In the Freshman Seminar Program, students learn the excitement of intellectual inquiry by participating once a week for ten or eleven weeks in a two-hour seminar on a topic of personal interest both to the seminar instructor who has chosen to offer the topic and to the students who have elected to enroll. Each seminar is limited to eighteen freshmen, who earn two units of elective credit on a CREDIT / NO CREDIT basis. While the workload is less than a regular four-unit course, journals, papers, group projects, or individual presentations are often required in addition to the reading and participation in seminar discussions.

Freshman Seminar topics may range beyond the limits of the regular curriculum.  They are offered both in the Fall and Spring terms.  Class information is printed in the Schedule of Classes under “Freshman Seminars.” Freshman may earn credit for two different topics, one in the Fall and another in the Spring of their freshman year. By doing so, incoming students learn how to study in a seminar setting, acquire the expectations of academic culture, and meet a group of other freshmen who take their educations seriously.  You can also read about a student’s connection with a professor developed as a result of their experience in a Freshman Seminar in this student’s letter to the professor.

A listing of Freshman Seminars offered every semester available in the Schedule of Classes.

Student Spotlight

Dear Professor,

I hope that your semester has begun well and that your students are adapting quickly to the academic rigors and intellectual stimulation of your courses. I thought it might be a good time to give you an update to how I’m doing.

happy student outdoors

Topics Offered

  • Patricia George

    This seminar will take real world adjustment issues and help determine how to process changes such as leaving home for the first time, adjusting to roommate issues, family issues, choosing a major and managing a schedule.  We will discuss the issues the students are facing and understand the emotions associated with those issues.  From there, we will read articles about the scientific basis for these emotions and offer real world (but scientifically validated) advice on how to deal with these challenges. The goal is to increase the ease of adjustment to college while learning how to be resilient.

    Patricia George is a professor of psychology.  She teaches introductory courses, as well as abnormal psychology, the psychology of marriage and family, and the psychology of happiness.

  • Bob Girandola

    This class will look into the continuing national problem of weight control. Obesity, which is controllable, is considered the second most prevalent disease. Despite this, it has reached epidemic proportions in the USA as well as many other industrialized nations. We will discuss the complexities of caloric balance and the appropriate methods for weight loss and gain. Specific emphasis will be placed on young adults, such as college students who do not have the luxury of eating at home. Appropriate dietary patterns for weight control as well as health will be analyzed. Finally, appropriate exercise programs for maintaining body weight and shape will be discussed.

    Students who enroll in this class should be prepared to become actively involved in class discussions. Many of the myths and fallacies of weight control and nutrition will be revealed, so keep an open mind! Students should have access to the internet in order to download some of the many materials that are advertised for weight control and obesity.

    Robert Girandola received his undergraduate degree in physical education from Hunter College (New York) and his Ed.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in Exercise Physiology in 1970. He has been at USC since 1973. He teaches classes in Nutrition and Weight Control, Exercise Prescription, and The Science of Human Performance. His research has centered on Obesity and Weight Control, Ergogenic Aids and Human Performance, Environmental Effects on Human Performance.

  • Carol Wise

    Under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), China emerged as the most prosperous and largest empire in the world.  The height of Chinese wealth and power was during the 18th century, but by the late 1880s China had been eclipsed by the rise of Great Britain and its sweeping industrial revolution. Chinese scholars refer to the period from 1850 to 1950 as the century of Chinese humiliation.  The “West,” including Britain, France and the U.S., increasingly encroached on China, the most traumatic events being two opium wars with Britain and the ceding of Hong Kong to the British in 1842.  By the early 20th century China was in a state of decline and destitution.  In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won a domestic revolution and anointed the country as the “People’s Republic of China.”  Gradual market reforms began in 1978, the result being that China rebounded to become the second richest country in the world by 2002.  This recovery is remarkable in two respects: first, China is the only great empire to recover to this extent; second, China’s rebound has been engineered by the CCP under the banner of a “socialist market” model.

