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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Interdisciplinary Sophomore Seminars

The general education program gives students an opportunity to go outside their comfort zones and experience a diverse range of disciplines. Professors are designing new courses, called sophomore seminars, that offer an even more interdisciplinary flavor to the general education program. This year, the pilot sophomore seminar was called "The Two Cultures," and was co-taught by physics professor Nate Harshman and literature professor Richard Sha. This unique course investigates how science and the arts have both clashed and entertwined over the years. The class can be used to satisfy Areas 1, 3, or 5 of the general education program. Triana and Lindsay are both in the course this semester, and agree that it has been one of the most challenging (and rewarding) courses they have taken at AU. We asked professors Sha and Harshman about what made them interested in creating this course. Here are some excerpts from their responses:

Professor Sha:
When Nate Harshman and I were designing this course, we spent a lot of time talking about aesthetics.  Now, you might wonder why a physicist would care about the prettiness of his or her math.  Elegance speaks to simplicity, and simplicity implies that a phenomenon has been reduced to the most basic truth.  Moreover, symmetry makes the work of physics easier; by understanding one part of something larger, symmetry enables us to extrapolate efficiently to the whole.  Rather than using aesthetics to think about being of the world, literary critics, by contrast, consider how forms represent but do not stand in for reality.  Aesthetics in this view is a way of apprehending the forms of the world, and because we cannot have access to the things of this world outside of our perceptual apparatus, the only claims we can make about the world are in terms of its forms and appearances.  So from a humanist perspective, claims about the actual being of the world are off limits, and such claims always run the danger of mistaking a linguistic entity for a natural one.

Professor Harshman:
As I get older, I recognize that many pleasures (food, relationships, television, excercise) are complicated.  The things I like have upsides and downsides.  But learning new things, finding new perspectives, enjoying new subjects and fields, seems to only have an upside.  Exposing oneself to new things, especially things outside one's comfort zone, keeps the mind flexible and the heart playful.

We hope that you too will embrace the goals of the general education program by taking advantage of courses that challenge you to step outside your comfort zone. We encourage you to check out fall 2012's sophomore seminar, GNED-234 Global Digital Citizenship. As always, email us with any questions! CASPeerAdvisors@american.edu

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