First-Year Initiatives 2015



First-Year Initiatives 2015
First-Year Initiatives
This is where your Beloit education begins.
The what, why, and when of FYI:
How does Beloit College bring students together, bring each of them
into our community, and match them with academic programs that
both stimulate student engagement and initiate students into the
practice of the liberal arts at Beloit College? And how does Beloit do
it while maintaining a campus atmosphere in which students have the
maximum freedom to make their own choices about their education
and future?
The answer is the Initiatives program. Designed to inspire and
support students through their first four semesters of college, the
different elements of the program work together to foster incoming
students’ skills, interests, knowledge, and agency. Students develop
habits of mind conducive to ethical and creative engagement with the
world and learn how to apply different ideas, skills, and perspectives
to particular problems and life challenges.
The program begins with New Student Days, a week-long
orientation that introduces students both to the Beloit College campus
and community and to Beloit’s distinctive approach to the liberal arts,
as well as to the professor who will be their Initiatives advisor—their
advisor in the liberal arts—for the next two years. That professor also
leads the First-Year Initiatives (FYI) seminar, one of four courses
taken during the first semester at Beloit College. FYI seminars focus
on a wide range of fascinating topics, but all of them help students to
navigate the transition to college, while offering them an engaging
and challenging introduction to academic inquiry.
While the seminar comes to an end at the conclusion of the first
semester, the advising relationship continues over the three
subsequent semesters, both through individual meetings between
students and their Initiatives advisors, and through an advising
workshop held once each semester, in which students reflect on their
experiences and plan their educational trajectory, while learning how
to take full advantage of the many opportunities that a Beloit
education offers.
The program also offers two sets of optional courses especially
designed to foster exploration in the first two years of college:
Transformational Works and Enduring Questions. Designed to
awaken and develop students’ intellectual curiosity, the courses
provide an engaging context in which instructors model the
excitement of practicing liberal learning and help students to
cultivate their own interests and passion for inquiry.
Finally, at the end of the sophomore year, students are eligible to
apply for Venture Grants, which provide funds for students to
embark on self-designed projects. Grant recipients put into practice
the skills and perspectives they have gained over their first two years
at Beloit College in projects that expand their academic and personal
resources for the exciting opportunities that await them in their junior
and senior years.
It all begins with choosing an FYI seminar.
The Beloit education defined:
Great Teaching:
Great teaching is not something a college should reserve for juniors
and seniors. From their first moments on campus, students study
with outstanding Beloit College professors. FYI seminars have
approximately 16 students, and seminar leaders also act as students’
advisors in the liberal arts for the next two years.
Diverse Ways of Learning:
Learning should not be confined to a single field or discipline.
Faculty and staff in fields of expertise ranging from anthropology to
theatre to biology lead the seminars—and each seminar incorporates
multiple approaches and perspectives. While each FYI seminar is
different—so as to give students a great deal of choice—sections can
also share common readings, common time slots, and common
cultural and social events. Before graduation from Beloit, students
master at least one field, their major, in some depth. But in
introducing students to learning at the college through the FYI
seminar, we want to emphasize that knowledge has no boundaries. In
the four years students spend here, we want to stimulate their
initiative to become broadly educated in the sciences, humanities,
and social sciences.
Personalized Learning:
Learning is both something shared and something very personal and
individualized. FYI seminars include a week of orientation in which
fellow seminar members (and future friends and graduates) get to
know one another. During the orientation and fall semester seminar,
students undertake significant speaking and writing projects, both
individually and within the close-knit group that the FYI seminar
becomes. FYI seminars are designed to foster the creativity,
flexibility, and teamwork best learned in small groups—as well as
equipping students for excellence in speaking and writing. In the
words of one professor, Beloit’s FYI program “begins preparing
students to do well at Beloit, and do well after Beloit, on the first
day they arrive.”
