First-Year Seminars are small courses exclusively for first-year students in the College of Arts & Sciences. Courses are created and taught by distinguished University of Miami faculty and are designed to introduce first-year students to the breadth, depth and interconnectivity of the liberal arts. Examples of recent seminars include:

  • Becoming a Patron of the Arts
  • From Minerva to Mithras: The Religions of Ancient Rome
  • Greatest Discoveries and Experiments in Astronomy and Physics
  • Biodiversity and Conservation of South Florida

Mission of First-Year Seminars

A liberal arts education teaches you how to think critically, make connections across multiple disciplines, and communicate clearly and effectively. First-Year Seminars are a microcosm of the larger liberal arts experience at University of Miami. Topics are engaging and eclectic, showing the diversity and interdisciplinary of liberal arts research and scholarship.  Classes are small (capped at about 24 students) to create an environment conducive to discussion and debate. They offer a remarkable opportunity to engage with new ideas, new people and new academic possibilities. 

All seminars can be counted as one of three courses in a cognate.


Seminars Scheduled for 2015


Course Description for First-Year Seminars:

  • FLT 190
  • Christina Civantos-Power & The Written Word:  From Personal Growth to Political Resistance
  • How are reading and writing personally and politically transformative?  This seminar explores the relationship between literature and “the Real World” by examining what reading and writing offer us as individuals, how writers try to resist political realities through literature, why and how censorship takes place, and why and how literacy itself is restricted.  We will start out by considering the psychological and social effects of reading and writing.  We will then read and comment upon resistance literature, that is, literature from the postcolonial world that uses the written word as a political tool.  Our main focus in this segment of the course will be a sub-genre known as The Dictator Novel—narrative fiction that depicts actual dictatorships.  These novels from Latin America and the Arab world will lead us to the intersections between the written word and the power dynamics of gender, sexuality, and religious ideology. Through these dictator novels we will analyze how literature plays a powerful role not only in real-life politics, but also in how we conceive of reality itself. In the last segment of the course we will consider what figures such as Malala Yousafzai tell us about education as a human right and also study the politics of literacy and how literary imagination and critical literacy can be powerful tools.  A key assignment for the course will be the course project in which students will have the opportunity to collaborate with UM’s Richter Library on the events that are part of National Banned Books Week. In this way, through literary texts and case studies as well as engagement with the Library and Banned Books Week, we will reflect on the relationship between power and the written word. 
  • FLT 191
  • Susan Leary-Projections of the Future
  • First-year college students stand at the threshold of their future selves.  First-year students hold a firm belief in the productive cultivation and discovery of their own who-ness, the chance to make real an identity for themselves they have only imagined.  This seminar is intended to provide students with an opportunity to reflect on what the future—in all its manifestations—means to their sense of humanity, both theirs and that of the broader world.  Specifically, students will consider the concept of the future through close exploration of fundamental historical, philosophical, and literary texts; popular film, television, and media; as well as contemporary fiction. The seminar will assume the future is intricately woven into the present to 1) give form and expression to the subtle and rather undefined elements of current culture that comprise the foundation of the future, 2) to identify and understand the mechanisms behind the future, particularly what creates, catalyzes, and sustains it as well as what personalizes and universalizes it, 3) to distinguish between the idea of and the reality of the future by treating its psychological, philosophical, and conceptual applications, and 4) to create a blueprint for the future of humanity that students will both build and inherit.
  • FSS 191
  • Martha Phelps-What Makes Us Human?
  • Modern pop culture prominently features zombies, mutants, and superheroes. Behind those science fiction action and love stories are deep philosophical questions. This course explores one of the most basic, and important, challenges put forth by science fiction: what makes us human?  The seminal works within the cyberpunk genre of science fiction to address this debate head on. Over the semester, we will draw from both award-winning literature and modern blockbusters to critically examine the approaching moral dilemmas of cloning, gene manipulation, cybernetic implantation, and the need for a physical body. This course will be broken into four sections, each with a corresponding full-length book and major motion picture.  Each section will consist of an introductory lecture(s) by the professor introducing the major academic terms to be covered (e.g. nationalism, transhumanism, etc), an exploration of relevant current events, and student-driven discussion and analysis.  Students will be expected to write weekly 500-word response papers, actively participate in discussion, stay abreast of current events, and cultivate/complete a final research project.
