Inquiry Courses

All journeys begin here

Things in the real world don’t often fit inside the neat boxes of academic subjects. Why should all of your classes?

Inquiry courses explore compelling questions from fresh angles, bringing together different disciplines, perspectives, and types of evidence. Designed for first-year students, they also help you navigate the ins and outs of college, and are required for all new students entering degree programs. 

INT 1555 Inquire: course offerings

For the first time in human history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. This process of urbanization has accelerated over the past decade or so, providing new and critical challenges for providing sustainable living conditions for cities around the world. Using the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as a framework, we'll look at both the challenges and solutions for meeting these goals in cities locally, nationally, and globally.

Is there a single "American culture"? Sayings such as "American as apple pie" would suggest "yes." But culture is a complex phenomenon, especially in a nation of many peoples such as the United States. Are there certain customs, institutions, manners, foods, habits of dress, or ways of speaking that are truly unique to the U.S.? What have others concluded? We will start with a historical perspective and examine some early writings, including some by travelers from outside the U.S. Sometimes it takes an "outsider" to see the aspects of a culture that "insiders" take for granted. We will end by producing an alphabetical guide to America for today’s travelers.

This course is recommended for international students. Other interested students may register with the permission of the instructor.

Family history has become a multi-million-dollar industry in the United States, with sites like boasting more than two million subscribers. Why are Americans so interested in finding their “roots”? What can our quest for ancestors tell us about ourselves and our society at large? In addition to examining the modern business of ancestry, we’ll consider how people have used ancestry in the past both to find belonging and exclude "others." We’ll also learn how researchers uncover family history. You’ll track down some of your own ancestors and bring their stories to life in an eScrapbook.

What does it mean to be an adult? That depends on where you live and who you ask. Even Google won’t provide an easy answer. The concept of adulthood has changed over time, which can make responsible adulting seem like a moving target. This course will explore some fundamentals of coming of age such as career and educational planning, budgets, financial planning, managing a household, taking care of your mental and physical health, and being an engaged citizen. We’ll seek to answer timeless questions such as “How am I going to pay for that?” while identifying tools and resources that students can use to make a plan to win at adulting.

Mathematics and art have long been intertwined. From sacred geometric symbols dating back thousands of years to modern-day mathematicians using crochet to visualize complicated topological spaces, mathematics has bred creative endeavors, and many creative endeavors have their foundation in mathematics. In this course we will investigate those connections through topics such as how to “weave” an invisible carpet; why engineers find origami useful; and what daisies, the irrational number phi, and Leonardo Da Vinci have in common. Students will also discover their own connections as they exercise their creative talents. No special mathematics skills are required beyond curiosity and an open mind!

"Hey SIRI, what will my career area look like in 5, 10, and 20 years?" The continual development, refinement, and implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) is a disruptive force increasingly impacting virtually every career area. In many cases, its implementation is increasing the speed and efficiency of systems (e.g. fraud detection in banking), but in others the impact can potentially have more damaging effects (e.g. the impact of autonomous vehicles on employment in the trucking industry). Through an exploration of AI past, present, and future, students will consider various forms of artificial intelligence, how the application of AI impacts society in general, and more specifically AI's potential impact on their individual choice of careers.

This course is an introductory course, offering an overview of major themes, issues, and concentrations in African American Studies. In order to explore the complexities and the richness of the African American experience students will engage with written texts, film, art, music, and literature. This course is intended to provide a foundation in African American Studies that sparks students’ curiosity and encourages them to explore the topic further.

Is coffee an important part of your daily routine? Do you know what it goes through before it gets to your cup? In this class we will learn about where coffee comes from, brewing methods, coffee’s historical importance, and more. Activities will include a hands-on experience with at least one local roaster. And, of course, we will drink coffee!

Where have all the monarch butterflies gone? And should we care? This course will begin with an overview of monarch biology, population decline, and conservation status. Equipped with this knowledge, students will engage in citizen science activities, analyze trends in monarch behavior, weigh competing priorities of human needs versus environmental needs, and discover appropriate monarch conservation strategies.

Together we will explore the industry of craft and current craft trends. We will learn about the history of craft with a focus on glass, ceramic, fiber, metals, jewelry, and furniture. We will examine how craft relates to culture, identity, and our local Jamestown community. We will also discuss current “craft” movements, for example candle-making, soap making, distilling spirits, and brewing beer. This course will bring in guest speakers and connect with local crafters. Students will engage in hands-on craft projects and presentations. Prior knowledge of art, craft, or curation is not necessary, only a curiosity to discuss the lineage of craft, community, and creativity.

