First Year Seminar (FYS)

Designed specifically for new college students, First Year Seminar promotes academic success, personal growth, and community engagement by emphasizing the expectations and values of Alvernia’s academic community. This three-credit course, required for graduation, focuses on five key areas: enduring questions, self-reflection, liberal arts tradition, academic advising, and educational planning. With these five areas serving as points of reference, students are supported through their transition semester to help them become aware, active, and intentional learners. Students are also given opportunities to explore and experience college life through a wide variety of co-curricular activities.

Enduring Questions

Enduring Questions contribute to the foundation for the Alvernia General Education SEARCH program at Alvernia. These perennial questions challenge us to consider our deepest human commitments and experiences, as well as invite us to explore the human condition. Linked First Year Seminar (FYS 101) and Composition and Research (COM 100/101) courses immerse students in a learning community to engage in rigorous examination of these enduring questions that guide the human journey:

  • Who am I and where do I come from?
  • What am I called to do?
  • How do I contribute to justice and good in our world?
  • How do I demonstrate moral courage?
  • What responsibilities do we have to others?

Self Reflection

Self Reflection encompasses students’ ability and willingness to think critically about their academic habits, actions, motivations, and the value they place on knowing themselves as learners. Students are provided opportunities to reflect on the behaviors and habits they adopt as learners, to be self-critical as they consider their attitudes, assumptions about, and approaches to learning, and to connect these to their emergence as thoughtful and engaged individuals.

Liberal Arts Tradition

Students are introduced to the values upon which intellectual inquiry is based and to the expectations that members of the university community have to become ethical leaders with moral courage. Throughout the course, students learn of the relevance of the liberal arts tradition to all courses of study and careers. Students are introduced to Alvernia’s heritage and mission, explore the meaning of our five core values(service, humility, collegiality, contemplation, and peacemaking), engage in discussion of a common reading, and attend an academic lecture.


Students carry forward their understanding of the liberal arts tradition as they focus on understanding specific core requirements, as well as any first year courses required of their majors. The First Year Seminar instructor serves as the academic advisor for the freshman year and assists students with understanding the online class schedule and how to register for classes. Attention is also given to helping students understand their responsibilities in the advisement process.

Educational Planning

Educational planning asks students to look forward and plan with intent. It invites them to connect extra-curricular opportunities with their intellectual growth in the classroom, encourages them to identify values, interests, and skills they would like to develop over their four years of college, and gives them tools so that they can begin to make purposeful choices as they move forward. Over the course of this segment, students will discuss the importance and relevance of service and vocation, identify their values and interests, consider how they can find opportunities in and out of the classroom to pursue/develop them, and reflect on how those values and interests support their curricular choices.

Fall 2016 Course Offerings

Examining Our Lives in the Digital Age: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Google (01)

Try to imagine a time before Google, Facebook, SnapChat, Amazon, iPhones or any other piece of digital technology you use EVERY day.  Just imagine how different your college search process would have looked?  You wouldn’t have used a search engine to research your top schools, submitted applications via secure online forms, announced to your friends on Facebook ‘I got in’, bought dorm room essentials from Amazon, or met your roommate using Face Time.  Could you have even made it to campus without Google Maps?  In fact, you’re almost certainly ‘connected’ right now as you read this.  In this course, we’ll explore ‘just how much does Google really know about me’, search and privacy issues, if Google can predict the 2016 presidential election, the recent Apple/FBI encryption battle, Europe’s Right to be Forgotten, social media’s impact on your future job search, and other topics related to digital technology. 

Clash for the White House: The Presidential Election of 2016 (02)

This course will follow the clash between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as they battle for the presidency. We will follow the campaigns in detail and students will be welcomed to express their views in a safe and encouraging environment. The issues of leadership and followership will be discussed, as well as the issues of how the modern media affect the election process. In addition, the concept of critical elections will be taught so that students may debate whether we are facing a “critical election”.

Thinking Like a Champion: How Positive Leadership Directly Impacts Athletics and Life (03)

In the past few years, team culture has risen to the forefront when athletes, coaches and businesses describe what makes their ‘team’ successful. The Golden State Warriors credit a great deal of their recent success in the NBA not only to Steph Curry’s incredible talent but to the team culture of joy, mindfulness, compassion, and competition. This class will discuss the creation and implementation of successful and intentional positive team cultures. We will discuss mental toughness and our own personal leadership styles.  And, we will find ways that we can positively impact our surrounding community, most directly Alvernia University, through positive energy and action.

We Are Artists (05)

Imagination, discipline, passion and excellence. These are hallmarks of all great artists. Every individual has the capacity to cultivate these characteristics and an Alvernia University education promotes what we call “art” in its many forms. The course will take a deep look into questions such as “what is art,” “who is an artist,” and “what is the value of liberal arts”? While examining these questions, students will experience the joy of discovering (or rediscovering) their own artistic passions through diverse, hands-on activities.