Applied Learning:
Learning reaches beyond the classroom. During New Student Days
and throughout the semester, students explore Beloit the city as well
as Beloit the college. Noted anthropologist Margaret Mead once
described Beloit as a “microcosm of America.” With its heavy
industry, urban challenges, and surrounding agricultural lands, with
its ethnic diversity and long and fascinating history, Beloit is a
stimulating window on the world. Previous FYI seminars have
included working with the Landmarks Commission, tutoring
children at a local community center, working on a community farm,
and various student-designed hands-on projects.
Motivated Learning:
Learning is a choice. FYI seminars foster the conditions under which
students can take ownership of their Beloit experience and passionately
pursue their own aspirations. The seminars encourage students to
develop the ability to assess their own strengths and challenges as
learners through frequent reflection on the learning process and
intentional, step-by-step skill-building. Most importantly, FYI seminars
encourage students to recognize the value and relevance of their liberal
arts education and to forge their own connections between the
classroom and the local and global communities of which they are part.
Take the next step—it’s your choice:
EXPLORING THE GLOBAL, LIVING THE LOCAL: Linked Courses for Living Education
Students at Beloit College put the liberal arts into practice by integrating
their lived experience into their academic work. The “living education”
afforded by the residential nature of the Beloit College campus is central
to helping students make connections between the classroom, the Beloit
community, and the world of ideas.
The first five first-year seminars are linked courses, and enrolled
students will live in either Aldrich Hall or Chapin Hall. They explore
1. Culinary Hipsterism: Eating Locally and
Thinking Globally
Is healthy food only for the educated and affluent? Who determines
nutrition guidelines? What factors contribute to global and local food
disparities? How do we make healthy food choices, and how do those
choices affect the local environment and the global economy? Everybody needs to eat. But between the locavore movement, the debate
about genetically modified organisms, and the implications of factory
farms, discussion about food ranges far beyond what’s on your plate.
Beginning with an exploration of food in our local environment, we
will eat and act locally as we develop a global perspective on food
and health. Through activities including field trips, growing and
preparing our own food, classroom discussions, and films, we will
expand our understanding of food as a political, social, and health
issue. Food activism in the form of working in the student-run Beloit
Urban Garden will be a central theme of the course. This seminar will
incorporate creative and social justice projects around the personally
relevant, interdisciplinary topic of food, and will serve as a foundation for your liberal arts education at Beloit College.
2. Regarding Taste, Preference, and Distinction
What do we like, and why do we like it? This course takes a look at
taste: the sensory perception regarding flavor as well as the broader
term that refers to our aesthetic and consumer preferences. While
popular discourse would have us focus solely on scientific explanations, this FYI will broaden our lenses to include the roles played by
culture, relationships, economic status, and other social phenomena
in influencing our preferences for particular foods, aesthetics, and experiences. In this course, we will closely analyze the “social life” behind these preferences. A related topic of inquiry will be investigating
the ways that consumer choices can serve to assert identities such as
cultural, educational, class, or regional distinctions. Through exercises in critical reading, writing, discussion and observation, we will
expand our vocabularies to better describe what we like and don’t
like; understand the role of critics, bloggers, and the marketing industry in influencing desire; and learn about events that have altered
taste throughout human history.
3. The Way of the Samurai
The samurai have long captured the Western imagination, appearing
in everything from Kurosawa films, to popular video games, to a feature-length Scooby-Doo movie. But who were they, and why have
they become such mainstays of Japanese (and American) popular culture? Professional warriors who were often at the cutting edge of military, artistic, cultural, and spiritual pursuits, Japanese samurai have
been interpreted and/or appropriated in different ways for different
purposes over the past 900 years. In this course, we will contextualize
the samurai through a study of Japanese history. Using representations of the most famous of them in popular literature and film, we
individual course themes in relation to one another through common
readings, co-curricular events, and community building activities.
