First-Year Program Fall Course Descriptions

During your first semester, you will live alongside classmates in your First-Year Program, making it much easier to collaborate and learn together as you embark on your FYP, an interdisciplinary, often team-taught, course that focuses on a topic of broad interest and is one of the four courses that first-year students take in the fall.  

The First-Year Program also offers courses with a Community-Based Learning (CBL) component, which expands the walls of the classroom to include the community beyond SLU. Students in CBL courses actively engage in their learning by spending two hours a week outside of class time in a placement with one of our community partners. Students then bring the world outside back into the classroom to connect their placement experiences with course content.

Complete the FYP College Preference Form, Housing Form, and Interests form, on your Application Status Page before May 30.

Fall 2024 Course Themes & Descriptions

Courses offered in "Changing the World: Justice & Advocacy" consider ways that change, rebellion, dissent, leadership, and other movements can promote equity in our world.

Explaining and Changing the Social World


The world is plagued by social problems that seem difficult if not impossible to address. If we stand a chance of addressing them at all, we need to understand both why these problems have emerged and, from there, what our best explanations suggest about what, if anything, we can do. In this course, we will dive into explanations of a particularly pressing social problem: the existence of poverty. First, we will explore the different sociological explanations for the existence of poverty. Then, we will explore the philosophical underpinnings of these explanations and engage with philosophical questions about economic justice, like: what kind of society do we want? What is justice, and (how) can we make our society a just one? Ultimately, our aim will be to think about a big and challenging, but ultimately practical, question: what would it take to get rid of poverty and, therefore, promote a more just and equitable world?

Our Animal Kin: Exploring Human-Animal Relationships

Sturges / Wolfe

This course explores human-animal connections and their spiritual and ethical implications. Moving between writings from Western and Indigenous worldviews, we consider how humans have rightfully or wrongfully imagined animals over time and across cultures, the relationships we have forged with other animals (including those that are currently under threat and that have recently been lost in an age of 'species loneliness'), and what obligations and responsibilities we may have to safeguard and foster the welfare of other species. Through the lens of these relationships, not only will we confront some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, but we’ll also challenge the boundaries between humans and other animals and seek to connect with the wild within ourselves. Crafting skills in creative non-fiction, students compose and tell stories about their own animal connections and, later, hone the art of persuasive writing by composing an argumentative essay taking a position on an issue in animal ethics.

Say What? Let's Talk: Listening and Speaking Across Difference

Oey / Papineau

Have you ever found yourself wondering, “Did that person just say that?”? Have you ever felt like someone just didn’t understand where you were coming from? Have you ever found yourself caught off-guard by a comment and weren't sure how to respond? In this course, students will look deeply at their personal and social identities and how those identities shape their perspectives and life experiences. Topics will include emotional intelligence, active listening, empathy, civility, and other topics as they relate to diversity and inclusion. Students will engage in class exercises and deliberative dialogue that will increase their abilities to manage difficult conversations. This formal process--called InterGroup Dialogue (IGD)--explores how to talk across difference. IGD allows for critical self-reflection and offers the opportunity to challenge biases while building skills of listening, multiple perspective taking, and holding judgement “softly”.

Kill Your Darlings: Writing Vigilantes and Antiheroes


With serial killer celebrities, murder mystery podcasting sleuths, and widespread true crime obsession, clearly Americans are fascinated by narratives of murder, revenge, and justice. What makes these stories so compelling? And, as scholars working in psychology, sociology, and media studies continue to question, is our compulsion toward these dark visions of justice healthy? In this course, we will examine our cultural attraction to vigilante justice and dissect the art of writing vigilantes and anti-heroes. Beginning our exploration of the topic with the gothic notion of the ‘other’ in works by Poe and Hawthorne, we will then move to the non-fiction narrative of America’s first serial killer, H. H. Holmes, in The Devil in the White City. Finally, we will examine the popularity of contemporary antiheroes, such as “America’s favorite serial-killer” Dexter Morgan. In addition to analytical assignments, students will write creatively to construct their own vigilante or antihero narrative.

