This is part 2 of our take on 'cool' classes. Part 1 can be found here.
At the University of Wisconsin, Harold Tobin, a professor of geoscience, designed his course about natural disasters well before hurricanes struck last fall, wildfires swept the west coast and the biggest earthquake in a century hit Mexico. Nonetheless, his course was filled to capacity within two days of being offered, and gained even more attention as the disasters unfolded.
Tobin manages to help students think about the physics and earth sciences involved in natural disasters, as well as how they might be able to develop solutions around government policy, development and human choice in specific contexts or regions.
“If a monster hurricane strikes a sparsely populated region, it’s unlikely to cause major harm, but if it hits Houston, Miami or New Orleans, it’s a different story,” he says in an article on the school’s Web site. But, Tobin isn't the only professor creating courses like this.
Putting real world environmental scenarios into the classroom
There is now a growing list of more than 60 programs of study in California about wildfires and several related to earthquakes, and at Colorado State a course called “Fire Effects and Adaptations” is popular with students in majors beyond forestry, including business and real estate development.
In one of many growing programs dealing with environmental issues, Smith College offers a variety of courses that carefully track those issues, including classes about the economics of global climate change and feminism and the fate of the planet. It also has sophisticated concentrations where students can delve into issues related to sustainable food and the science and politics of climate change.
And the University of Central Florida, working with Siemens Corporation, is offering courses specifically for engineering students to understand new power micro-grids and specifically to be able to protect and restore power systems in natural disasters. The courses use a new energy grid lab Siemans and UCF opened this year that is helping students understand how to connect various new energy sources and make them resilient.
Clark Wiedetz, micro-grid director of Siemens, who helped design the program, says he believes colleges are more often taking a risk and offering cutting edge course work and timely information.
“These students will be working with something that they’ll see in the federal government, in a utility or in the private sector, That benefits potential employers and the students,” he says, noting that students also at times creatively develop new approaches or solve problems when given an opportunity to do “hands on work.”
Offering new perspectives on health science
Medical schools, of course, are continually shifting curriculum to reflect advances in medicine and new health threats, but whole new areas of treatment are also being covered in college, most notably, perhaps, new approaches to physical therapy and alternative techniques.
Western Michigan University was a pioneer in the development of such course work through its Holistic Health and Wellness Program, offering courses in global living, resilience, and meditation and mindfulness. A course in biofeedback and neurofeedback “uses technology as a tool to recruit both mind and body in the quest to heal, facilitate recovery and find balance, tapping technology to advance self-regulation and homeostasis,” according to the course description.
“Research in the use of spiritual — not necessarily religious — practices prove important in improving outcomes for individuals with cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune conditions as well as in treating mood disorders and substance abuse and working with trauma,” says Paula Andrasi, program coordinator.
Sometimes the program has been seen as "light weight,” she says, but many students value information about such self-care, and others open practices and offer treatment. “Research supporting our teaching has grown exponentially in the last 15 years and there is now little doubt of its impact on individuals and their well-being.”
Courses in psychology continually change to deal with changes such as self injury in adolescents, PTSD, game addiction and even anxiety about politics or global warming.
Focusing on emerging trends in business and entrepreneurship
Helena Yli-Renko, one of the co-directors of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California, can tick off a list of a dozen courses that have been added to inform students about leading issues in business development such as growth hacking, entertainment entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship in e-commerce and social entrepreneurship.
She says while fundamental concepts remain the same in the nearly 50-year-old center, students interpret them differently. “They take the fundamental courses and complement them with topics specific to their interests and relevant to current trends. They get a current, relevant, and customized curriculum, tailored to their needs and interests," said Yli-Renko.
She notes that the school has also introduced interdisciplinary minors for other undergraduate students on topics useful in other fields, such as media economics and performance science.
“In today's economy, whether you're a doctor or a musician or an engineer or a journalist, you need entrepreneurial skills to succeed,” she says.
The business of sports also is a growing field, and within it colleges are finding they must update course work. George Mason University, for example, has offered a course in recent developments in the sports industry and the growing number of job opportunities there.