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University College (UC) Seminars

In UC, students enroll in a Complex Problems seminar chosen specifically for this Living-Learning Community. The seminar satisfies one of your first AU Core requirements, introducing you to university-level inquiry. Students in UC ask and answer tough questions in a friendly and encouraging academic environment.

University College Cohorts 

Seminars are grouped together in cohorts based on thematic similarities. Students will live in a first-year residence hall on the same floor with others within their cohort. Residence hall placement for cohort will be available in January 2024. 

Each year, UC students votes on the upcoming year's cohort mascot theme. Previously, the UC 2022-2023 cohort mascot theme was 'Welcome to the Jungle' and the current UC 2023-2024 cohort theme mascot is 'Mythical Creatures'. The cohort mascot theme for 2024-2025 will be decided by UC's current cohorts and will be annouced later this semester. Keep an eye out on our social media for the offical annoucement. 

Enroll in University College

The UC/AU Cornerstone Reservation Form is now open for the 2024-2024 academic year. Use the link below to reserve your spot today! For questions, please email .

UC/AU Cornerstone Reservation Form

Cohort A

This course provides students with an opportunity to develop their critical thinking skills through a specific focus on the concept and empirical phenomenon of competitive advantage in business (i.e., superior stakeholder value creation). The course addresses a variety of sources of competitive advantage and the interactions between them including macroenvironmental and industry forces, corporate, business, and functional strategies, as well as issues associated with the history and role of business in society, stakeholder engagement, and performance measurement. Readings and assignments focus on critically analyzing current media coverage of competitive advantage in business, as well as cases.

Professor Heather Elms

There are few debates globally that are attracting more attention than the issues embedded in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment and business practices. Students in this seminar find themselves at one of the most significant inflection points in the history of the debate. This seminar explores the ideals, events, debates, individuals, and institutions that have started and transformed ESG engagement since its conception in the 1960s until today. Students analyze the evolution of the global ESG definition and the understanding of the importance of each of the factors. Moreover, students evaluate its impact on governmental, corporate, and societal behavior and its continuous feedback loop emanating from new environmental, governance and social megatrends. Via readings, discussions, guest speakers, and Washington, DC site visits, students are positioned to contribute to the future ESG dialogue.

Professor Julie Anderson

In this multidisciplinary course, students explore the meaning of financial citizenship and if it can be a great equalizer, analyze the role of financial citizens in today's world, and critically assess the importance of financial citizenship in personal development and for the needs of many. Classroom discussions draw from readings and students' own perspectives to evaluate the challenges and opportunities of financialization to individuals, their communities, and society overall. Topics are student-driven and may include cryptocurrency, inflation, and federal interest rates viewed through multiple lenses such as psychology, sociology, policy, and business.

Professor Timothy Timura

Professor Catalin Stefanescu

Political and social leaders accuse each other of it and are accused by media that is then condemned for it. It is tweeted, re-tweeted, articles are written, journals published, and blogs devoted to it, but what is corruption and how has the mention of it become so pervasive, while there seems to be no set definition or even direction. Has anyone ever asked you for a favor? Have you ever asked for one? Are these simple favors or quid pro quos? Were you bartering or bargaining for a service or good? When does a favor become corruption? There are governments accused of being kleptocracies, governments of organized thieves composed of individuals whose only goal is to legally take as much money and resources from others as possible in order to enrich themselves. This kind of corruption seems easy to define. But what about a payment to a border guard to let you pass? You have the legal right to pass, but a token of your appreciation for the job the guard is doing is expected. This course examines values, systems, and institutions across the globe, and down the street.

Professor Shawn Bates

Cohort C

This course explores how we should, as individuals and as a society, reduce wasted food and create a more resilient food system. Students apply an interdisciplinary perspective to understand and address the complex problem of wasted food. Students are exposed to a scope of up-to-date research from sociocultural, health, technological, environmental, economic, political, and justice-oriented lenses through guest speakers, multimedia resources, and community engagement on and off campus. Students develop critical thinking, research, and presentation skills by conducting their own examination of the problem of wasted food.