Trespassing Through Gardens

Bara Sturges

Trespassing through the side lots and backyards of childhood, we may have encountered gardens—well-tended rows of vegetables, or long-abandoned flowers that still might bloom among the weeds, or a seemingly wild landscape that nevertheless hinted at some effort of arrangement. In this course, we’ll explore themes of environmental aesthetics, conservation, and the management of nature. We’ll read Michael Pollan’s "Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education," excerpts from Rachel Carson’s "Silent Spring," and poetry. And, as we tour farms and walk the wild-flower-filled paths that extend from campus, we will examine how choices made about the landscape in the past affect what we see today. We will strive to build a community of peers who share similar interests in environmental justice and the natural world. 

Navigating Our Differences: Let’s Talk About Race!


Unfortunately for car enthusiasts, we will not be talking about NASCAR or drifting. This course will be about the other definition of “race,” the one that might make some people uncomfortable. We will explore the history of race relations in the United States and look at some studies that have helped create a better understanding about race relations, especially as it pertains to students and the context of higher education. With this, we will take a deep dive into the transformation of racism from the blatant and explicit forms of the past to the covert and subtle forms of the present known as racial microaggressions. Students will gain an in-depth understanding of how race can operate in their daily lives, on/off campus. 

Courses offered in "The Intentional Life: Interconnectedness & Wellness" seek out practices, discussions, and ways of being intentionally connected to one another in our daily lives through our work and our play.

Positively Morbid


Welcome future corpses! Did you know that NY recently legalized human composting? Have you heard that the living and the dead compete for space, especially in places like Taipei? Death is a part of everyone's life. Dealing with death and dying affects us emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, culturally, financially, environmentally…you get the idea. While preparing you for future academic challenges we will investigate and discuss varied aspects of death and dying.

The Science of the Self


How do scientists define and study a concept as abstract and philosophical as the self? We will begin by grounding our understanding of the self through a classic work by William James called The Principles of Psychology. From there we will start to unpack the self by exploring the evidence for and variations between theories of personality, identity (e.g., gender), memory and intelligence, and consciousness. We will also consider how social media and technology influence our “virtual self”, why we are prone to stereotypes and biases and what we can do to mitigate them, and how the narrative we form about ourselves is essential to our self-concept. Our unpacking of the self will acknowledge perspectives from social and cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral genetics. The source materials will consist of journal articles (research reports and reviews published by experts in their field) and chapters from several books written by scientists for general audiences, as well as the occasional literary work and film. This course is designed for students interested in the behavioral sciences and will emphasize the development and refinement of communication skills.

Mindscapes: Confronting the Unconscious through Art, Film, and Beyond

Denaci / Zhaf

Dive into the intricate dance between the psyche and artistic expression. This pioneering course invites you on a journey through the realms of psychoanalysis and art, exploring how the depths of the human mind shape and are reflected in various forms of creative expression. From the canvas to the big screen, sculpture to digital media, uncover the psychological underpinnings that drive creativity and influence perception. Through lectures, film screenings, creative workshops, and critical discussions, students will gain a comprehensive understanding of how psychoanalytic thought shapes and is shaped by artistic expression across different cultures and eras. Whether you're an aspiring artist, psychoanalyst, or simply curious about the human mind's complexities, join us to discover how art and psychoanalysis can offer profound insights into consciousness and culture.

An Outdoor State of Mind (+ pre-trip)


Why do many of us seek out the natural world as a place to play, experience adventure, relieve stress, and rest our minds? What is it about spending time and engaging in physical activity in the outdoors that seems to attract and heal many of us? In this FYP, we will explore different narratives of the outdoor experience and think about intentional ways to create healthy socio-ecological relationships. We will explore these topics from an individual, community, and global scale and will do this through hands-on experience outdoors, reading, writing, and reflection.

Prior experience with outdoor activities are not required; anyone with an interest in the outdoors and a willingness to safely step outside their comfort zone, will do well in this FYP. Students will spend time doing outdoor activities on a regular basis.

All members of this FYP will participate in the Adirondack Adventure Outdoor Pre-Orientation trip in August before matriculation and one full weekend wilderness trip during the semester.

Note that practices and games for fall sports and International Student Orientation will conflict with the pre-orientation trips and possibly the weekend trip for this course. Otherwise, any incoming student, of any skill level, is eligible to participate. 

Learn more about the North Country pre-orientation trips

Questions? Contact the Outdoor Program at 315-229-5015 or


Courses in "Figuring it Out: Purpose, Problems & Solutions" engage students in probing problems or purpose to understand solutions and why some are more readily solved than others.

