Social Studies

Required Courses

Human Crossroads: Confronting Global Challenges through Time, Identity, and Place

Human Crossroads asks students to respond to some of the world’s greatest challenges using an interdisciplinary approach that draws from the intersection of geography, history, anthropology, and sociology. The curriculum is composed of units dedicated to central thematic questions ranging from the meaning of human identity to the value of borders, the possibility of religious pluralism, and vexing problems of global inequities. Each unit starts by asking, “What is where, why there, why care?” using maps. Course material and projects include current events, academic texts, online resources, and data visualizations. Students learn to read actively, analyze maps, interpret data, write thesis-driven essays, and synthesize information, with according skill-based assessments. This class is not only intended to develop academic skills, but to foster curiosity, self-reflection, global citizenship, and a renewed commitment to the pursuit of truth, love, and justice in the world.

The Modern World

First, the good news: many people alive today are better off than all other humans who have preceded them. That may not surprise you. But, the bad news will: many others alive today are actually worse off than their predecessors. That includes medieval serfs, African tribesmen, and even prehistoric cavemen! How can this be? The modern world, loosely defined as the last two centuries of human life, has witnessed some of the most dramatic transformations in our history. Yet, those transformations have often functioned as a double-edged sword, bringing great reward to some and devastation to others. Why did these changes occur in the first place? Why did certain countries and people benefit while others suffered? And what does this say about the world we live in now, and where we’re headed in the future? This course endeavors to answer those questions through a wide-ranging study of the last 200+ years, from the Industrial Revolution through to the present.

United States History

While chronological, this course focuses on several themes that have reverberated throughout the American experience. The central theme is the epochal tug-of-war between Jefferson’s credo of equality and its paradoxical partners: conquest, slavery, and racism amidst a diversity of historic proportions; gender discrimination; and the class inequalities generated within a dynamic economy. Accordingly, we will pay significant attention to the history of movements that challenge the dominant meaning of equality, such as labor unions, suffragists, and the multitude of civil rights movements across time. The nation’s history is also traced through the tensions between a deep-rooted fear of centralized power and the drive for an efficient and powerful federal government. Lastly, significant time is given to U.S. involvement in global affairs, with a particular stress on presidential decision-making, and its impact both abroad and at home. While classic political issues are at the core of the course, there are times—such as the era between Reconstruction and World War I—when the magnitude of cultural and economic changes are at the heart of an era. We will use a very wide range of primary and college-level secondary sources.

American Studies

American Studies is a field of study that integrates many traditional disciplines into a single search for the answer to the question, “What is an American?” In our American Studies course, we will look at American lives. What richness, spirit, creativity, and heartbreak do we see in the Dreamers, the Builders, the Rulebreakers, the new Pioneers, the Seekers? How do these individuals reinforce or challenge our ideas about who is an American? Where do we see ourselves in this tapestry of American experience? The course will take a multidisciplinary approach, looking at primary and secondary historical texts, literature, film, visual art, and music. We will read historians including Eric Foner, Annette Gordon-Reed, Michelle Alexander, and Howard Zinn, and writers such as Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Catherine Beecher, Edith Wharton, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsburg, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker, Naomi Shihab Nye, George Saunders, Junot Díaz, Jade Snow Wong, and Jhumpa Lahiri. We’ll be inspired by artists like Aaron Copland, Nina Simone, Joan Baez and Tupac; Georgia O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock, and Pablita Velarde; Dorothy Arzner, Frank Capra, and Ava DuVernay. Writing assignments continue the development of narrative and analytical skills and will offer the opportunity for some creative writing as well. Over the course of the year, students will also continue to develop their research skills and presentational abilities, and will be responsible for planning and teaching class sessions. This course is worth two credits and satisfies both U.S. History and English 11 requirements.


