2024 Majors

“Whaaaaaaaat, that’s not music!” 

Taught by Austin McWilliams 

Or is it? This major aims to explore just what music is. We’ll start at the physical origins of sound and dig through music theory and compositional techniques of the great classical composers—until we hit the twentieth century and musical chaos erupts. Then WE will become the musicians as we dare to perform and analyze some of the great experimental works of the last century. Finally, we’ll create and perform our own Contemporary musical works using digital audio editing software, found sounds, traditional instruments, and whatever else we’ve come to know as music. Having the ability to read music is recommended but not necessary in order to enjoy this course. Bring your instrument(s) with you to MSA! 

The Story of a Life & the Life of a Story 

Taught by Chris Holmes 

Remember when writing was fun? More stories, fewer essays. More creativity, less analysis. Return to those days (or visit them for the first time) as we explore the crafts of biography and memoir, and why we write, read, and need them. Part psychology, part originality, part wordsmithing wizardry, this course is a gift of time to discover what you’re capable of as a writer. Take observation skills to new levels as you learn about fellow scholars – so much that you could write a book about them. Then we’ll write that book, weaving together in-depth interviews and images to publish portraits of each other that are honest, enlightening and occasionally life-changing. Put your life in someone else’s hands, take theirs in yours, and fall back in love with writing. 

Introduction to American Sign Language

Taught by Sally Backer 

Have you ever wanted to learn sign language? Are you good with hands on activities instead of reading and writing? This might be the major for you! In this class, you will learn how to have beginning, basic conversations in sign and a little bit about the Deaf community. There are a variety of careers that you can use sign language as part of your job. Plus it is just a really fun language to learn! We will use videos, games and other lessons to learn and practice sign language together.

It’s All Relative: An in-depth introduction to Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity

Taught by Joe Milliano 

In 1905, Einstein published his amazing theory about space, and it was about time, too! Einstein’s paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” revolutionized our understanding of the physical world, debuting his Theory of Special Relativity. As the title of the paper suggests, this theory is all about “moving bodies,” or objects in motion. Objects which are in motion relative to one another experience both space and time differently from one another, often in surprising and counterintuitive ways. The “electrodynamics” part of the title deals with another key aspect of the theory: the motion of light, an electromagnetic wave. In this course, we will take a deep dive into this famous theory, learning about everything from how different observers experience the passage of time differently to Einstein’s famous equation E=mc². Join us on this journey as we challenge our assumptions about reality and expand our understanding of how the physical world operates.

As a Major course, this course will delve deeper into Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. This course will include both a qualitative and quantitative approach to the theory, while the minor will mostly stay qualitative. We will further explore some of the experimental evidence underpinning the postulate of this theory. Finally, time permitting, we may delve into some ideas from Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, including black holes.

Finding Your Voice: Explorations in Writing 

Taught by Jordan Henson 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language / And next year’s words await another voice.” These lines, famously penned by T.S. Eliot, speak to our ever-shifting understanding of literature. T. S. Eliot, William Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, E. E. Cummings, J. K. Rowling, and countless other writers have expressed their voice through the written word. In doing so, they have created literature that is equal parts timeless, enchanting, and transformative. No author is born with the skill to publish. Through diligent practice and dozens of worn-out pens and keyboards, they honed their craft and refined their voice to become the legends we know them today. Students in this major will spend three weeks doing just that, exploring the traits and styles of great authorial voices as we attempt to discover our own. Whether you are a regular participant in National Writing Month or spend more time writing Tweets than essays, all writers are welcome to join us as we scribble out stories the world can’t possibly ignore. 

Kings, Knights and Knaves

Taught by Brian Matz

The legendary accounts of King Arthur and his “knights of the round table” fascinated the storytellers in the Middle Ages. They continue to fascinate us in video games, movies, comics, and books. It’s little wonder why. They are stories of romance, of quests, of duels, of daring adventures, of surviving against all odds. We’ll digest some of these stories, we’ll examine historical documents from the time that fill in some important details, and we’ll watch some films that tell these same stories today. We’ll also craft an illuminated medieval manuscript with an adventure story of our own. 