    This 11-week seminar will explore the political and economic foundations of China’s resurgence and the role that it has come to play on the world stage.  We will begin with an examination of the rise and fall of great empires and seek to specify the ways in which China’s resurgence has been exceptional.  We will then turn to the period beginning with the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, up to the CCP’s 1949 revolutionary victory. The next two sessions will review the rule of paramount leader Mao Zedong from 1949-1976 which reveals the strengths and weaknesses of a communal/collective model based on economic autarky and political isolationism; and, the about-turn taken by Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, in launching a trade and investment-led development strategy in 1978 now commonly known as “capitalism with Chinese characteristics.”   The remaining sessions will cover the political and economic repercussions of China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization; the advent of a decade-long commodity boom based on China’s voracious demand for oil, copper, soybeans, and iron ore; China’s emergence by 2012 as the second richest country in the world based on its 3.2 trillion in foreign reserves, its status as the top recipient of foreign investment and the dominant exporter of manufactured goods; China’s tense relations with the West but much warmer ties with Russia and countries in the global south; and, China’s Belt and Road initiative—an ambitious trillion-dollar infrastructure lending program to developing countries launched in 2013.

    Carol Wise is Full Professor of International Political Economy in USC’s Department of Political Science and International Relations. She spent eight years on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC before joining the USC faculty in 2002. Prof Wise has published widely on trade, investment, institutional reforms and democratization in emerging market economies. In USC’s Dornsife College, Professor Wise teaches the core undergraduate course “Politics of the World Economy” and a senior capstone seminar on “International Political Economy and Development.” Her latest book is Dragonomics: How Latin America is Maximizing (or Missing Out) on China’s International Development Strategy (Yale University Press, 2020). Since 2019, she has been a faculty member of the International Summer Program at Renmin University in Beijing.  Prof. Wise received her PhD from Columbia University in 1991.    

  • Vanessa Osborne

    The choice of what to eat for your next meal seems simple—what do you feel like having today? But these selections—even if made impulsively or thoughtlessly —are much more complex than they might appear. Our food choices emerge out of varied cultural forces—our heritages, our families, our local community, our class identity, marketing and even our personal ethics. Moreover, these selections have consequences beyond our individual digestive systems.  Food systems have environmental and political impacts; they shape economies and communities.  In this class we’ll explore food from a multi-disciplinary perspective.  We’ll be thinking about how food operates as a cultural and class signifier and a political tool.  We’ll consider the ethical issues around food—resource use, the environmental impact of food production and food waste, the labor issues food production entails, and animal rights. From the historical perspective we’ll consider how food’s links to cultural heritage have shaped and been shaped by geography, migration, and historical events.  Furthermore, with a focus on the individuals’ experience of food, we will interrogate food’s role in family dynamics, personal identity, and travel.

  • Michaela Ullman

    USC Libraries is home to world-renowned archives of German-speaking exiles who fled Hitler and the Nazis. Many of these courageous women and men eventually found refuge in Los Angeles. This course will explore the ways in which these artists and intellectuals fought against National Socialism through their writing, music, and other forms of expression. We will follow their paths into exile, learn about the challenges they faced, sacrifices they made to defeat Nazism, and how they escaped from Europe. Their legacy remains strong with a lasting impact on Los Angeles.

    Throughout the course we will also discuss contemporary systems of oppression, censorship, racism, anti-Semitism, and persecution. We will examine how intellectuals, artists, and the general public today are creating ways of resistance through their work, art, or actions in response to these challenging times.

    At the core of this course will be student investigation of primary sources and historical materials in USC’s Special Collections. Other activities will include guest lectures, movies and documentaries, and field trips.

    Michaela Ullmann is the Exile Studies Librarian and Instruction Coordinator for USC Libraries’ Special Collections. An anthropologist and archaeologist by training, Michaela is passionate about connecting students to the historical papers and artifacts in Special Collections and about teaching students how to utilize them for their research.

  • Sarah Feakins

    This course seeks to know what our food production entails and to scope the most promising ideas for positive transformations in our lifetimes toward sustainability goals. Our learning will be guided by the latest developments from academic research, investigative journalism and innovative businesses operating locally and globally. In this seminar, you are invited to address fundamental problems with our existing approaches to food production from habitat and biodiversity loss, to soil erosion and dwindling fossil groundwater, to pollution, methane emissions and climate effects. Fortunately, given humanity’s hunger, we’re highly motivated to seek solutions. From proven ideas to new breakthroughs, we’ll explore the most promising avenues for changes toward a more sustainable food system. These are important issues – vital for life on earth, the climate system and our own healthy future.

