Liberal Arts

Nine liberal arts courses offered through Students Teaching Students this fall

Janiyah Davis is one of a dozen undergraduates teaching a course through Students Teaching Students this semester. Credit: Morgan FuscoAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Launched in the spring of 2020 by Liberal Arts student Josie Krieger and alumnus Michael Miller, the Students Teaching Students program at Penn State offers a unique opportunity for students to create, plan and teach official courses.

This semester, there are nine official Students Teaching Students courses being offered, with topics ranging from the complex history of Dutch culture to the exploration of strategy and game theory behind the hit reality TV show “Survivor.” Each of the available courses this fall are Liberal Arts courses but are open to students across all colleges.

AFAM 297 “Anti-Black Racism in America”

Maryah E. Burney, a junior Schreyer Scholar majoring in journalism, and Janiyah Davis, a junior Paterno Fellow and Schreyer Scholar double majoring in psychology and criminology, triple minoring in sociology, anthropology and child maltreatment and advocacy studies and pursuing a master’s degree in public policy, are instructors for the three-credit course AFAM 297 “Anti-Black Racism in America,” which aims to challenge students to converse and question their own perspectives about racism.

“The focus of our course is on anti-Black racism in America and how anti-Black sentiments impact and affect every system, from education to health care to media — essentially every part of a person's life,” Burney said. “The course structure kind of follows the timeline of life — from youth to old age — and how anti-Blackness impacts each and every aspect of this from a structural context.”

Burney and Davis are both involved with the Multicultural Association of Schreyer Scholars, where the idea for the course originally came to fruition. “Our organization was planning to create some sort of cultural competency training, but Maryah and I decided to take it a step further and turn it into a full course where people could come together and learn alongside others who genuinely wanted to be there,” Davis said.

Through a combination of activity, discussion, writing and lecture, Burney and Davis hope the course will enable students to expand their world views and challenge their existing beliefs.

“We are not trying to tell people what to think,” Burney said. “We are trying to give people the resources and tools to change and alter their own perspectives in order to see the world and the systems they encounter from a different view.”

AFR 297 “Neocolonialism in Africa”

David Pool, a senior majoring in international politics and finance, is instructing AFR 297 “Neocolonialism in Africa” this fall, which focuses on the political forces affecting Africa since the end of colonial rule on the continent.

“The course introduces students to an alternative theory to postcolonialism, where colonial powers and corporations continue to exert undue influence on African countries today,” Pool said. “I wanted to create this course because Penn State lacks classes that focus on African politics. I thought introducing students to this incredibly diverse region of the world was an amazing prospect.”

Pool was able to shape the content and structure of AFR 297 based on the same discussion-based dynamics that his own Liberal Arts courses typically follow. Now, Pool hopes his students will be able to leave his class with an important new understanding of the realities of African politics.

“I hope students are able to learn and understand the complexities of African politics and how European powers still use their power to coerce African nations to fulfill European interests,” he said.

Overall, Pool has enjoyed the opportunities that teaching a course has provided, from sharing his own knowledge to learning from his students as well.

“My favorite part of teaching this course is not only explaining new ideas and topics that my students are interested in, but also learning more myself from both composing lessons and from the knowledge that my students bring to class.”

ANTH 197 “Museum Repatriations”

Amanda Hakins, a senior majoring in anthropology, and Brenna Fennessey, a senior double majoring in anthropological science and classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, are instructing ANTH 197 “Museum Repatriations” this fall, which focuses on the ethics and processes of museum collections and repatriations.

“The basic definition of repatriation is ‘to return something or someone to its country of origin,’ but as a class we try to enhance this definition, bringing in cultural, ethical and legal aspects into our understanding of repatriation,” Fennessey said. “We review the general policies and procedures of repatriation by studying active cases and famous examples across the globe.”

Hakins and Fennessey were driven to create the course after taking ANTH 152 with Kristina Douglass, Joyce and Doug Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and assistant professor of anthropology and African studies at Penn State, who is now their faculty adviser for the course.

“[Professor Douglass] stated several times in class how she would love to teach a course on artifact and museum repatriation, since it is such a complex, in-depth topic that is seldom talked about outside of anthropology and museum studies,” Hakins said. “We later found out about Students Teaching Students from a friend of Brenna’s and took this as the perfect opportunity to teach a class on the topic, especially because [Professor Douglass] was super willing to help us out.”