  • FNS 191
  • Kathleen Sealey-Caribbean-The Sea that Binds
  • Most of the US population lives within 100 kilometers of the coastline; the coastal environment globally faces unprecedented growth in human populations and land –use change. Miami is the epicenter of coastal urban areas under threat from increased flooding with sea level rise; and south Florida leads the state in a pro-active Regional Climate Compact. A course dedicated to coastal ecology and management can challenge students to think across disciplines to consider the ecological, financial and political challenges for coastal communities.  Coastal ecosystems around the world are experiencing unprecedented pressure from population growth, tourism, and resource exploitation. Tourism is the economic driver for much of the coastal zone, however, the market is dependent on the quality of the environment, affordable costs and unique experiences. Miami and the University of Miami provide the ideal setting for this course. This course can offer hands-on learning outside of the classroom.  The course includes field expeditions to Miami Beach, Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys to gain field experience in coastal assessment, restoration and management techniques. The course will employ “flipped classroom” approached to teaching, with students charged with reading/ learning prior to class, then demonstrating/ presenting during class. Students will be encouraged to follow up with independent study projects on coastal ecology and coastal zone management in international venues in the wider Caribbean.
  • FLT 192
  • Giovanni Turner-The” like” Button:  Becoming an Astute Patron of the Arts
  • Though we all have a favorite song, a favorite movie, a favorite novel, and sometimes even a favorite painting, we usually do not interrogate why these works of art are our favorites. Even more rarely do we examine what we, as appreciators, can do to support the art that enriches our lives. In this seminar, we will discuss the skill of and theory behind building an acute arts aesthetic while also developing strategies for supporting the arts in today’s climate of declining government support of the arts and rapidly changing technological modes of entertainment competing with traditional modes. We will focus on contemporary art – visual art, music, and literature – around which there is no general consensus of aesthetic merit. We will attempt to assess the value of new music, modern art, and current day literature before the scholars have had their say. Through readings, short essays, group discussions, group projects, and field trips, we will work toward moving beyond the “like it”-“don’t like it” binary and attempt to develop a more sophisticated critique of the art in which we encounter.  We will examine new trends in art, music, and literature in three corresponding stages. We will be looking at contemporary visual art. The seminar will visit the PAMM as well as the local galleries on Bird Road, Wynwood, and/or Calle Ocho.  academic grounding.
  • FNS 192
  • Barbara Whitlock-Biodiversity and Conservation of South Florida
  • The University of Miami is a short distance from some of the most unique and diverse natural communities in the country. Yet, the remarkable subtropical biodiversity on campus is often completely unfamiliar to our students, including students from South Florida. Academic goals of this course are to: (1) introduce students to the natural world of South Florida, so that they are able to experience fully the amazing biodiversity around them (2) explore research in biodiversity using South Florida species as a focus; (3) explore the use of genetic data as tools in conservation.
    We will take advantage of our location to experience first-hand some of the class topics, using campus resources (e.g., Lake Osceola, the Gifford Arboretum) or if possible by taking field trips off-campus (e.g., Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, Fairchild Tropical Garden).  We will also take advantage of the expertise within UM with guest lectures.  We will use those observations to develop ideas for research projects throughout the semester.  Students who are interested can participate in optional laboratory exercises on conservation genetics.


Frequently Asked Questions

    • Are First-Year Seminars (FY Seminars) only available to freshmen in their first semester?
    • Yes, they are only available to freshmen declaring a major in the UM College of Arts & Sciences during their first semester (“Undecided” students qualify as well).

      Is it also available to transfers in their first semester?
    • No. The idea is to catch students who have never been to college before, and foster a sense of belonging, connection and curiosity.

      What does “seminar” mean in this context?
    • "Seminar" means a class limited to 24 students in which discussion and peer-to-peer learning are underscored. Discussions foster a sense of ownership and enable students to take responsibility for their learning, rather than accept the "truth" as delivered by a faculty member, who is a facilitator more than anything else.

      Do the students receive 3 credits just as they would with a standard course?
    • Yes, many seminars provide 3 credits.

      Are the 2015 FY Seminars only available during the fall 2015 semester?
    • Yes. Students should sign up early through CaneLink, as space is limited and open only for the fall semester.

      Can students take more than one FY Seminar?
    • Yes, students may take more than one seminar as long as their schedules permit.