This course will start with a broad question: What is persuasion and in what ways are we persuaded to change our attitudes, values, and beliefs? We will then expand this question to further understand the prevalence of persuasive messages in our daily lives and the types of persuasive messages that are most successful. But we'll take it one step further: What traits do successful persuaders have and why does this matter for us as citizens? We will take a look at successful persuaders from cult leaders and politicians to Instagram influencers and consider our role as message decoders and creators. How can persuasion both empower and hinder us?

Is there any point to knowing how to read and write in cursive handwriting? Since required cursive instruction has been retired from most of our elementary schools, do you say "good riddance,: or do you think that the skill is a craft - perhaps an expressive art form - worth preserving? Today, a vast number of young adults can neither read it nor write with it. Using open resource teaching tools and simple writing supplies, students will receive instruction in cursive and develop the ability to read, or "translate," it when encountered in academics and in life. In addition, we will explore differing points of view from a variety of educators, psychologists, journalists, and artists as to the place of cursive in contemporary discourse.

Dark Tourism so attractive, and why are humans fascinated by these gloomy and horrifying places? Thanatourism, or Dark Tourism, is an extreme and alternative form of tourism as well as a growing and curious part of the industry. This course explores the diverse forms of Dark Tourism and the motivation to visit sites that are associated with death, disaster, destruction, and the macabre. In this course, students study the impacts of such tourism on culture, economies, the environment, and the ethics involved. Students will also apply theoretical knowledge to create their own niche product for a specific Dark Tourism market or research project.

If an employer were to conduct an online search, what would your digital profile reveal? Can ethics and civility be demonstrated in the online environment? How can you protect yourself and your digital identity? This course will explore these questions as students take a deeper look into the role technology plays in their lives and what it means to be a digital citizen. In this course, students will explore their social media use and examine the potential effects as aspiring professionals. In addition, students will create an electronic portfolio they will use to collect and curate their digital archives from their academic lives as they transition to the professional workplace.

Religion can offer helpful moral guidance when humankind needs it most. But do religious institutions always "do unto others" as their principles suggest? This course will consider the complex relationship between religion and human rights, for times present and past. We will examine the responses of different religious traditions to the major human rights abuses or our time. We will also look at the role of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, specifically, in questions of human rights from throughout history. Students will have the opportunity to share their own unique stories and perspectives, research the past, analyze news articles and other sources, and meet local people who have stories to tell. The goal is to strengthen students’ critical thinking skills while helping them develop a passion for human rights, maybe even leading to a related career.

Students will study independent movies made for segregated theaters from the 1920s into the 1940s. Through research, discussion and video creation, we will strive to identify with the audiences of "Race Cinema": Black-cast movies which confronted such issues as the color line, Jim Crow, the few allowed role models, Blackface minstrelsy, the Harlem Renaissance, and northern migration.

Want to learn more about the food you eat? In Food!, we will explore various approaches to eating (such as paleo, vegan, Atkins, Mediterranean), looking at current research on healthy eating, government guidelines, ethical issues in farming, and sustainability.

In what ways do our kitchens inform us about our world? Each week we’ll come together virtually to cook a meal in our own kitchens while seeking to answer this question and expanding our palates. Some weeks will feature experts in different disciplines to understand how the world comes together around the kitchen table. Students will be expected to write a weekly blog that shares their cooking experience and chronicles the stories of their kitchen. Access to a kitchen (stove, oven, and sink) during class meeting times is required; pantry staples and cookware can be provided by the instructor.

How do virtual worlds affect how we collaborate with others? Gaming is like any other journey in life, especially an academic one: When students come to college, they are presented with new “open worlds.” They are expected to develop new skill sets and set upon new journeys that “level them up” in order to look back upon where they’ve been and set themselves for the future. Only after repeating the “mission” over and over again, can students become truly skilled; in such a cycle, they become academic masters. Featuring: the virtual galaxy of Eve with special guests: Mercenary V from Cyberpunk 2077 and the child combatant soldiers of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

What does it mean to be a global citizen? How does one become a global citizen? Why does global citizenship matter? These are a few of the questions students will contemplate, while considering what it takes to be successful locally and globally in our diverse and interdependent world. Active engagement in the dynamic 21st century environment demands an awareness of the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes of others. Through self examination and reflection, students will explore the rights and responsibilities of global citizens and the interconnectedness and impact of their local life experience to the global community.

