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Seven Innovative Courses That Go Beyond the Usual

Learn about cognitive science, national security in film, innovation and invention, humor-driven design, game day operations, the Underground Railroad, and food as medicine.

Friendly-looking robot
Cherry is one of the robots used in Professor Michael Kalish’s class ‘Understanding Cognitive Science.’

Imagine a technological breakthrough—or perhaps a newfound super power—that would allow you to be fully present in more than one place at a time.

Then envision using that ability to check out the rich diversity of academic offerings occurring at Syracuse University on any given day. What an educational feast that would be, with courses in 12 schools and colleges and innumerable disciplines to choose from. You might sit in on a psychology class where students learn about information processing by getting robots to run through mazes. You could join teams of engineering students as they collaborate with a local company to design and install new lighting filters in an area park. And perhaps you would take in a political science course where one way students gain a deeper understanding of American national security is by watching and discussing the film Dr. Strangelove.

You’d see students being guided by faculty who want to help them open their minds and think more broadly, critically, and creatively. You’d witness partnerships with community members, local schools, and thriving businesses, providing hands-on learning with real impact for students. And you’d see students being challenged, counseled, invested in, and inspired to achieve, succeed, and excel.

Until that breakthrough comes along, the following survey of creative course offerings across the University allows a glance of all that happens here, in classrooms and beyond.

Understanding Cognitive Science

Taught by Michael Kalish

Students placing a robot inside a tabletop maze
Photo by Amy Manley

In this psychology course in the College of Arts and Sciences , students explore the methodologies of cognitive science using robots of varying complexities as examples of cognitive systems. “Students are assigned to solve a little maze problem,” Kalish says. “The robots run around in radial arm mazes. And hopefully, the second time they run the maze they’ll be faster than the first time. The advantage of the robot over an animal or a human being is that we know what the right answer is. We know how the robot solves the problem. So students can do cognitive science on the robot and find out whether their answers are correct or not. And the robots are extremely simple. So if it fails for them, it’s certain to fail for us. But it fails in interesting ways. And that’s the point—you’re learning how to think about information processing, in a way that is like a cognitive scientist does.” 

American National Security Through Films

Taught by Michael Newell G’13

Scene from Dr. Stangelove featuring people gathered around a large circular table
A scene from Dr. Strangelove, one of the films students consider in studying national security.

This political science course in the College of Arts and Sciences/Maxwell School examines the question, “How can we characterize America’s experiences with war, terrorism, and other security threats and how it responded to them?” by considering cases from World War I through the War on Terror, using security studies and film. Topics include radicalism and espionage ( J. Edgar ), the Cold War ( Dr. Strangelove ), the Korean and Vietnam wars ( Full Metal Jacket ), and counterterrorism operations ( Zero Dark Thirty ).


Taught by Carl Schramm H’12

This  School of Information Studies  course examines the process of how new ideas come into being and how theoretical, intellectual, and physical inventions are studied. Topics covered include scientific breakthroughs, new products, and new processes from business, architecture, medicine, graphic arts, and music. “I like teaching this course because I believe it is the neglected ‘front end’ of the entrepreneurial process,” Schramm says. “In fact, we do not have enough good ideas emerging. This course works through the problem of how individuals can become more creative, particularly in ways that would improve the overall welfare through expanding commerce.”

Not Funny Ha Ha

Taught by Greg Corso

School of Architecture  course interrogating architecture’s relationship with the comedic, exploring methods and tactics of comedy as a lens for critique and a vehicle for recalibration of design elements. Work focuses on humor-driven design opportunities that provoke material ingenuity, aesthetic experience, and tectonic novelty in the everyday manifestations of the built environment.

Technologies in Game Day Operations

Taught by Patrick Ryan

A student and Professor collaborate in the sports computer lab
Photo by Steve Sartori

A sport management course in Falk College exploring current applications of technology related to sport venues and sport organizations, including sound systems, ticketing systems, video and scoreboard operations, and lighting systems. 

Underground Railroad

Taught by Milton Sernett

An online anthropology course in the  Maxwell School  introducing students to the history of what is popularly known as the Underground Railroad, with particular attention to African American efforts—with or without assistance—to resist slavery by escaping to freedom.  New York State’s Freedom Trail  Initiative informs the collective work in the course, as does the federal Underground Railroad project undertaken by the  National Park Service . Students explore Underground Railroad connections in their local communities or a geographic area of their choice and use a range of primary and secondary sources.

Food as Medicine

Taught by Sudha Raj

Hand holding a flask full of dirt and seeds in front of a field of crops

Falk College  course that looks at the landscape of food and nutrition—past and present, the role of nutrition in a therapeutic lifestyle, and the use of food as therapy. “Food as medicine is a powerful therapeutic concept and approach to address the global chronic disease epidemic,” Raj says. “At a socio-cultural level, food is noted for its qualities of connectivity, seasonality, and conviviality. In this course, food is viewed through new lenses, generating an awareness that just the provision of food without consideration of the person who is consuming the food or the environment in which the consumption occurs does not ensure optimal nutrition.” 

Amy Speach

This story was published on .

Also of Interest

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