American Identity, Culture, and Food

If you are what you eat, then who are Americans? This interdisciplinary course will consider the ways in which food has both demonstrated and changed American identities, including our own. We will study the history of American food culture and the role it has played in American experiences of colonization, migration, immigration, and multiculturalism. Students will read not only historical analysis of these patterns, but also essays and fiction in which food serves as a way to represent, explore, or negotiate identity. Assessments will require conducting research and observation on the past and present of food traditions that shape lives in Portland, as well as considering issues that impact access to food. Additionally, students will write and workshop essays in which they reflect upon their own identities through the language of food. Students will practice skills at historical research and participant observation, as well as writing and collaboration, and will have opportunities to share food while reflecting on community and identity. This course is open to Juniors enrolled in US History or American Studies and Seniors. Seniors will have priority in scheduling.(Fall or spring semester; Honors)

Dialogue for Democracy

What role does journalism play in creating and maintaining a healthy democracy? How might we learn to be more critical media consumers and, in turn, more deeply engaged democratic citizens? In this interdisciplinary course, students will consider these very questions as they learn about the history and role of journalism as foundational to democracy. Over the course of the semester, students will study journalistic ethics, media and rhetorical analysis, the history of print media, news in the divided digital age, and core journalistic writing and multimedia production skills. In addition, students will spend time in the community in and outside of school learning from both experienced journalists and local citizens. As part of the CatlinSpeak staff, students will practice writing and publishing for an audience by producing weekly content and one print edition per semester of CatlinSpeak, an award-winning, student-created online news magazine and print newspaper. This course is open to all students in grades ten through twelve. Students may take this semester-long course more than once, and it may count as a Social Studies elective credit. Seniors may take one semester of this course as an English credit that will count toward the four-year graduation requirement. (Fall and/or spring semester)

Leadership Action Lab

In this course, students will learn to lead positive change. This course will be a semester-long class with two distinct phases--theory and practice--that emphasize an “inside-out” approach to leading at the intersection of individuals, groups, and communities. During the first half, students will use a systems thinking lens to examine various models of self, interpersonal, group, and structural dynamics. After building upon their personal and group membership skills, students will then fortify research, planning, and project management skills. As a group, they will address a pressing community issue selected by the students themselves. In the end, students will leave with the skills and knowledge to navigate complexity in service of affecting positive change. This course is open to Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors. (Fall semester; Pass/No Pass)

Modern Middle East

Where did ISIS come from? What tools do experts use to predict the fate of Syria? What hopes are there for improving Palestinian-Israeli relations? How is the world’s greatest refugee crisis (from Syria) transforming neighboring states? What the heck is going on with the price of gasoline? What happened to the bright lights of the Arab Spring, and how will the struggle for supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran play out, particularly in the shadow of U.S. efforts to challenge Iran’s nuclear policy? These and other questions will be engaged in this course, which starts in the late 19th century, with the spread of Western imperialism in the region, examines the rise of secular nationalism in the age of decolonization, and lands squarely in today’s cauldron of religious ferment, ethnic conflict, and revolutionary hopes for a better tomorrow. Student research and oral presentations will be the major form of assessment in the class, which will adapt to the events as they are unfolding. This course is open to Juniors enrolled in US History or American Studies and Seniors. Seniors will have priority in scheduling. (Fall semester; Honors)

The Rise of the Authoritarians

At the Cold War sputtered out at the end of the 1990s, it seemed to many that peace was at hand and democratic institutions were implanting themselves more deeply in much of the world. From the vantage point of 2019, such sentiment looks terribly naïve. This course examines the rise of authoritarianism in the 21st century, with a quick glance back to fascism in interwar Europe, and then proceeding to the transformation of Russia from a budding democracy to an autocratic state under Vladimir Putin. Other key states (Turkey, China, the Philippines, and Brazil, among others) will serve as case studies of authoritarian rule, and finally, we will examine the United States through this lens. Students interested in global politics, economics, social psychology, and social/traditional media, as well as the surveillance state, are encouraged to consider the course. This course is open to Juniors enrolled in US History or American Studies and Seniors. Seniors will have priority in scheduling. (Spring semester; Honors)

Social Psychology

This class will explore a range of topics that include: the brain, personality, learning processes, memory, perception, relationships, and personality disorders. The course emphasizes the application of these concepts to issues of social justice. How does the nonconscious brain promote bias, and how can the conscious brain work to address this? How is intelligence measured and how can our perceptions of intelligence influence motivation? Who is more at risk to develop a personality disorder, and how does access to treatment differ across race, gender, or class? We will explore some of these questions with the help of local experts from the Portland mental health community and members of academia. Students will be assessed through participation, writing, and creative assessments. This course is open to Juniors enrolled in US History or American Studies and Seniors. Seniors will have priority in scheduling. (Spring semester; Honors)