Check out this article about food waste during the holiday season featuring Professor Kristine Beran!

Professor Kristine Beran

Approximately half of human populations live in urban areas and this is expected to increase drastically within the next decade. As the built environment of cities becomes the prevalent feature of our planet, it is imperative that we understand how living things are impacted by and woven into our urban landscapes. This course explores the emerging interdisciplinary field of urban ecology, including topics such as environmental justice, biodiversity, public health, and disease ecology. Students engage with diverse perspectives through critical readings and communicate through classroom discussion and activities. Out of class, students use the discussion topics as a lens for investigating the urban ecology of Washington, DC, sharing personal blogs that link to an interactive map. They also develop an independent project that synthesizes a literature review with experiential learning in the community.

Professor Rebecca Hazen

For a problem of intriguing complexity, look no further than the contemporary city. Home to two-thirds of the world's population, modern cities, gloriously diverse cultural, innovation, and artistic hubs, and often refuges for those who seek opportunity or escape from restrictive worlds, are nonetheless contested, even violent, grounds, spatially embodying social, political, and economic exclusion. This course considers and then employs an emerging "Right to the City" challenge to the status quo of urban power dynamics: tactical urbanism. Citizen-led, and in some cases arising out of urban social movements, these interventions are sometimes transgressive, sometimes sanctioned and respectful, demonstrations of the transformative power of the temporary construction. Tactical urban interventions are of many types and disciplines, from the creation of temporary public squares to street art and graffiti to recurring demonstrations and other performances. Through the collaborative design and documentation of a tactical urbanistic intervention in Washington, DC, students seek to understand the possibilities and limits of this approach in moving the world towards more just and inclusive global cities. For background, the course draws on a rich assortment of historical and contemporary sources, from examples of urban film, music, philosophy, and literature to theories and case studies of urban planning and form.

Professor Victoria Kiechel

Societies expect students to shape the future by initiating change and transforming the world, but educators and policy makers relegate students to schools that structure inequalities and restrict learning opportunities. Students struggle to assert agency under social constructs that influence their daily school lives. Today's students bear the burdens of achievement gaps, bullying, college-prep pressures, evolving identities and many other dynamics rooted in today's social conditions. This course seeks to understand how American students both reproduce and challenge social, cultural, political, and educational realities of today, and how students from different marginalized communities, including racial groups (white and minoritized communities), LGBTQ students, students with special needs, and language minorities in rural, urban, and suburban settings, experience school. Beginning with an exploration of today's American students and their schooling realities, the course considers the structures, beliefs, and traditions that influence how elementary and secondary students experience schooling. The course explores how students experience schools today. Recognizing that first-year and new transfer students have prior experiences in elementary and secondary education, the course enables students to draw on collective school experiences as background knowledge. Primary sources are used to amplify diverse voices of American students across school contexts. Additional course content is presented from materials spanning multiple disciplines, including education research, literature, digital media, news, and scholarly papers. The instructor guides the identification of issues that elementary and secondary students are currently facing in schools to comprise the foundation of the course, emphasizing issues that resonate both in scholarly literature and popular discourse.  

Professor Amaarah DeCuir

"This course partners with Horton's Kids (HK), an afterschool program that empowers children growing up in DC's most under-resourced communities. The course examines the complex problem of community-based work through 20 hours of direct service with children (ages 5-12) in one of HK's community resource centers in the Anacostia neighborhood. Students explore how HK has evolved since 1989 to reflect the dynamic needs of the community and more inclusive, antiracist practices. Community-based learning requires critical reflection with a focus on reciprocity between students, community, and faculty, combining the current conversation on social justice with on-the-ground action based on community voices. Students volunteer with peers, HK staff, and community volunteers once per week throughout the semester. Students work with children, gain experience in DC beyond the AU campus, and develop relationships with the HK community. 

