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DATE: April 11, 2003

Special seminars for UM-Dearborn freshman part of plans to enhance undergraduate instruction

DEARBORN---Three new courses for first-year students will be launched this fall at the University of Michigan-Dearborn as part of a much larger effort to enhance undergraduate education on campus. The pilot courses include a math course titled "Infinity and Beyond," a history course that leads to a student-run academic conference, and a course called "Car Culture" designed to introduce students to the multidisciplinary field of science and technology studies.

"These courses were developed to introduce new students to the life of the mind and the culture of academic life while integrating them into the campus community," according to Kathryn Anderson-Levitt, professor of anthropology and associate dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters. "They also offer faculty members another route to intellectually stimulating engagement with students."

Developing special courses for first-year students was one of the recommendations of a task force on undergraduate education that worked on a number of issues over the last year and a half. The task force grew out of UM-Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little's efforts to focus attention on revitalizing the campus's long-standing commitment to undergraduate instruction. The project to develop the first-year seminars was supported by funding from the Provost's Office.

"We want to hook our students into the campus and to get them into their studies through close interactions with senior faculty members who teaching subjects they are passionate about," Anderson-Levitt said.

The pilot courses were selected from a number of proposals submitted by faculty members, and have several common features, according to Anderson-Levitt. "We said that they could be on any subject, interdisciplinary or discipline-specific, and must feature intense classroom interaction, engagement with college-level reading and writing, and concentrated use of the university library or on-line resources," she said.

All of the courses will be limited to 25 first-year students, and each will satisfy a particular distribution requirement. While the courses will be taught by CASL faculty, students in other units will be able to enroll in them as well.

In the math course, Prof. Michael Lachance plans to explore the emergence and evolution of concepts surrounding zero, infinity and dimension. "A photon with zero mass, an infinitely dense black hole, and the four dimensions of the space-time continuum are physics concepts employing the notions of zero, infinity and dimension in subtle and important ways," Lachance said. "In this course, we'll introduce the mathematical topics in a historical context as the by-products of human enterprise."

For example, students will explore topics like how Roman society managed without a concept of a zero. "The purpose of these investigations is to establish an intuition about abstract but real concepts, and to develop visualization skills, creating a tangible experience with abstract mathematical objects and concepts," Lachance said.

History Prof. Camron Amin's will teach a course called "The World in a Grain of Sand" that examines the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"From that single artifact, students will learn to build an understanding of an entire culture in a given historical moment," Amin said. "By analyzing the constitution and then by building a larger context in which to interpret its significance, we also hope to build an academic community in the class." Among other activities, he plans to have the students organize their own academic conference to share their research and insights.

"Car Culture," the interdisciplinary course developed by Prof. Jonathan Smith, will investigate the automobile's role in American society and the American imagination.
"We will examine the human and cultural factors involved in inventing, designing, making, selling, driving and regulating cars," Smith said. "And since Dearborn and Detroit are the home of the auto industry, the course will incorporate some famous local landmarks and institutions such as Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Estate."

"The creativity and dedication of these faculty members and others who submitted proposals is genuinely inspiring," according to Provost Robert Simpson. "This is a very ambitious start to our efforts to extend and strengthen undergraduate education, and I'm confident that we will see major benefits in the engagement of our first-year students in the academic life of the campus."

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