Would you like to spice up your research projects? While our libraries’ databases are far-reaching, reliable tools when seeking information and opinions on a topic, there is also well-researched journalism and credible editorial content to be found in sources that aren’t necessarily among top search results. This course will encourage you to consider magazines and webzines that, while rooted in pop culture, nevertheless address the social, environmental, and political issues at play in our current discourse. We will explore broad topics as we examine the varying points of view, styles, and ethos revealed in the pages of publications you might not otherwise read or consider valid sources. Finally, you’ll collaborate with classmates to produce an original magazine.

This course will focus on the experiences of migrants in the world today. Through stories and personal interviews students will examine and compare the thoughts, challenges, perspectives, and journeys of migrants. Students will answer the questions: Why do people leave their homes? What are the impacts and challenges for them, the communities they leave and those that receive them? Through community outreach, students will come to know immigrants living in our area and will capture their stories as part of a digital storytelling project.

Do your instructors ever bring up topics in class that are in the news, but you don't have any knowledge about? Is your response, “I think I have heard about it, but I am not sure?” News is available through a lot of different mediums, but do you actually pay attention to or take advantage of what is available? We will discover together newsworthy events of local, national, and global concern while discerning  appropriate sources for them. No “fake news” here. Students will follow their own topic of interest throughout the course and share their findings with the class each week and in a final project. Get ready to learn about what is going on all around us.

In this course, students will examine how the issues and events pivotal to Ireland and Irish cultures are both represented and shaped by texts. The notion of "text" will be taken broadly to include literary and non-literary print text, visual arts, music, theatre, cinema, television, architecture, folk arts, and other expressions of self. The cultural, national, and historical contexts to be examined in light of these texts will include: Celtic and Gaelic origins, emigration, borderlands, the Irish language, religion, landscape, agriculture, postcolonialism, and globalization. Particular attention will be given to the cyclical relationships between contexts and texts (or life and art).

Do you dream of seeing the world, or even just one special country someday? In this course you will learn how to research and plan for a successful trip to the country of your dreams that will stay dear to your heart forever. You will learn to ask all the right questions to make you an informed and safe globe trotter, while learning about interesting and diverse cultures around the world. The final project is a colorful travel booklet you create with several complete, informative itineraries to various countries that could be transformed into real trips someday with only minor changes (such as flights & cost)!

How does the sport industry drive our culture today, and can sports be a catalyst for social change? This course will examine the current and historical influence of the sport industry on American society. Students will examine what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean in the American sport industry through examination of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, and sexual orientation. They will also take a critical look at management practices. The sport industry has a disconnect between the individuals who play and work versus those that lead and own. Sports have always been a proponent of playing fair and following the rules. But if that’s the case, those who run the leagues must also play fair.

Quilters, bricklayers, and flooring specialists do it. Architects of the Middle East did it, as did artists like M.C. Escher. Even epidemiologists and cell biologists find it useful. What brings this interesting mix of people together? Patterns called tessellations. In this course we will explore how these fascinating designs are formed and how they shape the world we live in. What value do they have to seemingly disconnected fields of work and study, and what lessons can they teach us about art, science, and how we see the world?

In this course, students will engage in hands-on activities that examine the local and regional food system, including community gardens and urban farms, the local farmers markets, and organizations such as soup kitchen and food pantries. We’ll take a look at how food is grown and distributed throughout the region, and students will have the opportunity to grow and preserve their own food.

Legends can play a powerful role in shaping a community’s culture and identity. But sometimes they are more fiction than fact. How do untruths arise and why do they get passed on? To what effect? From ancient earthworks to Underground Railroad hideaways, religious radicalism to sensational murders, this course will uncover the facts and falsehoods behind some of our area’s most intriguing legends and explore their significance today. We will go on at least one off-site field trip and sleuth out a variety of first-hand sources to find the true stories behind the myths. We will combine our findings to create a program or exhibit that can be shared with the community. ​

Humans are inherent storytellers. It’s how we make sense of the world around us and build connections with others. Much of our media content centers around stories of love, conflict, breakups, and makeups. In what ways do these media stories shape our own experiences and realities of love and connection? Using the songs and lyrics from one of today’s leading storytellers, Taylor Swift, we will explore key interpersonal relationship theories about relationship formation, conflict, attachment and healthy communication behaviors. Is it a love story? Or is it death by a thousand cuts? How do the stories we tell about our relationships help us to remember it all too well? 

