Abnormal Psychology This course explores various psychological disorders in adults. Students will gain understanding of criteria, risk factors, causes and treatment options for psychological disorders. After an introduction into the history of abnormal human experience and various frameworks for evaluating abnormal behavior, the class with dive into the specifics of the major disorders as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5th Edition (DSM-5). We will have various labs/activities during the course of the semester to bring home relevant issues in diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. Through a semester long project, students will demonstrate in-depth understanding of one aspect of abnormal behavior through independent or group study of their own design.
Astrobiology Astrobiology is an integrated lab science course that addresses the questions: “Is there life elsewhere in the universe? What is life’s future on Earth and beyond? How did life originate on Earth?” We will study fundamental concepts from many of the science disciplines – biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and Earth science – in order to explore these very complex topics. In recent years, astrobiology has become the focus of a significant amount of academic research, and we will be investigating both the latest findings and the nature of the scientific methods researchers employ in this field.
Botany and Plant Physiology This one-semester course will provide students with an in-depth exploration of the science of plants. The plant kingdom contains an incredible diversity of organisms, with hundreds of thousands of known species. Along with algae and cyanobacteria, plants have the ability to convert energy from the sun into usable chemical energy through photosynthesis, forming the basis of all ecological food chains, including our own. Students will become familiar with plant taxonomy, keep a field journal, and learn to identify plants in the field. They will also gain an understanding of plant evolution, physiology, and ecology, and study recent molecular research in the field, which has helped to reveal new details about plant genetics, cellular function, and classification. Finally, students will experiment with cultivating plants in the lab and outdoors, observing plant growth and development first-hand.
Computer Science The course this year began with a tour of programming fundamentals using Python — a language whose simple syntax makes it ideal for laying foundations. Second semester picked up the same concepts but with the more powerful, versatile, and consequently more difficult Java language. Students worked on projects that encompassed 3D graphical programming, user interface programming, and data structures in the context of game design. Throughout the course there was emphasis on common program design patterns and problem solving.
Cultural and Sociobiology Cultural and Sociobiology explores the interactions between biology, individual choices and behavior, and culture — using addiction, an intensely studied field, as the framework. Scientists continue to uncover information about the inner workings of the brain, and many of their findings run contrary to commonly held wisdom. Is biology truly destiny? How does such knowledge affect individual beliefs and behavior? How does it affect societal norms and governmental policy? How should society deal with scientific information that is incomplete or contradictory? What are the ways that such information can be used and misused? Students will review basic biological and chemical concepts necessary to understanding the physical basis of addiction. Psychological, sociological, and anthropological concepts will be introduced as needed. Students will learn the current state of addiction research, and will study how scientific knowledge has (mis)informed historical decisions. Participation, debate, and critical thinking are expected and will be encouraged.
Earth Science We will cover a comprehensive set of topics including geology, space science, astronomy, climatology and meteorology, and oceanography. The process of scientific discovery, how basic scientific concepts are used to explain complex phenomenon, and the interplay of large and complex systems and processes are some of the primary themes we will be uncovering through the study of the aforementioned topics.
Food Systems Science During this one-semester course, students will explore our multi-faceted global food system, tracing the production of food from farm to plate. We will begin with a discussion of agricultural science, learning about different types of farm operations for growing both crops and domesticated animals for meat. Next, we will deconstruct the food system, examining the processes and institutions involved, and addressing the environmental and societal impacts of food. Finally, we will look at the science of eating and nutrition. Students will experiment with cooking, visit a grocery store, and learn to critically analyze nutrition “science” in the news. During each unit, we will discuss social justice issues inherent in the food system, including farmworker rights, food access, and hunger. We will also touch upon other topics such as food safety, genetically modified organisms, agricultural economics, public policy, and the future of food production. Throughout the course, we will explore the idea that eating serves as one of humankind’s main connections to the natural world.
Human Origins An Introduction to Paleoanthropology & Evolutionary Theory: During the fall, we will be exploring the “evolution of evolution.” In other words, where did the idea of evolution come from? Despite the popular understanding of the topic, the idea of evolution did not begin with Darwin, and he certainly did not have the last word on the topic. We will go back as far as ancient Greece and the Middle Ages to find the roots of the idea, and we will trace how natural historians and scientists have had to adjust, tweak, and sometimes revolutionize their understanding of the history of life on Earth. In the latter part of the semester, we will look at the modern understanding of evolution and study some basic principles of evolutionary analysis.
Introduction to Engineering Introduction to Engineering has two goals: 1) to give students a chance to explore the engineering design cycle and its similarities to the process of scientific discovery; and 2) to expose students to the wide range of engineering disciplines. Students will learn the iterative process of defining and delimiting a problem, designing a solution, and then optimizing that solution – the essence of problem-solving in any subject. Multiple projects throughout the year will provide students with chances to experience this process in areas such as mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, and civil engineering.
Psychology This course is intended to provide a survey of fundamental concepts in the field of psychology. We will explore the history of psychology as a discipline, learn how to design effective psychology experiments, explore careers in psychology, and survey the major areas of study in the field today.
Roanoke Field Studies Roanoke Field Studies is an experiential field-based course that will explore environmental issues in the Roanoke area through field trips and meetings with local scientists and professionals. The first part of the course will cover the natural history and ecology of the Roanoke region, and the second part of the class will focus on Roanoke’s impacts upon the natural world, and how individuals and organizations are currently working to reduce those impacts. We will visit a variety of ecosystems, carry out field experiments, look at how we use natural resources, and examine what it means for a city to be sustainable. The class will also plan and conduct interviews with environmental professionals working at the intersection between science, public policy, economics, and law. Students will be evaluated based on class participation, field journal assignments, short papers, group/independent projects, and a final exam each semester.
Science and Society This course will examine the interplay between the scientific world and society at large. We will start by exploring how the modern scientific enterprise works through the lens of research on addiction and mental illness. Afterwards, we will investigate how science interacts with the law, how it informs government policy, how science intersects with the media, and conversely how all three areas affect the practice of and societal perceptions of science
Statistics Knowledge of statistics is important for people in all walks of life and within a wide range of academic fields of study such as biological and environmental sciences, physical and behavioral sciences, medicine, business and economics. The course will include but not be limited to the study of data analysis, probability, pattern analysis, experimental design, simulation and statistical inference. An emphasis on the gathering of data, both categorical and quantitative, from the real world around us will be core in this course, as well as rigorous ways to analyze and explain it in a variety of ways. This course uses the Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative which introduces students to the basic concepts and logic of statistical reasoning and gives the students an introduction to the practical ability to choose, generate, and properly interpret appropriate descriptive and inferential methods. In addition, the course helps students gain an appreciation for the diverse applications of statistics and their relevance to their lives and fields of study. The course does not assume any prior knowledge in statistics.