First-Year Interdisciplinary Sequences

These videos showcase just three of our many year-long first-year sequences, which to some extent rotate in and out from year to year. Watch the videos to learn more about what a sequence is like from the perspectives of both students and faculty. Below the videos, see current course descriptions for the 13 sequences we're offering in the 2021-22 academic year. To better understand the format listed for each class, please watch this video

Middle East Beyond the Headlines

Making Waves: Water for a Changing World

Design Thinking for Social Product Innovation

Alliance and Conflict

Jeremiah Cataldo and Dwayne Tunstall

Fall: HNR 151 06 MW 10:00-11:15am and HNR 152 06 HNR 152 06 MW 11:30-12:45pm HON 218

Winter: HNR 153 06 MW 10:00-11:15am and HNR 154 06 MW 11:30-12:45 HON 218

At the heart of every social relationship, whether among human collectives or with the natural world, exists either alliance or conflict. In this sequence, we will investigate the nature of those relationships as they take place in religious, social, and political groups, with a particular focus on the alliances and the conflicts between them. Through relational dialogue and debate, intercultural experiences, and community interviews, we will explore different religious and political conflicts. We will immerse ourselves in experiential learning as we spend time in the field with different religious communities. We will also analyze contemporary social problems and work towards proposals to solve those problems. Drawing upon texts spanning from the second millennium BCE to the present that deal with important elements of social, political, and religious identity, we will integrate different critical theories in various social-scientific studies, philosophy, religion, history, politics, theology, literature, and more. By the end of the sequence, we will have an understanding of how religion and society are mutually dependent, and how that interdependency shapes us even today. In addition, the theories and analytical procedures used throughout the sequence will provide helpful tools for critical analysis in other courses in the humanities and the social sciences.

American Voices and Visions

Kurt Ellenberger and Steve Tripp

Fall: HNR 151 11 TR 2:30-3:45pm and HNR 152 11 TR 4:00-5:15pm HON 219

Winter: HNR 153 11 TR 2:30-3:45 and HNR 154 11 TR 4:00-5:15pm HON 219

American art, literature, and music shocked, challenged, and enthralled the world in the twentieth century. “Make It New!” the poet Ezra Pound declared, and this course will examine major artists, musicians, and authors whose work expressed this American passion for the new. Focusing on the societal conditions that surrounded these works, as well as their influence on the wider culture, we will study a range twentieth-century artistic movements, with a particular emphasis on how these voices and visions challenged, extended, enhanced, complicated, and even undercut what it means to be an American.

Culture, Power & Inequality

Joel Stillerman and Naoki Kanaboshi

Fall: HNR 151 08 TR 11:30-12:45pm and HNR 152 08 1:00-2:15pm HHLC 209A

Winter: HNR 153 08 TR 11:30-12:45pm and HNR 154 08 1:00-2:15pm HHLC 209A

Why do the three richest people in the U.S. have as much wealth as the poorest half of the population? Why is sexual assault so widespread even though it is illegal? If race does not matter, why are black women more likely to die of breast cancer than white women?  In a time when gay marriage is legal in the U.S., why is the existence of transgender bathrooms deemed dangerous?  What are the sources of power and powerlessness in societies?  We explore these questions by addressing the social and cultural systems that shape our opportunities and behavior even when we are not aware of them.  We will investigate some pressing current topics, such as global income inequality, social injustice and oppression, environmental racism, unequal access to healthcare, the uncertain effects of digital technology on our world, and other issues of power and inequality.  We will also explore how people unite to resist the corrosive effects of systemic inequality and oppression through political participation, protest, online activism, creative expression, and other forms of collective action. We will examine these issues of inequality and protest in the U.S. and around the world.  Students will have the opportunity to explore some of these issues through small, independent research projects based on their specific interests both inside and outside the classroom.  Students will gain experience with writing-to-learn and writing-for-mastery assignments as well as guided revisions of their writing.  Classroom activities will include lecture, discussion, student presentations, multi-media activities, and field trips.