Women’s Studies

What is gender and how does it serve as a fundamental organizing principle across societies? Students will begin to answer this question by examining different theories of gender. Then students will be given a framework to analyze how gendered structures of power operate over time and across cultures. While this is a “women’s” studies course, it will explore the way masculinity, femininity, and transgendered bodies are portrayed. Students will be asked to reflect upon how these portrayals shape attitudes around labor, family life, government policy, and many more topics. Furthermore, students will examine the ways in which race, ethnicity, and class intersect with gender. This course will include readings and other media from a variety of viewpoints, and will assess students based on participation, writing, and creative assessments. This course is open to Juniors enrolled in US History or American Studies and Seniors. Seniors will have priority in scheduling. (Fall semester; Honors)

Climate Change (Palma Seminar)

Climate change is perhaps the defining challenge of our age. While often framed as a purely scientific matter, it is a complex problem that must be approached in an interdisciplinary manner, and this seminar will take exactly that approach. After an initial survey of the scientific foundations of climate change, the seminar will devote extensive attention to projected impacts around the globe, and potential courses of action at local, national and international scales. Students will have significant opportunities for self-designed projects that delve into areas of particular interest. Experiential learning opportunities are a critical part of this course, so students should be prepared for occasional obligations outside of school hours. This course is open to all Upper School students and will count for a half-Social Studies credit and a half-Science credit. (Full year course; Honors)

CENTER Youth Outreach Internship

Form a unique partnership with a fellow intern from De La Salle North High School to co-lead the “I Love This PLACE” campaign at connect youth from around the city to the CENTER ( Under the supervision of George Zaninovich and Kofi Obeng, the student will commit to six hours per week (each Thursday) between September 1 and June 1 to create outreach materials, collaborate on ideas of innovative, youth-centered, PLACE-based curriculum, and participate as a Coalition member during monthly CENTER Coalition meetings. Interested students should contact George by May 1 to formally apply. The ideal applicant is a student entering eleventh or twelfth grade next fall, who is in good academic standing, has a track record (or wants to build one) of inclusive, real-world social justice work, and has the skills needed to proactively communicate with teachers about missing class on Wednesdays. To enroll, George, Kofi, Aline, Brandon, and the student’s advisor will officially approve the request. (Full year)


Catlin Gabel Upper School is pleased to present the following “Immersive” offerings for the 2019-20 school year. Students will enroll in the fall, and we will end the year participating in these 10-day mini-courses; global trips and seniors projects will occur during the same period. We expect all students to participate. Students will have opportunities to explore areas of interest in a variety of topics. Immersive courses will not be graded but will be noted on student transcripts.

1968 in America — and Portland

The year 1968 witnessed a moment of unprecedented crisis in twentieth-century America that still reverberates in our culture today. This intensive will examine key political, social, and cultural flashpoints of that year, as they unfolded both in America as a whole, and in the greater Portland area. We’ll examine the impact of the Vietnam War on the American political system, look at the crisis of American cities and the challenges of the new racial identity movements (especially Black Power), examine the stirrings of second-wave feminism, and sample the rich cultural outpouring of literature, music, and film that the era produced. We’ll visit key sites around town associated with these movements and talk to some of the people who were involved in them.

Research in Mathematics Education Practicum

This course is a research practicum in mathematics education and its purpose is to mirror the experiences that you would have working in a research laboratory in the learning sciences (the study of how people come to know). The practicum is recommended for anyone interested in and who would be fascinated by exploring the mathematical thinking of children. We will begin by grounding ourselves in current educational standards and policy by reviewing the research literature in elementary and middle school mathematics education. This will help us identify important topics and mathematical tasks to base our research. We will then learn and practice two important research methods used in contemporary mathematics education: Clinical interviews and teaching experiments. We will then design and conduct a series of experiments which may vary from 1-1 interviews to small group studies of elementary and middle school students. Finally, we will code and analyze our data and prepare papers and presentations to communicate what we have learned. Through this experience, you will learn how to work in a laboratory setting and balance your independent work with group work in the form of regular lab meetings. During these meetings you will be challenged to present your in-progress work while thinking about how it fits into our group’s research goals. Prerequisite: In general, the maturity and interest to critically explore the mathematical thinking of children is the main prerequisite. Mathematically, it will be helpful to have completed a course in Geometry to understand the tasks referenced in the research literature.