    Professor Sarah Feakins is in the Department of Earth Sciences in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. She received her Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from Columbia University and her undergraduate degree in Geography from the University of Oxford. For the last 15 years she has run the leaf wax laboratory at USC and her research program seeks to understand fundamentals of plant biogeochemistry and to reconstruct the landscapes of past warm climate states.

  • Jessica Parr

    This seminar will tap into the research behind how learning happens and how to retain the material that we learn in any class or seminar.  We will explore the cognitive science behind learning strategies and put those strategies into practice in other classes. Together we will explore what it is needed to take a novice to an expert. We will also look at mindset and how it impacts our performance in class. Through reading the books How We Learn by Benedict Carey and Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, we will discuss what research tells us about how to be successful in college. You will be introduced to resources on campus that are in place to help you be successful in all of your classes. Assignments will include trying new learning strategies and reflecting on how they work for you.


    Jessica Parr is a professor of chemistry.

    Jessica Parr is a professor of chemistry.

  • Dani Byrd

    We humans talk. And talk and talk. But how do we do this?!  This course will consider how human speech encodes and enables language communication.

    An initial look at vocal tract and larynx physiology positions students for an audio-visual tour through the International Phonetic Alphabet, surveying the diverse speech sounds that languages use—from vowel and consonant sounds to clicks and tone. We practice phonetic transcription of English and visit the new USC Dynamic Imaging Science Center, which uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to make live movies of internal mouth movement during speech production. We listen to different varieties of American English, including marginalized ones, and also see how bilingual speakers juggle their multiple languages. The effects of disorders and disease on the ability to hear and to speak are examined. The course wraps up with an overview of speech technologies and takes the pulse of what’s happening with models like ChatGPT.

    In addition to its topical material, this Seminar also embraces orienting Freshmen to the University setting. For example, we discuss how to effectively communicate with faculty and succeed in the college classroom and how to find avenues for research activities. Faculty guests will join periodically to introduce themselves.

    If you’re interested in linguistics, cognitive science, voice and spoken language, speech technologies, or human health, this freshman seminar might be up your alley. All backgrounds and interests are
    welcome!  In the meantime, feel free to browse through the course’s website.

    Dani Byrd is a Professor in the Linguistics Department of the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences, and a published author. In her laboratory, Professor Byrd studies the role that linguistic structure plays in shaping the skilled, sound-producing vocal movements that produce speech. Her research is part of the interdisciplinary field of cognitive science and has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

  • Myron F. Goodman

    COVID-19 arrived on the scene in December 2019 and within a year was identified as a pandemic that has resulted in deaths in the millions worldwide. Yet there is another current pandemic that could have far worse long-term consequences for humanity: the proliferation of antibiotic resistant superbugs. This Freshman Seminar will explore the “A’s & B’s” of viruses and bacterial pathogens, Antibodies (ABs) and Antibiotics (Abs). Along the way, you’ll be figuratively exposed to the Black Plague, Spanish Flu, and Polio. We will discuss the genius insights of Pasteur, the happenstance discovery of Fleming, and the distinctive strategies of Salk and Sabin to develop vaccines against Polio. Societal and political issues, prejudices, and constraints play pivotal roles in the evolution of pandemics. Scientifically, polio should a thing of the past; why isn’t it?  A current cliché “Follow the Science” has entered our lexicon – but what does that really mean? To address this and related questions, we will explore and debate scientific methodologies and analyses. We will examine in detail how and why mutations arise; mutations provide the conceptual basis to understand both the inception and prospective eradication of viral and bacterial pathogenesis.

    There will be a small number of reading assignments, typically general knowledge articles and essays specifically relevant to each seminar topic. Students will be expected to participate actively in informal discussions aimed at exploring the intersection of Science, Politics, and Society in response to existential threats posed by pandemics, past, present, and future.

    Myron F. Goodman is a Professor in the Departments of Biological Sciences and Chemistry. His research has been devoted to deciphering the molecular mechanisms of DNA synthesis fidelity and mutagenesis. His current studies are centered on the biochemical basis of hypermutation, which can be thought of as “mutation on steroids.”