Students may work in the Beloit Urban Garden, create radio shows for
WBCR (the college’s radio station), watch films, or cook/eat together as
a means of fully connecting the academic and residential components of
the first-year experience in particularly rich and meaningful ways.
will analyze the ways in which images of the samurai have been mobilized for often contradictory purposes in Japan and the United
States. As we come to understand the various discourses surrounding
the samurai from the 12th century to the present, we will develop a
better understanding of how and why this part of Japan’s past continues to play such an important role in Japanese and American popular
4. Urban Gardens and the Amazon
This course brings together environmentalism, social justice, and activism to help students develop tools to address the environmental
challenges of our time. We will explore climate change, deforestation, water pollution, and food security, which, in turn, will require us
to analyze how our social, economic, and cultural practices impact
the environment. To uncover these complex relationships, the class
will investigate everything from international food markets to the various uses of urban gardens. Each student will have an internship with
Kallari, an indigenous cooperative in the Amazon that exports chocolate and crafts; this work will help us to see connections between international trade and our role as activist consumers, all the while
allowing Kallari to maintain an active presence on the Beloit College
campus. Students will also learn about local food production by visiting farms and urban gardens in Beloit. We will see first hand how
they not only provide produce to families and local organizations but
have become tools for community building and empowerment.
Weekly work in the student-run Beloit Urban Garden (BUG) will
allow us to practice our own food production and community building. Plan to get your hands dirty!
5. Local Ecomusicologies: Hearing Beloit
Have you ever noticed that many of the ways we talk about about
knowledge are based on the visual? From “I see!” to “let’s look at
this through the lens of…,” we are used to understanding our world
through visual evidence. This course asks us to think about questions
of sound and meaning: how do we make sense of Beloit’s particular
soundscape? When and why does sound become “music,”
“evidence,” or “pollution”? This class uses the emerging field of
ecomusicology (the study of sound in relation to culture and nature)
to consider what it might mean to be aurally “local” in the 2010s,
when we can download an MP3 from another hemisphere faster than
we can put on shoes to go for a walk across campus. We will explore
some of the environmental sounds that constitute “hearing Beloit”
through field trips, sound walks, “deep listening” exercises, and
engagement with other Beloit residents, including collaborative
activities with other FYI seminars. And to connect our local
experiences with the wider world, we will read and talk about the
diverse ways music and sound operate globally—how they intersect
with social identities and patterns of production and consumption,
including (post)industrialism, agriculture, and transportation.
6. Colonizing Mars: Science Fact and Fiction
Over 100 years ago, Giovanni Schiaparelli reported “channels” on
Mars. The Italian canali was soon mistranslated as “canals,”
inspiring American astronomer Percival Lowell to speculate on their
origin. Could there be intelligent life on the Red Planet? NASA’s
earlier landers determined that Mars was a cold, dry, and lifeless
planet. But perhaps Mars, in its youthful stages, supported a thicker
atmosphere and was warmer and wetter—and was teeming with at
least bacteria, if not sentient creatures. Recent data collected by an
armada of orbiters and rovers confirm that Mars contains abundant
ice just below the surface, and may have hosted liquid water
relatively recently (i.e., within the last million years, or maybe even
today!). Could the planet yet harbor life in extreme environments?
Or could the current Martian environment be transformed—or
terraformed—into one hospitable to Earth-based life? In this
seminar, we will concentrate on the scientific evidence for the
possibility of life on Mars—in the past, present, and future.
Establishing the prerequisites for life is not, however, the same as
establishing a human presence. Perhaps early microbes colonized
Mars, but can we? And if we can, should we?
7. Just Breathe
In this course we will explore together the intersections of stress,
mindfulness, mental health, and the creative arts, mainly writing and
drawing. Stress is part of everyone’s daily life: from traumatic
exposure to unspeakable violence in war, abuse, and assault; to the
experiences of persistent poverty and discrimination; to the pressures
to conform and perform in high schools and college; to the everyday
challenges of work and love. When we manage our stress
effectively—through a combination of physical, spiritual,
psychological, and artistic practices—the result can be healthy
development and well-being. When we manage our stress
ineffectively, or when the stress is beyond any hope of effective
management, development may be compromised, with potentially
severe consequences to mental and physical health. This course will
include investigation of stress in its psychological, social, spiritual,
and neurophysiological dimensions, accompanied by an introduction
to strategies to alleviate stress and increase well-being, including
various therapies, mindfulness practices, writing, and drawing.