Hakins and Fennessey felt as though their Liberal Arts education has helped to prepare them “tremendously” to both create and teach the course.

“Professors in [the College of the Liberal Arts] really encourage in-depth, hands-on and engaging learning styles and are always there if you need help or have any questions … In our class, we practice these same beliefs and try to have our lectures be as interactive and engaging as possible,” Hakins said.

ANTH 197 “Rural-Urban Migration”

Exploring interdisciplinary theories and empirical studies on rural-urban migration in Asia, ANTH 197 “Rural-Urban Migration” is a one-credit course led by Yebo Chen, a senior international student majoring in economics and anthropology.

“This course is about understanding what drives people to migrate from rural to urban areas, specifically in developing countries in Asia,” Chen said. “The way we address this question is by looking at theories from different disciplines — economics, anthropology, demography — and using that theoretical framework to understand how to explain rural-urban migration.”

Chen was driven to create and teach ANTH 197 after pursuing her own research on the topic of rural-urban migration during the spring and fall of 2020.

“I developed this course from my own research interests. I find migration a very fascinating topic, so during the pandemic year I flew home to China and did some independent, ethnographic field work,” she said. “I decided to package my research into a course to see if it could help other students who might be interested in this field.”

The question of rural-urban migration patterns is one that requires an interdisciplinary approach, and Chen credits the freedom of her Liberal Arts education with allowing her to explore these different disciplines.

“I have this natural curiosity about human societies, and that is the reason I chose to study in the United States and in the College of the Liberal Arts,” she said. “I think the courses I have studied so far have allowed me to dive into many different disciplines, and because of that freedom, I was able to approach the research question of rural-urban migration from so many different views.”

ANTH 197 “Social Strategy of ‘Survivor’”

Instructed by Alex Wind, a junior majoring in musical theater with a minor in political science, ANTH 197 “Social Strategy of ‘Survivor’” explores the strategy and game theory behind the hit reality TV show.

“Basically, the class is structured around the show ‘Survivor,’ and we are watching episodes from past and current seasons each week,” Wind said. “The class is discussion based, so we talk about the different social dynamics at play and what ‘optimal moves’ people are making to get to the end and win.”

Wind, who has been a long-time fan of the show, was inspired to create the class after hearing about the Students Teaching Students program from friends who had previously taught courses during the spring of 2020.

“I thought [the Students Teaching Students program] was a pretty interesting concept, so I started thinking about something I could teach myself,” he said. “I had just watched a ton of ‘Survivor’ over quarantine with my brother, and when I started mapping out the idea for the course, I realized it was actually something I could do.”

The goal of the course, according to Wind, is to help equip students to be prepared to succeed on the show — should they ever choose to participate.

“Survivor is a very intricate game….so when you challenge yourself to think really analytically about the show and its dynamics, it's actually a really interesting concept,” he said.

“[ANTH 197] is a very creative course; I think it’s great that Penn State can allow something like this to happen,” Wind said. “The homework is literally to watch ‘Survivor,’ which is pretty cool in my opinion.”

CMLIT 97 “Fanfic as a Literary Genre”

Emma Cagle, a senior Paterno Fellow double majoring in English and comparative literature and pursuing a master’s degree in fiction writing, is the instructor for CMLIT 97 “Fanfic as a Literary Genre” this semester.

“The course is a study of fanfiction through the lens of genre studies,” Cagle said. “We analyze texts based on their rhetorical approaches, focusing on audience [fan studies], writing styles, tropes, paratext and many other parts of what makes fanfiction such a unique genre.”

Cagle hopes that her students can learn and utilize the process of critical reflection, not only in this course, but in their future studies as well.

“The goal of the course is to ask students to think more deeply about a genre that is constantly written off as immature, undeveloped and without merit,” she said. “I hope that this critical reflection is something that the students will continue to apply as a lens to all different forms of study and inquiry.”

With the study of fanfiction often being considered “un-academic,” Cagle felt that basing a course around the topic would lead to a variety of engaging conversations and connections.

“I saw it as an amazing opportunity to take one of my own interests and share it with others, and to bring a new area of study to Penn State,” she said.

Cagle has made an effort to create a positive space within her classroom, where students can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, passions and interests.

“I have worked to create an environment where students have opportunities to shape the curriculum with their interests, and where they are genuinely interested in the work we do as a class,” she said. “It is important to me that fanfiction is something done out of genuine passion and love for a fandom; the study of fanfiction should be no different.”