  • David Albertson

    Recent work in virtue epistemology and pedagogy (J. Baehr 2016, 2021) suggests that the paradigm of “intellectual virtues” can be an effective way to orient undergraduate education. In distinction from normative moral virtues concerning the soul, intellectual virtues are qualities, capacities, and practices that concern the mind. What makes a good thinker? What habits of rigor, honesty, discipline, and curiosity strengthen the intellect? Our course begins with an introduction to Plato and Aristotle’s influential virtue theory, but then to update it drawing on the writings of Simone Weil, Alasdair McIntyre, and Jason Baehr. Students will also experiment with practical exercises designed to inculcate intellectual virtues related to the new “contemplative pedagogy.” Along the way we will consider what kinds of classroom activities, course work, writing assignments, and study habits might develop the intellectual virtues that students wish to acquire while at USC.

    David Albertson is Associate Professor of Religion in USC Dornsife College, where he teaches the history of Christianity, philosophy of religion, and religious ethics. He also serves as Resident Faculty Fellow at Parkside Arts & Humanities Residential College.

  • Zlatan Damnjanovic

    The seminar will focus on the emergence of calendar practices in ancient through modern times, their role in the development of scientific understanding of the world around us, and their cultural and civilizational impact on the organizational structure of societies.  We’ll learn how systematic attempts to find objective ways to track passage of time lead to the development of scientific astronomy, and how they shaped classical philosophical conceptions of the place of mind in the cosmos.

    Zlatan Damnjanovic is a professor in the School of Philosophy specializing in logic, with interest in history and philosophy of science.

  • David Albertson

    Mystical texts are daring experiments in language, usually written by outsiders on the margins of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic institutions. As writers, mystical authors tend to invent new genres, craft daring (often erotic) images, and test the limits of expression. In this sense, their works are also experiments in poetry. What is the relationship between the naming of human experience in poetry and the naming of religious experience in mystical writing? How can we define mysticism? Is it a religious practice, a literary project, or both? What are some poetic themes common to Christian mysticism, Sufism, and Kabbalah? This seminar will read and discuss poems across these three traditions as well as contemporary poems that engage topics in spirituality.

  • Bob Girandola

    This class will look into the continuing national problem of weight control.  Obesity, which is controllable, is considered the second most prevalent disease.  Despite this, it has reached epidemic proportions in the USA as well as many other industrialized nations.  We will discuss the complexities of caloric balance and the appropriate methods for weight loss and gain.  Specific emphasis will be placed on young adults, such as college students who do not have the luxury of eating at home.  Appropriate dietary patterns for weight control as well as health will be analyzed.  Finally, appropriate exercise programs for maintaining body weight and shape will be discussed.

    Students who enroll in this class should be prepared to become actively involved in class discussions.  Many of the myths and fallacies of weight control and nutrition will be revealed, so keep an open mind!  Students should have access to the internet in order to download some of the many materials that are advertised for weight control and obesity.

    Robert Girandola received his undergraduate degree in physical education from Hunter College (New York) and his Ed.D. from the University of California at Berkeley in Exercise Physiology in 1970.  He has been at USC since 1973.  He teaches classes in Nutrition and Weight Control, Exercise Prescription, and The Science of Human Performance.  His research has centered on Obesity and Weight Control, Ergogenic Aids and Human Performance, Environmental Effects on Human Performance.

  • Emily Anderson

    If a stranger stopped you on a sidewalk and asked you to name your favorite book, would you have an answer? If so, would you know why you answered the way you did? This freshman seminar is designed to give book lovers an opportunity to reflect on what draws them to (certain) books. Students will have the opportunity to generate the reading list for the majority of the course, as we walk through a cross section of “our favorite books” read against a backdrop of short, accessible reflections on topics such as: why certain books withstand “the test of time,” why certain books fall out of favor, and how we re-read things differently over time. Join English Professor and current Dean of Undergraduate Education, Emily Anderson, to explore what makes a book a favorite, how these preferences can vary, and why and what we learn from re-reading the books we love.