Steam Roller Block Printing

We will jump into the materials and processes of block printing. First, we will create drawings and designs, and then we’ll carve those into linoleum and wood printing blocks. Then we’ll experiment and explore a variety of inking and printing methods to produce unique prints on paper and fabric. Once we have an understanding of the process in a studio setting, we will take the leap into going big (I mean really BIG). We will spend the bulk of the two weeks creating large-scale images and then hand-carve those into sheets of plywood. These printing blocks will be so large that we will be using a steam roller as our printing press to print them onto large sheets of canvas! There will be opportunities to combine other art-making materials and processes into your printing projects, such as spray painting, hand-painting, and 3-D sculptural elements.

Service Animal Startup

Students will learn about animal service organizations through site visits, guest speakers, and possibly a day trip to Vashon High School outside of Seattle where an animal service program is in place. Our potential objective (to be approved) will be to establish a service animal club at Catlin Gabel during the 2020-21 academic year, where students train service animals who reside on campus during the day with club members and go home at night with host-families (drawn from staff/parent community). Our program may prepare dogs for immediate placement as emotional support animals with individuals in need and/or prepare dogs for future training with Guide Dogs for the Blind and/or similar programs.

Tour d’Oregon

A camping/bus tour of the wonderfully varied natural and human history of the state we live in, concentrating on the distant corners that are less known to Portland dwellers. We’ll appreciate classic highway engineering and coastal geology in the SW corner, Cascade geology and vegetation, basin and range landforms in the SE (with some hot spring soaking), erosional geology at Leslie Gulch, Oregon Trail History in Baker City, dredge gold mining technology in the Elkhorn mountains, Chinese immigrant history in Pendleton and John Day. Perhaps brief side forays to Coast Redwoods near Eureka and Lava Beds NM in California for Modoc history and lava tube geology.

On the Trail of Cataclysm

Explore the evidence of the Ice Age Floods that swept through the NW at the end of the last Ice Age, leaving massive and distinctive landforms across huge swathes of the NW. Hiking and driving exploration of coulees, scablands, giant gravel bars and ripple marks, glacial erratics, varves, dry waterfalls larger than Niagara (current waterfalls, too), and more. We will start with a day trip (to see glacial erratics in the Willamette Valley) and introductory discussion and videos at school and end with a road trip through Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana to immerse ourselves in the evidence left by the multiple, massive floods.

Character Portrayal and the Actor’s Inspiration

After tinkering with two different approaches (Stanislavski and Chekhov) to creating a character for the stage, we will transfer that emerging understanding to a scripted play. During the first phase, students will work out their understanding of these approaches by participating in exercises and improvisation. During the final phase, students will apply the lessons to work on scripted material--scene work and possibly a full ensemble production.

The Story of English

English almost died out as a language in England under pressure from the Danes, and then from the Normans. Why did it persist? How is it the third most spoken language in the world? Students will learn about the evolution of English from Anglo-Saxon to Middle English to Elizabethan to modern English. We will explore the history and literature of English. Readings would include Beowulf, Chaucerian tales, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets and would examine what is distinct about Anglo culture. We will watch excerpts from the “Story of English series,” explore English culinary highlights, and watch engaging films on the topic while reading fascinating literature with a friendly former medievalist.

Intensive Italian

Students will learn basic tourist vocabulary and phrases, and some basic grammar. Each day we will touch on one highlight of history, politics, opera, art, literature, or film. From the Caesars to Agrippina to Dante to Da Vinci to Michelangelo to Machiavelli to Galileo to Verdi to Garibaldi to Mussolini to Calvino, to Sophia Loren to Versace to Gianluigi Buffon to Berlusconi, we will learn about Italian culture from Rome up to the present day. We will eat Italian food (sometimes learn how to make it) and drink Italian coffee every day as we explore the language, regions and cultural highlights in this tour vorticoso of everything Italian! We will engage with guest speakers and field trips.

