Illustration of first year seminar courses

Get a first look at the newest first-year seminars

September 6, 2022


First-year seminars cover a wide range of topics from across disciplines, offering new Spiders a chance to explore areas of interest that aren’t necessarily connected to their intended major. More than 50 are offered this year for curious minds.

“The first-year seminars inspire students to explore, while encouraging the development of critical reading, thinking, and communicating skills,” said rhetoric and communication studies professor Nicole Maurantonio, who directs the program. “The sheer array of courses offered from across the five schools is phenomenal." 

Here are seven new first-year seminars on offer this year, including one taught by President Kevin F. Hallock.  

Monumental Change

Maurantonio’s seminar looks at the summer of 2020 as a formative moment in American history and memory. “Demonstrators across the United States began toppling monuments celebrating the Confederacy and other icons of racial and ethnic oppression,” wrote Maurantonio in the course description. “The importance of this historical moment is indisputable, but what does it mean to produce ‘monumental change?’”

She wants to draw students into larger conversations about public memory and the meanings of symbols. “My goal is not only for students to emerge stronger communicators but to recognize their power as change agents.”

The Art of the Picture Book

In this course, students explore what makes a successful, modern illustrated book, said Angela Leeper, director of the Curriculum Materials Center.

“Many adults relegate picture books to bedtime settings, but when words and art are woven together to create a story, the effect can be beautiful, humorous, thought-provoking, or even subversive,” Leeper said. “Engagement with a variety of picture books, critical reading, and research will lead to free writing, critical reviews, academic writing, project-based writing, and a marketing plan.” 


This fall, President Kevin F. Hallock is teaching his first course at UR, a first-year seminar on compensation. In the past three decades as a professor of economics, Hallock has researched many topics, including how companies set pay, executive compensation, compensation in nonprofits, the gender pay gap, and wage inequality. He is excited to teach and learn more about these areas in the classroom with 16 Richmond Spiders.

“Compensation is about more than wages and salaries,” says Hallock. “It includes bonuses, contingent pay, benefits, working conditions, and work-life balance. Through this course, we are exploring why people earn what they earn comprehensively and across a spectrum of industries.”

Trauma and Resilience

Psychology professor Janelle Peifer is teaching a course that focuses on psychological trauma, and how cultural lenses can shape the way people experience significant events that impact the way they see themselves, others, and the world. 

“I think this seminar is perfectly timed in the wake of the pandemic,” Peifer said. “As a global community, we are grappling with the wide-reaching mental health impact of such a prolonged and significant threat. I am excited to engage students with an experiential learning approach that will connect theory and research to their real-world implications.” 

Dances for EveryBody

Students in this course taught by dance professor Alicia Diaz will explore how the performing arts can serve to examine topics like inclusivity, equity, and justice. It’s the first time the dance department has offered a first-year seminar.  

“We can engage with the basic elements of dance and theatre to create an awareness and understanding of many topics, because movement is a universal language,” Diaz said. 

Diaz is aligning this new seminar with another class taught by theatre professor Patricia Herrera focusing on HIV, a disease that disproportionately affects communities of color, and the courses will collectively inform a documentary project.   

Medieval England and France in Conflict

This seminar taught by history professor David Routt explores medieval political, socioeconomic, and cultural life.

“The students get to engage in the process of reconstructing for themselves a chunk of medieval English and French history, by reading materials from the time and then placing their conclusions alongside those of scholars who have written about the period,” Routt said. “The course is also appealing because it offers some vibrant, strong personalities for the students to study. Even better, there have been interesting cinematic treatments of the period, both serious — The Lion in Winter, The Last Duel, Henry V — and whimsical, such as A Knight's Tale and bits and pieces of Monty Python." 

Going Places

History professor Carol Summers is leading this course about the history of people traveling — and what can be learned from stories about those travels.  

“Going places, observing, thinking, and telling others about their travels has been an important part of how people learn and understand the world, both in the past and today,” Summers wrote in the course description.

“I hope anyone who takes the seminar will be able to emerge with some ideas about what is possible, how to understand and ask questions, and some awfully good stories and ideas that might provide examples of how things could always be worse,” Summers said. “The best stories are generally not about successes, but about disasters survived. That seems to me to be a context and a way of thinking it might be possible to learn from.”