  • Jonathan Kotler

    In a nation that has inherited most of its law from its colonial occupiers—notably, the British, the Spanish and the French—privacy as a protected right stands almost alone as one off those few areas of the law that is historically our own. And yet, in all the developed world, we are among the very worst at protecting it, partially because of the fear-mongering caused by our own government since 9/11 (which has allowed certain government agencies to overstep the boundaries of existing law), partially because of our own apathy (when was the last time anyone shut off either the “cookies” or “gps” enabling switches on their smart phones?), and partially because American businesses have been among the leaders in figuring out how to monetize something the rest of the world wants to protect.

    This seminar will take a look at the concept of privacy as it exists today, and try to figure out in what form it will exist, if at all, in the future.

    Students who enroll in this course should be interested in the world around them, as well as in the areas of law, politics and technology. All required course materials will be furnished by the course instructor, although students will be responsible for keeping up with current events as disseminated by the national news media.

    Jonathan Kotler, who is an Associate Professor of Journalism, teaches media law at Annenberg School, is the former Dean of the USC Graduate School, the former President of the Western Association of Graduate Schools, and is an attorney who specializes in media law and who has argued at all levels of the American judicial system, including at the United States Supreme Court in Washington.

  • Julie Van Dam

    “How are you feeling?” is a question that invites a story. Sometimes it is asked by a friend, but often a doctor or therapist. This course is about these responses–responses which are in actuality stories or ‘narratives’ about our health, our bodies, our minds. In this seminar, we will explore what it means to narrate one’s health or illness, what it means to listen well, and how each can contribute to healing. Over the semester, you will be introduced to the field of narrative medicine, its guiding principles and some representative texts (memoirs, poetry, film, etc). You will learn about the role of narrative medicine in the experience of illness, diagnosis, and healing both from the patient and the physician’s viewpoint, drawing links to our current context and exploring newer platforms for narrative medicine such as social media. This course will include texts from doctors, writers, filmmakers, and patients who become writers or even bloggers or TikTokers.

    Julie Van Dam is Professor of French (teaching) in the Department of French and Italian since 2007.  Her research and teaching focus on the intersection of literature, film and culture with medicine, health, gender, and the body, with particular attention to postcolonial Francophone contexts. In addition to her book, Critical Conditions: Illness and Disability in Francophone African and Caribbean Women’s Writing (2012), she has published in peer-reviewed journals such as JLCDS, Wagadu, and Disability Studies Quarterly. 

  • Marcos Briano

    According to the National Institute of Health, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for college students.  The Center for Disease Control tells us an individual dies by suicide in the United States every 11 minutes. Unfortunately, our USC community is not immune to these statistics, but you have an opportunity to become an agent of change in suicide prevention.

    In this freshman seminar you will expand your understanding and knowledge about suicide through evidence-based research theory and learn how to lead suicide prevention trainings to fellow Trojans. This seminar will include specialized training and an experiential process in leading peer-to-peer suicide prevention trainings.

    Dr. Briano “Dr. B” is Director of Dornsife’s Physical Education & Mind Body Health department and adjunct faculty in Rossier’s Marriage & Family Therapy program. His interest and passion in teaching this seminar is fueled by his clinical expertise in training college students, staff, and faculty in becoming suicide Gatekeepers and agents of change.

  • Najmedin Meshkati

    One of the most serious existential crises facing humanity deals with climate change and global warming vis-à-vis energy. This crisis will have drastic social, economic, political and technological implications for the world. Developing and implementing a systematic response is probably the most important challenge facing our generation; as the influential New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has suggested in one of his seminal writings, “The Power of Green,” “Green has to become part of America’s DNA. We’re getting there. Green has hit Main Street — it’s now more than a hobby — but it’s still less than a new way of life . . . Living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century.”

    It has been said that a paradox of our time is “the mixed blessing of almost every technological development.” The relationships between technology and the environment are also paradoxical, complex and multifaceted. Technology could be regarded as the source of many environmental problems, but at the same time, it is only through further technological development that solutions to these problems can be found. Furthermore, technology is a major building block of the two pillars of environmental conservation and restoration: pollution prevention and waste management. Two recent major cases will also be studied: the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig accident in April 2010 that killed 11, seriously injured 16, and the oil flow continued for nearly 3 months, during which, nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico; and the Fukushima nuclear accident in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 in Japan which has caused serious environmental pollution and contamination due to radiation release from the stricken Daiichi plant. In addition to the above topics, we will also discuss the role and activities of major national and international entities in the technology and environment arena such as the United Nations, its specialized agencies (e.g., UNEP) as well as the World Bank.