Past, Present, Future: Exploration of Local Chinese Communities

Students will explore local Chinese culture and communities through the exploration of local historic and scenic spots, and organizations such as China Town, the Chinese garden, PDX Chinese Museum, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Oregon, Asian Health and Service Center and others. Students will examine early Chinese immigration history, and learn about the current social and cultural lives of new generation Chinese immigrants in our local communities. Students will use Chinese as the main language to do research, communicate with the local Chinese communities, write journals, and do hands-on projects.

Finding Your Way with Clay

Create your own tableware to contribute to a more sustainable planet, and design work that reflects who you are. What can clay teach us about ourselves? This course provides an introduction to both hand-building and wheel-thrown techniques with clay. What makes a glaze and a claybody? Students will experiment with glazes, to create their own original design for their work. Students will look at traditional and contemporary types of work in clay and will experience both traditional stoneware and Raku firing processes.

Louisiana French Language, History and Culture

Students will travel to lower Louisiana, where they will be immersed in the local culture, history, and languages. We will study and experience the rich history, music, cuisine, and dialects of this region. Students will attend a French-speaking school, meet francophone community members and stay in homestays.

Reinventing the Wheel: A Mechanics Design/Build Challenge

Students will design and build a mechanical device primarily out of wood or other simple materials. Movement within and/or of the device is required - but no electronics allowed! Power could be provided by human, gravity, water, or wind energy. The challenges could include a transportation system that doesn’t use wheels, a clock, a trebuchet, a system for climbing a ladder, or stairs, a frisbee thrower, a digging machine, or a creative way to accomplish a simple task (a drawing machine, a machine that pours a glass of orange juice, Rube Goldberg inspired systems).

Chemical Laboratory

This is a lab-based course that allows for longer laboratory work (2+ hours to several days) than possible in the regular semester-class. A variety of chemistry concepts will be learned and students will have opportunities to do projects related to chemistry and art (example: indigo dyeing) and chemical energy (batteries and fuel cells). Topics will draw from inorganic, organic, and applied chemistry and may include oxidation/reduction, acid/base, equilibrium, and organic synthesis. Students will experience open-ended experimental design and will also have the opportunity to analyze and refine experimental procedures to improve results. Prerequisite: completion Science II. Successful completion of this course can satisfy the prerequisite for Advanced Chemistry.

Living Religion: An Interfaith Immersive

Students will explore the lived practice of religions through engagement with religious practitioners, artists, and leaders in the local area. We will engage with religion phenomenologically, meaning through the lens of experience, focusing on understanding religious practice through teste, smell, touch, hearing and sight. As well as receiving an introduction to frameworks for the study of religion, students will wrestle with their own religious histories, identities, and biases. The second half of the course will be built around the group’s elected focus (religion and social justice, religion and the natural world, religion and the arts, religion and politics, “new” religions, etc.)

Plant Biology: A Holistic View of Human-Plant Relationships

We will investigate several topics under the umbrella of plant biology, including potentially: plant anatomy and physiology, plant systematics (overview of plant lineages and common plant families); cladistic and phylogenetic methods for reconstructing evolutionary relationships (including computer modeling), field botany (survey methods, plant identification, herbarium collecting), plant conservation / native habitat restoration, and plant propagation. Additionally, we will explore traditional and current ethnobotanical uses of native plants, such as camas (Camassia sp.), and employ herbalism methods to create plant-based medicines (tinctures, decoctions, etc.), cosmetics, and other products. We will spend some of our time on campus and venture out on field trips, including potential sites such as the OSU herbarium, native plant restoration nurseries and field sites, botanical gardens, natural areas, herbalism schools, and other interesting and relevant locations. Due to flowering phenology (timing), we may offer optional field trips on 1-2 weekend days during the spring.