Injustice in History: From the Greeks to Modern America (06)

This course will investigate moments of injustice throughout history, up to and including recent current events. Through documentaries, movies, and readings, we will look at notable instances when people were tried and convicted for actions that, in retrospect, seem either honorable or acceptable. Examples include the trial and death of the Greek philosopher Socrates, the prosecution and burning of witches in the Middle Ages, the punishment of slave revolts, exonerations of death row prisoners, and whatever else might pop up in the news throughout class. By investigating why so many people got so many things wrong in the past, we will prepare ourselves to do right in the future.

Toto, We Are Not in Kansas Anymore: Following the Yellow Brick Road (07)

It has been 77 years since The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was brought to life for the world to see the magic of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy originally written in 1900. The story begins with the farmhouse being swept away in a tornado and landing in the mystical land of Oz. There are valuable lessons to be learned from our favorite central characters: Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion as they follow the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. In this course, we will delve into these characters through the following: the new road that you are now traveling (stay the course), common goals and an ultimate goal (meet the challenges), the gifts and not the flaws (cast away the self-doubt and limiting thoughts), and the detours will come (bypass the temptations to follow, choose to lead).

American Science and Nature Writing: Examining Ecology, Nature, and the Environment (08)

A survey of writing that ranges from foundational writing by Thoreau and Muir to contemporary writing by McKibben, Pollan, and Solnit. The purposes of this course are to introduce students to an array of exemplary writers and activists, to examine the natural world and our place in it, to discover diverse assumptions about nature and humanity, to become familiar with nature writing as a distinctive form of interdisciplinary literature, and to develop artful skills of perception, reflection, and compelling writing. The goal is to encourage thoughtful awareness of what nature and sustainability are and how best to interact with the natural world.

I Zombie, You Zombie! (09)

This course investigates zombies based on existential questions. What are zombies and what is zombie-ness? What codes and values condition the lives of zombies? What is the relationship of zombies to life and being? What does zombie history reveal about the future of zombie-ism? The study of zombies facilitates effective entrance into university life and cultivates academic success skills for first year students.

Urban Decay and The Wire (10)

Through the lens of David Simon’s HBO series The Wire, a critically acclaimed drama set in Baltimore that aired from 2002-2008, this course will seek to analyze and address some of the structural injustices that have led to the crumbling of many inner cities in the United States.  The course will focus on issues such as poverty, the criminal justice system, the war on drugs, addiction, gentrification and segregation, urban politics, and inner city schools.  We will discuss these topics both as portrayed in The Wire and through the use of critical readings from several academic disciplines.  Be advised, The Wire is rated TV:MA and attempts to provide an account of what life is like in what Simon refers to as the “other America.”

 Sustainability: Caring for our Common Home (11)

Sustainability has become an urgent issue, especially in light of the threat that global warming poses to our planet. Pope Francis recently published an encyclical, Laudato Si, presenting us with a moral challenge to confront the human causes of our ecological crisis before it is too late. This course introduces you to the theme of sustainability and explores how societies can endure in the face of global change, ecosystem degradation, and resource limitations. We will focus on key knowledge areas of sustainability theory and practice, including population, ecosystems, global change, energy, agriculture, water, environmental economics and policy, ethics, and cultural history from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Around the World in 45 Days…How Are You Going to Get There? (12)

In this course, you will expand your worldview and enhance your critical thinking skills as we trek through 45 days of the semester. We will unearth tools and strategies to help you make the journey from high school to college. Various texts, assignments, projects, and guest speakers will be used to assist you as you explore several global vantage points and consider possible solutions for issues of social justice.

 Ethics and College Sports: Partners or Enemies? (13)

This course will look at the state of college sport in the United States. Are student athletes being exploited? What is the impact of conference-jumping in Division I, primarily for the benefit of college football? What is the difference among NCAA Division I, II and III? How big a problem is gambling in college sports? Should student athletes have agents? Should DI football coaches make millions of dollars while academic departments go begging? Is athletic skill a get-out-of-jail-free card? Get ready to research and debate these questions and more!

“Valu–ation” (14)

Values play an important role in everyday life, in personal lives, at Alvernia University, and in professional lives.  Values make us who we are; they impact our actions and interactions, our decisions and indecisions.  How can we enhance our current values?  How can we use our value system to help others?  What new values can we attain while a student at Alvernia University?  How can we cultivate our values and move through student life to the working world?  What do we value?  How do we “evaluate”?

Coming to America: Crossing Cultural Borders (15)

The topic of immigration has become a highly debated issue due to the social, political, and economic effects on the United States. Most Americans have a history of immigration at some point in their ancestry. This course explores the topic of immigration from our personal histories, as well as some of the reasons that people leave their homeland to come to the United States. We will also consider the effects of immigration on language, culture, and identity as a result of living in between two cultures – what is lost and what is gained in the assimilation process. Finally, we will discuss our responsibility to those currently seeking refuge or immigration status in the United States.