Crafting History: Exploring Antebellum America in the Digital Age 

Taught by Brendon Floyd 

Have you ever visited a museum or read a history book and wondered, “How do we know all of this?” In this course, you will find out! We will be learning about Antebellum America by focusing on the social history of the ‘Old South.’ But not through lists of dates and maps. Starting with the War of 1812 and going through the Civil War, we will examine the clues and evidence left behind by the everyday people who lived through this era. We will also create a digital exhibit that will be published on The Haskell Monroe Collection: Life in the Confederacy website. Students will learn about history, how to do history, and how to share their knowledge through the digital humanities. Building on the skills each individual brings to the classroom, this course integrates the past and the present to prepare students for the future.

Lightning Bugs . . . or Lightning? Write Words for the Natural World 

Taught by Tina Casagrand 

Can stories set in a common landscape and time spread compassion for that region’s human and more-than-human world? What language shall we use for our experience here, amid Missouri’s geology, ecology, and complicated human history on this land? We’ll get outside to learn first-hand how to love and appreciate the nature around us, and in the classroom, we will engage with readings, discussion, and artistic expression to enhance our understanding of the ways science and art intersect. Pack for extremes: hiking on a prairie, gardening, cave exploration, and the boldest of all adventures — writing poetry. 

Exploring Philosophy: Existence, Morality, and Knowledge 

Taught by Fernando Alvear 

Do numbers exist? Do electrons exist? Do souls exist? Would you kill one to save five? Should we be afraid of AI? How do you know you don’t live in a computer simulation? If races are not biologically determined, what are they? How can you deceive without lying? Would you abandon your life to plug into a machine that can give you unlimited happiness? Discuss these and other philosophical questions through arguments, thought experiments, and real experiments. Throughout this course, you will immerse yourself in captivating readings, engaging discussions, hands-on activities, and thought-provoking experiments. We’ll explore various branches of philosophy, including Ethics, Epistemology, Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Mind, Metaphysics, Logic, and Philosophy of Religion, with a focus on the latest developments in these areas. You’ll uncover the subtle nuances and intriguing perspectives surrounding some of the most captivating and contentious questions in contemporary philosophy. You will learn how to actively participate in the ongoing philosophical debate, and also gain a fresh perspective on the world and its complexity.

The Sounds of Science 

Taught by Sabrina Michael 

What does science sound like? There are symphonies all around us happening all the time—some we can hear and others require special tools to listen. Most acoustic signals produced on earth are made through substrate-borne vibrations – most of which have not been documented. Learn how to eavesdrop on these hidden conversations from animals and plants! Scholars will also get a brief introduction to programming and statistical analysis and how to apply both to biological research. This course will also have a creative element embedded within, where students will be tasked with creating an artistic soundscape.

Monsters, Mazes, & Gatekeepers 

By Caitlin Palmer 

Every culture has tales of monsters: creatures that exist “outside” the respectable bounds of society, things that go bump in the night. These tales function as descriptions and warnings about what might be less than human – or more. They are separated from the rest of the population physically, in dark forests or outside walls, and can only be reached by great acts or ordeals, often for the purpose of being destroyed. But who decides what’s “human”? Who is telling the tales? In this class, we’ll explore what these myths might still represent today. How do tales of monstrosity guide what we think about popularity, dissent, AI, national borders, and even health and illness? In studying elements of world-building, students will get to build their own, through participating in activities based on exploration, government, technology, art, and laboratory research. We’ll see how learning more about the world around us can help us through the maze of our everyday reality. 

