A Matter of Course

The Voice asked the six professors who earned tenure this year to design their ideal course. Sign us up!


Kelly Connole

associate professor of art

Course title: “Ceramics and Social Commentary”

Purpose: Challenge students to examine clay as a medium with significant potential for social commentary

Required reading: Confrontational Ceramics by Judith Schwartz, American artist, critic, educator, and author

Field trips: Visit an installation of contemporary Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds and Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party

Student project: Create sculptural objects and installations that give voice to their own views

Melissa Eblen-Zayas

associate professor of physics

Course title: “Materials Eras: Scientific Progress and Societal Impact”

Purpose: Explore how materials have been engineered throughout history and how natural resources and economics have affected their societal role

Discussion: Eras in human history are often identified by the principal material used for tools—the stone age and the bronze age, for example. How would we define the present era? The silicon age? The plastic age? The carbon age? What lessons can we learn from the past to inform the development and use of materials in the future?

Student projects: Make tools from stone and metal to understand past eras; use state-of-the-art equipment to compare structures of different materials

Jessica Leiman

associate professor of English

Course title: “The Gothic Spirit: At Home and Abroad”

Purpose: Study the 18th- and 19th-century British Gothic novel—a sensational genre with themes of horror, madness, and the supernatural—to examine its distinction between “home” (Protestant England, where the novels’ readers presumably lived) and “abroad” (an imagined medieval Catholic Europe, where the novels often were set)

Required reading: Horace Walpole, Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Emily Brontë

Field trips: Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole’s inspiration for Castle of Otranto, the first Gothic novel; the Brontë sisters’ home in Haworth; European cathedrals, ruins, and castles; Alpine vistas

Discussion: How did a revival of interest in Gothic architecture in late-18th-century England fuel the genre? Why did this genre, reflecting a popular interest in irrational forces, become popular during the so-called Age of Reason?

David Liben-Nowell

associate professor of computer science

Course title: “Computer Science before Computers”

Purpose: Study early computational devices, such as the Jacquard Loom (built around 1800), whose weaving pattern could be programmed using punch cards; Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine (the first recognizable computer, designed around the 1820s but never built); and the early computers used at Bletchley Park in England to break the German cryptographic system during World War II

Field trips: See original or replica devices at the Science Museum in London, the Computer History Museum in California, and Bletchley Park

Student project: Build a fully functional replica of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine out of Legos (see http://tinyurl.com/Babbagereplica)


Dave Ricks

associate professor of physical education, athletics, and recreation; head coach, men’s cross-country, track and field

Course title: “The Kenya Distance Tradition”

Spring term assignments: Research Kenya’s tradition of endurance athletes, study exercise physiology, and complete an endurance training program in the arboretum

Summer term assignments: Live with a Kenyan family in Iten, Kenya, and observe and participate in daily workout sessions at Iten’s outdoor track

Guest speakers: Arthur Lydiard, famous runner and coach; David Costill and Jack Daniels, exercise physiologists; Kipchoge Keino, Kenyan 1968 Olympic gold medalist; and Renato Canova, Qatar national endurance coach

Aaron Rushing

associate professor of physical education, athletics, and recreation; head baseball coach

Course title: “Baseball Appreciation”

Purpose: Identify and discuss factors that affect the outcome of a game, including pitch selection, backing up bases, effective communication on relays and bunt plays, well-timed pickoff plays, aggressive base running, and the choices made by coaches and players

Assignment: Watch college and professional games with a focus on details; discuss baseball fundamentals, emphasizing why rather than how

Field trip: Watch some Twins games at Target Field

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