Mind Over Platter: What We Eat and Why We Eat It (16)

Eating has become very complicated. In spite of all the labeling on food products and advice from scientific experts, we still don’t know what we should be eating. Everyone eats food but we usually don’t think about the broader implications of our food choices. In this course, we will delve into the topic of food on various levels – personal, political, social, and scientific. We will talk about what we eat, why we eat it, where food comes from, and why our food choices are increasingly important. Our public interest in food is at an all-time high, and thinking about the broader impact of our food choices will help us come to a better understanding of our stake in the present and future supply.

Water, Water Everywhere (17)

A view of Earth from space reveals a planet dominated by water. Water is vital to the survival of all species and humans have had a global impact on both the quality and quantity of water resources. We will examine this impact to gain greater understanding of the global consequences of our actions.

The Three Pounds of Me... That Is What I Am  (19)

Many situations will occur in life when an individual will assess what is happening and make decisions.  This is done by pathways in the brain that are formed by lifestyle, the "wiring" of the brain, and by past experiences the brain calls upon to assist in this decision making process. This course will look at the ways individuals can use input to make good decisions for their community, as well as themselves. 

 “I’m Sorry.  I Was So Busy Listening to Myself Talk that I Forgot What I Was Saying!” (20)

Establishing and nurturing healthy interpersonal relationships is a great source of pleasure which, at times, can be painful.  Interpersonal relationships are especially important as you begin your college career. Through them you develop your sense of personal identity and worldview.  We will focus on interpersonal communication skills that are necessary for developing and maintaining positive relationships.  Topics include self-awareness, dealing with emotions, developing close relationships, gender and behavior, and managing personal conflict.

 Stories Our Bodies Tell (21)

This course will explore the ways we share our beliefs, values, and identities with the world through the way we adorn our bodies. Through the lenses of culture, religion, gender, and health, our readings and discussions will examine how we tell stories about ourselves via visual self-presentation. Specifically, we will investigate how we use fashion, comportment, religious symbols, and body modification as parts of our personal narratives.

Mind Over Matter: Mindfulness and Happiness in Daily Life (22)

Mindfulness is an ancient idea which is in renewal today in both research and practice.  It is a way to focus attention on the present, to enjoy its pleasures and benefits, and to train the brain to be fully aware without the distraction of “inner crosstalk”.  Mindfulness is related to “happiness”, which is an emerging field of serious inquiry and a subject of importance to us all.  In this course we will read essays by authors who address mindfulness and happiness in daily activities such as studying, relationships, online time, health, arts, and even food.  But we won’t stop there!  We will apply these ideas and techniques in a range of situations in and out of class.  Let’s get started because “there’s no time like the present!”

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game (23)

Game theory is used in all aspects of our decision making, from deciding how best to avoid a traffic jam to choosing which pitch will be least anticipated by a batter.  Essentially, we live in a world guided by underlying models that resolve conflicts between rational decision makers.  In this course, we will talk about making the best choices after gathering all available information, including anticipating the decisions made by others.  Students will be exposed to classic game theory examples such as the Prisoner's Dilemma, the Free Rider Problem, and the Game of Chicken.  We will see that it is often a constant struggle to balance our own self-interests with the best interests of the group.

Exploring Leadership through Sustainability and Outdoor Adventures (24)

Enhance your leadership skills and cultivate your knowledge of leadership theory and application through the theme of sustainability and outdoor adventures.  Finding your path as a leader is vital to being successful in life - as a citizen in your community, as a colleague in your workplace, and as a member of your family.  Using an interdisciplinary approach that will include experiential learning projects, co-curricular activities, class discussions, readings, and online resources, students will play an active role in the learning process. This course will include field expeditions that focus on leadership development through sustainability and outdoor adventures.

 Capture the Moment and Take the Shot (25)

In a society where images are all around us we are increasingly ditching text and letting pictures do the talking.  This course will capture your imagination, challenge your critical thinking, and inspire creativity through photographs. “There can be no words without pictures”  Aristotle.

HONORS ONLY SECTIONS – All students in the honors program take the same theme, but may choose preferred time.

From Fascism to Punk Rock (160-02H)  – Honors Only

This course explores the dynamics of social, political, and cultural control and resistance by looking at the causes and consequences of fascist ideology and tyranny.  Starting with World War II-era Germany, Italy, and Japan, we will examine how strains of fascism have continued in to the contemporary world.  We will investigate how and why people seek control and how and why we allow ourselves to be controlled.  We will also examine various forms of resistance, from individual dissidents to the power of collective action in the civil rights era to the 1970s phenomenon of punk rock, where music is used as a method of resistance to societal control and repression.

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