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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Spring 2015 offers academic ‘Hidden Gems’

Published: November 7, 2014
Section: News

Although registration for spring 2015 classes is well underway, students can still take advantage of some of Brandeis’ “Hidden Gems” courses. These classes come from a wide variety of departments, and Academic Services selected them ones because they offer small class sizes and the opportunity to have close, personal interactions with Brandeis faculty.

All of these classes are taught by individuals who are passionate about their work and are eager to share their experiences. For example, Professor Sabine von Mering will be teaching Human/Nature: European Perspectives on Climate Change (GECS 188B). Her inspiration for the course is deeply rooted in her personal history.

“Although I trained to teach German language and literature, I have been an environmentalist since my teenage years. I grew up on a small island in the North Sea. There are no cars on the island and no industry,” von Mering explained. “I hope students come away from my course empowered to speak about climate change even as non-scientists (but scientists are of course also welcome!), and that they feel encouraged to do something about this crisis.”

For those scientists-to-be, there are other “Hidden Gems” that are math- and science-centered. Professor Steven van Hooser will be leading a small, discussion-based class (Systems Neuroscience, NBIO 145B) on, “how neurons work together in circuits and systems to allow perception and behavior.” According to Hooser, the class, “begin[s] with the visual system, and start[s] by considering the physics of light and the eye as a light detector. We explore experiments and models of how the visual system works at different stages. We then explore neural coding, the brain circuits that underlie navigation, decision making and much more.”

Professor Arthur Holmberg, who will teach Texts and Theory (THA 11B), recounted his fondest memories, which included an experiential learning component.

“Students put on a class project that never fails to astonish me,” Holmberg said. “This fall they’re doing a clown show, inspired by commedia dell’arte. The show dramatizes student shenanigans at Brandeis. Renaissance commedia is the basis of our comic tradition.”

Professor Anahi Russo commented on her course, Sexuality and Queer Studies (SQS 6B). “First, I think that teaching this course is an opportunity to reflect on a phenomena that has been associated with so many negative or extremely positive connotations,” Russo said. “I love the discussions that take place during the course and that there exists the possibility of speaking in different registers. On [a] voluntary basis, students speak of their perceptions and experiences. This also offers the opportunity to contrast readings with our lives, and possibly produce new knowledge … and inhabit our bodies and lives from new perspectives.”
Of those classes that are brand new, many were intended exclusively for first-years. These First Year Seminars (FYS) can help smooth the transition into Brandeis and allow students to be exposed to Brandeis’ expectations for writing and the communication of ideas. Featured FYS courses for the upcoming semester run the gamut from Trash (FYS 50B) with Professor Mary Campbell to Exploring Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the New Universe (FYS 71B) with Professor John Wardle.

As Campbell elaborated, “They can only be taken by first-year students. This course was designed for them … [the] courses are designed to appeal widely and aren’t terribly disciplinary, though they can be counted as electives toward a student’s major.”

A complete list of all of next semester’s Hidden Gems, along with brief descriptions of the courses, was sent in an email to all students by the Office of Academic Services last week.