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First-Year Initiatives (FYI) Seminars - Fall 2018

The What, Why, and When of FYI:
The Initiatives Program and the FYI Seminar

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 our distinctive liberal arts community, 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 their 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 and through an advising workshop held once each semester. In these once-a-semester, all-day workshops, 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.

Finally, at the end of the sophomore year, students are eligible to apply for Venture Grants, which provide students funds 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. Review the descriptions below, find your top five, and complete this form to register for your FYI.

The Beloit Education Defined:
Five Principles of the First-Year Initiatives (FYI) Seminar

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 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.

List of First-Year Initiatives (FYI) Seminars

(courses 10 and 11 have been postponed)

1. Crafting Realities: The Art and History of Documentary Film

2. What is Real?: Reality and Perception

3. Nightmare Japan

4. Constructing Nature

5. Minding the Gap

6. My Freshman Year 101: Field Notes on the Lives and Identities of  College Students

7. From Lagos to Johannesburg: 21st Century African Cities

8. Familiaris Breeds Content: Dog and the Liberal Arts

9. 1968: The Year That Rocked the World

12. How it Happens Here: Imagining Political Rupture

13. Technological Grand Challenges

14. Crime and Punishment (Baltimore, 1999)

15. "On Trial"

16. Spontaneous Creation: How to Plan Something Random

17. Mapping as Art: Bookbinding, Embroidery, Writing and Drawing

18. The Beloit Economy and Adam Smith

19. The James Tiptree, Jr. Award Winners


“Constructing the Self”:
Linked Courses for Living and Learning

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 following four first-year seminars are linked courses. They explore individual course themes in relation to one another through common readings, co-curricular events, and community building activities. Students and FYI faculty will work together to fully connect the academic and residential components of the first-year experience in particularly rich and meaningful ways.

1. Crafting Realities: The Art and History of Documentary Film

The history of non-fiction films is as old as film history itself—the earliest recorded motion pictures were typically short scenes of “real” life, and early filmmakers were aware of cinema’s historical and documentary value. While all documentation involves some element of choice (and thus creativity), documentary film as a form is, in general, explicitly concerned with the creative presentation of some aspect of reality.

This course is an exploration of the great range and history of documentary films, from 1922’s Nanook of the North to 2016’s Fuocoammare and more. It is an investigation into the different ways of presenting reality, often for goals beyond artistic expression (e.g., the activism of a film like Ava DuVernay’s 13th). Furthermore, students will craft their own short documentaries on some aspect of their Beloit reality—the college and community, the environment, their personal experience, or a combination. 

Keywords: documentary, film, art, history, visual culture

 2. What is Real?: Reality and Perception

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” (Einstein)

“I can’t believe it’s not butter!“ (1992 ad campaign)

This interdisciplinary first year seminar will investigate what is real vs. what is not. Can we ever know “reality”? Does it matter? What evidence do we use to determine what we consider real? We will address this issue by looking at different topics involving disciplines from the social sciences, natural sciences and the arts & humanities. Some of the topics we will investigate include how to detect “fake news” as well as learning how experts determine if something (e.g., an artwork) is a forgery. Students will also investigate the “reality” of topics generated by the class.

Keywords: reality, perception, belief, evidence

 3. Nightmare Japan

Since the late 19th century, rapid changes associated with modernization in Japan have been linked to the anxiety and alienation of the modern individual. As focus shifted from the rural to the urban, from the family and village to the individual, and from the domestic to the international, the unease people felt about the rapidity and acuteness these changes were expressed in a wide variety of mediums.

Starting with Japanese fiction produced by early 20th-century writers and continuing into the present, this course will look at how popular fiction and film in Japan have portrayed the “horror” of the modern. We will focus our discussions on topics such as the breakdown in traditional family structures, dislocation from traditional homes (furusato), and increased racial inequality and poverty, using horror films, fiction. We will consider how these fictional representations simultaneously envision, realize, and confront various societal ills. 

Keywords: Japan, Horror, Family, Society

 4. Constructing Nature

The dawn of the Anthropocene brings new incentives to examine human’s role in nature. People have shaped environments and landscapes to the point that today most of Earth’s terrestrial surface is human dominated. In this class, we will trace the ways people have changed the planet through time and reflect on how these changes have affected the ways in which people interact with and perceive nature. We will contrast the idea of nature as untrammeled wilderness with traditions that place humans as a part of nature. 

For example, the Satoyama of rural Japan, is a landscape of cultivated fields, ponds, streams, forests, villages and rice paddies that for centuries sustained both humans and biodiversity by manipulating nature, yet today is threatened. In a world where people can cause sweeping changes to the environment, how can we be intentional about those changes? What do we protect? What land do we restore and what do we restore it to? We will interrogate these questions with local restoration and remediation projects designed to return land to nature.

Keywords: Anthropocene, nature, environment, landscapes, Beloit 


Additional Seminars

 5. Minding the Gap

Gaps and gutters are key elements of graphic novels, and readers, through a process Scott McCloud calls “closure,” must make sense of them to understand narratives. Using the notion of a gap as its principle theme and exploring strategies for minding different types of gaps, this course seeks to investigate the dynamic relationship between identity construction and difference through cultural production focusing primarily on graphic novels, film, and literature.

