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May 19, 2020

Senior Perspectives: (Un)Common Course Recommendations


Cobb Hall.

Lee Harris / The Chicago Maroon

While the Core curriculum affirms the innate worthiness of the cultivation of holistic knowledge, many students fall into the trap of viewing it as a graduation requirement. As much as students benefit from diving into their specialties, they ought to not only take full advantage of the Core, but also to explore electives unrelated to their majors. The Maroon invited five fourth-year students to reflect on the best out-of-the-way courses that have broadened their intellectual experiences.

 

An Outlet and a Perspective

Respondent: Matt Petrak

Majors: Economics and Statistics

Course: Painting Matters

Department: Visual Arts

Instructor: Jessica Stockholder

 

Chicago MaroonCould you take a second to introduce yourself?

MP: Sure! My name is Matt Petrak, and I’m from La Grange, Illinois. I also took the majority of UChicago’s pre-med classes and have strong interests in biology, psychology, writing, and art. I’m going into consulting right after college, but I hope to later enter academia and/or a field related to medicine. I also hope to open a bakery when I’m old.

CM: How did you end up learning about this class? What led you to enroll in it?

MP: My co-RA told me about the class after looking through the visual arts classes available that quarter. I was an “art kid” all throughout my life before college, so I thought this class would be an opportunity to 1) learn how to paint well (which I did!); 2) bond with my AMAZING co-RA; and 3) have a creative outlet that could counteract my recruiting schedule stress and balance out my STEM–oriented classes.

CM: What makes this the “best” non-major class that you have taken?

MP: The assignments were open-ended and left a lot of room for creativity and personal expression. I painted Lizzo, my mom, Pokémon, a gloomy Mickey Mouse, a five-minute Shrek portrait, and an homage to my childhood art teacher (who passed away that quarter), and that’s just naming a few! The class provided me space to decompress, listen to music, and find joy in a quarter that was otherwise very demanding.

CM: Is there any advice that you would give to students considering taking this class?

MP: If you like art and visual creative expression, PLEASE take this class! Challenge yourself to learn from the staff and your peers. While I stayed true to myself, my style and technical work grew a lot because I was willing to step out of my comfort zone and try something new!

CM: Have you continued to engage with the course material afterwards? If so, how?

MP: The biggest impact the class had was on my perception of the seasons. I love summer and sometimes find it hard to achieve happiness in Chicago’s cold, gray winters. This class taught me that changing perspective or focus allows me to find beauty in most things, impacting my understanding of perspective’s influence on life as a whole.

 

Conversing With a Classic

Respondent: Carolina Yu

Major: Neuroscience

Course: Joyce’s Ulysses

Department: English

Instructor: Maud Ellman

 

CM: Could you take a second to introduce yourself?

CY: Hi! I’m Carolina, and I’m from Texas. I switched from chem to neuroscience at the start of my third year. I’m planning on going to law school and hopefully work at the intersection between law and science.

CM: How did you end up learning about this class? What led you to enroll in it?

CY: I had room to take a non-neuro class that quarter, and I was looking through the available courses. I’ve been wanting to read Ulysses for a long time, and I felt like it’s one of those books that benefits a lot from being read in a class setting.

CM: What makes this the “best” non-major class that you have taken?

CY: I never felt like the readings were a chore as I have for many of my other classes. I would say the pacing of the class was very smooth; we had time to dive into each chapter and examine at least some of the intricacies in Joyce’s writing. Finally, I think the professor did a good job of highlighting the humor and absurdity of the book, which made it all the more interesting.

CM: Is there any advice that you would give to students considering taking this class?

CY: Enjoy the readings; don’t get too caught up in every single detail because there is so much going on.

CM: Have you continued to engage with the course material afterwards? If so, how?

CY: I’ve definitely revisited some passages, and I will probably reread the book at some point. One passage that I specifically remember was this rant that one of the characters goes on about how Shakespeare is a cuckold and his works are based on events that happened in his real life/with Anne Hathaway.

 

What Is Talent?

Respondent: Elissa Kwon

Major: Economics

Course: American Idols: Music, Popular Culture, and Nation

Department: Music

Instructor: Lindsay Wright

 

CM: Could you take a second to introduce yourself?

EK: Hi! I’m Elissa. On campus, I am involved with Unaccompanied Women (an a cappella group), KSO, and Midway Ventures. Throughout college, I also worked at the Logan Media Center and Weston Game Lab/Hack Arts Lab.

