment, etc. Those questions will be asked through a series of experiential explorations of the city of Pittsburgh and coupled with related reading/writing assignments. Through individual and group research/collaboration, we’ll explore and develop our interests in cities, using this course as an opportunity to connect our academic community to the diverse communities around us and understand our city and others in potentially novel and enlightening ways.

Netflix & Quill
Class Number 11533
6:00 - 8:30 p.m.
“Getting upset about Netflix … is like getting upset about the weather,” director Steven Soderbergh says, referencing the discontent some filmmakers feel about the popularity of the streaming service. “It’s just something that’s happening, and we have to decide how we feel about it.” Never before have algorithms been used to so carefully manipulate consumers. And yet Netflix, and services like it have never been more successful. What does it mean to be a consumer of film and other media in the present? Are you the sum of what you see or what the computer sees of you? Are you like the Balinese gamblers wagering on cock fighting and studied by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, engaged in a kind of “deep play” that you’re not even aware of? This seminar is designed to make you a versatile writer, one who is capable of using writing to engage with the media you consume every day. Through discussions of formally inventive texts including essays, criticism, and creative works we’ll ask what it means to see and be seen. How can we use writing to critically question media that has been designed to know us better than we know ourselves? What does it mean to create a self in the 21st century?

Writing the Spiritual 
Class Number 16258
6:00 - 8:30 p.m.
How do authors write about spiritual experiences/beliefs/questions/doubts that others cannot see? How do they push beyond religious rhetoric to convey their inner lives in language that others can understand? How can you write clearly and creatively about your own faith or skepticism?  To investigate these questions and more, we will read critical and personal essays from writers of various religions, visit several religious landmarks in the city of Pittsburgh, and write a series of experimental yet disciplined essays designed to embody spirituality. This course welcomes students who want to use writing to explore their own spiritual lives and learn about the spiritual lives of others.