Dangerous Ideas

Ellen Adams and David Eick

Fall: HNR 151 03 TR 10:00-11:15am and HNR 152 03 TR 11:30-12:45pm Synchronous Online for Fall only

Winter: HNR 153 03 TR 10:00-11:15am and HNR 154 03 11:30-12:45pm HON 218

We are culturally socialized to avoid difficult conversations—don’t talk about religion, sex, or politics at a dinner party! Not often do we substantively engage with one another about contentious, offensive, and potentially dangerous ideas. This course focuses on objects and texts originally deemed offensive or dangerous for their questioning of orthodoxy and experimentations with artistic and literary conventions but are now considered canonical works. Art and literature offer opportunities to explore incendiary notions such as such as morality, evil, freedom, sex, racism, obscenity, tradition/progress, religion, and others. Many artists and writers make work that incites emotional responses that can be powerful, polarizing, impactful, and/or divisive. How can art and literature facilitate difficult conversations? For example, how do we distinguish between “free” speech that is legitimate and “hate” speech that incites violence? How should art and literature represent the world to its audience? How can we account for viewers’ and readers’ wildly divergent reactions to the same work? And, finally, who determines the meaning and value of a work of art? Throughout the year students will practice framing questions to allow space for meaningful discourse. In this sequence, students will play Reacting to the Past (RTTP) role-playing games, The Enlightenment in Crisis: Diderot’s Encyclopédie in a Parisian Salon (1750-?) and Rousseau, Burke and Revolution in France (1791). In RTTP games, students are assigned roles with victory objectives. In order to prevail, they must read complex texts closely, deliver persuasive speeches, write effectively, conduct library research, collaborate, and take creative initiative to solve problems. We will also read novels, study art history through traditional means as well as through group projects, and take field trips to museums, the symphony, and other locations as opportunities arise.

Design Thinking for Social Product Innovation

Paul Lane and Ryan Lafferty

Fall: HNR 151 07 W 3:00-5:50pm and HNR 152 07 W 6:00-8:50pm HON 148

Winter: HNR 153 07 W 3:00-5:50pm and HNR 154 07 W 6:00-8:50pm HON 148

This description was written by students from 2020-21. In this sequence, you will be immersing yourself in a dynamic class that is centered around the idea of creativity. Design Thinking for Social Product Innovation is a mouthful, and you will learn nearly all the inner workings of it. The class periods will never be the same, and there will always be something unexpected. The professors will guide you step by step through brainstorming techniques and components of prototyping. Whether it is bringing trash into class or going on hikes in the ravines, the class is an experience that you will never forget. It is all about developing ideas, rethinking the normal and coming up with different ways of production, hence the Design Thinking and Product Innovation. You will be surprised how much you do not know about the world around you and you will also learn that you have the resources to develop something amazing. It is not just about meeting deadlines and finishing projects, it is about immersing yourself in a class that will teach you the importance of the world, struggle of people in different countries, and the ability that you must change it. There is a heavy focus on the UN Sustainability Goals which are goals developed to help some of the poorest countries in the world. Targeting developing countries in ways of sanitation, clean water or no poverty plus investigating creative innovations is something this class utilizes to improve the lives of others. 

In many classes, you learn the basis of a problem in the facts around it and then that is it. Yet, this class is so different in the way you can dive headfirst into research to fully inspect and problems. This class allows you to think for yourself and go beyond the normal. You will constantly be collaborating with other classmates, forced to reinvent, deconstruct, and have fun while doing it. The class may be long, but you will never go hungry with the constant supply of delicious dinners that shoots way past chicken tenders at Kleiner. There may be a 6-hour time stamp on this class, but with the local businesses and West Michigan adventures you may embark on, time flies. Dr. Lane and Professor Lafferty have so much to offer to this class with their experience, expertise and excellence. They are the working definition of collaboration while one is jumping on the table, the other is fixing his bow tie. This class is not just schoolwork, it is an opportunity to learn new methods of thinking that you will be able to use here in this class and in the future whatever you might venture on to.

East Asia: Connections

Fall: Meghan Cai and Jeremy Robinson

HNR 151 06 MW 3:00-4:15pm

HNR 152 06 MW 4:30-5:45pm


Winter: Yan Liang and Jason Herlands

HNR 153 06 MW 3:00-4:15pm

HNR 154 06 MW 4:30-5:45pm

This four-course, two-semester sequence explores the circulation of peoples, culture, and ideas throughout East Asia, from ancient connections between the regions of China, Korea, and Japan to contemporary interactions in a globalized world. The classes adopt a truly interdisciplinary approach, including both the “high culture” of history, literature, philosophy, and art; as well as the “lived culture” of food, family, school, and work. Rather than taking a chronological approach, the course explores common themes through which we can see the culture of the past informing the worldviews of the present.

Each semester, two courses are team-taught by specialists in Chinese and Japanese Culture: Meghan Cai and Jeremy Robinson in the fall, and Yan Liang and Jason Herlands in the winter. All classes feature readings in primary and secondary sources, full-class discussion, individual and group projects, student presentations, and written essays. Classes will also include group excursions to museums, restaurants, and marketplaces, exploring the many ways in which “East Asian culture” circulates in our own midwestern American communities.

