First Year Studies Courses

The School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS), through its First Year Studies Program, aims to offer incoming students a novel curriculum that provide students with valuable shared experiences and encourages them to engage more deeply with the social world in which they live, and in which they will carry out their professional lives. Special emphasis is placed on courses build around a specific idea or theme that can be effectively addressed from multiple disciplinary perspectives. 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 and subsequent academic career at Rensselaer.


Courses for Fall 2011

FYS Seminars

Some of the advantages of a FYS seminar include:

• Personal instructional attention. Class size is generally limited to 25 students.
• A teaching style and philosophy specifically designed for first-year students (See
• Courses built around interesting topics.
• You do not have to compete with upper-class students enrolled in a 1000 level course.

(If you have trouble registering for these courses, or would like further information, please contact the H&SS Core Curriculum Advisor, Elizabeth Large at, x2576.)

IHSS-1963 Explorations in Media
Nao Bustamante (Arts). 4 credits.

A 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.

IHSS-1964 Minds and Machines
Jim Fahey, Bram Van Heuveln (Cognitive Science). 4 credits.

What 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.

IHSS-1966 Environment and Politics
Kim Fortun (Science and Technology Studies [STS]). 4 credits.

Environment 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 problems.

IHSS-1970 Nature/Society
John Gowdy (Economics) & Atsushi Akera (STS). 4 credits.

This 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.

IHSS-1976 Life Writing
Julie Gutmann (C&M). 4 credits.

This 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.

IHSS-1977 Living in Cyberspace
Ralph Noble (Cognitive Science). 4 credits.

Cyberspace 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:

I. 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

IHSS-1978 Culture of Scientific Revolutions
Mike Fortun(STS). 4 credits.

Scientific 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 scientific revolutions.

IHSS-1979 Politics of the Global Environment
Michael Mascarenhas (STS). 4 credits.

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.