2023 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. 

Beautiful Mathematics 

Taught by Melissa Mease 

Mathematics is a language commonly associated with form and function, but did you know it is also the language spoken by artists, designers, and mother nature herself? In this course we will look at the mathematics behind the art created in many different forms with math as the common language. We will explore the connection between homeless shelters and solar arrays. We will pursue curves, follow triangles, and build a few pieces of our own based on the mathematical principles that we study. Each week will focus on a genre of mathematics paired with the art created. 

Beginning American Sign Language 

Taught by Sally Backer 

Come and learn a new language!! American Sign Language is the 3rd most used language in the US and you can begin to learn! You will learn vocabulary, grammar and how to interact using this manual and visual language. It is different than any spoken language you have learned. Come learn about the Deaf community as well: their history in the US, their culture and literature. Come get a taste of something fun and new! 

Decorating Spacetime: The Science of Sight, Sound, Color, and Music 

Taught by Joe Milliano 

Vibrations and waves underpin our physical perception of the world around us. Sounds waves vibrating our eardrum cause us to hear everything from painful shrieks to beautiful melodies. Light waves vibrating electrically-charged particles in the rods and cones in our retina allow us to perceive the vibrant colors of the light around us. Armed with the tools of science, we will investigate the properties of waves and learn how these wave properties impact our senses of sight and sound. Music and color serve as excellent examples of light and sound in action, so we will explore the physical underpinnings of these phenomena. By the end of this class, we will come away with a new scientific appreciation for the art and music that fill our lives with joy. 

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. 

Life in the Confederacy: The American Civil War and the Digital Age 

Taught by Brendon Floyd 

Have you ever been to 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 the Civil War and Reconstruction, but not through lists of dates and maps – instead, we will examine the clues and evidence left behind by the people who lived through the war both on and off the battlefield to create an online, 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. 

Logic vs. intuition: The Philosophy of Thought Experiments 

Taught by Fernando Alvear 

Would you kill one to save five? How do you know you don’t live in a computer simulation? Would you abandon your life to plug into a machine that can give you unlimited happiness? Unlock the secrets of some of the most fascinating and puzzling questions in philosophy through thought experiments. In this course, we will explore 30 thought experiments on topics such as morality, knowledge, reality, and religion. Through engaging discussions and thought-provoking exercises, you’ll learn how to analyze and evaluate these experiments and uncover the logical arguments that underlie them. You’ll also consider the limitations of this methodology and the different factors, such as culture and age. 


Taught by Tonya Keyser 

Have you ever wondered how jewelry and other items created from metal are fabricated? Are you open to igniting a new passion? Metalsmithing, a practice dating back to at least 1350 B.C., joins together skills from physics, chemistry, design, art, mathematics, and sometimes geology. It requires attention to detail, careful planning, a bit of patience and perseverance, and the desire to have fun while learning. Scholars will forge ahead with hands-on experience applying the interdisciplinary knowledge they gain to fabricate works of art using metal. 

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. 

Science and Society 

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 Science and Society major will explore the various ways science intersects with society and government. Throughout the course, scholars will choose 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! 

Watts Up with Energy? 

Taught by Megan Lilien 

Energy is everywhere: underground, in the sky, and in our bodies. But what really is energy, and how do we harness it? In this hands-on course, we will explore energy through several branches of science – biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science. Investigating topics from photosynthesis to fossil fuels to nuclear energy, students will build their knowledge and develop models of energy through experiments, field trips, and debates. Students will also apply engineering design concepts to create a prototype to solve a real-world energy problem. If you have a passion for science, engineering, and making a difference in the world, then this is the class for you!

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

Taught by Michael Kersulov 

What’s the big deal with Shakespeare? The language can be confusing. He’s been dead for years. But for some reason he is still important in today’s world. This course will look at how Shakespeare still impacts our lives and entertainment through film, television, and even comic books. Have you read all the different types of Shakespearean plays? Do you like romance, murder, mystery, shipwrecks, and fantasy? They are all there calling out to us. Romeo, Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago, and Bottom. We will meet them all, act the parts, and find how they work themselves into our lives. But we won’t stop there. While we lose ourselves in the magic of drama and theater, we will find a way to become more acquainted with Shakespeare and his works and determine how each and every one of us has a little bit of Shakespeare inside.