First-Year Seminars

Students in lab

Seminars are taught each fall by faculty from a range of disciplines throughout the university. Seminar topics focus on exciting and important questions that provide students with the opportunity to explore issues, gather and evaluate evidence, and develop their ideas through writing. By participating in a First-Year Seminar, students develop essential academic skills that they will use throughout their time at KU.

Student FAQs

  • Taking a First-Year Seminar will enable you to explore an unfamiliar area that intrigues you or delve into a topic related to your academic interests.
  • First-Year Seminars are designed to help you develop university-level skills in critical thinking and writing that you will use at KU and throughout your professional career.
  • All First-Year Seminars have fewer than 24 students. You will get to know other students in your class and your professor.
  • First-Year Seminars involve active learning, discussion, and engagement with peers in your class.
  • First-Year Seminars provide hands-on experiential learning opportunities, such as field trips, laboratory research, service projects, or attending artistic performances or exhibits.
  • The only prerequisite to enroll in a First-Year Seminar is first-year status. Prior knowledge of the subject matter is not expected.

Fall 2023 First-Year Seminars

In Fall semester of 2015, a group of nine students at Amherst College organized what they thought would be a 1-hour sit-in in the library to protest racial inequities and support Black Lives Matter.  The event turned into a 4-day sit-in that focused campus attention on the exclusion that minoritized students experienced on campus, especially in STEM fields. These important conversations led to a partnership between students and faculty that resulted in the formation of a course (and book) called “Being Human in STEM.”  The course provided an opportunity for students and STEM faculty to dialogue and forge connections that unmasked the struggles faced by students from underrepresented populations in STEM. 

This first-year seminar will employ similar methods to engage in broad discussions of belonging at KU. Being Human at KU is an interactive course that pairs first year KU students and STEM faculty to explore issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) at the University of Kansas and beyond. The course combines academic inquiry, individual stories, and community engagement to provide opportunities to promote a dialogue among students, faculty, and academic support staff.

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Mark Mort

I was born in rural western Pennsylvania and am a first-generation college student.  As a child growing up in Appalachia my favorite summer activities involved being in nature and exploring.  Whether out fishing with my grandfather, or hiking nature trails with my family, I found nature to be inspiring and intriguing. From an early age, there was little doubt that I was going to major in biology in college, but it took me time to decide what aspect of biology would be my focus for graduate studies.  Ultimately, I specialized on studying the evolution and diversification of flowering plants, especially several groups of plants from South Africa and the Canary Islands. 

I came to KU as an assistant professor and assistant curator of botany in the KU Biodiversity Institute in the Fall of 2000.  Currently, I am a Professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and serve as one of the Associate Directors of KU’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE).  Since 2010 I have been coordinating a course transformation effort in Biology with the goal of promoting more effective teaching to enhance diversity and inclusion in science and to create more welcoming learning environments for all students.  As part of these ongoing efforts, I have been involved in multiple externally funded grant projects. I was a co-PI on an AAU-funded STEM analytics project and a co-PI on the NSF-funded TRESTLE (Transforming Education, Stimulating Teaching and Learning Excellence) project.  Additionally, we recently were awarded a multi-institutional Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence 3 (HHMI IE3) grant project. On this project, I serve as the Alternate Project Director at KU and hold a leadership role on the Advisory committee for the HHMI IE3 Learning Cluster Community 3 (LCC3).

In today’s business world, cultural diversity plays an ever more important role.  The understanding of cultural differences is a critical skill for any person in today’s business world; whether working in a foreign country, communicating with a foreign business partner, or working in today’s increasingly culturally diverse U.S. workplace.  Culture matters in every aspect of doing business. 

In this seminar, we will examine cultural differences in the workplace using eight aspects of conducting business. These aspects include communicating, evaluating, persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling.  Students will explore how different cultures view these aspects of the business process in different ways.  Students will examine their own cultural values, engage in critical discussions about how cultural context influences business practice, and identify ways that enhanced cultural competency might advance business needs.  

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Daniel Galindau

Daniel Galindau was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received his undergraduate degree from UCLA, and then served four years in the U.S. Navy, being honorably discharged with the rank of Lieutenant. He earned an MBA at the University of Southern California, and then embarked on a 20-year career with the Hilti Company, a European manufacturer of tools and fasteners. During this career, Dan had the opportunity to live and work 5 years in Seoul, South Korea as country General Manager, followed by 6 years in Hong Kong as Hilti’s President of Asia Pacific responsible for 13 countries in Northeast and Southeast Asia. 

