First Year Seminar

The First Year Seminar (FYS), called STAGE 101, is designed to provide you with a semester-long introduction to the college academic experience, emphasizing the skills necessary for academic success. Each seminar includes conversations about what will be expected of you in class discussions, essay assignments, and presentations.  A main goal of the seminar is to allow you to understand what your professors really expect you to be doing, and to define the terms that your professors assume you know, but you may not know yet.

Additionally, the seminar will create a foundation of civic knowledge so that by the time you graduate, you will be able to engage in a more informed way in our democracy and in our global and multicultural world. To help you with that, the FYS exposes students to enduring questions concerning identity, diversity, inequality, citizenship, democracy, privilege, social responsibility, and ethical action.

Each FYS will be created around a common theme, but each section of the FYS will be unique to the instructor’s teaching interests and discipline, and students will be able to choose from among specific course topics that interest them.

The FYS theme for 2019 will be "The American Dream."  Each seminar will address issues related to the concept of the "American Dream" and examine ways in which that powerful notion has shaped much of American life. These courses will also consider whether or not the "Dream" is available to all Americans equally.  The assigned book for the semester for all seminars is American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures, by America Ferrera (Gallery Books).

First-Year Seminar Course Selections for Fall 2019

The Myth of Equality
Although Americans tend to believe equal opportunity exists in the US, the economic gap between whites and people of color has been growing rather than shrinking over the last decade and a half. In “The American Dream and the Myth of Equality,” we will investigate how implicit bias, stereotype threat, and racial privilege potentially contribute to the growing, racialized economic gap.

The Pursuit of Happiness (or How Not to Get Crushed)
According to the US Constitution, the pursuit of happiness is an "unalienable right" -- but what does this mean? What does happiness mean to you? How does the pursuit of happiness drive our laws and our actions? We will explore how to be happy, and not get overwhelmed in our pursuit of the American Dream in the college years -- without getting crushed!

American Dream: Make it or Fake It
This seminar will explore what the "American Dream" means to different people. Is it real or is it an illusion? How do people of different races, ethnicities, and social classes express their hopes and misgivings? Students will read a variety of perspectives in the varied expressions of immigrants, lyrics of popular music (especially of hip-hop and country genres), speeches and writings of leaders of major movements such as the Civil Rights movement, and construct a meaningful understanding of what America represents to them. 

Consumer Psychology (or How Choice and Abundance are Making Us Miserable)
From a historical perspective, Americans live in a time of unparalleled choice and abundance. It would be reasonable to expect that material wealth and consumer choice would lead people to be relatively happy or, at least, content. However, international comparisons show that Americans do not fare well when it comes to measures of mental, physical, and social wellbeing. Could it be that the pursuit of material goods is leaving us unfulfilled? Does having so many consumer choices paradoxically leave us less satisfied with the choices that we make?

The American Superhero and the Cult of Celebrity
The Superhero is an American invention that epitomizes the American Dream, and Americans like to have heroes. We look at where this love of superheroes came from and how it is grounded in the American psyche. This seminar will examine the American need for a hero and look out how we deify both actual heroes and people we probably shouldn’t, and then allow these heroes to decide how we live our lives. What is happening to the pursuit of the American Dream because we have fallen into the Cult of Celebrity? We will examine ourselves against this understanding and learn how this Cult could be our downfall.

American Dream: Money, Money, Money!
While when most people hear the topic of “economics,” they often think of money, but economics means so much more than money! Certainly this seminar will explain such conetemporary topics as cryptocurrencies, and if they are here to stay, but also we will discuss the disappearing middle class and how that might be contributing to growing income inequality across the United States. Upward mobility, a cornerstone of the American Dream, and the affects of recession will also be discussed. Let’s get engaged with the world around us, and try to understand how the economy REALLY works!

American Dream: Narratives of Labor and Socioeconomic Class
How do we see the American Dream expressed through narratives such as film, photography, and literature? In this section of FYS, we'll explore the myth and the promise of the American Dream by examining narratives that depict labor and socioeconomic class. We'll deepen our discussions by integrating other fields of study, including sociolinguistics, psychology, economics, gender studies, politics, history, and popular culture, just to name a few. 

Writing about American Life
What happens to a dream deferred? American literature is filled with writers and dreamers who use the concept of the "American Dream" to write about their own lives. In this class, we will use their texts as models for how to write our own poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction about the intersection of American dreams and American reality.

The American Dream in Music, Film, and Literature
Most of us aspire to live the “American Dream” but what exactly is it? Is it one national dream or many individual dreams? This seminar will explore what the concept of the “American Dream” has meant over time and still means today to people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic strata. To do this, we’ll take an interdisciplinary look at some of the cultural products of the many American musicians, filmmakers, and writers who express their views of the “American Dream.”

American Utopias and Dystopias
The goals for this course are fourfold: 1) to understand – through literature, art, and political tracts – how Americans have envisioned the future; 2) to analyze and contextualize both utopian and dystopian imaginings; 3) to explore how religious and political communities attempted to actualize their dreams, and 4) to use this new historical awareness as a foundation for thinking about where we need to go and/or what we need to avoid!

The American Dream of Owning Your Own Business
Nearly two-thirds of Americans (62%!!!) say it is their dream to own a small business: to be their own boss, in charge of their own destiny, and build a legacy to leave to their family. This semester we will learn what it takes to build, and run, your own business. Together we will dispel some myths, reveal some truths, and demystify how it is done.

American Dream: Failure in American Life
This class will examine how Americans have historically perceived failure and how failure has impacted personal identity and notions of success in American life.

(De)constructing the American Dream
This course will consider some of the cultural texts—essays, literary works, films, television programs, advertisements, political speeches, and more— that have shaped and continue to shape our changing understandings of the American Dream. In so doing, we will consider how, even as the American Dream promises financial success commensurate with hard work and initiative, it simultaneously functions to support socioeconomic inequality. As students learn to deconstruct the cultural work accomplished by the American Dream, they will learn as well to decipher both literary and extra-literary texts as constitutive, rather than reflective, of culture.