Several new unique courses are being offered to freshman students at Texas A&M University-Commerce in the third year of the “signature course” initiative.
These signature courses were added in 2017 as part of a then-new First Year TRAC (Transforming Relationships and Academic Connections), which aims to make sure students are engaging in ways that further their success.
Each year, 12 special courses have been offered, six in the fall and six in the spring, that cover a wide range of topics and force students to think critically about the world around them. This year the number has been increased to 13 courses. All freshman are required to take one course during their first year and can choose which one to take as space allows.
The process is competitive to teach these courses as well, as some of the university’s brightest minds submit applications. Dr. Yvonne Villanueva-Russell, the dean of the University College at A&M-Commerce, says that applications open in October and the process takes some time to choose the right courses. She also says that the reception of the program continues to be positive.
“For students, it gives them an increased awareness of the world,” Villanueva-Russell said. “It also helps to show that their professors can be approachable and breaks down barriers.”
A positive for the professors that teach these courses is that it gives them a chance to teach on a topic that they enjoy but rarely get to cover. Some of the more interesting topics of past and current signature courses include exploring the “Star Wars” universe, the use of music in film and the quest for happiness in life.
Villanueva-Russell, who herself taught a signature course the previous two years, says that getting to teach one of these is a positive experience for the professor as well.
“It is very exciting for the professor,” Villanueva-Russell said. “They really get to go all out with a subject that they know a lot about but don’t always get to talk about.”
The signature courses on offer are printed below:
— “Where are You? Space and Place in Postmodern America,” (New for 2019-20) taught by Dr. Andrew Baker, Assistant Professor of History: Through this course we will use the tools of history, geography, anthropology and philosophy to examine who designed these spaces, how these spaces shape behavior, and what meanings they convey.
— “Learning How to Think Critically,” taught by Dr. Brandon Randolph-Seng, Associate Professor of Management: The course is designed to increase students’ critical thinking knowledge and skills. Concepts covered include perception, memory, creativity and problem-solving as they relate to critical thinking.
— “Business, Society, and Unfettered Thought,” taught by Dr. John Humphreys, Professor of Management and university Provost: The course will focus on the critical thinking skills required to manage the integrated, interdependent and complex relationship between business and society.
— “Global Foods,” taught by Dr. Quynh Dang, Associate Professor of Health and Human Performance: Students will examine the issues and conditions that affect the availability and quality of food in the global market.
— “How to Build a Monster,” (New for 2019-20) taught by Dr. Lani Lyman-Henley, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environment Sciences: In this course, students take a look at several aspects of what goes into making something a compelling monster and try to apply those ideas to bring imaginary creatures to life.
— “Star Lore: The Mystery, Magic & Mythology,” (New for 2019-20) taught by Dr. Cheri Davis, Planetarium Director: Students will learn how the stars were used to guide the Polynesians as they navigated their boats through the oceans; or how the rise of specific stars indicated to the Egyptians when to plant and harvest crops.
— “Chemical and Biological Effects of Radiation,” (New for 2019-20) taught by Dr. Mark Rudin, university President: This signature course will focus on the principles of radiation science and safety and how the various types of radiation can cause chemical and biological changes at the molecular cellular and tissue level in the human body.
— “Voting and Apportionment,” taught by Dr. Mehmet Celik, Associate Professor of Mathematics: This course will develop students’ natural ability to know something without requiring any proof of evidence.
— “Death from the Skies,” Taught by Dr. Kent Montgomery, Associate Professor and Department Head of Physics and Astronomy: The universe is a dangerous place in which any number of disastrous events could end the reign of humans on earth. Students will learn the science behind these events, what can be done to save humanity and what the odds are that any of these disastrous events might occur.
— “The Quest of Happiness,” Taught by Dr. Mark Menaldo, Assistant Professor and Department Head of Liberal Studies: What is happiness? What makes life worth living? What is the best life for a human being? Through a careful and slow reading of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, students will explore the answers to thesis questions.
— “Food: Choices, Challenges and Consequences,” taught by Dr. Robert Williams, Professor of Agricultural Education: This course explores the history, economic, geographic, sociological and political perspectives surrounding food.
— “Sports and Politics,” (New for 2019-20) taught by Dr. Robert Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Political Science: This class will encompass a wide range of issues related to the intersection between sports and politics throughout the world.
— “Star Wars: the course awakens,” taught by Dr. John Howard-Smith, Professor of History: This course takes students on a journey to explore the spiritual, religious and mythological materials in the Star Wars universe.