Upon his retirement from Hilti, Dan settled in Kansas City with his wife Kathy, a Kansas native. He has been a lecturer at the University of Kansas for the past 15 years teaching courses in International Management, International Business, and Comparative and Cross-Cultural Management at both the undergraduate and MBA levels. Dan also leads KU’s China Study Abroad program where he takes undergraduate and MBA students to China for a 2-week program of visiting both Chinese and U.S. companies including Hallmark and Black & Veatch. He has also been involved in consulting with local Kansas companies who are looking to enter Asian markets. At the end of most summers, Dan returns to China where he works with a Chinese University’s MBA program to teach a Cross-Cultural Business Communication course to Chinese working professionals. 


Human beings are obsessed with depictions of sex and violence—not just in popular culture, but in literature, mythology, and throughout world history. Simultaneously, contemporary popular culture is full of stories about destiny—time travel stories that fix (or cause!) temporal paradoxes, narratives about a heroic “chosen one,” or the same day being lived over and over by the main character. This course argues that these two phenomena are two sides of the same coin: We are drawn to narratives about destiny, of time travel, and prophecy to manage our anxieties around inescapable questions we have about sex and death. To that end, we will study films, television shows, books, works of art, and other artifacts of popular culture to figure out why we collectively keep looping back to these same questions, and whether it’s possible—or desirable—to find a way out. 

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Robert McDonald

Robert McDonald is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies, and has never seen a time travel film he hasn’t liked. Originally hailing from Massachusetts, he received his undergraduate degrees and his master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and his PhD from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, so he is a proud Longhorn, Tarheel, and Jayhawk. When not teaching courses on popular culture, speech interpretation, and persuasive speaking, he studies how depictions of economics in culture and politics shape the ways that ordinary people view the economy as a whole. 

For the remainder of your academic journey and throughout your career you will be challenged to work with others to accomplish various tasks and goals. Class projects, discussion boards, interviews, development teams, conference attendance, and simply communicating with your instructor all require unique skill sets that are not necessarily taught in traditional college courses. Engineers in particular tend to get stereotyped as lacking the skills necessary for productively collaborating and working in teams. This course aims to break that stereotype and evolve what it means to work in general. One of the biggest academic and career challenges we face is lacking the education to successfully interact with our peers, instructors, and colleagues.  

This course introduces students to a variety of topics within the field of self-management and self-organization. We will cover material related to classroom and work culture, leadership, crucial conversations, deadlines, anti-fragile systems, building psychological safety, and (my personal favorite) why you do not need a boss to be great at your job. In class, students get the opportunity to practice filling multiple types of roles, simulate functional (and dysfunctional) meetings, practice interviewing, explore different types of group and work cultures, as well as survey various leadership styles. We will practice these skills throughout the semester with an opportunity to leverage them in a final group project. 

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Jennifer Lohoefener

Jennifer Lohoefener, is an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and is the Associate Director of the Institute for Information Sciences (I2S). Her research is primarily focused on formal methods in computer science and their application to system-level design. Her recent work centers around educational technology for improved learning in underrepresented groups as a means to broaden diversity in STEAM fields. Lohoefener brings over a decade of experience in industrial software development including AI-driven software for education. Her expertise lies at the intersection of programming language semantics, formal verification, system security, and data science. She is an active participant in the formal methods community and a mentor for the Women in Computing (WIC) group at The University of Kansas.

What is needed to think like an entrepreneur? Most people think you must be rich, connected and highly educated to be a successful entrepreneur. While those things may be helpful, all you really need is an entrepreneurial mindset. Thinking like an entrepreneur can help you not only in business, but in other aspects of your life. Even if you are not an entrepreneur, the entrepreneurial mindset can change the way you approach your life. 

Entrepreneurs are passionate, creative, idea people. They ask the tough why not questions, they seek and seize opportunities, they rarely accept the status quo, and throughout history, entrepreneurs have developed innovative answers to the most challenging issues in technology, business, and society. This course will allow students to become rigorous, versatile, and agile thinkers by flexing their own critical thinking muscles through an examination of the entrepreneurial mindset. What made entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Mary Kay, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah so wildly successful? Are there common characteristics that you may want to adopt to increase the likelihood of your own success? We'll look at them and look at ourselves to see if and how to apply their innovative techniques and thinking to our own pursuits. 