The Making of Latin America

David Stark and Medar Serrata

Fall: HNR 151 09 MW 3:00-4:15pm (synchronous online) and HNR 152 09 MW 4:30-5:45pm HHLC 109A

Winter: HNR 153 09 MW 3:00-4:15pm and HNR 154 09 MW 4:30-5:45 HHLC 109A

Many of us have heard of Latin America, but what do we know about the countries and people who inhabit this region of the world? This two-course sequence is an interdisciplinary approach to Latin American experiences from pre-conquest times to the present. We will learn about the history, literature, culture, and arts of this region and about the socio-political processes that have shaped the lives of the U.S. closest neighbors. In the first part of the course, students will learn about the great Amerindian civilizations; the encounter between Amerindians, Europeans, and Africans; the lives of men and women in colonial society; slave life and culture; and the wars of independence. In the second part, we will explore how governments and citizens struggled to define modernity; U.S. imperialism and intervention; the divergent paths of political and economic development; the social roots of Latin American revolutions; and the challenges of the 21st century. Classroom activities will include riveting lectures, interesting discussions, engaging learning communities, creative group projects, an exciting field trip, and occasional salsa lessons. HNR 151-09 will be offered as "synchronous online" in fall only. HNR 152-09 will be face-to-face. Both sections will be face-to-face in winter.

The Middle East Beyond the Headlines

Coeli Fitzpatrick and Majd Al-Mallah

Fall: HNR 151 01 MW 12:00-1:15pm and HNR 152 01 MW 1:30-2:45pm HON 219

Winter: HNR 153 01 MW 12:00-1:15pm and HNR 154 01 MW 1:30-2:45 HON 219

We’ve all watched the news. We’ve read the headlines. We’ve seen movies where there are Arab and Muslim characters. Therefore, we know about the region and its peoples, right? What more is there to learn? In truth, most people would say that they know enough about the Middle East. That they know enough about Arabs. About Muslims. The premise behind this class is that the Middle East is a vast region with complexity that we ought to explore beyond what’s readily available through media and popular film. Because the region is generally covered through a limited lens, this class tries to get behind the headlines to uncover the layers of complexity that make up both this region we call “The Middle East” and its multiple peoples, religions, languages, and cultures. The ultimate goal is to reach a nuanced and educated way of “knowing”. We also think about what goes into the construction of headlines. How have we come to think about the region in such simplistic ways? Why do we know so little about the cultures and the important contributions to humanity? Can we name a single Arab author? Our class is a discussion-based class, meaning that we don’t like to just lecture—we want to talk about what we are reading, seeing, and hearing. We value working in communities/teams, and strive to prepare students to be informed global citizens with sensitivity and cultural competency. We use a variety of ways to assess work, never limited to one method. We use different types of writing: blog posts, short essays, reading briefs, and some formal essays.

New World Odyssey

Gary Greer, John Weber, and Jim Penn

Fall: HNR 151 12 MW 9:00-10:15am and HNR 152 12 MW 10:30-11:45am HON 148

Winter: HNR 153 12 MW 9:00-10:15am and HNR 154 12 MW 10:30-11:45am HON 148

This sequence explores the geology, biology, and human geography of the Americas, and the processes that produced this history and continue to drive it today. Several hundred million years ago, the supercontinent Pangea was assembled. Global climate and the evolution of life were drastically affected by Pangea’s assembly, breakup, and fragment collisions. A million years ago, glaciers began ruling the planet.  Approximately 14,000 years ago the Americas were colonized by humans, first from Asia and then much later from Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. Finally, Pangea was virtually re-connected via post-Columbian New-to-Old World trade. The two fall courses in this sequence explore the geological and biological odyssey of the Americas. The two winter courses include an exploration of the human geography and history of the Americas and a project-based course that utilizes student-team exploration of a topic synthesizing geology, biology, and human geography.

