Colleges across the country are getting creative with their curriculum. Each year, universities are inspiring new generations of students to debate the meaning of symbolism in literature by reading the Harry Potter series and to learn about engineering and robotics by playing with Legos. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) departments in particular are turning over a new leaf and embracing unconventional methods to increase student interest.
We’re hitting the books with Emerson to bring you a list of dynamic and inspiring courses in STEM that will make you forget that you’re actually acquiring impressive skills and a top-rate education. In fact, they might even motivate you to go to class.
1. Street-Fighting Mathematics - Massachusetts Institute of Technology
While the students don’t actually get the chance to spar, they do learn “the art of guessing results and solving problems without doing a proof or an exact calculation.” It provides student with real-world mathematical applications to take on the world and their futures. Think of the streets as the many practical mathematical problems you face outside the classroom, and your weapons are the skills acquired in this class to overcome them.
2. Science from Superheroes to Global Warming - University of California, Irvine
Comic book fans, rejoice: The folks at UC Irvine have answered your pleas and offer a course that tackles important questions like how Superman flies and explains the workings of Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. According the course description, students examine case studies drawn from “superheroes, movies, and real world issues such as global warming.” It’s a classic bait and switch, pulling you in with Spider-Man but really giving you environmental science. But we’re not mad; at least there are movies.
3. The Joy of Garbage - Santa Clara University
For the student who is really into sorting trash, Santa Clara offers course number ENVS 10. This environmental science class include at least two sessions of trash sorting during the quarter (score!) and discussions about the evolution of America’s waste culture. Pupils also learn about the rate of decomposition, what really happens to a used milk carton and proposed solutions to the earth’s garbage problem (such as new composting technologies).
4. Maple Syrup: The Real Thing - Alfred University
As stated in its syllabus, this sweet course combines “meteorology, chemistry, botany, forestry, art and cookery” to teach students the ages-old trade of making maple syrup. Students are not required to purchase any reading materials for this course (a major win for the student budget), and the syllabus mentions field trips to local restaurants and festivals and “hands-on experience running a sugar shack.” And who doesn’t love fresh maple syrup?
5. Knot Theory - Williams College
Think of that tangled mess of necklaces in your drawer and the earbud cord carelessly thrown into your gym bag. Apparently there’s an actual theory about these beloved and bemoaned gnarled heaps and woven joints. The math department at Williams is taking knots seriously and applying mathematical principles to answer the painful question, Will I ever get this untied?
6. Advanced Kitchen Chemistry - Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Any successful chef would agree that becoming master of the kitchen is about understanding chemistry. To perfectly torch a creme brulee demands an understanding of ingredients’ properties and how they react. In MIT’s Advance Kitchen Chemistry, students perform weekly “scientific edible experiments” and discuss important subjects such as “cheese making”, the “joys of tofu” and “the science of spice.” Sounds delicious.
7. Farside Entomology - Oregon State University
Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” cartoons are full of personified animals and insects. OSU professor Michael Burgett uses the humor of Larson’s illustrations to teach his students about the complex nature of insects and their importance to human life. Burgett has been teaching the course for 30 years and often puts the role of teaching in the hands of the students; teams present “their entomological and humanistic interpretation of an entomological cartoon” each week.
8. Rockets and Instrumentation - University of Washington
No pop-culture references to draw students into this STEM-focused course -- UW’s Rockets and Instrumentation is exactly what it sounds like. And it doesn’t need to be anything else because rockets are awesome. As far as we’re concerned, any class that provides students with hands-on experience building rockets gets a spot in our fall schedule.
9. Cyborg Anthropology - Lewis & Clark University
While this isn’t a major of study, the school does offer several classes in artificial intelligence. Some anthropology and sociology courses also include lectures on cyborg anthropology into their syllabi. Students explore and analyze the growing and changing interactions between humans and computers. In 2010, Amber Case, an alum these courses, was named by Fast Company as the “Most Influential Women in Technology.”
Emerson wants to encourage great minds to do great things and knows how important education is to do so. Emerson is working with Hank Green and “SciShow” to get people excited about learning and support those interested in an academic path in STEM, because we all hate not knowing things.