What is the University For?


Is going to university “worth it”?  And if so why?  What should we – as individuals and as a society –expect of our universities and of the university experience?  These are not idle questions.  Students and their families invest money, time, and not a little emotion in the process of getting into “the right school” and “the right major.”  We expect universities to be places of learning, of research, of personal growth, and a path to economic success.  Liberals and progressives have often envisioned universities as engines of social change and social justice.  Conservatives worry that these same goals are code for indoctrination.  As you enter university, what better time to take these questions head on, to think about what the goals of your university should be and, indeed, what your goals and priorities should be while you are here.  You are in university now.  What does that mean?  What should it mean?

The Making of the Fittest: Evolution of the Human Body


How and why did humans evolve to be the way we are, and what are the implications of our evolved anatomy and physiology for human health in a post-industrial world? Why do we get sick, and how can we use principles of evolution to improve health and wellbeing? To address these questions, this class explores how the genetic and anatomical legacy of fish, reptiles, and other ancestral organisms can be seen today in human anatomy and DNA, including genes involved in the development of our hands, limbs, heart, brain, and many other organs. The class is designed for prospective biology majors who are interested in learning about the exciting field of evolutionary developmental biology, and its implications to human health and disease.

Rural Dreams: Plight and Promise of Small Town America (CBL)


While rural areas currently account for less than a fifth of America’s population, small towns have played an outsized role in the nation’s history, political economy, and understanding of itself, even as they have faced existential challenges for much of the past century. Whatever the size of your hometown, exploring small-town America—of which Canton, NY (population 6,500) is just one example—is an opportunity to address economic, political, and social questions and explore entrepreneurial solutions to real-world problems. In this course, we will closely examine the histories, present circumstances, and potential futures of rural America; debate whether small towns and their way of life need or deserve special protections; and consider what we can do about rural poverty, environmental problems, and the growing urban/rural divide. The class will put special emphasis on learning about our region and surrounding communities. 

What is CBL?

This course includes an experiential learning component known as Community-Based Learning (CBL). The community-based experience is a required, weekly component for all students in the course, and serves to expand the walls of the classroom to include the community beyond SLU. Students in CBL courses actively engage in their learning by spending two hours a week outside of class time in a placement with one of our community partners. Students then bring their experiences back into the classroom to connect with course content. The CBL office facilitates and manages the entire placement process for students. Please note: Unless specified, travel time to and from the site is not included and is moderate for placements beyond the Canton community. Students do not need a vehicle to participate in CBL classes.

Courses in "Human Invention: Knowledge, Practice & Action" focus on understanding the how and the why, but ultimately end up practicing the “doing."

Ghost Stories and Other Haunted Histories


What can we learn about our present when the past refuses to stay in the past? Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, their stories and how they linger can reveal interesting insights into the values, attitudes, and beliefs of their stewards. In this class, we will explore ghostly stories and the people, places, and ideas they haunt. To do so, we’ll investigate selected hauntings from North America, encountering specters in movies and television shows, cities, parks, and college campuses.

The Third Dimension of Books: Visionaries, Printers, and the Artist Book


People can, and do, make art out of pretty much anything.  We’re going to examine making art through books, that is, examine how people use the form of the book the way a painter might use oil and canvas.  You will become familiar with Artists Books, constructions based on books that create unique visual and tactile experiences.  You will be examining, researching, and writing about Artists Books in the St Lawrence University Libraries collection, and you’ll be trying your hand at making one.  We’ll make art together, art up from the book—no experience necessary, just a willingness to rethink something you thought you knew. 

Do-It-Yourself Theatre: Taking a Play from Concept to Performance

Sweigart-Gallagher / Cooper

Develop your leadership, collaboration, and problem-solving skills in DIY Theatre! Students enrolled in DIY Theatre will work collaboratively throughout the semester to produce a full-length theatrical performance as part of University Theatre's 2024-2025 Season. Students enrolled in this course will learn to apply script analysis, research, and writing skills to increase their understanding of dramatic texts. Students will learn about the different roles and responsibilities that make a theatre production possible, as well as the different steps of the production process. Under the mentorship of faculty, students will serve as scenic, lighting, and costume designers, as well as performers, stage managers, box office, and house managers in order to gain hands-on experience in taking a play from production concept to final performance. First-time theatre-makers and performers are welcome!