We will examine gaps as formal conventions (e.g. the gutter in graphic novels) and physical realities (e.g. geographic features) as well as important theoretical concepts (e.g. the wage gap, education gap, etc.), and we will investigate what it means “to mind” such gaps. Studying texts such as Marjane Satrapi’s Perspolis, Margurite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie’s Aya, Jaques Tati’s Mon Oncle, and Mathieu Kassovitz's La haine, students will improve their observational and analytic skills. Written assignments and in-class presentations will help develop students’ critical thinking and communicative skills.

Course materials, discussions, and assignments will prompt students to reflect on key issues central to their liberal arts education at Beloit College, including their own process of identity formation, diversity, and their agency in minding gaps.

Keywords: Graphic Novels, Film, Diversity, Identity

6. My Freshman Year 101:  Field Notes on the Lives and Identities of College Students

This course will teach students how to utilize field research methods to examine the following questions: 1). How do college students make sense of and navigate their everyday lives? and 2). How do social hierarchies (race/ethnicity, gender, and class) shape how students make sense of and navigate their lives? 

In exploring these questions, each student will develop a research project examining student experiences, in particular social contexts (classroom, residence halls, dining halls, clubs & organizations, employment, etc.) at Beloit.  Students will also read books and articles written by scholarly researchers examining the lives of college students.

Keywords: Identities Race, Gender, Class, Field notes, College Life, Research

 7. From Lagos to Johannesburg: 21st Century African Cities

 The UN predicts that two-thirds of the world will live in cities by 2050.  Africa is currently the most rapidly urbanizing region on the planet. In 1963, Lagos, Nigeria had a population of 1.3 million; today, it is 17.9 million people. By 2050, Lagos is predicted to double in size. This course will examine the rising mega cities of Africa through a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

While rapidly growing mega cities pose a number of problems as governments struggle to meet the basic housing, infrastructure, and energy needs, there are also a range of opportunities in densely populated areas: diminishing environmental impact, improving water and sanitation, and supporting education and rapid job creation. In particular, this course will focus on Lagos through popular culture, urban policy and planning, politics and anthropology texts. We will use data to identify sustainable urban development challenges and opportunities. We will discuss the concept of Afropolitanism and the relationship between geography and identity. We will ask how growing cities shape new identities and how these identities map onto race, gender, ethnicity and class – both regionally and globally. Finally, students will create self-reflexive pieces on how their family experience has been shaped by geography and displacement. 

Keywords: Africa, Politics, Sustainability, Urban-rural migration, Environment

8. Familiaris Breeds Content: Dog and the Liberal Arts

Dogs offer a valuable window into human interaction, as we employ them as easy referents for our shared experiences: “top dog,” “dog tired,” “puppy love.” With dogs as our touchstone, we will examine the different approaches employed in the liberal arts, including biology, anthropology, economics, history, literature, and the fine arts.

We begin with the science of canids and investigate their anatomical, genetic, and behavioral characteristics. Once domesticated, dogs became valued in different societies for hunting, guarding, traction, and even as sources of meat. Over subsequent generations, the selective breeding of dogs resulted in one of the most diverse animal species on the planet—the American Kennel Club currently recognizes some 160 breeds. Dogs and other pets are also big business. Americans now spend more than $40 billion a year on their pets—more than the gross domestic products of two-thirds of the world’s nations.

Still for many, the topic of “dog” speaks to a cherished bond. Whether loyal, good humored, or exasperating, our dogs spark strong feelings. Celebrated in novels and art, lending substance to history, mythology, and astrology, “dogs” offers insights into the many ways we make sense of the world around us.

Keywords: dog, liberal arts, domestication

9. 1968: The Year That Rocked the World

This seminar takes its title from Mark Kurlansky’s global history of 1968, a turbulent year that continues to reverberate and inform our lives.  Seminar participants will study the history of the late 1960s, focusing on subjects like the Vietnam War, the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, the Manson family, and the Prague Spring. During the course of the semester, the seminar will read authors like Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Arthur C. Clarke, Tim O’Brien, N. Scott Momaday, Denise Levertov, and Michel Foucault. We will also listen to recordings by musicians like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. Students will also explore a research subject of their own and share their work with seminar participants.

Keywords:  Music, Film, Literature, 1960s

 12. How it Happens Here: Imagining Political Rupture

This course explores how contemporary authors have imaginatively depicted both real and fictional political upheaval around the world. We read Persepolis (Satrapi’s graphic memoir about growing up in the Iranian revolution), The Plot Against America (Roth’s counterfactual novel about a Nazi takeover of the USA), and Submission (Houellebecq’s speculative scenario of an Islamic Muslim Brotherhood victory in France). We ask how and why creative depictions of this sort of traumatic social conflict engage our aesthetic sensibilities and our political stances. Students also research and craft their own creative compositions about an imagined or historical political rupture. Our primary focus is to deploy diverse topics, materials, and activities to identify and develop students’ skills for college-level success.

