First-Year Seminars 2019

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.

"Oceanic Studies: Human Life on the Water" (FLT190)

Oceanic Studies

Humans have a special relationship with the sea. Its vastness awes us, its rhythms calm us, its depths are as mysterious as a distant planet. Perhaps you’ve sat on the beach and watched the waves, or paddled a kayak out to a bay island, or even spent a week on a gargantuan cruise ship. But have you ever wondered what a life lived on the ocean is really like? Students in this seminar will look at accounts of and by people who have lived some of their lives on the ocean: sailors and pirates, prisoners and slaves and refugees. Together we will examine the ways in which a life at sea changes people’s relationships with the land, with nationality, and with each other, seeking to better understand our own relationship with the sea.

“A Transdisciplinary Look at Mindfulness” (FLT191-G)

A Transdisciplinary Look at Mindfulness

Interested in enhancing your undergraduate experience through mindfulness training and meditation? Developed as a hybrid seminar of research and practice, this seminar will guide you through meditation, journal writing, silence, research, and dialogue—practices that can offset the constant distractions of our multitasking, multimedia culture. Through focused self-exploration, this seminar will also give you the ability to be present in the classroom and in life; to engage in active listening with an open mind; to appreciate the value of another’s experiences and perspectives; to develop self-awareness and insight; to think critically with self-awareness; and to enhance your speaking and listening skills. 

“Refugee Stories” (FLT 192)

First Year Seminar refugee stories

In a time of global migration crisis, what kind of stories are told about refugees, and what kind of stories are they telling about themselves? We will analyze how news media can both dehumanize the refugee and bring the suffering of strangers to life, comparing fiction and journalism, and exploring what different modes of storytelling, through films, novels, poems, and memoirs, can do. A recent tragic, lyrical text written secretly on WhatsApp by a Kurdish asylum-seeker in an Australian detention center on a remote island has moved its readers deeply, for example, but what might it do, instead, to make people laugh in a text about refugees? Can and should you depict refugee life through genres like science fiction, or is it important to tell “real” stories? What new forms of creative writing and documentary reportage are being invented? Perhaps most importantly, what moves people to care, and to take action?

“Imagining Nature” (FLT193)

Imagining Nature

The idea of nature as a refuge from the cacophony of civilized life is so commonplace that few of us would think to question it. In literature, nature is sometimes a place of (self) generation and of poetic inspiration. Sometimes it is even a place where we are free to hunt and be more in touch with our “animal” selves. And yet “nature” is hardly a pristine place untouched by humans. Nature is bound in the form of national parks and wilderness reserves and is therefore as manmade as the whistling of the train that interrupts Henry David Thoreau’s Transcendental thoughts in Walden Pond. This course examines the role that literature plays in shaping how we imagine nature and our place in it. We will ask not only what nature means in a world where humans are taking up more and more space, but what our responsibility is toward the nonhuman world.

“Reconsidering the ‘Selfie’” (FLT194)

Reconsidering the ‘Selfie’

Have you considered the motive or impact of when you take a selfie—both on yourself and others? Why are selfies so pervasive in our society and how harmful/beneficial can the practice possibly become? How do social media outlets effectively or ineffectively use images of faces to address/share social justice/injustices and create action? In this seminar, you will find many new challenging perspectives on this familiar ritual and have the opportunity to critically think and write about media you are exposed to—and perhaps participate in, on a regular basis. Through course readings, class discussion, and research, you will view the selfie from a historical perspective and study how it’s viewed in current political arenas. You will also understand its effect on language, legal issues, and mental health as well as its current discourse with identity, connection, self-preservation, and technology. 

“Evidence and the Foundations of Science” (FPR190)

Evidence and foundation of Science

Scientists working in various disciplines have recently examined the foundations of their disciplines and found them weak. Problems have emerged due to low quality evidence. In this seminar we will examine one of the most fundamental concepts in philosophy, science, and every-day life—the concept of evidence. We will consider questions such as the following: Are judgments about evidence logically independent of what anyone believes or are they just a matter of opinion? What is evidence? How do we decide the proper standards of evidence for any particular discipline? Is there any objective, reliable system for grading the quality of evidence? Students will develop their logical skills through class discussion and the writing of two brief analytical papers and a longer paper due at the end of the semester; there will be no exams.

“Sea Level Rise in Miami” (FSS190)

Miami and Sea level rise

Miami is ground zero for sea level rise (SLR), and rising seas and their impacts are upon us. Students in this seminar will use a combination of theory and hands-on mapping exercises, using online mapping tools and apps, to explore the risks, impacts, vulnerabilities, and resilience of Miami to SLR. Together we will critique existing strategies for coping with SLR and innovate novel and implementable ones. As sea levels rise, do we fortify or do we relocate? Do we build sea walls, or do we conserve wetlands? We will discuss and debate these important questions. The culmination of the seminar is a final project in which students will use flexible modes of presentation (such as PowerPoint, creative writing, short movies, story maps, or other art forms) to communicate about SLR in Miami.