Professor Amanda Choutka

 

 

Cohort E

This course explores how students can be more resilient to and actively fight against disinformation and conspiracy theories at the local and national levels. Students examine what motivates people to create and believe disinformation and the political, personal and social impacts of its spread. In discussions and short response papers, students combine history, psychology, and communication theories with engagement with experts in the field to understand and defend against disinformation and conspiracy theories.

Professor Kurt Braddock

Drug use is often characterized as being an individual problem, typically rooted in concepts of free will and choice, character flaws, and misdirected (and inappropriate) motivation. This class provides students with an opportunity to step outside the normal context in which drug use is generally discussed to gain an awareness of the multifaceted nature of the complexity of the drug problem in America that is shaped, driven, and impacted by social, cultural, economic, legal, political, and biological factors, often outside of the individual's control. Students pose the question of why we use drugs and discuss how our answers affect the way we think about our own drug use, use by others, and the general approaches to drug use and abuse in America.

Professor Alexandre Kisner

Popular culture plays a huge role in shaping the public's perception of science. Consider whether a metal like vibranium from the Black Panther movie could one day be discovered or synthesized in a lab, if Mark Watney from The Martian could really have survived life on Mars, and whether nanobots depicted in Michael Crichton's novel, "The Prey", can take over mankind one day. What is the likelihood of a "super vaccine" to fight all forms, mutations, and strains of coronaviruses for availability in the near future? If today's athletes are getting faster, better, and stronger, does this mean that we are also getting better as a human race? Science is multi-faceted, and popular culture's representation of science can lead to complex problems and issues that need equally diverse discussions and solutions. This course aims to investigate and resolve such questions by discussing scientific theories, examining current advances in research, and exploring present challenges and dilemmas. Students look at fictional and non-fictional representations of science and technology in various media such as film, comic books, television, and digital media to evaluate not only how scientific ideas are utilized, explored and critiqued, but also how their portrayal impact society and our lives.

Professor Michele Lansigan

Asteroids, meteors, and comets that orbit near the Earth (collectively referred to as Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs) pose an existential threat to all of humanity. Mitigating the danger posed by NEOs is a complex issue and one that must involve scientists and policy makers from around the world working together. In this course students learn about the nature of NEOs (their orbits, masses, compositions, etc.); explore what methods are currently available that can be used to try and stop a NEO from colliding with the Earth, and what new technologies may need to be developed; and take a cross-cultural view of the various public policy approaches to preparing for and dealing with an impact on Earth. Students work in teams to respond to a hypothetical NEO impact scenario.

Professor Aaron Grocholski

Cohort G

This course explores the dynamic and complex relationship between identity and post-modern intra-state and international conflict with emphasis on the role of different forms of identities, both in the emergence of conflicts and in processes of conflict resolution and transformation. Ethnic groups participate in civil wars more than any other types of dissident groups (e.g., conflicts in the Balkans, Syria, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, and many others). At the same time, religion plays an increasing role in global civil conflict, where sexual violence is a widely acknowledged threat. The common theme across these problems is identity in all its forms such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, and others. The course explores questions of what identity is and where identities originate, including why most contemporary conflicts center, one way or another, on identity, and what are some solutions to conflict where perpetrators and targeted individuals or groups often espouse divergent identities. Students gain a deeper understanding of how identity is embedded in context, how identity is manipulated for political ends, and how identity conflict may be resolved. By exploring the origin of diversity and thinking critically about their own instrumental and sincere identity preferences as well as that of others, students learn the complexity of the interaction between identity and conflict as well as some fundamental principles of conflict resolution.