O Critics, Where ART Thou? Finding Greatness in Paragraphs, Pages, and Plasma Screens 

Taught by Ben Batzer 

Have you ever wondered how we determine a work’s merit? What does it mean to say a movie is a classic or a book is canonical? Why is it that we read Homer, Shakespeare, and Twain in class? Is it possible to look at art objectively? In answering questions like these, this class will help you think like English teachers, movie critics, poets, playwrights, and filmmakers. Although you’ll learn a range of approaches that professionals use to analyze, critique, and evaluate literature and film, you’ll also leave better prepared to analyze other art forms: photography, painting, and song—just to name a few. This class requires no prior knowledge, but it asks that you bring an open mind, an eagerness to participate in lively discussion, and the courage to see the world around you in new ways. 

Race, Place and Identity in Missouri 

Taught by Stephanie Hasty 

Who are we? Why are we here? What can we do to change the world? These are the questions that we are going to tackle and answer while exploring the voices and experiences of those around us. Through civil discourse, we will address texts through a critically literate lens to see what experiences are being left out. We will talk about privilege, social justice and listen and read about how confronting these issues helps us identify who we are and helps us plan for a future where all voices are heard and represented. We will look at and explore our own culture and share that with others. In the end, we will ask ourselves about what we’ve learned and find ways to take that knowledge back to our schools and communities. We will read works by others spanning the 60s-present day, listen to podcasts centered on these topics and explore diversity through looking at our communities through guest presentations, local exploration and, of course, conversation. 

Civic Scientists 

Taught by Sam Rayburn 

Science and society have helped shape one another since the dawn of civilization. From the basic personal choices we make (about the food we consume or the ways we get to work and school) to the complex technologies and industries that make modern life possible, science shapes our society.

Scholars in the Civic Scientists major will explore the various ways science intersects with society and government. Throughout the course, scholars will explore and research science policy related topics (like climate, energy, agriculture, or AI) and learn how science can impact society by offering reliable, vigorous, and evidence-based input to discussions about the issues that affect both our daily lives and our future. At the end of the Academy, scholars will know how to make reasoned and compelling arguments about science-related issues and how to catalyze others into action around ideas they are passionate about.

Think Like a Programmer 

Taught by Kristofferson Culmer 

In this course, students will learn the systematic approach that programmers use to develop logical solutions to solve problems, and how to implement those solutions using the Python programming language. The course will cover a range of topics from basic programming concepts such as algorithm design, variables, decision structures, data structures, and repetition structures; to more advanced concepts such as object oriented programming, and game logic. Students will also learn some of the tools that programmers use and develop programs that connect to external APIs. This course is intended for beginners; students with little to no programming experience, or who have not programmed in Python before. 

To Infinity & Beyond 

Taught by Frank Corley 

We’ll start at zero and we won’t stop till we get there. The concept of infinity pervades so much of mathematics that we will have plenty to do in this course. What happens when a process is repeated over and over, changing a single parameter each time? Does infinity come in at different levels, or is it one size fits all? Is infinity a number, or is it something else entirely? How can we prove a statement for all the numbers without proving it for each number individually? Can infinity be arrived at or can we even get close to infinity? Will these questions never end? Take the course and find out! 

Chemistry and Energy: Creating Global Solutions

Taught by Megan Lilien 

Energy is everywhere, manifesting in various forms all around us, from the depths of the earth to the skies above and everywhere in between. This hands-on course integrates chemistry with multiple scientific disciplines, including biology, physics, and engineering to comprehensively explore the fascinating world of energy. From photosynthesis to fossil fuels and nuclear energy, scholars will build a foundation of knowledge and develop models of energy through experiments, field trips, and debates. Scholars will apply this knowledge to solve global energy problems, one of the most important questions of the 21st century. If you’re passionate about science and eager to contribute to shaping a sustainable future, this class is designed for you!