Intentional Design, Built Connections

How might we design objects with the intent of encouraging positive social interactions? We will answer this question by investigating the built environment and analyzing the social impacts (intended or not) of the objects that surround us. In particular, we will study the extent to which public spaces encourage positive social interaction and conversation as a bridge toward community building. Over the course of our time together, we will engage in various community-building and storytelling activities, observations of public spaces, and design exercises before reflecting and making our own interactive objects from repurposed materials for community benefit.

Writing Creative Nonfiction

How can prose writing convey fact, subjectivity, and creativity simultaneously? We will explore this question as readers and writers, searching to better understand the history, boundaries, practices, and potential of the prose genre known as “creative nonfiction,” which includes memoir and narrative journalism as well as nature, travel and food writing. Students will study this genre through reading selected essays, attending a literary reading in Portland, and talking with authors of the genre. Students will also explore the genre through their own creative work: exercises in style, structure, voice, and format will give students opportunities to improve their prose and to explore the world around them through the writing process. Finally, students will draft, workshop, and revise a creative nonfiction essay, then publish it in an online class anthology.

Applied Leadership in the Outdoors: Backpacking & Sea Kayaking the Washington Coast

Spend two weeks preparing for and executing an expeditionary outdoor trip. An “expedition” means that we will use human-powered modes of transportation to travel through the wilderness, carrying everything we need with us and sleeping in a new location each night. Learn how to plan an itinerary and menu, pack food and gear, work and make decisions as a team, prepare for spending extended time in the wilderness, navigate the backcountry, and explore your own leadership style. We will also practice backcountry cooking skills, campsite selection and set-up, and learn about Leave No Trace. No experience is necessary, just a willingness to learn and actively engage as a member of a small community. Successful completion of this course counts for one semester of PE.

Rock Climbing & Yoga

Students will explore different forms of yoga and mindfulness. This will include learning about the philosophical, cultural, and religious aspects of yoga, practicing pranayama (breath) and asana (physical postures), cultivating a personal practice based on MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction).The first five days will consist of morning asana practice, mid-day reading, writing, self-reflection and afternoon restorative yoga practice. This will include visiting yoga studios in Portland and experiencing different types of asana practice and talks on the history/philosophy of yoga. Two days will be focused on skills groups and applying mindfulness techniques to interpersonal communications and relationships. The experience will culminate in a four-day rock climbing trip to Smith Rock. Successful completion of this course counts for one semester of PE.

The Catlin Gabel Archive

We will learn about how museums and archives function while helping the volunteers in our own archive organize, catalog, and document the history of our school. Students will visit at least one archive and speak with professional curators and archivists, learning about their work and the kinds of decisions they make in preserving and presenting the past. Working with the volunteers in our archive, students will identify needs for sorting and cataloging. Part of our work will be creating a new exhibit on the history of the school for display on campus. Students will choose the materials and how they will be presented, putting what they’ve learned in action and gaining curating skills.

CG Players Immersive

Students will spend ten days of concentrated time auditioning, rehearsing and eventually performing a full-length theatrical production. This will include a deep dive into characterization, staging, and concept in addition to elements of costume and theatrical design. Depending on the script selected, we may also include music and choreography.

Who Do You Think You Are?

Students will take a DNA test to discover their ethnic heritage. After receiving the results, students will begin to map out the story of their family’s origin. Students will ask questions like: What is the origination story of my family? What surprised me? Am I related to anyone famous? Am I related to anyone in the class? How much DNA do I share with another person? Students will make a family tree based on their research and connect with close and distant relatives all over the world using online resources. In addition, we will watch episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? to gain a perspective of others’ genealogical journey. Prerequisite: Parental consent prior to enrollment. Read’s privacy statement regarding its handling of DNA samples:

Feature Writing and Photography

Have you ever wanted to take beautiful portraits? Have you ever wondered how your favorite sushi chef perfected her craft? Maybe you’re fascinated by tattoo art and want to learn more about excelling tattoo artists in our city? Students will photograph, interview and write publishable articles on a feature of an individual. We will begin by taking photographs and interviewing other students in an effort to hone our photography and writing skills. We will then “level up” to interview community members like Kit Camp, Mike Wilson or Bubba. The course will culminate in an interview and photography of an admired person in the greater Portland area. Students will create a full-length feature article worthy of publication (possibly in CatlinSpeak or our school’s magazine).