8. The American “War on Terror”
The “war on terror” has dominated United States foreign policy since
the 9/11 attacks, pulling the United States into two lengthy wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan. Using primary documents such as the 9/11
report, participant memoirs, scholarly research, and documentaries,
we will explore the changing nature of terrorism from the 1970s1980s to the transnational era of al-Qaida. We will consider a
multitude of thorny and hotly contested moral, political, military, and
human rights questions such as: What groups should be considered
terrorists and who gets to decide? Is terrorism a crime or an act of
war? Are the traditional laws of war applicable to terrorists? What
are the practical and moral issues surrounding the use of drones?
How effective has United States counterinsurgency strategy been in
Iraq and Afghanistan? What should be done about Guantanamo Bay?
Should United States officials involved in torture be prosecuted?
9. Games We Play
Under a variety of circumstances, people display strategic behavior
as they interact with each other. Using tools from mathematics, game
theory provides an organized approach to modeling these strategic
interactions. In this course, the mathematics of game theory will
permit us to analyze human interactions that are studied in
disciplines from social sciences such as international relations and
political science, to natural sciences via biology and probability, to
the humanities through literature and history. We will model what
happens when the outcomes that affect our lives depend not only
upon our own actions but also upon what others do, either
simultaneously with us or sequentially before and after us. We will
also learn how people revise their notions about the world on the
basis of new information, how they evaluate the credibility of claims
made by others, and how they adapt to changes in the environments
where they live and work.
10. Dear White People
This seminar will explore the complexities of identity politics,
drawing particular attention to two marginalized or often overlooked
identity markers: race beyond either black or white and religion
beyond Christianity or secularism. Students should expect to be
challenged and to challenge their peers in regards to preconceived
ideas about the relationship between religious and other forms of
identity. Throughout the semester, we will examine a number of
“microaggressions,” or the subtle ways that racial, ethnic, religious,
gender, and other stereotypes can play out painfully in an
increasingly diverse culture. We also will grapple with the extent to
which these issues as raised in popular/social media are a useful way
of bringing to light often elusive slights, a new form of divisive
hypersensitivity, or simply engaging in conversations usually
avoided. Students will conclude the FYI by producing a visual or
oral project that will be retained within the college’s archives for the
use of future generations of students, faculty, and staff.
11. From Da to Nyet: A New Cold War?
In this seminar we will analyze the history and development of
Russian-American relations, and we will look at different scenarios
for the future of both nations. In order to understand what has
happened to the relationship between Russia and the United States
and what has provoked a possible new “Cold War,” we will first
examine the situation inside contemporary Russia, and then compare
it to the dystopian society described by George Orwell in his novel,
1984. An interesting—though not new—phenomenon that can be
witnessed now in Russia is a kind of doublethink, in which there is
an obvious contradiction between what people see and what they
actually say. One could argue that Russia is again going through a
phase when truth is not needed, similar to Orwell’s notion that
“Ignorance is Strength.” Putin’s high approval ratings can be
explained by another Orwellian slogan—“Freedom is Slavery,” and
the war in Ukraine that triggered this new Cold War in some ways
illustrates the slogan “War is Peace.” Yet is Putin’s control absolute
and infallible? What role do Russian history and culture play here?
And how well does U.S. foreign policy reflect an understanding of
that history and culture?
12. Ponder College
In this seminar, we will explore the changing world of liberal arts
education. Beginning with the playful “foundation” of a fictional
college created by the instructor, we will examine the role of small
colleges in a vast system of American higher education. While
learning about classes, academic requirements, and student life at
Beloit College (something we share with all FYI students), our
seminar will explore the ways that colleges perceive their histories,
how they “sell” themselves, and even how they run their business
operations. In the process, we will read a wide array of stories,
novels, memoirs, financial reports, and educational treatises that
speak to the role of education in a rapidly changing 21st century. We
will not limit ourselves to the American liberal arts college, either.
The idea to put talented students and creative teachers together in
small classes has caught on in a few parts of the world, and we will
learn how these colleges look and operate in Hong Kong, Japan,
India, and several parts of Europe. In the process, students will gain
a distinctive perspective on the work that they will be doing right up
until their own college graduations in 2019.