CM: How did you end up learning about this class? What led you to enroll in it?

EK: Dr. Wright’s course description was what ultimately led me to enroll in the class. The class is meant to explore how shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice show themes of American-ness in practice (or the illusion of them in practice). It also delves into ideas of how we characterize talent, who gets to be talented, and who gets to decide who’s talented. I am planning to work in the music industry post-grad, so I am always on the lookout for courses like these that critically evaluate aspects of entertainment.

CM: What makes this the “best” non-major class that you have taken?

EK: I’m actually taking the class this quarter. Dr. Wright’s plethora of knowledge and passion for the subject makes discussions really engaging. The class only has nine people enrolled, so every person in the class is invested in the course material. Everyone also has diverse backgrounds (in terms of majors, hobbies, and musical experience), making discussions even more interesting. It’s generally just a really fun class because we get to look at these shows that are very much a big part of American culture and pull from our own experiences to analyze them.

CM: Is there any advice that you would give to students considering taking this class?

EK: Take it! If you’re on the fence, at least go to the first class, and I can guarantee you’ll end up enrolling.

CM: Have you continued to engage with the course material afterwards? If so, how?

EK: After the quarter ends, I am planning on reading some of the books Dr. Wright picked excerpts from for class reading.

 

Everyday Leadership

Respondent: Gary Zhao

Major: Economics

Course: The Social Psychology of Behavior in Organizations

Department: Public Policy

Instructor: Nadav Klein

 

CM: Could you take a second to introduce yourself?

GZ: My name’s Gary Zhao, I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, and I recently graduated early last quarter.

CM: How did you end up learning about this class? What led you to enroll in it?

GZ: Enrolling in the course was quite random—I have always been interested in psychology, and my schedule had capacity for some electives at the end of third year. I found this course after searching “psychology” on the registrar, and that was it.

CM: What makes this the “best” non-major class that you have taken?

GZ: Interactions with the rest of the students in my section that particular quarter are what made this class so memorable for me. We all had very different backgrounds, perspectives, and interests, so collaborating on case discussions was truly enlightening. I learned a lot about myself from my peers, and I was able to begin refining my own approach toward leadership and management.

CM: Is there any advice that you would give to students considering taking this class?

GZ: I definitely recommend this course. Professor Klein is a great guy, the content is engaging and practical, and you will not get worked too hard. It is a nice switch-up from all the highly theoretical classes you can take at UChicago.

CM: Have you continued to engage with the course material afterwards? If so, how?

GZ: From ordering food at a restaurant to chatting with old friends I see at the gym, I have found concepts from this course popping up in my daily interactions.

 

Embracing the Core

Respondent: Ryan Bergman

Majors: Economics and Philosophy

Course: Classics of Social and Political Thought

Department: Social Sciences Core

Instructor: Nina Valiquette Moreau

 

CM: Could you take a second to introduce yourself?

RB: Hi! My name is Ryan Bergman, and I’m from Los Angeles, California. I like to run and watch/write movies in my free time.

CM: How did you end up learning about this class? What led you to enroll in it?

RB: I joined Nina's section winter quarter—my professor in the fall only taught that quarter. One of my first (and still one of my best) UChicago friends in her section highly recommended her, and I was luckily able to switch in.

CM: What makes this the “best” non-major class that you have taken?

RB: This class transformed how I thought about arguments and analyzing texts. In our class, Nina did something that I still haven’t seen three years later: she encouraged us to write shorter papers. On top of how this greatly helped me with streamlining and word choice, she would pick apart all of our work line by line, word by word. Sitting down with her in office hours not only helped me catch my errors, but also taught me how to better analyze texts.

Nina also had the best attitude towards teaching that I’ve seen at UChicago. She was warm, friendly, and genuinely cared about us all as students, thinkers, and human beings. As a first-year, the environment in her classroom made me feel more welcome at UChicago. Our time reading Democracy in America during spring quarter was the single best experience I’ve had in a class here.

CM: Is there any advice that you would give to students considering taking this class?

RB: You probably will not get an A all three quarters. Nina is the epitome of “tough but fair,” but I promise that you will be all the better for it.

CM: Have you continued to engage with the course material afterwards? If so, how?

RB: I haven’t taken any courses that center on political philosophy during the rest of my time at UChicago, so I haven’t stayed quite as engaged with the material as I would’ve hoped. However, I have reread The Prince countless times and still refer to some of Nina’s comments on my old papers when writing for philosophy classes.

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