Year Studies Courses
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS),
through its First Year Studies Program, aims to offer
a novel curriculum that provide students with valuable
shared experiences and encourages them to engage more
the social world in which they live, and in which they
will carry out their professional lives. Special emphasis
on courses build around a specific idea or theme that
can be effectively addressed from multiple disciplinary
Above all else, the aim of the First Year Studies program
is to develop the student's ability to examine fundmanetal
issues in a clear, comprehensive and critical fashion,
and to relate their knowledge to their everyday experience
subsequent academic career at Rensselaer.
for Fall 2011
of the advantages of a FYS seminar include:
instructional attention. Class size is generally limited
to 25 students.
• A teaching style and philosophy specifically designed for first-year
students (See www.rpi.edu/dept/fys).
• Courses built around interesting topics.
• You do not have to compete with upper-class students enrolled in a 1000
you have trouble registering for these courses, or would
like further information, please contact the H&SS Core
Curriculum Advisor, Elizabeth Large at firstname.lastname@example.org,
Explorations in Media
Nao Bustamante (Arts).
critical view of mass media, and the ability to express
oneself independently, are essential survival skills in
the 21st century. How do media and various forms of popular
culture form prisms through which we see ourselves, our
community and the world? How can new media technologies
be used to expand self expression and diverse viewpoints?
The course examines different forms of media (fiction and
documentary films and videos, TV, internet, cell-phones,
computer games, newspapers, advertising, etc). Assignments
will include watching media, reading about media literacy,
and producing creative media projects.
Minds and Machines
Jim Fahey, Bram
Van Heuveln (Cognitive Science).
are minds? What are machines? Will we someday build a machine
with capabilities similar to those of Commander Data as
depicted in Star Trek NG? And if we do, will that Data-like-machine
have a mind? Will it be a person and thus share the same
basic rights and responsibilities as those possessed by
human-persons? How about non-human-animals? At least some
of them seem to have desires, feel pain, and be aware of
their surroundings. To what extent does this consciousness
give them rights? If you are interested in exploring some
of the logical-conceptual and ethical questions on the
frontiers of artificial intelligence research, this course
will get you jump-started. Final projects are hands-on:
build an intelligent Lego Robot; participate in the design
and implementation of Omega Worlds, Rensselaer’s
on-line computer game project; join with practicing cognitive
scientists and carry out fundamental research in such areas
as human reasoning, computer modeling of cognition, and
the cognitive aspects of human action. Moreover, a remarkable
feature of this course is that part of your class time
will involve your participation in the Minds & Machines
Lecture Series, lecturers from around the world discussing
their cutting-edge research in the emerging interdisciplinary
field of cognitive science.
Environment and Politics
Kim Fortun (Science
and Technology Studies [STS]).
and Politics is a highly interactive, debate-focused course
about contemporary environmental issues, including
climate change, energy resources and population growth. In
class debates, students will represent the perspectives of
different “stakeholders” in environmental controversies.
Assignments will enhance students' argument analysis skills
and their ability to imagine effective solutions to complex
Gowdy (Economics) & Atsushi Akera (STS). 4 credits.
course will focus on the social, biological and ecological
aspects of humans in the natural world. We emphasize critical
thinking about where we come from and where we are going.
We will learn about how we have used the land in the past,
what we do today, and what our prospects are as a species
for the twenty-first century. Contemporary issues such as
land use, energy use, climate change, and biodiversity loss
will be explored through literature, films, and guest lectures.
The course is also organized around a series of field trips
to Lake George, the Erie Canal, the Rensselaer Plateau, and
elsewhere (including “virtual” field trips to
Ethiopia and the Brazilian rainforest) that will allow us
to more precisely study human habitation in different ecological
settings. Students are expected to participate actively in
class through group projects, presentations, creative writing,
and a critical discussion of the readings.
Gutmann (LL&C). 4 credits.
course will engage the student in writing and reading historical
moments and personal reflections on those moments. Through
reading works by writers of journals and diaries, letters,
autobiography, biography and essays based on personal experience,
students will practice writing in relation to and imitation
of these writers, noting and practicing shifts from highly
personal subject matter to public audience and expanded
life experience. Issues of voice, audience, race, class
and gender in relation to writing will inform the discussions.
Living in Cyberspace
Ralph Noble (Cognitive Science).
is the last frontier. We know remarkably little about how
cyberspace will impact our behavior. Students working in
small groups will produce useful information about life
in cyberspace. Our discussion will be organized around
the following topics:
Information explosion or content explosion
II. The dimensions of cyberspace psychological and otherwise
III. How does cyberspace change human behavior?
IV. The nature of institutions in cyberspace
V. The magic returns
Culture of Scientific Revolutions
Mike Fortun(STS). 4 credits.
revolutions deeply affect human history and culture – and
culture, in turn, changes the theory and practice of science.
This course examines how dramatic scientific and cultural
change are woven together, through study of major scientific
revolutions, and the scientist-revolutionaries who made
them: Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and the Scientific Revolution;
the Darwinian revolution in biology; Einstein, Bohr, and
the relativistic and quantum revolutions; the genetic revolution
brought about through the Human Genome Project; and other
Politics of the Global Environment
This course is an introduction to the politics of the international/global
environment. As a field of study it examines questions about
the environment; state sovereignty; policy processes at the
local, national, and international levels; and north-south
politics. It also prompts us to interrogate the character
of human interaction with the earth.