Keywords: International Politics, Contemporary Fiction, Dystopia

 13. Technological Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges are difficult but important societal problems needing technological innovation as part of the solution. This seminar will ask you to identify specific goals in the areas of energy, water, health, and food and to see what new technologies might possibly address those goals. What is the problem, who does it affect, what solutions have been proposed, and what are the technological, economic, cultural, or governmental barriers to implementation? (An introduction to this approach can be found at the National Academy of Engineering.)

Such technologies will be promising areas to expand knowledge, create jobs, and tackle what needs to be done to sustainably improve the quality of life for everyone. This seminar will include frequent laboratory experiences as we investigate possible solutions to difficult problems.

Keywords: Technology, Energy, Water, Health, Food

 14. Crime and Punishment (Baltimore, 1999)

On the afternoon of January 13, 1999, Hae Min Lee — a high school senior in Baltimore — disappeared; a month later, her body was discovered in a shallow grave in a local park. Her former boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested shortly thereafter and charged with first degree murder, for which he was eventually convicted. He remains, almost twenty years later, an inmate at North Branch Correctional Institute in the mountains of western Maryland, though he now awaits retrial.

This case came to public notice in the fall of 2014 as the subject of the journalistic podcast Serial. That was followed by a year later by Undisclosed, a podcast produced by three lawyers connected to The Innocence Project, a national organization that advocates against wrongful conviction and incarceration.

In this course, we will listen to these podcasts, explore the wealth of case-related materials provided on the accompanying websites, in the interest of understanding the disturbing details of this case. In conjunction with our deep dive into legal history, we will interface with the faculty, lawyers, and law students responsible for the Wisconsin Innocence Project, through which students will conduct research on past and ongoing cases.

Keywords: criminal justice, adolescence, incarceration, Innocence Project

15. "On Trial"

Trials have been a favorite topic for literary treatment in European cultures. In addition to their obvious dramatic potential, they appear to have a special capacity to express conflicts between reason and faith, between necessity and human agency, and between social/political norms and individual responsibility. Trials can represent the tension and interdependence between large-scale social, cultural and religious institutions and the specific thoughts and actions of individual persons that are articulated through and against these realities.

Consequently, in trial literature the authority of institutions, the coherence of ideals and the authenticity of individuals can be simultaneously explored and tested.  It is a genre where the foundations and the seams of a society begin to show and the possibility of human dignity and integrity is forged. Readings will include Job, Aeschylus' Oresteia, Plato's Apology, the Gospels' account of the trial of Jesus, St. Joan by George Bernard Shaw, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, and The Trial by Franz Kafka.

Keywords: Agency, normativity, interdependence, human dignity

16. Spontaneous Creation: How to Plan Something Random

Movement improvisation exercises will be used as a doorway for exploring, discussing, and writing about the ways in which creativity and savoring the playful process of life teach us how best to take on challenges. We will look at how honing our own creative processes enrich our experiences in a liberal arts environment, as well as how sharpening our understanding of the ways in which we make choices enhances functionality at all levels of our life.

Keywords: Creative process, Choice, Improvisation, Body-mind

 17. Mapping as Art: Bookbinding, Embroidery, Writing and Drawing

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. This may range from mapping peoples’ movements and behavior in a central space or create 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.  Also, a variety of mediums will be explored such as photography, embroidery, writing and drawing.

Keywords: Art, Mapping  

 18. The Beloit Economy and Adam Smith

Smith’s 1776 Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations describes the economic processes that fuel industrialization and increased wealth and well-being. Modern economic theory still relies on­­ Smith’s insights on division of labor, the stages of economic development, and the political economy of capitalism. In this course, we’ll explore Smith’s writings and apply them to our own economy: the Beloit economy. We will consider agriculture in the Beloit area, local manufacturing, deindustrialization, and more recent development efforts. While Smith was inspired by the Industrial Revolution, we will study what the 21st century knowledge economy means for Beloit. This course includes several off-campus excursions.

Keywords: economy, (Town and City of) Beloit, Adam Smith, deindustrialization, knowledge economy

 19. The James Tiptree, Jr. Award Winners

Do gender roles make a difference in the world? How might gender or sexuality be different in a different society, world, or history? What if we were not limited by biology but could pick and choose among several genders?

For 27 years, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award has been awarded to the work of speculative fiction that does the most to “expand or explore our notions of gender.” Speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, horror, etc.), provides ideal avenues for investigating approaches to gender identity, gender relationships and sexuality. What in our social structures, our biology, or our history makes our gender roles and identities what they are, and what happens if we change them? Speculative fiction can address such questions by exaggerating elements in a society, isolating some issues in our society from others, etc.

This course will read and discuss a selection of short stories and novels that have won this award. Along the way, we will discuss what makes these works “speculative,” what aspects of gender they challenge, and what aspects of gender they accept. 

Keywords: Gender, sexuality, science fiction, fantasy