Vampires, zombies, werewolves, and giant beasts play essential parts in our culture, and these parts differ depending on different situations and interpretations. Indeed, these figures often represent safe spaces where we can examine and discuss our fears about the world around us. This course will examine these monsters and the fears and tensions they represent. Class discussion and assignments will look at representations of these monsters in literature, art, popular culture, and history.

Using scenes and sketches from the Monty Python comedy troupe’s infamous TV show and movies (including The Argument Clinic, The Parrot Sketch, and How To Tell a Witch, among others), students will explore enduring issues in the liberal arts surrounding the meaning of life. Issues that will be examined include "What is the nature of justice?", "What is human happiness?", "What are the conditions and behaviors most conducive to achieving happiness?", "What rights and liberties are inherent to being human?",  "What responsibilities do humans have?", and "What is the nature of truth, love and beauty?"

Frank Fitzpatrick, a critically acclaimed songwriter, astutely describes music as “essential to human life and an integral part of our development as individuals and as a species.” Every culture has always had music. Since love, death, and spirituality are also essential to our existence, it’s not surprising that more songs likely have been sung about those three topics than any others. How does music help us to celebrate love, come to terms with death, and connect in spirit with something larger than ourselves?  How does music about these topics add to our human experience, enabling us to discover deeper truths about ourselves? The class will examine these and other questions relating to music of various styles, time periods, genres, and student interests. Students will develop related questions as they explore and interpret music of their own choosing. Music listening, discussion of multiple perspectives and meanings, personal reflection, and some research will be important components of our inquiry. No prior experience with music is required for this course, and it welcomes students of all majors.

Did you know we spend approximately one-third of our lives sleeping and that all of us experience dreams? Do you ever wonder where dreams come from and what they might be trying to tell you? This course will explore the captivating science behind dreams from a philosophical, psychological, socio-cultural, and neurological perspective. Students will delve into a variety of dream-related queries, such as the reason why some people clearly remember their dreams while others claim they don’t dream at all.

This course will examine the evolution of and emergence of infectious disease. We will incorporate information from biology, anthropology, and public health. We will pay particular attention to the ethical issues raised by the health campaigns used to battle emerging disease around the world, which include public perceptions, politics, and the stigma that can result.  Students will work on a simulation to “contain” a local outbreak.

This course helps students understand the psychological origins and evolution of their own political views—specifically, conservativism and liberalism. After exploring partisan politics on a theoretical level, students will research their own "political genealogy.” They will think about all the potential sources of their views and interview individuals with both similar and opposite views to their own. The course will also explore the current state of political discourse in the United States and current movements to censure unpopular opinions. What role does political correctness play in our current political climate? How do the 24-hour news cycle and social media contribute to group polarization? The roots of extremism on both the right and left will be explored. Students will develop recommendations for how to improve political discourse in our world today.

This course will explore an understanding of the broader health issues facing our current society. We will explore a range of topics associated with health, such as: population growth, food security, affordable healthcare, environmental disease (cancer), emerging diseases (virus outbreaks), food-borne illness, hazardous waste, and human health risk assessments. As a semester project, students will choose a current health issue and create a public service announcement that represents the problem, focusing on possible interventions and solutions.

Don’t be afraid to say the “F” word; feminism, that is. This course seeks to explore the roots and meaning of feminism and feminisms.  Through participatory learning, collaborative projects, critical thinking, and creative expression, students will engage with differences that cut across race, gender identities, class, and national origin. This course will stress the role of students as active co-producers of knowledge and it will require students to participate in in-class discussions, written work, and project-based learning. Students will engage with sources ranging from graphic novels, social media, journal articles, and readings from various sources. Additionally, students will be required to complete a creative final project that integrates research with campus life.

Advanced manufacturing technologies such as additive manufacturing, machine learning, robotics and others continue to grow in importance in manufacturing. The role for humans in industry will continue to change as well as a result of those technological changes. Students will explore the social, cultural, and very personal changes that are likely to occur as manufacturing becomes more highly automated. A battle plan will be developed to stay relevant and highly employable in the face of those changes.