Please Note: Global Online Academy (GOA) electives do not count toward the 3-year Social Studies Requirement.

9/11 in a Global Context

September 11, 2001 was a tragic day that changed the world in profound ways. In this political science course, students explore the causes of 9/11, the events of the day itself, and its aftermath locally, nationally, and around the world. In place of a standard chronological framework, students instead view these events through a series of separate lenses. (Spring semester)

Applying Philosophy to Global Issues

This is an applied philosophy course that connects pressing contemporary issues with broad-range philosophical ideas and controversies, drawn from multiple traditions and many centuries. Students use ideas from influential philosophers to examine how thinkers have applied reason successfully, and unsuccessfully, to many social and political issues across the world. In addition to introducing students to the work of philosophers as diverse as Confucius, Kant, John Rawls and Michel Foucault, this course also aims to be richly interdisciplinary, incorporating models and methods from diverse fields including history, journalism, literary criticism, and media studies. Students learn to develop their own philosophy and then apply it to the ideological debates which surround efforts to improve their local and global communities. (Fall semester)

Business Problem Solving

How could climate change disrupt your production and supply chains or impact your consumer markets? Will tariffs help or hurt your business? How embedded is social media in your marketing plan? Is your company vulnerable to cybercrime? What 21st century skills are you cultivating in your leadership team? Students in this course will tackle real-world problems facing businesses large and small in today’s fast changing global marketplace where radical reinvention is on the minds of many business leaders. Students will work collaboratively and independently on case studies, exploring business issues through varied lenses including operations, marketing, human capital, finance and risk management as well as sustainability. As they are introduced to the concepts and practices of business, students will identify, analyze and propose solutions to business problems, engaging in research of traditional and emerging industries, from established multinationals to startups. (Fall semester)

Entrepreneurship in a Global Context

How does an entrepreneur think? What skills must entrepreneurs possess to remain competitive and relevant? What are some of the strategies that entrepreneurs apply to solve problems? In this experiential course students develop an understanding of entrepreneurship in today’s global market; employ innovation, design, and creative solutions for building a viable business model; and learn to develop, refine, and pitch a new start-up. Units include Business Model Canvas, Customer Development vs. Design Thinking, Value Proposition, Customer Segments, Iterations & Pivots, Brand Strategy & Channels, and Funding Sources. Students will use the Business Model Canvas as a roadmap to building and developing their own team start-up, a process that will require hypothesis testing, customer research conducted in hometown markets, product design, product iterations, and entrepreneur interviews. An online start-up pitch by the student team to an entrepreneurial advisory committee will be the culminating assessment. Additional student work will include research, journaling, interviews, peer collaboration, and a case study involving real world consulting work for a current business. (Spring semester)

Gender Studies

This course uses the concept of gender to examine a range of topics and disciplines that includes feminism, gay and lesbian studies, women’s studies, popular culture, and politics. Throughout the course students examine the intersection of gender with other social identifiers: class, race, sexual orientation, culture, and ethnicity. Students read about, write about, and discuss gender issues as they simultaneously reflect on the ways that gender has manifested in and influenced their lives. (Spring semester)

Genocide and Human Rights

Students in this course study several of the major genocides of the 20th century (Armenian, the Holocaust, Cambodian, and Rwandan), analyze the role of the international community in responding to and preventing further genocides (with particular attention to the Nuremberg tribunals), and examine current human rights crises around the world. Students read primary and secondary sources, participate in both synchronous and asynchronous discussions with classmates, write brief papers, read short novels, watch documentaries, and develop a human rights report card website about a nation in the world of their choice. (Spring semester)

International Relations

Are China and the U.S. on a collision course for war? Can the Israelis and Palestinians find a two-state solution in holy land? Will North Korea launch a nuclear weapon? Can India and Pakistan share the subcontinent in peace? These questions dominate global headlines and our daily news feeds. In this course, you will go beyond the soundbites and menacing headlines to explore the context, causes, and consequences of the most pressing global issues of our time. Through case studies, you will explore the dynamics of international relations and the complex interplay of war and peace, conflict and cooperation, and security and human rights. Working with classmates from around the world, you will also identify and model ways to prevent, mediate, and resolve some of the most pressing global conflicts. (Fall semester)

