First-Year Seminars

First-Year Seminars are unique courses exclusively for first-year students in the College of Arts & Sciences. These courses are designed to enhance the first-year experience by creating small, intellectually rich communities with faculty and peers.

Features of First-Year Seminars

— Capped at 16-20 students per seminar to foster small, community-oriented environments
— Connect new students to a faculty mentor
— Introduce students to the art of academic discussion, analytical reading, and effective writing
— Provide students with an introduction to the intellectual life of the university
— Include experiential learning activities
— Fulfill core requirements and, in some cases, serve as elective coursework in major and minor programs

Spring 2024 First-Year Seminars

Requirements fulfilled: 

Humanities: Arts, Literature, and Culture (HALC)

One Studio Art major or minor elective

Taught by: Scott Hutchison

Course ID: ARTS-1101-01

Course Meeting Times: MW 9:30am-12:00pm

Ignatius Seminar: Drawing I will introduce students to a diverse set of topics, mediums, and techniques through demonstrations, museum visits, and digital presentations showcasing art by artists from various backgrounds. Classes will be conducted in a supportive and constructive atmosphere. Drawing projects will have clear guidelines to build essential skills, while others will encourage experimentation, personal expression, and critical thinking. All drawing projects aim to stimulate expansive thinking and challenge students to extend their projects in various ways. It is my goal that students gain a well-rounded awareness of how to interpret the dynamic world around them, and discover a deep appreciation for the visual arts through drawing.

About Scott Hutchison:

Do you remember the first piece of artwork that moved you? Whether it was an oil painting, a movie or a piece of music – the impact can be long lasting and real. For me, it was Francis Bacon’s Study after Velasquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X at the Des Moines Art center. I was only twelve at the time, but after forty years I still strive for the same reaction I felt then in my own artwork. I am a figurative painter and describe my current work as complex layers of half-truths. Inspiration for my work comes from the notion that our conscience is guided by our experiences and the limitless decisions we make each day.

Requirements Fulfilled: 

Science For All

One Environmental Studies minor elective

Taught by: Angela van Doorn 

Course ID: BIOL-1016-01

Course Meeting Times: TTh 9:30 am – 10:45 am

In this course, we will explore how evolution gives rise to the abundant diversity of life on Earth, the intricate web of connections among living organisms, the significant challenges facing biodiversity, and the various techniques employed in conservation efforts. Additionally, we will venture outdoors, exploring the natural beauty of both our campus and the Washington, D.C. area, witnessing nature’s splendor in all its glory!

About Angela van Doorn

I am fascinated by the natural world and all the wild, wonderful critters and their intricate and sometimes odd relationships. I have lived throughout Africa for 12 years and have had the wonderful experience of observing baboon, chimpanzee, and gorilla behavior in the wild, swimming with whale sharks, and eating some interesting insects right off the trees. It brings me immense joy to share these remarkable experiences with students, fostering a deep appreciation for the rich biodiversity that sustains our daily lives. At Georgetown I teach courses about environmental science, climate change, and conservation.

Requirements fulfilled

Humanities: Arts, Literature, and Culture (HALC)

One English major or minor elective

Taught by: Kelly Cole

Course ID: ENGL-1800-02

Course Meeting Times: W 6:30–8:30pm TTh 9:30–10:45am

From the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the 80s were a decade of profound economic and social change that resonated throughout American culture. In this course we will examine films, literature, music, and television of the era to see how writers and producers negotiated the question of what it means to be “an American.” One of the perks of being at Georgetown is our proximity to the National Mall (as well as being the alma mater for the fictional characters of 80’s classic St. Elmo’s Fire), so we will also venture outside the classroom to reflect on how American identity was—and is—defined personally, locally and nationally.

About Kelly Cole

I have always been fascinated by popular culture, from the time I spent playing Charlie’s Angels with my sister, to the hours I spent as a grad student reading about how Charlie’s Angels was a site of negotiation between feminist and antifeminist discourses. The idea that representation is powerful has always made sense to me. Since the late 2000s I have been teaching in the English Department and American Studies at Georgetown. My classes examine film, television, and advertising and how representations of race, class, and gender function in American media. I believe that the stories we tell ourselves as a society lend insight into the cultural, social, and political forces that shape it.

Requirements fulfilled

Humanities: Arts, Literature, and Culture (HALC)

One English major or minor elective

Taught by: Dennis A. Williams

Course ID: ENGL-1820-01

Course Meeting Times: TTh 2:00pm-3:15pm

Everybody knows about the 60s, that mythical time when Baby Boomers inherited the Earth, and everything went crazy. Political assassinations, urban uprisings, college campuses in revolt. Second-wave feminism, widespread resistance to the US war in Vietnam and the evolving Black freedom struggle—all played out amid startling new sights and sounds in popular music, cinema, theater and the visual arts.