13. Life in a Sunburnt Country
Australia is the world’s sixth largest country with a population
somewhat less than that of the state of Texas. Despite all this room,
however, Australia is one of the world’s most urbanized countries
with 90 percent of the population living in cities. What lies in that
great wilderness, the mythical “outback” beyond the back of
Bourke? Why are the creatures that slither and crawl across the
continent so dangerous, and how was the land tamed? Should one
take a didgeridoo to a corroboree in Ulladulla? This seminar will
explore the history, geography, and diverse biology of Australia, with
particular focus on indigenous Australians, native authors and
inventors, and the country’s unique flora and fauna. The story of how
the nation transitioned from an English penal colony to the vibrant
multicultural land it is today is not always a pretty one, but there’s
plenty of good reasons why locals call Australia “the lucky country.”
14. The Best Seats in the House!
This seminar offers front row center seats to students who are not
“theatre people” but who have always wondered about the
mysterious world behind the curtain. This general introduction
explores questions like why people perform, how long humans have
been “doing” theatre, what is involved in the process that leads to
opening night, and what is so special about the live actor-audience
relationship. Theatre is a complex form that combines literature,
physical expression, visual art, business, and entertainment—and
people who go to the theatre should explore the ways in which
writers, actors, directors, designers, and all the other theatre
professionals contribute to the magic that happens when the curtain
rises. Students will read approximately a play a week, will attend all
campus theatre productions plus other area performances, and will
try a little hands-on “work that makes plays.” They should come
away not only with a better appreciation for theatre but also perhaps
a desire to try theatre out for themselves.
15. Here vs. There: Inside(rs) and Outside(rs)
In various literary texts, we’ll examine the ideology and
interpersonal dynamics of social systems that identify and bond
themselves by exclusion of an “other” or “others.” Such social
groups are defined primarily by opposition to whatever (or
whomever) they define as “deviant.” We’ll ask how such groups
support and sustain themselves and look at the methods by which
they enlarge their membership–that is, we’ll watch how they create
and exert their power through representations of the “other.” To
resist the appeal of that power, we’ll have to recognize how it tries to
conscript us. To that end, we’ll look at the ways that different
metaphorical patterns in these works expose—and help us to
compare–the representations that aid the exercise of social power
within communities as different as the American suburbs (Gloria
Naylor’s Linden Hills or Steven Millhauser’s “Sisterhood of Night”)
and autocratic regimes consolidating their influence (Jim Shepard’s
Lights Out in the Reptile House). We’ll then try to imagine
representing a different model for the bonding the group–a dynamic
that doesn’t define by exclusion.
16. By the Numbers
Numbers are a part of our everyday experience. You find out about
tuition costs and the size of your student loans. You read polling
results for upcoming political primaries and statistics that describe
the state of the economy or the relationship between race, crime, and
police procedure. You see graphs that convey information about
public opinion on issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion. You
follow sports statistics on favorite teams and players. But, do you
fully understand these numbers? Are you able to think critically
about numbers you hear so that you can assess their meaning and
their validity? In this course, you will become a better consumer and
producer of numbers. When someone rattles off a statistic, you will
know to ask questions about definitions, measurement, and
sampling. You will learn how to read graphs and tables, and how to
create them. You will learn about budgeting, reading quantitative
academic articles, and picking better fantasy baseball teams. Are you
someone who is math phobic, but wants to overcome that fear? Then
this is the class for you. Books include: Best’s Damned Lies and
Statistics, Lewis’ Moneyball, and Leicht and Fitzgerald’s Middle
Class Meltdown in America.
17. Should You Risk It?
How risky is it to smoke? To down 10 drinks in one evening? To
drive without a seat belt? To have breast implants? To fly or drive
back to Beloit from your home? To live 20 miles from a nuclear
power plant? To live next to a high-voltage power line? What about
air pollution, background radiation, vaccinations, toxins in your
food? How can you usefully assess risks you encounter? Risk
involves both personal decisions and the uncertainty of chance
events. We will delve into the meaning of chance, with its
measurement in terms of probability calculations. Leaving aside
risks to you, your behavior and decisions may put others at risk. So
we will consider the broader cultural context: social, public policy,
psychological, and ethical dimensions (e.g., who bears the risk, risk
compensation, and the costs and moral hazard of risk mitigation). We
will confront problems in everyday life, together with the decisionmaking, perception, and communication of risk. Case studies will
include natural disasters, birth defects, death penalty, radon, cancer
clusters, global warming, Ebola, and aircraft safety. We will also
devote a little time to financial risk (e.g., gambling), hedging
(portfolio management), and risk pooling (insurance).