The Sound of Ethics: From Acoustic Perception to Deep Learning

Melba Vélez Ortiz and Elizabeth Gansen

Fall: HNR 151 13 TR 10:00-11:15 and HNR 152 13 TR 11:30-12:45 HON 220

Winter: HNR 153 13 TR 10:00-11:15 and HNR 154 13 TR 11:30-12:45 HON 220

Is listening easy? Is it the kind of thing we are good at because, like speech, we have been doing it all our lives? Is it ever okay not to listen? Like speech, listening is a process that begins long before we communicate. Our biases, presuppositions, and attitudes impact our ability to listen effectively—or even to hear others at all, as we increasingly see calls to mute, block, de-platform, and censor views deemed dangerous or unworthy. Drawing from multiple academic disciplines, this sequence explores the conceptual differences between involuntary auditory input and purposeful deeper listening practices in the context of both pluralistic societies and multicultural organizations. We will explore hearing as a function, and listening as an ethic—and ultimately a highly valued leadership competency.

Spain in Europe

Grace Coolidge, Isabelle Cata, and Diane Wright

Fall: HNR 151 04 TR 1:00-2:15pm and HNR 152 04 TR 2:30-3:45pm HON 220

Winter: HNR 153 04 TR 1:00-2:15pm and HNR 154 04 TR 2:30-3:45pm HON 220

While this course covers all of European history and culture, we put a special emphasis on Spain. Spain occupied a unique historical and geographical position as the cultural crossroad of East and West, where the three “peoples of the book” (Christians, Jews and Muslims) coexisted in complex patterns of harmony and tension. The Spanish empire dominated the early modern world, and Spain was home to a rich cultural Renaissance.  By contrast, twentieth-century Spain survived a brutal civil war and the longest-running Fascist dictatorship in European history to become a thriving modern democracy. We explore the twists and turns of Spanish history and compare and contrast Spain to the rest of Europe, learning about its uniqueness as well as about the common ties that bind it to the mainland. The course covers Spanish and European history and culture from the medieval period to the present day European union. We learn how to cure love-sickness, follow a gender non-conforming nun in her adventures across Spain and the new world, meet the famous witch Celestina, and wrestle with the Frankenstein monster. In the 19th century the class uses a six-week simulation in which students play the parts of workers and factory owners caught up in the Industrial Revolution, making choices and living with the consequences in this fast-changing culture. We explore the tragic, disillusioned poetry of World War One, the impact of the Holocaust, and the slow rebuilding of a traumatized Europe into today’s European Union. The class puts special emphasis on learning to write historical and literary essays and to handle a college-level reading load, skills that will benefit students in any discipline they pursue.


Water in a Changing World

Peter Wampler, Eric Snyder, and Tara Hefferan 

Fall: HNR 151 10 TR 8:30-9:45am and HNR 152 10 TR 10:00-11:15am HON 214

Winter: HNR 153 10 TR 8:30-9:45am and HNR 154 10 TR 10:00-11:15am HON 214

Water is life. It shapes where we live, how we live, and if we live. Water is fundamental to many of the activities and actions we engage in both as individuals and as communities. Is safe water a human right that all people on earth should enjoy? Why do 2.1 billion people on this planet lack access to safe water in their homes? What cultural context informs our decisions about water in the United States and globally? This interdisciplinary course will explore these questions through books, articles, class discussions, guest speakers, field trips, and hands-on activities. We will take a deep dive into the science and social implications of contemporary water challenges and issues using tools, data, and perspectives from biology, geology, and cultural anthropology. We will explore contemporary water-related challenges such as lead, mercury, and PFAs in drinking water supplies; water use and allocation in the Great Lakes Watershed; and balancing competing values in the restoration of the Grand River and other waterways. The course will provide many opportunities to engage with your peers in open-ended problem solving and discussion of a range of water issues within their social and cultural context. We will explore water issues in developing nations such as Haiti, Ghana, and Ecuador. As we explore global water issues we will provide diverse viewpoints, perspectives, and opportunities for exploring how our own cultural context may impact our views of complicated water-related issues within the United States and internationally. 

The Worlds of Greece and Rome

Charles Pazdernik, David Crane, and Quinn Griffin

Fall: HNR 151 02 MWF 1:00-1:50pm and HNR 152 02 MWF 2:00-2:50pm HON 220

Winter: HNR 153 02 MWF 1:00-1:50pm and HNR 154 02 MWF 2:00-2:50pm HON 220

Ancient Greece and Rome are among the world's most exciting, important, and influential civilizations. Taught by researchers into various aspects of classical antiquity from Homer to the fall of the Roman Empire and beyond, the course asks participants to cooperate actively and enthusiastically in exploring mythology, history, art and archaeology, literature, and philosophy. Interactive learning experiences, which might include pottery projects, immersive role-playing games, and field trips, complement spirited class discussions and careful attention to close reading, effective writing, and critical thinking. No prior knowledge is necessary (all texts are in translation).