Less obvious, perhaps, is the role literature played in the Cultural Revolution of the 60s.  Fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and drama slowly began to absorb and reflect the times that were a-changin’. We will read a variety of writers including James Baldwin and Sylvia Plath, John Updike and Joan Didion, Sonia Sanchez and Kurt Vonnegut to discover the ways their unique voices were both informed by and transformed the moment in which they wrote. You will, in your own writing, analyze their works thoughtfully in the context of swelling movements for social justice. And in collaborative presentations you will explore non-literary works of similarly lasting impact.

In addition, we will enhance our time-traveling experience in class and out in DC with music, movie and museum excursions, and group meals.

About Dennis A. Williams

I am a bona fide Boomer, a witness (on TV) to everything from the Kennedy-Nixon debates to Woodstock. I am also a novelist, journalist and playwright who has taught college reading and writing for 40 years, the past 25 of them at Georgetown. Most of that teaching focused on first-year students in my former capacity as an Associate Dean dedicated to enhancing the undergraduate experience for students. (Some personal 60s favorites: Sly & the Family Stone, Miles Davis, The Fire Next Time, “I Spy” and The Fantastic Four.)

Requirement fulfilled:

Social Science (one of two with Government)

One Government major or minor elective

Taught by: Laia Balcells

Course ID: GOVT-1420-01

Course Meeting Times: TTh 11:00am-12:15pm

Explore the realm of political violence through the lens of cinema. In this immersive seminar, we’ll embark on a cinematic journey to dissect the intricate nuances of violent conflicts. Engage with thought-provoking films alongside interdisciplinary readings, covering political science, sociology, anthropology, and more. Uncover the historical and socio-political contexts behind each narrative, as well as the theories that can shed some light on the unfathomable phenomena depicted in the films. We’ll also venture beyond the classroom with a field trip to the African American History Museum, sparking discussions on the legacies of repression, symbolic Transitional Justice policies, and their implications.

About Laia Balcells

I moved to the United States nearly twenty years ago from Catalonia, after having pursued studies in political science and sociology in Barcelona, Madrid, and Toulouse. This course is a dream come true for it integrates two of my passions: cinema and the study of violent conflict. My aspiration is to instill this passion to the students. Influenced by the history of my country (my hometown was bombed by the Italian fascists in 1938 while supporting Franco during the Spanish Civil War), I am also engaged in research related to Transitional Justice in post-conflict societies, with a specific focus on the role of symbolic policies, such as museums, in fostering reconciliation. I am always eager to engage in thoughtful discussions on this very topic, connecting theory to real-world applications.

Requirements Fulfilled: 

Social Science (one of two with Government)

One Government major or minor elective

Taught by: Marilyn McMorrow 

Course ID: GOVT-1810-01

Course Meeting Times: MW 9:30am-10:45am

This First-Year Seminar is problem-driven. The problem? Democracy—or more precisely The Liberal Democratic Regime Type—is under threat around the globe. Some observers, including authoritarian leaders with their own agenda—claim the democratic experiment either is failing or has already failed—and deservingly so—because the flaws in democratic institutions combined with deep divisions, inequality, and polarization among their populations render democratic polities incapable of marshaling the will and resources to respond to crisis—no matter how threatening or catastrophic. 

The readings for this course probe the literature on “democratic backsliding,” including how and why “democracies die.” Although we consider this phenomenon globally, since we are studying in Washington, DC, we focus on the problem close up: within the US Liberal Democracy. The educational goal—or hope—of our seminar is that if we value the liberal democratic regime, we must better comprehend what we need to know and do to form “a more perfect union.” In the words of John Lewis: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community—a nation and world society at peace with itself.”

Requirements fulfilled:

One half of the core history requirement for students with eligible AP or IB scores, or eligible international exam scores.

One history major or minor elective

Taught by: Bryan McCann

Course ID: HIST-1150-01

Course Meeting Times: TTh 9:30am-10:45am

Skateboarding emerged in California in the 1960s. As it expanded around the globe, new adherents sought to retain its countercultural edge. Skateboarding became more diverse, and took on new manifestations. But skateboarding is now a billion dollar industry. Has its countercultural veneer worn thin? We will explore the growth of skate scenes around the globe. We will visit local skate parks, meet key practitioners, and conduct research on the meanings and implications of skateboarding around the world.