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Lisa Bergeron

Lisa Bergeron was born in New Jersey but spent the majority of her childhood in Manhattan, Kansas. While her dad was Dean of the School of Business at K-State, Lisa decided to come to KU for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Business. She attended her first Capital Budgeting class, taught by her dad, at age 7 when her mom had a last-minute meeting and so her dad had to take her with him to class. She knew from that day forward she would be involved with business and finance. Lisa worked at Hallmark prior to coming to KU in the New Ventures Group. She was involved with many new business acquisitions, new product launches and the development and spin-off of She realized her entrepreneurial mindset had been passed on her to son when, at age 4, he had taken several of the items she needed to get ready for work and created a “store” where she could buy them back from him! She now enjoys teaching this entrepreneurial mindset to other young minds at KU. Lisa spends her free time with her family and her three yellow labs and has recently become an empty nester.  

Ukraine is on top of the U.S. headlines: what is the authentic image of Ukraine represented through its own national cinematography? How can I understand better the experience of my own nation, race and country through the Ukrainian experience? The seminar is designed to teach the ‘critical thinking of Ukraine’ through film history and theory. We regard the Ukrainian film history primary source timeline in relation to the timeline of Ukrainian national history with a strong focus on the most important episodes of XX-XXI centuries in a struggle for independence and democracy. We examine the question of identity in relation to the Ukrainian national identity manifested in the film art as well as to the general identity of the spectator as a subject. We examine what the ‘filmic language’ is and what is the potential of learning the Ukrainian language through the film. The seminar includes full-length screenings and short fragments of Ukrainian films and online meetings with the representatives of the contemporary Ukrainian film industry. The feedback from students might involve both their critical thinking and their creative skills such as scriptwriting, filmmaking, and storytelling with digital media. The first-year students face the opportunity to get the first-person narrative of Ukraine from the bearer of both Ukrainian academic experience and the war trauma. 

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Olga Kyrylova

Dr Olga Kyrylova is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Department of Film and Media Studies. She comes from Kyiv, Ukraine where she held the position of the Full Professor of Cultural Studies at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy (the first Ukrainian-American bilingual educational project for Liberal Arts which was revived in Post-Soviet times on the basis of the eponymous legendary Ukrainian collegium/university of XVII-XVIII centuries). Master of Philosophy in European Literature, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (Jesus College, Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics, Department of Slavonic Studies). Dr Kyrylova participated as a film critic in many international film festivals. She interviewed most of Ukrainian actors, filmmakers, stage directors working as a journalist and as a film critic for ‘Kino-Teatr’ film magazine at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy since her student years. In her later years, Dr Kyrylova focused on the archival research having discovered unknown findings of early Ukrainian silent films of the fin-de-siècle decadence. Apart from that, Olga Kyrylova is a winner of a number of awards for Ukrainian-speaking writers (poetry, short prose, translation). 


What do Beauty and the Beast, Planet of the Apes, and zombies all have in common? These and similar-themed stories have been told and retold over the centuries in different cultures, nations, and circumstances. Story-telling is as old as humanity and is part of our deep quest to understand ourselves, who we are, and what our purpose is. This seminar will look at how science fiction and fantasy can be used as a means of tackling issues such as racism, gender stereotypes, sexuality, and national identity. We will look at some well-known stories (fairy tales, graphic novels, novels, TV shows, and movies) involving versions of the human, non-human, and superhuman (highly evolved apes, transformed monsters, and zombies). As well as dealing with these familiar themes with new eyes, we will also explore the rich potential of fantasy and science fiction to challenge and provoke. 

First-Year Experience Instructor, Paul Scott

Paul Scott is a dual UK and US citizen and has lived in France, Greece, and Canada, which broadened his cultural horizons and helped show him that the unfamiliar has as much to teach as the familiar. He teaches classes on French literature and culture in addition to French and South Korean science fiction. He enjoys discovering new places both in the USA and overseas. His high-school English teacher was mentored by J. R. R. Tolkien. 