100 years ago in the US, the movies were being invented with technology that was only some two decades old and evolving. This is the time of the suffragist and the 19th Amendment, the flapper, Prohibition, speakeasies, and bathtub gin. The movies grow up in these years, still silent until 1929, and according to film historians, more women are involved in writing, producing, and directing these movies than there have ever been since. In this course students will study the movies circa 1905-1929, the times they sprang from, and the women who created them. To better understand the process, students will create their own silent movie scene and decide who deserves the pre-1929 Academy Awards.

Students will explore the history of gaming across cultures as a lens for examining the potential of games as mediators for social engagement, community cohesion, and individual growth. Students will play a variety of historical and modern tabletop games designed to encourage prosocial engagement and critical thought through cooperative gameplay and problem solving. The selected games will also expose students to various game mechanics and design. Based on research, course readings, and hands-on gameplay, students will collaborate to create and demonstrate gameplay for a tabletop game of their own design, ultimately answering the question: How do games make us better?

What is urban development, and what impact does it have on communities around the world? Students will explore what it means to live in a neighborhood, and who gets to decide what neighborhoods need to be "renewed." Students will also focus on how neighborhoods may be impacted by factors such as food security, disasters, and pollution. Finally, students will analyze a neighborhood and design ways to make neighborhoods more livable in the future.

All of us have heard stories that have been passed down from our friends. Sometimes, these are ghost stories, such as the vanishing hitchhiker story about a young woman who finds a ride with a sympathetic driver only to disappear. Sometimes, these stories involve alligators in city sewers or dangers in college dorms. Called urban legends, these stories are set in contemporary cultures and often reflect concerns and imagined dangers of specific time periods. In this course, students will examine various urban legends to determine their overall significances, meanings and perceived moral lessons.

Many stereotypes exist about the people called the Vikings. But who were the real Vikings? This course will challenge the stereotypes, including assumptions about violence, sex and gender roles, and social roles and hierarchies. We will utilize media and evidence from history, archeology, biology, pop culture, and literature to build a more accurate picture of the time, place, and people, while incorporating hands-on activities, including traditional food and games.

If you ask people what they want in the future, health/wellness and happiness are often high on the list. College students want a future career and relationships that bring them meaning and happiness. What exactly are we envisioning when we set our sights on a happy future? How does wellness intertwine with happiness and how can we use writing to investigate these topics? In this course, we will examine the lessons gleaned from the scientific study of happiness and well-being. Students will identify factors that make happy individuals and societies, and will explore how to increase their personal wellness and happiness. Special attention will be paid to the multi-dimensional wellness model, happiness, gratitude, and positive well-being.

What does it mean to be human? Using an interdisciplinary, collaborative and active approach, students will explore the unique characteristics that make us human. Throughout history, numerous attempts have been made to define humanity including capacity for learning, communication, music, religion, creativity and curiosity. As the pursuit for a concise definition progresses, and scientific inquiry advances, we have become more cognizant of the l and all dependent upon a careful balance of our ecosystem. Throughout the course, students will have the opportunity to investigate the uniqueness of the human species, as well as develop an understanding of its precarious balance on Earth.

Florence Nightingale has always been acclaimed as the founder of modern nursing. This journey in time will start at the beginning, researching the common medical practices of Florence's time. From there we will travel forward through history, identifying advances that have changed medical practices as Florence once knew. We will debate those changes and the positive and/or negative outcomes that have resulted. Our journey will end with a glimpse into the future and with what we propose medical practices might be. Along the way we will pause often to ask ourselves: What would Florence Nightingale say?

Every decision has a consequence. Some decisions are so easy that you're not even aware you are making them. Others are complicated with many factors to consider, some of which may be beyond our control or shaped by the society we live in. Traditional college age students face significant life decisions such as selecting a career pathway, living with parents or on their own, beginning or ending a romantic relationship. Older students may face decisions related to a career change, marriage, and childrearing. If you are facing an important life decision – this course is for you!

Where do you find meaning in life? Do you know your purpose? How do meaning and purpose give you strength to cope with the challenges of life? If you struggle to answer these questions, this course may help you discover these for yourself. In this course, we will analyze the writings of Viktor Frankl and explore the history of concentration camps during World War II. Students will apply what they've learned by completing essays and personal reflection pieces.