About Bryan McCann

I’m a social and cultural historian, primarily of Brazil. I was a skate punk in the mid-1980s, then abandoned the sport for thirty years, picking it up again in the process of teaching my children to longboard. This prompted me to explore how skateboarding had changed in the meantime, and to combine my scholarly interest in the deep cultural patterns guiding our pursuits and my rediscovered love of skating.

Requirements fulfilled:

Social Science (one of two with Psychology)

One Psychology major or minor elective

Taught by: Rosario Ceballo and Jennifer Woolard

Course ID: PSYC-3440-01

Course Meeting Times: TTh 11:00am-12:15pm

How do we find purpose in life? Where do we find meaning in our daily experiences and our hopes and plans? What do we do when we are unsure what our purpose might be? Defining ourselves and our goals is a lifelong task that comes to the fore during significant life transitions such as moving from high school to college. This course explores the role that purpose plays in our health and well being and where we find support for purpose in our relationships, beliefs, and activities. We will create opportunities and experiences on and off campus that foster reflection on and practice of purpose. These could range from individual practices such as sleep tracking, gratitude reflection, journaling, and meditation to visiting D.C. sites that show how lives of purpose contribute to the common good. Our readings will draw from psychology and other social science disciplines as well as fiction and nonfiction writing.

About Rosie Ceballo

I was drawn to Psychology in College because I have always been fascinated by people and love talking to people about their lives, families, and life choices. While I went to graduate school to become a clinical psychologist, I decided not to work as a therapist. Instead, I became a Psychology professor when I discovered a passion for teaching, working with students, and conducting research. As the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, I hope to prioritize work that bolsters a culture of purpose and well-being in our community, and I look forward to engaging with students about their experiences and the scholarship on purpose, well-being, and happiness in this class. 

About Jen Woolard

I entered college thinking I wanted to be a medical doctor or a lawyer but soon was captivated by psychology and sociology as a way to understand human behavior, large and small. I knew I didn’t want to be a clinical psychologist but instead wanted to understand how individuals and families interact with systems in communities, especially when people make mistakes or need help. Part of my work here at Georgetown is figuring out how we can become a campus of well being for all community members. I look forward to studying how we can pursue a life of purpose at all ages.

Requirements Fulfilled:

Social Science (one of two with Sociology)

Engaging Diversity: Domestic

Taught by: Karolyn Tyson

Course ID: SOCI 1201

Course Meeting Times: TTh 9:30–10:45am

Most of us are familiar with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Some of us may have even celebrated or acknowledged the anniversary of the decision in our schools or communities in the past. But how much do you really know about this historic case? Have you ever had an opportunity to take a deep dive into this decision to fully understand its significance, the social conditions that precipitated the case, or what the plaintiffs and justices hoped to achieve? Have you ever wondered how much progress the country has made toward achieving those goals? Using a sociological lens that challenges us to consider the social forces that shape our institutions and everyday experiences, this course provides an opportunity for you to explore those questions through existing research, documentary films, guest lectures, local exhibits, and your own original research on the K-12 educational experiences of your peers. As we approach the 70th anniversary of Brown, this seminar will examine equality of educational opportunity then and now, addressing topics such as the changing definition of race, de jure and de facto segregation, busing, between-school segregation, and tracking and ability grouping. 

About Karolyn Tyson:

I took a psychology course in high school and I was captivated by the readings and discussions on human behavior and the mind. I was sure I would major in psychology in college. But once I was introduced to sociology, everything changed. Sociology helped me to make sense of the world around me and gave me tools to ask and answer questions that interested me, especially on topics of social inequality, stratification, and race. I felt empowered. I became a sociology professor because I wanted to give students the same sense of wonder and curiosity that drew me to sociology as I discovered new knowledge about the social world and new ways of viewing it.

I have been conducting research on the experiences of students and their families in and with schools for more than twenty years.  Schools were an important path to social mobility for me, but for too many American children from poor, working-class, and minoritized backgrounds, that is not the case. My research agenda is focused on understanding why.

A wide variety of topics across the liberal arts disciplines, with something for every interest and curiosity

Contact if you have any questions about the First-Year Seminars.

SPOTLIGHT on First-Year Seminars

SPOTLIGHT Ignatius Seminar Participant

Katherine DeMatteo (C’22)

SPOTLIGHT Ignatius Seminar: “Blackness as an Organizing Strategy”

Corey Fields — Professor, Department of Sociology

SPOTLIGHT Ignatius Seminar: “Human Flourishing, East and West”

Erin Cline — Associate Professor, Department of Theology