The immense popularity of the Bernie Sanders campaign (and those of other progressive political candidates) and looming economic and environmental crises have prompted a renewed interest in socialism as both a critical perspective and a social and political movement. This First-Year Seminar provides a timely introduction to the work of the German social theorist Karl Marx (1818-1883) and to the writers, thinkers, and filmmakers of the 20th- and 21st-century who were influenced by Marx's systematic critique of capitalism. Engaging in close readings of some of Marx's foundational texts, we will also examine Marx's impact on the modern cultural and intellectual history of Germany, Europe, and beyond. Ultimately, we will place Marxism in productive dialogue with structural racism, feminism, and ecology. Our guiding questions will be the following: How can we best interpret Marx’s central concepts both then and now? And to what extent does Marxism still provide a viable lens through which we can better view – and subsequently understand – the interrelated crises that constitute our contemporary moment? 

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Ari Linden

Raised in Long Beach, California, Ari Linden is currently an associate professor of German Studies and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Slavic, German, and Eurasian Studies. His teaching interests include German language, literature, and philosophy. He is particularly interested in teaching and researching Critical Theory – or, as Marx calls it, the “ruthless criticism of all that exists” – and the way that Critical Theory intersects with modern German Jewish literature and thought. When he is not reading about Marxist perspectives on the world, he is likely spending time with his family, watching new TV series, playing or watching basketball, listening to podcasts or electronic music, taking walks, or cooking. 

Perhaps Emily Dickinson was right when she wrote, “That Love is all there is, / Is all we know of Love”, for what do we know about it after all? The main goal of this course is to investigate love as a mysterious, most pleasant and most deceitful subject, while in the process becoming better readers, critical thinkers and writers. Through the analysis of novels, short stories, poetry, music and live theater, we will consider how humans relate to love relationships as a main bond among individuals and as a tool of self-discovery as well. Read about Dante’s lustful souls in the Inferno, debate Boccaccio bawdy tales from the Middle Ages, and listen to Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Verdi’s La Traviata. A comparative literature course with an Italian core and focus on close reading.   

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Patrizio Ceccagnoli

Born in Perugia, an Etruscan city in the center of Italy, Patrizio Ceccagnoli received his Ph. D. in Italian from Columbia University in 2011. He joined KU in 2014 and is currently the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Italian. Trained in classics, he is a scholar of the Italian avant-garde movement called Futurismo and works as literary critic and translator in a comparative perspective. He equally loves Franz Kafka and Roger Federer. As a kid, he wanted to be Oscar Wilde, when he grew up, or at least Sherlock Holmes. Now he wishes he could have had a gelato with the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi.   

This course deals with various issues related to beliefs and practices about life, death, and the afterlife in Israel's diverse religious and ethnic communities. Our larger question for this seminar is: How do religious beliefs and practices shape social identity in modern Israeli society? We will discuss loss, funeral practices, grief, remembrance, and bereavement while exploring differences between genders, between civilians and military personnel, and levels of religiosity. We will explore various religious views of the sanctity of life and the importance of burial. The most exciting item for students will be learning about the various beliefs and practices regarding the afterlife, such as reincarnation in the Jewish Kabala (Gilgul) and among the Druze (Taqamus). The goal is for each student to speak intelligently about these religious beliefs and practices and their connection to social identity in modern society while using the case of communities in Israel. These communities include, for example, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Mizrahi or Ashkenazi Jews, Russian Jews, Ethiopian Jews (Beta Israel), Sunni-Muslims, Bedouins, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Druze, and Baha'i. 

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Rami Zeedan 

Rami Zeedan is an Associate Professor of Israel Studies in the Jewish Studies Program and has been at KU since 2018.  

He was born and raised among an ethnoreligious minority in northern Israel and was the first person in his extended family ever to attend college. After completing a double major BA in Statistics and Israel Studies at the University of Haifa (Israel) in 1999, he started a compulsory service of three years in the Israeli Defence Forces. He became an IDF officer, was promoted to the rank of Major, and decided to retire after 14 years of military service to fulfill his dream of integrating into academia. He completed an MA with a thesis in 2004 and a Ph.D. in 2013 at the University of Haifa during his military career. Dr. Zeedan then left Israel to take opportunities in academia. He was a postdoctoral fellow at New York University in 2014-2015 and at the Leibniz Center for the Modern Orient (Berlin, Germany) in 2015-2016. After that, he was a visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, from 2017-2018. At KU, Dr. Zeedan mainly teaches Israeli history, politics, and society. His research examines aspects of Israeli politics, the history of modern Israel, Middle Eastern politics, ethnic politics, urban affairs, local governments, and public opinion. His current project focuses on the Druze religion and people, including the connection between the belief in reincarnation and social identity.  