Professor Gul Gur

Through an examination of three flashpoints of conflict in Asia: Taiwan Strait, the East/South China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula, this course addresses why interstate conflicts occur, what causes them to become intractable or to escalate in intensity such that they threaten regional or international security, and to what extent the United States could, or should, play a role in helping to defuse or resolve them The course explores the origins and dynamics of each of these disputes and the interplay between them insofar as U.S. interests and involvement are concerned. Students investigate the tangled roots and evolution of these disputes through various lenses, focusing on competing historical narratives and grievances, geopolitical and resource-related rivalries, and issues related to domestic politics and national identity. In looking at dispute dynamics, the relative military and other capabilities of and the tools deployed by the disputants, as well as the interests and involvement of extra-regional powers, the United States in particular, are considered. In addressing the issue of whether and how these conflicts can be managed or resolved, students consider the various initiatives and instruments that have been, or could be, employed.

Professor John Calabrese

The Arab/Persian Gulf region, home to vast oil/gas resources and situated at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Europe, is an area of vital importance to the global economy. Over the past several decades, however, the region has experienced a series of revolutions, wars, insurgencies, and other violent upheavals. This course, which explores the military and non-military sources, manifestations, and responses to insecurity in the Arab/Persian Gulf, is organized around the central questions of whose security is at risk--the ruling establishment, segments of society, the entire country, the region as a whole--and in which ways; and whether the actions taken to address this insecurity ameliorated or worsened it.

Professor John Calabrese

Cohort B

In the first decades of the twenty-first century, fantastical stories have seen an explosion of popularity, attributable to, or perhaps in spite of, the many challenges our world faces. Why are we so drawn to stories of the unreal? This cultural moment is a starting point to investigate the role of the fantastic in our lives: how fantastical fictions reflect and refract lived realities, how humanity's fantastical storytelling changes over time, how and why writers use fantasy and other forms of speculation to explore political, social, and ethical issues. Through readings, discussions, and assorted projects, students explore how imagination is a vital tool not only for entertainment, but also for making meaning.

Professor Charles Cox

Now that every smart phone has a translation app, and English is increasingly used around the world, what are the benefits of learning another language? This course explores developments in language technology and the spread of English as an International language, then surveys perspectives on the value of multilingualism from various disciplines (including Psychology, Neurology, Education, Literature, Political Science, Economics, Religious Studies, and Cultural Studies). Reading, discussion, guest speakers, and visits to local multilingual communities will allow students to critically examine multiple perspectives on language, multilingualism, and communication, thereby developing the ability to think critically about complex issues from a variety of perspectives. 

Professor Tabitha Kidwell

From William Shakespeare to Beyonce, much of what we consider original art depends on borrowed text, recycled images, and familiar melodies. This course considers questions of creative ownership. Drawing from scholarship by ethicists, cultural critics, and legal scholars, students analyze case studies in music, film, literature, and visual art. Working in groups, students trace intellectual property attitudes within a chosen genre or institution (i.e., death metal, Persian poetry, Pixar films). For the final project, after meeting working artists in the Washington, DC area, students compose a creative work that borrows responsibly.

Professor Edward Helfers

Cohort D

Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Clinton impeachment and the Trump impeachment; major scandals have been a recurring feature of several modern American presidencies. This course provides insight into key questions including how we define a presidential scandal, how presidents have used the powers of their office to respond to them, how changes in political norms, technology, the media environment, and other factors have influenced scandals in recent years, and what impact presidential scandals have on our political system. The course focuses on several examples of important recent presidential scandals, considering the behavior of the major actors from the perspectives of presidential leadership, executive power, presidential-congressional relations, and the legal system.

Professor Jeffrey Crouch

Great minds of every generation have struggled to explain why bad things happen to good people, why humans are cruel to one another, and, especially for the followers of the Abrahamic faiths, how a world can have evil in it if it's been created by a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. This course discusses the religious origins of the classic "problem of evil," scientific contributions to the discussion, and the legal ramifications of beliefs about evil.  This reading- and discussion-heavy course looks for guidance from texts and films, nonfiction and fiction, such as philosopher Susan Neiman's Evil in Modern Thought, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and writings on neuroscience from David Eagleman.