ENGL 197 “Abolition: For Liberation”

Ayse Keskin, a senior majoring in biology, and Otis Williams, a senior majoring in energy engineering and minoring in environmental engineering, are instructing ENGL 197 “Abolition: For Liberation” this fall.

“We structured this course to be a study of what past abolitionists have said on different topics, taking writings that could be as old as 150 years and seeing how they apply to the world we live in today,” Williams said. “The main reason we wanted to create this course is because we saw that abolition is becoming a more common term we are hearing today, so we wanted to teach a course on what it really is and what those who have actually struggled with it have said.”

Both Keskin and Williams have a passion for social change and wanted to create a space for students to talk about abolition and change in a more structured environment.

“We felt there was a lot of misinformation out there about this topic, so we wanted to have a course where we could actually use real literature from experts to explain what the term abolition actually means,” Keskin said.

Keskin and Williams described how the conversations they have been able to facilitate in ENGL 197 have been a “helpful way” for their students to either “solidify or strengthen their beliefs.”

“We are not trying to change people’s opinions. We are just trying to give them other options and help them to understand how abolition has worked and been successful in the past,” Keskin said. “We have a no-judgement zone and encourage everyone to share their own ideas.”

GER 83 “Dutch Culture: Art, History and Society”

A thought-compelling exploration of Dutch history, GER 83 “Dutch Culture: Art, History and Society” is a three-credit course led by Harrison Brennan, a senior Paterno Fellow majoring in philosophy, economics, international politics and Asian studies and co-director of the Students Teaching Students program.

The course examines the history of the Netherlands and Dutch culture beginning from the Dutch Golden Age in the 1700s and leading up to the present day.

“I hope that students will take away not just an appreciation for the Netherlands, but for global perspectives as a whole,” Brennan said. “I view my course as a way to introduce students to the fact that there is a big world out there ... every country has its own unique culture and history, and everywhere in the world has a story that deserves to be shared.”

Brennan was first inspired to create the course after his own experiences as a teenager.

“My parents accepted a job opportunity in the Netherlands, so I was able to go over and spend a lot of time in the country,” he said. “It was so culturally enriching for me, so I wanted to take what I had learned from my experience over there and repackage it in a way where I could share this knowledge with other students.”

This is Brennan’s second semester teaching GER 83, as the course was also offered in the fall of 2020. Looking back, he said his favorite part about teaching this course has been the opportunity to make deeper connections and form meaningful relationships with his students.  

WMST 197 “Girls on Film”

Sarabeth Bowmaster, a junior Paterno Fellow double majoring in women’s studies and philosophy, is the instructor for WMST 197 “Girls on Film,” a one-credit, discussion-based course focused on female representation within the film industry.

“The course is focused on stereotyping specifically within gender and sexuality — using movies and films to portray that — and understanding how media plays a role in producing and reproducing those stereotypes,” she said.

So far, Bowmaster and her 24 students have watched and discussed movies like ‘Fight Club,’ ‘Steel Magnolias’ and ‘Booksmart.’ Bowmaster hopes the course will help students understand how media is influential in upholding stereotypes and creating societal expectations for things like gender and sexuality.

“My goal is to have students thinking about the media they consume, the stereotypes that it portrays and how those stereotypes can impact the real experiences of people,” she said.

Bowmaster, founder of the Penn State chapter of the League of Women Voters, aspires to become a professor and was driven to create her own course to experience this aspect of her career goals in an engaging and interactive way.

“I thought it would be fun to be able to teach and discuss something as interesting as film,” she said. “I also think that stereotypes are such a normalized part of our society that we don't really talk about very much, so I really wanted to work with my peers and get their perspectives on the topic and the impact it can have on us.”

Each student who leads a Students Teaching Students course works with a faculty sponsor and undergoes training from the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence at Penn State. See the spring 2022 Students Teaching Students course schedule or apply to teach a course in the future.

The fall 2021 Students Teaching Students instructors pictured from left to right. Top row: Maryah E. Burney, Janiyah Davis, David Pool, Amanda Hakins. Middle row: Brenna Fennessey, Yebo Chen, Alex Wind, Emma Cagle. Bottom row: Ayse Keskin, Otis Williams, Harrison Brennan, Sarabeth Bowmaster. Credit: ProvidedAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated November 08, 2021

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