During his undergraduate studies, he went to study abroad in Jordan. Since then, his hobby has been traveling the world and getting to know new places, people, and cultures. So far, Dr. Zeedan has visited 26 countries in five contents. In addition to his native country, Israel, and his current home in Kansas, he lived in Germany and two other US states. 

This seminar invites students to explore three interrelated questions: 1) How do we use language to create our identities? 2) How can sociolinguistic tools help us to appreciate and value diversity?, and 3) How can linguistic research work toward justice? Students are introduced to contemporary issues in the study of language, gender, & sexuality, specifically orienting to a newly emergent framework known as "trans linguistics." Students will work together to do novel research that addresses real-world problems from the perspective of trans linguistics, learning how linguistics can be a tool for "the empowerment of trans people and others at the margins"(Zimman 2020: 15).  

Using TikTok as a data source, this class invites students to understand the "transformation, fluidity, and movement"in language and identity, showcasing trans agency and highlighting "ways in which trans [and gender-diverse] people to use language not only to survive, but thrive" (Konnelly 2021: 79). Students will learn the steps of collaborative research, including crafting their own research questions, identifying and reviewing relevant literature, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting their work.  

First-Year Experience Instructor, Phil Duncan

I was born in Lubbock, Texas, and pretty much grew up in Kansas. So, you might could hear me say things like "might could" ;) or "I do that a lot anymore." I took my first class in linguistics having absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into, but I quickly fell in love with it. I'm currently an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Linguistics. My degrees are in Linguistics and Indigenous Studies, and I received my Ph.D. from none other than the good ol' University of Kansas! LFK forever I guess /hj

I like to nerd out on lots of language-y things, like word and sentence structure, their relationship to meaning,  and abstract modeling that accounts for how we build language units. I’ve had the privilege of working with Indigenous communities and languages in the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, Nigeria, and Ghana, and am deeply invested in doing work that supports communities’ language reclamation and revitalization efforts. I also enjoy investigating things that pertain to social life of language, looking into how our beliefs, attitudes, knowledges, and identities shape and are shaped by language use. I tend to gravitate toward language work that is connected to and a manifestation of  justice.

When I'm not teaching and doing research, I'm usually having a good time with my fantastic partner and kids. Currently we’re all trying to beat Tears of the Kingdom /g

This course is designed to allow students the opportunity to research and discuss historic, mainstream, and underground music trends while addressing key aspects of the music industry that shape our lives.   How do geographic places and people shape the music industry?   

The greatest benefit for the students in the course has been the access to local and global music markets.  Music preferences can define and support one’s identity.  In this course, students find more about themselves and are exposed to new things they have never heard all while collaborating in an inclusive and positive environment. 

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Brandon Draper

Brandon Draper is a drummer, DJ, producer, composer and educator, involved in every genre of music. He has performed in both traditional classical music settings and in contemporary/jazz settings. He recorded and toured the U.S. with the “live-tronica” pioneers Particle. He has performed in the critically acclaimed world premiere of the new hiphop musical "Venice" (Los Angeles, Fall 2010), and he premiered his own original work “Bass Darabukas” with the “cirque” performance group Quixotic and with the Kansas City Symphony (Spring 2011). More recently, Brandon has joined KU’s music faculty, where he teaches jazz drums, world percussion and steel band, while also directing KU’s Music Enterprise Certificate, an innovative academic program combining music business and entrepreneurship. According to, "Draper mashes up his DJ and percussion talents into a world-music dance party with some of the most polyrhythmic beats you'll hear this side of the Atlantic Ocean."

This seminar will explore environmental issues in the Amazon through the lens of literature and film.  How do narratives of place shape our understanding of our relationship to the natural world?  What role do novels and films play in bridging local realities to a broader global context?  Students will read news stories and journal articles to establish a framework for present-day environmental challenges in the Amazon.  Through course activities, students will critically examine how different sources build understanding and serve as catalysts for change.  Additionally, students will consider how the lessons of the Amazon apply to local and national debates about preservation issues, for example, through investigations of the Baker Wetlands and the Badlands of South Dakota.