18. Standing Up
“Stand up” is associated with comedy. But many performers use the
format to wrestle with issues of social justice. The humor may come
from a willingness on the part of performers to be honest about
themselves, speak frankly about controversial topics, or point out the
absurdity of social conventions. Recently, stand up performers have
challenged common assumptions about gender, race, and disability,
and in turn have started national dialogues about impacts of injustice
in our society. This class will look at solo stand up performers. We
will watch them on video, attend live performances, read about their
lives, and identify the comic theory at work in their performances.
Then, through low stakes writing and “open mic” sessions, we will
develop our own “stand up” personas. The instructor has been booed
off stage in Moscow, Idaho, and was literally pelted with food from
angry audience members at the top of the Space Needle. So this class
will definitely embrace public failure as a liberating experience. In
our performance work, we will strive for introspection, honesty, and
social commentary. If people laugh, that’s fine. But we will be less
focused on “being funny ” than we are on “standing up.”
19. What Is Natural?
This class will use a combination of scientific data analysis, case
studies, and project-based inquiry to explore a deep-seated construct
of our human experience: that anything human-made is
fundamentally separate from nature. Claims such as “all-natural
ingredients” and “restoring the natural balance” reflect this construct.
This leads us to the question: “Just what is natural?” In this class we
will take an interdisciplinary approach (from the sciences to the
humanities) to scrutinize the ways in which humans draw
distinctions between humankind and nature. We will look at the
many ways that the label of “natural” shapes our perceptions and
value judgments about urban and rural life, agriculture and
biotechnology, ecological restoration and management, justice and
law, pristine nature and indigenous peoples, and natural and artificial
ingredients. The empirical analysis of these topics will give students
an opportunity to explore many ways of knowing, learning, and
studying in the liberal arts.
20. Mapping as Art
This is an art class that uses mapping as a way to influence and
challenge the viewers’ notions of the world around them. Mapmakers
(cartographers) have long realized that maps do not necessarily
present the world objectively or without some type of interpretation.
Maps “re-present” the world by providing an “edited version” of
what the map’s creator believes is truth. As such, maps are cognitive
devices or artistic creations designed to tell a story, present a
particular point of view, or to influence the view and perception of
those who use them. Students will be challenged to think of mapping
as much more than simply representing geography. With this
approach to mapping, students can use almost anything as content for
their art making: from mapping peoples’ movements and behavior in
a central space to creating a map that notes the
integration/segregation of students and ideas on campus. Students
could go farther and map kitsch, colors, or even minutia. We will
work collaboratively to compile mapping assignments into handmade
bound books using a variety of mediums such as photography,
embroidery, writing, and drawing.
21. Navigating Uncertainty
In this seminar, we’ll explore uncertainty, epic failures, and the
opportunities they sometimes open up. Let’s face it: humans don’t
predict the future very well. Sometimes we underestimate risks; other
times we exaggerate them. We ignore key pieces of information that
may or may not have been obvious. Often we feel paralyzed by the
sheer difficulty of knowing what option is best. Yet all is rarely lost,
even when things don’t turn out exactly as planned. Sometimes the
best solutions don’t present themselves until they’re demanded, and
alternative routes turn out even better than the original plan. Even
what feels like a disaster in some ways may feel worth it in others.
Through discussion and analysis of literature, philosophy, social
psychology, and works from other fields, we will develop a learning
stance that allows for critical reflection on threats and opportunities
to facilitate ethical and thoughtful action in the world.
QUESTIONS? Contact Admissions at 800-9BELOIT (923-5648) or 608-363-2500
Email: [email protected]

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