    Najmedin Meshkati is a Professor of Civil/Environmental Engineering; Industrial & Systems Engineering; and International Relations at the USC. He was a Jefferson Science Fellow and a Senior Science and Engineering Advisor, Office of Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, US State Department, Washington, DC (2009-2010).

  • Lori Meeks

    Many Mahayana Buddhist texts teach that the enlightenment of a Buddha is available to everyone, even ordinary people. To attain Buddhahood, they teach, one must commit to rigorous practice as a bodhisattva.

    In this course we will undertake close readings of two major works on the bodhisattva path – one written by the great Indian master Shantideva (8th c.), in verses that have been celebrated throughout Buddhist history, and another by Norman Fischer, a contemporary Zen practitioner who has interpreted the bodhisattva path for modern readers. Both works address how ordinary people can pursue in everyday life the lofty goals of the bodhisattvas, who devote themselves to compassion and wisdom and who embody the concepts of “emptiness” and interconnectedness.

    We will begin with Shantideva’s classical work and will then use Fischer’s book to consider how the perspective of the bodhisattva path might inspire us to reimagine our place in the world, to elevate our relationships with others, and to imagine the ways in which consistent acts of goodness, however small, may reduce suffering and increase flourishing, both for ourselves and for all sentient beings.

    Lori Meeks is Associate Professor of Religion and East Asian Languages and Cultures. She received degrees from Columbia (B.A.) and Princeton (Ph.D.) and has taught at USC since 2004. Her primary research area is Japanese Buddhism, and she has published widely on the social lives of Buddhist monastic institutions in premodern Japan. Her upcoming project examines the ideology of hell in early modern Japanese Buddhism. Meeks has taught “Introduction to Buddhism” (REL 134) for many years at USC. She is a former Chair of the Religion Department and a former Co-Chair of the Buddhism Section of the American Academy of Religion.

  • Ken Phillips

    This course takes students on a 500-year journey of space exploration that begins through the eyes of tribal peoples of sub-Saharan Africa and continues through the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour and the completion of the International Space Station. America’s Space Shuttle has been described as the most complex machine ever built. Operating over a period of 30 years, using five space-worthy orbiters during 135 missions, the space shuttle program served as a bridge between the early days of spaceflight and permanent human presence in space. It is a fascinating story of science, culture and politics!

    Along their 11-week journey students will meet famous astronomers who teased secrets from the Universe that profoundly changed what we believe and the way we see ourselves. We will explore the 60-year period of modern space exploration using the principles of spaceflight revealed through case studies that describe ingenious robot spacecraft to explore the planets and missions designed to carry humans deeper and deeper into the solar system. In the final weeks of the course student teams will develop their own master plans for future space exploration by describing their principle scientific objectives, the spacecraft and instruments needed to acquire the necessary data and the anticipated benefits to the nation and the world.

    Several lectures for this course will take place in the Sketch Foundation Air and Space Gallery and the Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Pavilion at the California Science Center.

    Kenneth E. Phillips is Adjunct Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and has served as Curator for Aerospace Science at the California Science Center for 25 years. He received his Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from The Johns Hopkins University and conducted public policy research in the Engineering and Applied Sciences Department of the RAND Corporation for 13 years prior to joining the California Science Center. Ken is passionate about the public understanding of science.

  • Rory Lukins

    After years of preparation, test scores, and applications; after years of hoping for your dream school; after the pains of rejection and the joys of admission—you’ve made it. Joining a university community can be exhilarating, but it can also be overwhelming given the many competing and often contradictory goals for students. From the idealistic and aspirational—academic excellence, social connections, political activism, character development—to the pragmatic — job preparation, graduate school applications, career development, getting the degree — these competing goals can be nerve-wracking. The university, like a small city, has complicated systems in place to manage itself—and you—and social pressures that can be difficult to navigate. 

    This Freshman Seminar will get you up to speed on the parts of campus life that are rarely discussed in the admissions process.  Topics for discussion will include everything from finding purpose in academics to social and financial debts, social media and student identity, free speech and the scientific method, sex and love on college campuses, school branding and personal enrichment. At the end of our 11 weeks together, you will have a stronger sense of how the campus works, why, and where you fit into it. We will also help each other develop our individual goals in order to create college experiences that will form an enriching life beyond the university.