Food, Self, and Society (CBL)

Ammirati / Harr

Food connects you in countless ways to other people and to the planet. This course will help you understand the complex relationships we form between food, the self, society, and the environment. We will explore the cultural roles of food throughout the world, considering topics such as globalization, migration, sustainability, food sovereignty, food taboos, and food traditions. A key “textbook” for this class will be a Community-Based Learning placement with local organic farms. Outside of class meetings, students will spend around two hours per week together learning about the practicalities of food production by tending, harvesting, and preserving food. Join us for an intellectual feast!

From Wonderland to Diagon Alley: Children's Literature & Its Life-long Lessons (CBL)


Strong claims have been made regarding the power and influence of children’s books.  Alison Lurie, for example, suggests that they provide “…other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation.”  Sherman Alexie believes “…the age at which you find the book with which you truly identify determines the rest of your reading life.” Are stories for children a delightful distraction—or powerful forces that shape the adults we become?  Much like the lemonade stand at the end of the driveway that first taught us how to turn a profit, stories teach us life lessons while engaging our imaginations. In this class, we will examine how literature for children can both reflect and shape culture through its depiction of families, animals, and even historical events. We will also explore the ways these depictions have been expressed, from allegory to fantasy to realist fiction. Eventually, you will share a piece of children’s literature with young children in the community and create your own piece of children’s literature, using what you have learned in the class to make purposeful decisions about its shape and its content. 

What is CBL?

This course includes an experiential learning component known as Community-Based Learning (CBL). The community-based experience is a required, weekly component for all students in the course, and serves to expand the walls of the classroom to include the community beyond SLU. Students in CBL courses actively engage in their learning by spending two hours a week outside of class time in a placement with one of our community partners. Students then bring their experiences back into the classroom to connect with course content. The CBL office facilitates and manages the entire placement process for students. Please note: Unless specified, travel time to and from the site is not included and is moderate for placements beyond the Canton community. Students do not need a vehicle to participate in CBL classes.

Courses in "New Horizons: Global & Historical Conversations" invite students to investigate a culture, time, space, and/or place different than St. Lawrence University in the contemporary time.

America and the World in the 20th and 21st Centuries


This course will examine the role of the United States in world affairs from the 20th century to the present in order to understand both the causes of historical events and context for current issues in international relations. The class will focus on the interplay of social, political, economic, military, humanitarian, and other factors in shaping American foreign policy over time, and encourage students to start to think about the impact they may want to have on the world in their lives. By considering how shared social ideas about self and other, friend and enemy, and threat and opportunity, have evolved in US political culture and shaped America's world role, students will develop skills to think critically about these processes as global citizens and scholars, and about their own individual identities, principles, and potential in the world. 

“One Person’s Freedom-fighter”: Perspectives on Terrorism in History, Literature, and Film


The often repeated phrase, "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter" has almost been accepted as a truism, even in the context of the War on Terror and the aftermath of the events of January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol. However, this acceptance ignores the complex realities of terrorism and the ways in which the public has been fed images of terrorism that necessarily shape and inform assumptions about the phenomenon. In this course, we will hone our critical thinking and analytical skills by exploring contested definitions of terrorism in the global context and see how perceptions of terrorism have been articulated in academic work, public and global policy, US and international law, literary fiction, and film. Furthermore, we will examine specific groups and movements and, in some cases, the reflections of former terrorists and members of these groups after having left their violent pasts behind them.

Coldest Cold War Flicks

Jockel / Sieja

This course will examine the earliest and coldest days of the Cold War, a period extending from the end of World War II in 1945 to the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, through a sampling of historical texts and American movies made during that time. Movies are often more than just mindless escapism: the stories and texts continually recast by our culture not only entertain but also can provide a window into who we are, and were. We will look at how the motion pictures of the day reflected the major preoccupations of the early Cold War era, chief among them dealing with nuclear weapons, responding to the Soviet communist threat and undertaking America’s new responsibilities abroad, as well as enjoying prosperity and mobility at home in the new suburbs while spawning a generation that eventually would be called the “boomers.” Special attention will be paid to the noir films of the 1940s and 1950s, family melodramas such as Mildred Pierce and Rebel Without a Cause, science fiction films of the 1950s such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, and nuclear war films such as On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove. 

