Syracuse University Magazine

Beyond The Usual

Beyond The Usual

Here's a glimpse of some innovative and intriguing courses that students can explore

By Amy Speach

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

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.” 

Cherry the robotCherry is one of the robots used in Professor Michael Kalish's class Understanding Cognitive Science.



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.



American National Security Through Films

Taught by Michael Newell G’13

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).

Photo: A scene from Dr. Strangelove, one of the films students consider in studying national security.



Canary Lab

Taught by Susannah Sayler and Edward Morris

An offering in the Department of Transmedia in the College of Visual and Performing Arts that focuses on a different topic each semester. Students read, research, and make projects in response to the research, often collaborating with each other. The lab results in publications, exhibitions, events, and public interventions designed by the class (shelter project, pictured above). In December, for example, the Canary Lab presented Eating is a Cultural Act, an exhibition of work by students from various disciplines that grew out of their study on food and the food system this semester.

Photo courtesy of the Canary Lab




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.”



Introduction to Entrepreneurial Engineering

Taught by Mark Povinelli G’88, G’14 

College of Engineering and Computer Science course in which students engage in a real-world problem and interact with a customer through the entire design process, including ideation, prototyping, fabrication, and installation. In fall 2015, for example, students worked with a local design company to design, make, and install light filters underneath benches in a nearby park (pictured above).

Photo courtesy of Echo Studio


How Religion Makes Bodies: Saints, Cyborgs, Monsters

Taught by John Borchert G’13

A religion course in the College of Arts and Sciences that addresses how contemporary political, cultural, and technological environments influence ways of thinking about the human body. The course uses fiction (Frankenstein, for example), film, and philosophy to look through historical, theological, anthropological, scientific, and literary lenses as it raises questions about human embodiment in relation to religious ideas and practices.


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.




Turntables: Remixing Hip-Hop Architectural Technology

Taught by Sekou Cooke

A School of Architecture course exploring the history, theory, and discourse surrounding hip-hop technology and hip-hop architecture. Just as hip-hop culture originated with a simple hack of the available technology when a DJ decided to play two records at the same time, architecture is similarly interested in creating new modes of practice through the adaptation of available fabrication technology. The course includes exposure to leading fabrication software, and presentations and workshops led by invited experts, and culminates in a series of full-scale design solutions for specific community spaces within the City of Syracuse.

Photo: Professor Sekou Cooke (above) speaks at a symposium on hip-hop architecture that he organized in 2015.

Photo by Steve Sartori


Design of Online Courses

Taught by Tiffany Koszalka

In this School of Education Department of Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation course, students explore, design, and critique online instruction; begin to develop competencies as instructional designers, online instructors, and online learners; create guidelines for interactivity and resource use in online courses; and experience asynchronous and synchronous and individual and collaborative online activities. The course is part of the school’s online certificate of advanced study program in designing digital instruction. “At the core of this course is demonstrating and engaging students in sound instructional design practice for online courses,” Koszalka says. “Students have commented that the course is exhilarating, provides a comprehensive view of well-designed online courses, and helps them consider many different aspects of online instruction.”


Technology Commercialization Research Center

Taught by Shubha Ghosh and Jack Rudnick L’73

This College of Law applied learning course allows students interested in the areas of intellectual property and business law to apply their knowledge to actual new technology projects. In the year-long course, students work in teams, consulting with companies, entrepreneurs, or universities that are seeking to commercialize new technologies.


Technologies in Game Day Operations

Taught by Patrick Ryan

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. 



Creatively Growing Your Business: A Design Thinking Approach

Taught by Burak Kazaz

This non-traditional, first-of-its kind business course uses “design thinking” to filter out user/customer preferences, and then designs supply chains for startups and small- and medium-sized firms to stimulate healthy and sustainable growth. Design thinking is a popular methodology in innovation, but is not typically integrated into traditional courses in supply chain. The Whitman course is offered at The Tech Garden in downtown Syracuse to allow opportunities to work with area businesses.



Social Deviance and the Law

Taught by Kevin Maillard

Deviant behavior characterizes a course of action that violates recognized social norms. First, formal social norms govern human behavior through legal institutions. Conversely, informal social norms gather energy through no concrete regulatory structure, but through social approbation. This College of Law course focuses on both types of norms. Students explore informal norms as an alternative way of thinking about power and governance outside the provenance of law. They develop critical thinking skills about the authority of manners and society as equally forceful, or perhaps even more so, than formalized law. This interdisciplinary course brings together law, literature, philosophy, and film.


Emerging Media Platforms

Taught by Dan Pacheco

This is a journalism innovation specialization course offered in Newhouse’s Communications@Syracuse online master’s degree program. Each student selects a piece of technology to field test, such as a drone or virtual reality headset, to gain understanding about how that technology can best be used to share news and information. “My goal for you [students] is to help you to be someone who’s not afraid of change and disruption, someone who runs toward change, who gets excited by it, and even becomes a disrupter,” Pacheco says. “To do that, you will learn to become a media futurist: a person who predicts and projects change in media through the lens of technology, and then goes on to make it happen.”



Auditing Theory and Practice

Taught by Bill Walsh G’90

This course is an offering in Whitman’s online Accounting@Syracuse master’s degree program. For part of the asynchronous material produced for the course (pre-recorded video that students watch for 90 minutes each week of the term), Walsh worked with Ernst & Young to do some filming in the multinational professional services firm’s New York City offices to directly involve a corporate partner in advancing student learning. 



Food as Medicine

Taught by Sudha Raj

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.” 



Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Taught by Joseph Whelan

This is a Department of Drama offering in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Students perform in August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. The piece they perform is devised and rehearsed during the spring semester as part of the course, and presented during a two-week stay in Edinburgh that also allows students to see theatrical productions from around the world.

Fringe Festival photo and poster design by Jonathan Hudak



BuzzFeed: Future Media Skills

Taught by Jennifer Grygiel 

This social media course in the Newhouse School, offered in partnership with staff from BuzzFeed, a global new media company, trains students in the essential skills needed to succeed in social media and distributed content and in best practices for a constantly shifting publishing environment.

BuzzFeed photo courtesy of Jennifer Grygiel


Assertiveness in the Workplace

Taught by Stew Koenig G’78, G’85

This University College course in the bachelor of professional studies degree program traces the origins of assertiveness theory and empirical research emanating from psychology, and how it has evolved and become a part of business practice, specifically as it relates to managing people in the workforce. Students study an assertiveness management model and examine and practice communication, self-management, and coaching skills. The course enables students to develop a foundation of knowledge and skills to be effective leaders and managers in the workplace.


Business Essentials

Taught by faculty from each discipline

A Whitman School of Management course that teaches business fundamentals through the operation of a fictional chocolate company, exploring how the principles of accounting, finance, management, entrepreneurship, marketing, supply chain, retail, and law work together within the business. «

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