Professor Adam Tamashasky

This course provides an overview of the history and modern issues of peace and war with an emphasis on the institutions in Washington, D.C. (i.e., Pentagon, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Amnesty International, Department of State, CIA). Through reading ethnographic and historical case studies, as well as theoretical, journalistic, and polemical works, students explore why and how the United States has engaged in and continues to engage in war. The course simultaneously helps students understand the policy and activist communities at work trying to stop interventions and actions abroad. At its core, the debate over war and peace revolves around key perspectives on the relationships among governance, power, politics, and economics. The course examines media coverage of war and also engages in fictional representations of heroes, patriotism, and the debate about war in society.

Professor William Gentile

Cohort F

Central for the three Abrahamic traditions, Jerusalem has been a locus of worship and dispute for over two-thousand years. The course proceeds thematically, beginning with the role of Jerusalem in the mythic imagination of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Students then turn to writings reflecting the history of Jerusalem as a physical place and a source of contention for the Assyrians and Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the empires of medieval Europe and the Ottomans, the British, the Arabs and the modern State of Israel. Finally, the course turns to the modern era and examines Jerusalem as a modern city and a proxy for disputes over identity, culture, language, and religion. Students visit different places of worship in Washington, DC and invite guest speakers representing a diversity of cultures to class.

Professor Martyn Oliver

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are over 65 million displaced people in the world, a significant portion of whom are classified as refugees. This course examines who these people are, where they are coming from, the driving forces of today's global displacement, why the international community is responsible for the global refugee crisis and what such responsibility involves. Students are introduced to the complex and ever-growing world of forced displacement and to many of the ethical, legal, moral, and political questions surrounding the current refugee crisis in the face of rising populist movements in the west, security concerns, and the overall shift toward criminalization and securitization of migration. The course has a special focus on children and youth and intersectionalities of gender, identity and race. It explores the challenges facing the world's displaced and the innovation and resilience that defines the refugee experience.

Professor Tazreena Sajjad

Millions of refugees and other displaced people are fleeing war and violence from the Middle East to Central America and beyond. This course examines this global phenomenon as well as one of the world's least well-known refugee crises, the forced removal of the Chagossian people from Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean, by the U.S. military. The class explores topics including the effects and causes of forced displacement, race and racism, environmental refugees, gentrification, and movements to combat human rights violations and assist the displaced. Students have opportunities to learn about and support refugees and other displaced peoples outside the classroom.

Professor David Vine

Although many prefer to view the modern age as one of progress and enlightenment, it has also witnessed some of history's worst atrocity crimes, that is, crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes. What makes these crimes so horrific is not only their magnitude but also the fact that they were usually carried out by people who can be considered, more or less, to be normal, even banal. Thus, the persistence of atrocity crimes not only challenges the view that moral progress is inevitable but also raises profound questions about the human capacity to inflict suffering on others, even when they are our neighbors. This course explores several atrocities of the modern era, including slavery in the United States, the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, apartheid in South Africa, the Rwanda genocide, and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans. The course first considers the history of these atrocities and the context in which they occurred and then looks at the contemporaneous responses to these atrocities by communities, nations, and the international community. Why has the response more often than not been one of inaction, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the extent of the crimes being committed? Students also look at the responses to atrocities after the violence has ended, whether through reparation, war crimes tribunals, truth and reconciliation commissions, or no response at all. What should be the goal of a society's response to an atrocity it, or many of its members, perpetrated, to what extent have particular responses led to a group's acknowledgment of responsibility, and can acknowledgement pave the way towards reconciliation? Finally, the course looks at the complex issue of responsibility and how to apportion responsibility. Can only individuals be held responsible for atrocity crimes and if so, the leaders only or also the followers? Does the idea of collective responsibility have merit and, if so, how does this affect the nature of reparation and acknowledgment? Part history and part group psychology, this course is unique in that it requires students to reflect on the foundations of their own moral views and class discussions animate deeply held assumptions about human nature and human responsibility.

Professor Daniel Schneider