First-Year Experience Instructor, Luciano Tosta

Luciano Tosta is Associate Professor of Brazilian Literature and Culture. Born in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and the grandchild of a Tupinambá woman, the Amazon Rainforest has been dear to him his whole life. As a professor, he continues to be fascinated by the region, which contains the second largest river in the world, produces 20% of the Earth’s oxygen, and is home to countless animals and plants. The region is also under constant threat by mining, bio-piracy, poaching and deforestation. His research focuses on hemispheric American studies, with the goal of discussing Brazilian cultural production from a comparative perspective.  In his spare time he plays capoeira and the mandolin. 

Have you ever thought about big ideas while building in Minecraft?  This course introduces students to critical thinking and inquiry in the study of urban planning, sustainability, design, cities, and resources through the use of sandbox gaming. The course explores the topic of how we plan and build cities while preserving waterways and the environment. Students learn the fundamental aspects of how to plan and design a city, understand the impacts of planning, and develop strategies for preserving the environment. Sequenced assignments (guided investigations) are used which culminate in an integrative assignment. This exploration develops student critical thinking, information literacy, and communication skills, through experiential learning.  

First-Year Experience Instructor, Thom Allen 

Thom Allen is an urban designer and community planner. He received his Bachelor of Architecture from Kansas State University in 2005, and his Master of Science in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University in 2013. He has worked as a civil servant in Washington DC and New York City on community-focused projects and has also taught at Kansas State University, Montana State University, Catholic University, and MIT through the program Urbanframe. He began lecturing at the University of Kansas in 2010 and currently teaches architecture and planning courses.   

There is a common belief that if you don’t learn a language by the age of 9, there’s no hope that you will master it. Is this true? The Seminar challenges this view by exploring advantages that adults have over young children in language acquisition and using techniques to supercharge the learning process. You will become familiar with research that demonstrates how adults can unlock their potential to learn a new language effectively. You will read texts and watch videos about research on adult language-learning, use self-driven technological and old-skill tools, and try out new skills to apply to acquiring a new language. Class and assignment activities will include testing learning techniques on yourself, tracking your discoveries by writing reflectively about your process and progress. The course will self-organize, with instructor guidance, on semester projects. Students will try out their skills with a Slavic language (Russian), which is ranked by the U.S. Foreign Service Institute as a Category 3 (“hard”) language (but not “super hard”!). You can do it! And if you can learn Russian, you can learn other languages, too! 

First-Year Experience Instructor, Marc Greenberg 

Prof. Marc L. Greenberg has taught Slavic languages and linguistics at KU since 1990. He is interested in the history and structure of Slavic and other languages. Most recently he has been the editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Slavic Languages and Linguistics, the largest reference work on this topic ever published. His hidden superpower is that he speaks and writes in several languages, all of which he learned as an adult, having grown up in an English-speaking environment. 

What does it mean to be mature? Is there a deadline for becoming an adult? What happens when one's transition into adulthood coincides with a political cataclysm or a natural disaster? How do individuals born in the same period come to form an identifiable “generation”? We will examine these questions using as case studies Central European and American coming of age novels and films whose protagonists’ transition into adulthood overlapped with equally transformative events in their countries’ socio-political life. In our discussions we will explore how the classical genre of the ‘coming-of-age’ novel/film is used to validate collective experiences of major political and social upheavals and will reflect on such topics as parent-child relationships, peer-pressure, substance abuse, mental health, love, sex, authenticity vs. conformity and others. In an oral history project students will interview a representative of either the baby boomer generation or generation X in order to get an inside perspective into what it was like to be a young adult in the 1960s or the 1980s and gain knowledge of an individual's experiences which may or may not be typical of their time and culture.   

First-Year Seminar Instructor, Svetlana Vassileva-Karagyozova

Svetlana Vassileva-Karagyozova is Associate Professor in the Department of Slavic, German and Eurasian Studies. She was born and raised in Bulgaria. She grew up under communism and witnessed the fall of the totalitarian regime during her freshman year of college. Her first book Coming of Age under Martial Law: The Initiation Novels of Poland’s Last Communist Generation (Rochester University Press, 2015) focused on the pseudo-autobiographical novels of contemporary Polish writers, who like her, experienced a cataclysmic political change on the threshold of their early adulthood, and pondered the existential questions “Who am I now?” and “How should I live my life?” Professor Vassileva-Karagyozova speaks five languages and has spent time in 15 countries in Europe, America and Asia. She has a soft spot for ethnic jewelry and never comes back from a trip without a new item for her growing collection.