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: Shakespeare Today 

Taught by Michael Kersulov 

This course focuses on how Shakespeare and his works impact our lives and entertainment today through various media, including film, television, the stage, and even comic books. While we excavate how Shakespeare incorporates various genres, such as romance, murder, mystery, sci-fi (maybe), and fantasy, we will also become acquainted with his major characters, Beatrice, Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago, Bottom, and see how they are very well alive in contemporary works. This course is for those new and old to Shakespeare and the magic of drama/theater, for those who have never acted on stage or read a Shakespeare play, and equally for those who would like to continue their beloved journey and admiration with Shakespeare and his characters. A hybrid course that involves daily literary analysis, film study, and acting, this course is an exploration of acting strategies, costumes, props, voice, body language, and likely see a few plays along the way. If you are new to Shakespeare and acting, I encourage you to take a risk with us, take up a costume and a stage sword, warmup with acting games, and enter the beautiful world of Shakespeare – perhaps just to see what Shakespeare can tell us about life, the universe, humanity, and you. For where there’s a Will (Shakespeare), there’s a way.

You Just Got Schooled!

Taught by Jenn Fisher

Mark Twain is credited with once having said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” And whether Twain is the person who actually said this or not, the sentiment forces us to ask ourselves, “Why is there often such a disconnect between schooling and education?” In this course, we’ll talk about the history of the American education system–from its foundations in one-room school houses to its transition into public, private, charters, and all things in between. We’ll discuss the evolution of gifted education, disability education, and the education of Indigenous folks throughout North America. We’ll evaluate the historical impact of racist systems on students throughout the United States, and we’ll investigate the sources of school funding around the country. We’ll interview award-winning teachers, share stories about our own learning experiences, and try to find solutions to the troubling shortage of teachers nationwide. Whether you’re considering a career in education, are fascinated by public policy, or like discussing heavy topics with folks from different backgrounds than your own–this course has it all. Come join us to get schooled!

What’s Land Got to Do With it?

Taught by Michael Koscielniak

Have you ever wondered why your favorite restaurant is sitting all alone in a giant parking lot? Why does it seem like all the new housing is so far away from each other? Have you ever wondered why that massive baseball stadium feels like it is in the middle of nowhere? Why are those wind turbines spinning away in that corn field along the interstate? What’s the deal with that abandoned gas station? In this major, we’ll come up with answers to these questions and more by looking down at the ground. Land and land use remain powerful forces in the growth, decline, and transformation of our communities. Land isn’t just the neutral stage for our lives and activities – it often establishes the context for how we interact with each other and our communities. Land isn’t just inert! It is how cities and neighborhoods come to decisions about what they want to be. By simply controlling land, some people can influence and shape the future – finding new ways to design, plan, govern, and profit from the ground we are usually just moving along or settling upon. We’ll work together to examine who (and what) has the greatest say over how we use land and why land in 2024 is as important as ever. By investigating the history of land in the United States, the emergence of private property, and why having lots of land isn’t always positive, we will develop a new understanding of food, entertainment, housing, and employment. What’s land got to do with it? Everything!

IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD (AS WE KNOW IT): An Exploration of Art-Based -Isms

Taught by Brian Stuhlman

Einstein. Picasso. Marx. Seuss. Kermit (the Frog)…artists…philosophers…music-makers…dreamers of dreams…
The world we know changes every day, to be replaced by exciting new worlds full of varied tastes, mixed opinions, and seemingly random ideas. Our perceptions and our expressions (artistic and otherwise) are in a constant dance that gets more frenzied every day. In this major, we will take a look at the past ~125 years (or so), and examine the instants, the people, the thoughts and ideas, that created some of the most influential -ISM movements of the modern age. The primary (but not only) focus of this major is on the artistic movements; while we may do something creative/artistic every day, no arts experience is required…you need only possess a creative spirit and an open mind to enjoy, to learn from, and to emulate the written, visual, and performance arts that have helped define either an age OR a way of thinking. We’ll create, we’ll analyze, and we’ll encounter and try to understand the arts and philosophies of the last century in an effort to find out where we were, where we are, and where we might be going!