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SUNSPOTS | What’s the Best Course You’ve Taken at Cornell?

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Set your alarms to 7:00 a.m. sharp. Spring pre-enroll kicked off today for seniors, and the rest of campus isn’t too far behind. That there will be cries of great torment (damn you, Oracle PeopleSoft blue page redirect of death!) is certain. But beyond the immediate agony and the ecstasy, pre-enroll is also a time to anticipate our future selves, our brains and bodies to come. We choose, un-choose, and re-choose the kinds of knowledge we wish to absorb. We spell out the rhythms of our sleep cycles. And so in the spirit of learning—for that is what we are all here to do, is it not?—and time, our Sunspots writers looked back and wrote about the best courses they’ve taken thus far at Cornell.

Amber Krisch ’21: My first semester freshman year, I decided it would be adventurous to take an anthropology class (I’m a biology major). After browsing the class roster for a while I found one that was once a week and four credits at a time that was available. It was called “Taboo and Pollution” taught by Magnus Fiskesjo, and it ended up being one of the most profound, fascinating, content rich classes I’ve taken thus far. “Taboo and Pollution” was about the taboos of different cultures throughout history, both in the United States and across the world. Those taboos are formed in response to the disgust or horror we feel when something loses distinction, can no longer be classified, or crosses the boundary of what accepted. I was in a class of about 5 people, three of which were anthropology graduate students. The classes lasted about two hours long and were mainly discussion-based. It was a lot of reading and writing, but the readings were engaging and diverse; each week we focused on a different topic/group of people/aspect of culture, and I learned a lot despite not having any background in anthropology!

Sam Khatchadourian ’21: The BEST course ever was actually my FWS “Great New Books”, though to be honest, this was due 95% to the teacher and my classmates and like, 5% to the course material.

CAN I JUST SHOUTOUT MY FWS HOMIES?

Professor/MFA candidate/Blueberry-eating superhero Carl Moon brought us candy, cookies, and coffee (the essential 3 C’s) almost every morning we trekked to Rockefeller for the class, engaging us in deep, thought-provoking yet humorous discussion about each novel we read and validating every insane theory we came up with. He created an environment so comfortable that our whole class, small but composed of all majors, became quite close, like Cornell’s very own Breakfast Club. To this day, still wave exaggeratedly when we see each other.

Yvette Ndlovu ’19: My favorite course at Cornell was the English course Intermediate Verse Writing with Professor Lyrae Van Clief Stefanon. She taught us that poetry is not only confined to the page and doesn’t have to be a left aligned or centered entity with a few lines. In Lyrae’s class, poetry was much more than that! People in my class ended up turning in crossword puzzles, paintings, architecture sketches, CS code,  etc for their poetry assignments. This really opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of poetry and that poetry is everywhere!

Noah Harrelson ’21: Introduction to Acting and Social Pscyhology are the classes I talk about when people ask what Cornell is like. The more you think Intro to Acting is a waste of time, the more you need to take it. I have never felt so uncomfortable and out of my element as I did in that class, and it has made a big impact on my ability to work through social anxiety. It’s something I thank myself for taking every time I have to be braver or kinder or more confident than I am.

Of course Social Psychology’s professor Gilovich is personable. It would be a little concerning if he wasn’t. What makes the class great is that he is incredibly knowledgeable in his field and knows how to make every concept practical. Besides, so far this semester I’ve gotten him to say the word “bingalee” and won $20 from him. What more could you ask for?

Tiffany Liu ’22: ENGL 1183 Word and Image.

Admittedly, I’ve only been at Cornell for one semester, so I don’t exactly have a lot of experience with courses here. If I had to pick though, I’d say that Word and Image, the Freshman Writing Seminar I’m taking this semester, is my favorite class. I know that a lot of people don’t like their FWS, but I can honestly say that Word and Image has impacted my perception on life. We study the various ways that language and communication are related to form and the impact language structures have on our understanding of reality. The course content ranges from alien invasions to the Afro-Caribbean cultural identity to corporate capitalism, and our assignments include all types of media, from graphic novels to movies. I’d definitely recommended Word and Image to any freshman looking to take an engaging, thought-provocative FWS that isn’t limited to a specific department or subject matter.

Griffin Smith-Nichols ’19: It’s not easy for me to pick out any course that I could, without even a hint of doubt, pick out as my all-time favorite. They’ve ranged from the excellent to the middling and occasionally to the more or less disastrous, but that’s a given in a university as big as ours. A truly great course is a perfect confluence of the outstanding erudition and pedagogy of the instructor, the consistent and dedicated participation of the students, and the appeal and depth of the subject matter in question. Beyond that, my idea of a course like this involves me coming away from a semester feeling as though I’ve learned an invaluable skill, had my preconceptions challenged, and been pushed to achievement I never would have attempted before. On that count, LATIN 6216, Advanced Latin Prose Composition, taught by Daniel Gallagher, our Professor of the Practice of Latin, is unquestionably my favorite course that I have taken at Cornell.

The point of language is the conveyance of information, and it’s indicative of the wonderful elasticity of language that we find ways of containing almost our entire lives within its boundaries. That said, as a Latin major, I can’t help but be sick of the way Latin is lampooned as being fundamentally incapable of doing just that in a modern setting: conveying information. Too often, Latin learning means passivity and rote memorization: it is a thing to be undergone, not to be undertaken. The goal of this course was to subvert that paradigm. I wrote confessiones in the style of St. Augustine and declamations like Cicero’s. I translated speeches of American presidents and letters of British prime ministers into Latin. I ran the gamut from novellas and movie scripts to research papers and oral presentations, all in Latin. Latin became a tool, and gradually my facility with it meant that Latin artistry became a practicable craft and not just an ideal. I have never felt so empowered in my life.

Jeremiah Kim ’19: Carol Warrior’s “Cannibals, Vampires, and Colonizers: Fearsome Figures in Indigenous Literature” was the very first English class I took at Cornell. Looking back, especially in light of Professor Warrior’s passing, I realize now how important that class has been in terms of shaping who I am today—because she taught me that there is always something stirring beneath the words we use, and that these words in turn create the reality we live and die in. With more grace and discernment than I have encountered in any other teacher here, she gave me the courage to try to find out what that something is.

Monika Bandi ’19: Introduction to International Relations taught by Peter Katzenstein (PK).

I took this class back in freshman year, when I was still in CAS and was still exploring what I wanted to do. International relations was really cool because it was half history class and half current news class; it was the first course that taught me to take the things I learned from history and use them to really think critically about the things happening in the world today. The readings, while numerous,  were all interesting and sometimes even pretty funny, and PK does a great job of engaging with his students.

Stephanie McBath ’19: I have to stay loyal to the brand here and say that my favorite class was ANSC 2500: Dairy Cattle Principles. Students interested in the dairy industry take it freshman year. It is very scientific and anatomy based but it also opens your mind to what I like to call the “Cornell think pattern”, very big- picture, very integrative, and a lot of fun. Did I mention Professor Van Amburgh brings authentic Italian cheese in for a cheese tasting lab?

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