Introduction to Legal Thinking

Inspired by GOA’s popular Medical Problem Solving series, this course uses a case-based approach to give students a practical look into the professional lives of lawyers and legal thinking. By studying and debating a series of real legal cases, students will sharpen their ability to think like lawyers who research, write and speak persuasively. The course will focus on problems that lawyers encounter in daily practice, and on the rules of professional conduct case law. In addition to practicing writing legal briefs, advising fictional clients and preparing opening and closing statements for trial, students will approach such questions as the law and equity, the concept of justice, jurisprudence and legal ethics. (Fall semester)


Macroeconomics is the study of economic units as a whole rather than of their individual components. The aggregate unit is usually a national economy and that will be our focus in this course. Students will learn to better understand how to measure national economic activity with concepts like gross domestic product, unemployment and inflation and the strengths and weaknesses of these statistics. Students will then study theoretical methods of influencing national economic activity with monetary and fiscal policy and will learn about some of the controversy surrounding these policy tools. The advantages and disadvantages of international trade and of methods of setting exchange rates will also be introduced. The course will include an individual student investigation of a national economy other than their home country. Students will identify their economic findings and present resolutions in their final report. (Spring semester)


In this introduction to microeconomics course, students learn about how consumers and producers interact to form a market and then how and why the government may intervene in that market. Students deepen their understanding of basic microeconomic theory through such methods as class discussion and debate, problem solving, written reflection, and hands-on experience. Students visit a local production site and write a report using the market principles they have learned. Economic ways of thinking about the world will help them better understand their roles as consumers and workers, and someday, as voters and producers. (Fall semester)

Prisons and the Criminal Law

Criminal courts in the United States have engaged in an extraordinary social experiment over the last 40 years: they have more than quintupled America’s use of prisons and jails. Has this experiment with “mass incarceration” produced more bad effects than good? Is it possible at this point to reverse the experiment without doing even more harm? In this 14-week course, students become familiar with the legal rules and institutions that determine who goes to prison and for how long. Along the way, students gain a concrete, practical understanding of legal communication and reasoning while grappling with mass incarceration as a legal, ethical, and practical issue. In an effort to understand our current scheme of criminal punishments and to imagine potential changes in the system, we immerse ourselves in the different forms of rhetoric and persuasion that brought us to this place: we read and analyze the jury arguments, courtroom motions, news op-eds, and other forms of public persuasion that lawyers and judges create in real-world criminal cases. Topics include the history and social functions of prisons; the definition of conduct that society will punish as a crime; the work of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges in criminal courts to resolve criminal charges through trials and plea bargains; the sentencing rules that determine what happens to people after a conviction; the alternatives to prison when selecting criminal punishments; and the advocacy strategies of groups hoping to change mass incarceration. The reading focuses on criminal justice in the United States, but the course materials also compare the levels of imprisonment used in justice systems around the world. Assignments will ask students to practice with legal reasoning and communication styles, focused on specialized audiences such as juries, trial judges, appellate judges, sentencing commissions, and legislatures. The work will involve legal research, written legal argumentation, peer collaboration, and oral advocacy. Note: This course is offered through Wake Forest University School of Law and is taught by Ronald Wright, the Needham Y. Gulley Professor of Criminal Law. Students who take this course should expect a college-level workload (8-10 hours a week). (Spring semester)

Race & Society

What is race? Is it something we’re born with? Is it an idea that society imposes on us? An identity we perform? A privilege we benefit from? Does our own culture’s conception of race mirror those found in other parts of the world? These are just a few of the questions that students in this course will explore together as they approach the concept of race as a social construct that shapes and is shaped by societies and cultures in very real ways. Throughout the course students will learn about the changing relationship between race and society across time and across cultures. Engaging with readings, films, and speakers from a variety of academic fields (history, sociology, anthropology, literature) students will explore, research, reflect on and discuss the complex set of relationships governing race and society. (Fall semester)