Chinese Literature and Film


This course provides an overview of Chinese literature and film. The first half surveys traditional Chinese literature with a focus on masterpieces in the golden ages of various genres. The second half introduces modern Chinese literature with a focus on film, including representative works by well-known writers Lu Xun and Ba Jin, and famous film directors such as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Wang Xiaoshuai and others. The aim is to enhance students' interests and skills in reading and analysis of Chinese literature and film, and improve students' understanding of the history, society and culture of China. All works are read in English translation.

What’s That Sound?


“Stop, children, what’s that sound?  Everybody look what’s going down” sang Buffalo Springfield in a song that became an anthem of the 60s.  This class is centered on the question: what is sound, and what role does sound play in our lives?  We’ll explore sound from the perspective of physics, biology, medicine, folklore, history, politics, craftsmanship, technology, and music.  We will engage sound by meeting and speaking with people whose lives and careers are centered on sound, and we’ll explore the sounds of the SLU campus.  We will also make our own sounds, from drumming the rhythms of different cultures to learning to use music-making technology to craft our own compositions.  We will shape sound, and explore how sounds shape us.  So, as musicians say, “get your ears out,” and let’s discover what’s going down with sound.

What is Noise?


What counts as noise? Is it the sound of birds outside your window at 4:00am? What about loud music on a street corner in the middle of the afternoon? Or a group of friends laughing in a library? The answers to these questions aren’t cut and dry. The category of “noise” is subjective and revealing: who defines what is noise and what isn’t? Who makes noise and who doesn’t? Who is able to escape noise and who must suffer through endless cacophony? The course is designed around two related themes. The first is interrogating the category of noise. How has the concept of noise been constructed as a way to define and separate groups of people? We will turn to a wide range of sources that explore how the idea of noise has been linked to larger worldviews such as racial ideologies and class distinctions. We will build from this general background to consider the world around us through sound. Drawing on models such as The London Sound Survey and “The Roaring Twenties” – which maps the historical sounds of New York City – we will explore and document both historical and contemporary sounds of St. Lawrence University and Canton, NY. What can focusing on sound help us discover about how the world around us is structured?

Global Economic Development: Rival States & Rival Firms in the International System


In the complex 21st century international system the drive for economic development has implications for war and peace. Powerful nations and weaker ones all with complex domestic constituencies are in intense competition with each other, while people all over the world still rely on travel/migration along with supply chains connecting friendly and antagonistic nations. Actors from firms to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to social movements matter as they reorient us towards this period of weaker commitment to globalization. In this seemingly confusing world, this course offers students the opportunity to conduct research to see beyond what is publicly presented. Students are expected to focus on a key area of interest whether it is the role of firms, NGOs, social movements, and other actors along with the traditional state, to know more clearly the sources of problems and possibilities for solutions. Students are encouraged to think about their role as citizens, not only of their own countries, but also of the world as St. Lawrence encourages commitment and courage to be engaged.

Courses in "Visionary Ventures: New Advances & Entrepreneurship" explore ways to reimagine the “old”, develop the “new”, and think about ways to move from “it’s always been done this way” to “how could this be different."

Community By Design

Coupland / Twedt

Arriving in a new place can be exciting and intimidating. What is it about different places that make them more comfortable than others? Using foundational theories of place and place-making, community engagement, and environmental psychology, students will investigate the features of different spaces and places that promote and impede community-building. We will use our SLU environment to critically examine how various spaces on campus, and in the broader Canton community, are designed to encourage social inclusion, engagement, and person-environment relationships.

Science & Speculation

Tartakoff / Tartakoff

Science fiction has always fascinated us, asking us to consider seemingly impossible technologies and to dream about possible futures. However, science fiction also invites us look inward, at ourselves and our current society, and to wonder how well we would use the technologies that we most hope for. Whether in the reaches of space or the depths of a digital world, through genetic engineering or time-travel, there are incredible stories with real-life lessons to be learned. Using readings and films, we will look at science and societies, both real and imagined, to discuss some of the different places humanity might be headed. As part of this course, writing assignments and oral presentations will teach you to be both a better storyteller and a better scientist.