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Signature Courses Help Students Reflect on Life's Big Questions

Written By John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer

SS Genetics.360x240They are some of the most profound and provocative questions of our time:

Can mankind become extinct? Why have cancer and cardiovascular diseases become so prevalent? Is environmental stewardship a moral obligation?

Each of these questions forms the starting point of a School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) Signature Course.

Launched in 2009 as part of bold new approach to liberal arts and sciences, Signature Courses examine the perennial questions facing humanity while exploring compelling topics in the contemporary world. They are designed and taught by SAS scholars who are not only recognized for their specialized research but are also eloquent, demanding, and award-winning teachers.

Each Signature Course is made up of a combination of lectures by faculty and small discussion sections led by graduate students. They establish a common basis for intellectual exchange and define SAS as a community of students and scholars working together.ss crator.300x200

The Signature Courses offered in Fall, 2013 include Extinction, in which Professor Rob Scott, an evolutionary anthropologist, takes students on a journey from the beginning of the universe to the present, and then asks: "How may we go extinct?"

“That question was a real conundrum to me because I can’t imagine us going extinct,” he said. “But it is the fate of species after species.”

Another course – Genetics, Evolution and Human Healthy – is taught by Genetics Professor Terry McGuire, whose teaching connects science with contemporary social issues.

As its title suggests, Genetics, Evolution and Human Health is interdisciplinary in nature, focusing on genetics and evolutionary biology. But it also explores issues that affect everyone’s lives, such as why people get sick, and what science can tell us about illness.

“We are going to be spending time just looking at what it means to be human,” McGuire said. “How did we evolve?  We migrated all over the world. We adapted to harsh climates. I want students to understand it’s a long struggle, and it shapes who we are and what we do.”
 
In the Signature Course Conservation, Geography Professor Richard Schroeder focuses on the scientific, moral, political, and economic dimensions of the 21st century global challenge of balancing nature conservation and human needs, and the debates surrounding whether and how to do this.
 
The course is designed to be global in scope, and focuses on issues ranging from the debate over black bears in New Jersey to the gangs of poachers in the developing who shoot elephants and rhinos for their tusks. Students will look at how protected areas have been created and why they are no longer enough.
 
"A focus on conservation is really, ultimately, about the exercise of power, and whose responsibility is it to actually implement conservation," Schroeder said. "Students who take this course are going to learn about how the world works."

 

 

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