UW News

September 24, 2014

Citizenship, women in tech, taboo language, psychology of superheroes among UW’s new fall class lineup

Suzzallo Library and Red Square on the University of Washington campus.

Suzzallo Library and Red Square on the University of Washington campus.Vince Stricherz / UW

From exploring American citizenship to encouraging women in technology, making your own comics and studying the linguistics of swearing – and even the psychology of superheroes – the 2014-15 school year brings a wealth of new classroom experiences for University of Washington students.

As the new school year began Wednesday, an estimated 6,400 incoming freshmen representing 48 states (about 5,000 from Washington) and Washington, D.C., plus 38 other countries, set out to find their places in lecture halls, classrooms and labs at the Seattle campus. The class is 51 percent female and 49 percent male, and represents 983 cities and 1,365 high schools across the United States and the world.

An estimated 1,415 new undergraduate students (639 freshmen and 811 transfers) are getting started at UW Bothell, while UW Tacoma welcomes about 1,310 (440 freshmen and 870 transfers).

Here’s a quick review — by no means exhaustive — of some of the new UW classes starting this fall.

Though the United States calls itself as a “melting pot,” full citizenship has historically been more dream than reality for many. John Findlay, professor of history, tackles this in a new course, American Citizenship. Findlay said the class “explores which groups could and could not gain full ‘membership’ in the U.S. at different points in time, and how inclusion and exclusion from legal and civil rights were justified.”

Teaching all of American history in a one-quarter course is well-nigh impossible, and hopes this more focused look at history proves more manageable and attracts students, Findlay said.

Getting women interested in technology is the clear aim of lecturer Laura Schildkraut’s new class in the UW Information School, Women in Technology.

“We’ll discuss how fast the field is growing in terms of jobs and salary levels,” Schildkraut said. “The students will also get hands-on design and coding experience and will create a prototype solution to a real-world problem that they define.”

Course readings and multimedia screenings will focus on the history of women in information technology, and differences based on socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds for women entering the field today. Schildkraut’s class is one of many special topics and new courses the Information School will offer this fall.

In the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, students can choose from a number of new courses, including an Introduction to Wind Turbine Design, as well as a special topics course called Satellite Remote Sensing for Water Resources later this year in which students will learn about measuring water using instruments that can observe our resources from space.

In Human Centered Design & Engineering, several new courses called directed research groups are for-credit classes that let students work in a small group with faculty advisers.

One of these is Comics Made by You: Human Centered Design & Engineering for Everyone, which will look at how comics can be employed as a form of user experience design. Students will learn how comics can be used as a way to convey complex ideas, concepts and emotions, and the end goal is for the class to publish its own collection of comics.

The Department of Linguistics contributes to the public debate on obscenity, free speech and censorship with a new class called Swearing and Taboo Language that will study how the brain acquires curse words and the similarities and differences of such words across cultures. Taboo words have traditionally been a marginalized part of language study and yet they provide rich fodder for understanding how language really works, instructor Laura McGarrity said.

The School of Environmental and Marine Affairs will take students out of the classroom for a new field course that studies the challenges of governing coastal and marine areas in the 21st century. Students will visit a major shipping port, fishing terminal, shellfish farm and an estuarine restoration and meet with planners, managers and conservationists. Several of the trip hosts are alumni of the UW’s marine affairs program and the venues visited could be potential sources of employment for other students after graduation.

Students interested in unlocking the secrets of fossil animals and plants — including dinosaurs — can pursue paleobiology minors at the UW and this year there’s a new class, Quantitative Approaches in Paleobiology, Morphology and Systematics. Students will design and conduct cutting-edge research and have access to fossil and modern specimens from the Burke Museum. Less than a handful of universities across the country offer such a course.

The Jackson School of International Studies also has new classes this fall, including a graduate course, Yoga History and Politics, as well as Global History of U.S. Immigration; and Defense Policy and Arms; and Arctic Relations, which is part of a new minor.

A book becomes a movie, then a play and then maybe a musical. The School of Drama will explore the 2,500-year history of creative artists adapting material for performance in a new Special Studies in Theatre and Drama class. Another new class, The Structure of Dramatic Narrative, examines the nature of storytelling through examples from world literature.

A new honors class for undergraduates called Storytelling in Science is being offered by the Astronomy Department. In the class, students will be tasked with creating stories for the public that communicate issues in science and nature.

Collegium Seminars, are single-credit, 18-person classes for freshmen with practically all new topics each quarter. As credit/no credit offerings, they’re meant to be a little different from the rest of one’s course load.

During one of fall quarter’s 25 offerings, Living with Nuclear Weapons, a Pulitzer-prize-winning writer and author of the book “Arsenals of Folly,” and the negotiator of the indefinite renewal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are two of the expected speakers. Set against the backdrop of unrest in the Middle East, South Asia and Northeast Asia, the course explores, among other things, why nine nations have developed and deployed nuclear weapons and why more than 180 have not.

UW Tacoma also will offer a number of new courses for new students.

  • Psychology of Superheroes: An Exploration of Good and Evil will look at the media’s portrayal of heroes and villains.
  • Aging and Biology will give students a scientific, biological perspective on the aging process.
  • Criminalization of Immigration will examine the ways in which social institutions have implemented immigration policies, including the unintended consequences of criminalizing policies and practices.

At UW Bothell a new class, Information Assurance and Cyber Security, is part of a tri-campus curriculum that involves the school’s Computing and Software Systems Program, as well as the Information School and UW Tacoma’s Institute of Technology.

Each class being a new journey for student and instructor alike, many likely share the enthusiasm the Information School’s Laura Schildkraut expressed.

“I can’t wait to get the quarter started,” she said.