    Rory Lukins is an Associate Professor (teaching) in the Writing Program, where he teaches writing seminars focused on economics and education.  He has degrees from the University of California, Davis (BA), Georgetown University (MA), and USC (PhD). His academic work focuses on composition, rhetoric, first-year programs, and intellectual history. 

  • Henry Koffman

    The University of Southern California is one of the world’s leading earthquake and tsunami research centers.  Virtually every region of the planet experiences earthquakes at one time or another, but California experiences them frequently.  When earthquakes occur in major metropolitan areas, the effects can be dramatic.  San Francisco is still recovering from the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, and Los Angeles will be responding to the effects of the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake for years to come.  Earthquakes have become an everyday occurrence throughout the world.

    Our class will trace the history of earthquakes, examine the mechanics of geological faults, and try to understand the emergency and public safety measures taken to cope with earthquakes both before and after the fact.  We will study the nature of the forces released, how these forces impact the environment, how these forces are measured, and how structural and foundation designs are intended to respond to earthquake forces.  We will summarize the current state of earthquake research.  The class will take field trips to local facilities and affected sites.  We will also research historical and recent tsunamis.

    Professor Henry M. Koffman, P.E., is the Director of the Construction Engineering and Management Program in the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Civil Engineering Department.  He is a real estate land developer, licensed building contractor, and a registered Professional Engineer in the State of California.

  • David Albertson

    This residential Freshman Seminar provides a forum for students to reflect on the hopes, assumptions, and questions they bring with them as they begin their college experience at USC. Is college about discovering who I am? About acquiring skills and credentials for my job? About preparing to contribute as a citizen of various communities? How do these three objectives (and others) intersect? How are they in tension? Whatever answers one chooses, the goal is to choose deliberately, and to use this reflection to guide one’s priorities over the next four years.

    We’ll consult some ancient wisdom on education from Plato, but also some recent books on the purpose of modern universities. Students will have the opportunity to interview graduating seniors, recent alums, advising staff, and USC professors.

    David Albertson is Associate Professor of Religion in USC Dornsife College, where he teaches the history of Christianity, philosophy of religion, and religious ethics. He also serves as Resident Faculty Fellow at Parkside Arts & Humanities Residential College.

  • Susan Harris

    This Freshman Seminar will explore the rites of passage that mark the transition from high school to college.  The course will offer a space for students to reflect on who they are, where they come from, and where they are headed—and the role of higher education in shaping this dynamic process.  Completing a service-learning assignment through the Joint Educational Project (JEP) has become a kind of rite of passage for thousands of USC students.  All students in the course will become JEP mentors for college-bound high school students from the Los Angeles Unified School District who participate in USC’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI).

    As suggested by the course title, writing will play a primary role in the course.  We will work together with NAI teachers and administrators to guide high school seniors as they draft their college application essays.  In addition, the FSEM students will write reflective essays that investigate the roots of the self, critically examining how race, class, gender, education, and other social forces create and constrain individual opportunities.  The USC freshmen will help to orient the high school seniors to college life, sharing their own experiences as new college students.

    Susan Harris is the Executive Director of the USC Joint Educational Project, a service-learning and community engagement program based in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.  She earned a Ph.D. in Sociology and Marriage & Family Therapy from USC in 2001.

  • Richard Fliegel

    “No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” said Samuel Johnson, but that’s not the end of the story.  There is after all a reader or an audience, expecting something.  This is a seminar for writers or for people who are trying to be.  We will focus on the question, “How does it change what I write when I’m determined to affect my readers?”  Writing to express yourself accurately is hard, but it’s like falling off a log compared to writing things that succeed in stirring other people’s emotions.

    Students will be expected to read other writers’ work in several genres and to share with the class what they themselves have written, sometimes on the spot.  We promise not to laugh unless it’s funny — and if that isn’t scary, the devil knows what is.

    Richard Fliegel is Adjunct Professor of English, Director of the Freshman Seminar program, and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs in USC Dornsife College.  He has published detective novels and tried his hand at some other forms, from poetry to episodic television.

Contact Us

Dornsife Undergraduate Programs