Signature courses

These small seminar-style courses provide opportunities for students to discuss engaging issues while developing critical thinking, information literacy and both written and oral communication skills. Each class is focused on a unique subject but all classes are about intellectual curiosity, making campus connections and learning how to thrive in the SUNY Oswego community.

Signature courses available

The Talking Dead: Understanding Life from Human Skeletal Remains (ANT 198)

When: MFW 11:30am-12:25pm
Instructor: Kathleen Blake

Course description
They help forensic anthropologists investigate murders, bioarchaeologists reconstruct life in the past, paleopathologists examine past disease and trauma, paleoanthropologists study human evolution, medical students learn the framework of the human body, and museum visitors marvel at exhibits. They are the bones of the human skeleton and they have stories to tell.

Students will learn the scientific techniques for evaluating skeletal remains, estimating age and sex, diagnosing pathology, and reconstructing diet and migration patterns. This course emphasizes the critical integration of biological and cultural evidence for understanding past individuals and societies as well as examine the presence of skeletal remains in the modern world. This course is for anyone keen to learn what human skeletal remains can teach us about life, including those with an interest in archaeology, history, anthropology, biology, medical sciences, forensics, and more.

About Kathleen Blake
Kathleen Blake, an assistant professor at SUNY Oswego, is a consulting Osteologist and forensic anthropologist with a focus on skeletal growth and development, specifically in the pelvis, and sexual dimorphism of the pelvis, particularly in subadults. In addition to teaching, Dr. Blake is the advisor to the student anthropology club and faculty sponsor of student research and internships. Student research has included working with flesh-eating beetles and examining when birds of prey arrive at pig carcasses. Dr. Blake has conducted research at the Maricopa County Forensic Science Center in Phoenix, AZ, and the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, Scotland. When not on campus, Dr. Blake enjoys yoga, hiking and kayaking throughout Upstate NY, baking, and spending time with her dog.

“Winter is Coming” Bringing Even Stranger Things: Narrative in Popular Television (COM 198)

When: MWF 9:10-10:05am
Instructor: Jessica Reeher

Course description
Sansa Stark, The Doctor, Rachel and Ross, Rick Grimes, Phil Dunphy. These characters are
often as familiar to us as our own friends and family. Americans have always loved television,
we consume show after show and new technology allows us to stream our favorite shows
whenever and wherever we want. A snowy Saturday? No problem, sit and binge Game of
Thrones all day. A new season of your favorite show is beginning? Throw a viewing party and
have your friends come over so you can catch the premiere together! But why do certain
television shows speak to us? How do we connect with characters, locations, and events on a
series and know them as clearly as the friends, places and activities we engage in our everyday
lives? How are these worlds constructed in such a way as to draw us in and keep us coming

This class will explore the concept of narrative as a rhetorical device through popular
television shows. We will examine shows such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead,
Stranger Things, House of Cards, etc. to discuss the ways in which these shows frame their
narratives. Discussions will center on the narrative techniques employed to keep the audience
engaged and play upon the rhetorical ideas of fidelity and coherence. The course will focus on
narrative themes, audience, and a critical rhetoric to discover the ways in which narrative
construction impacts issues such as representation, race and hegemony.

About Jessica Reeher
Jessica Reeher has been teaching in the Department of Communication Studies at SUNY Oswego since 2003. She holds degrees in Communication and Rhetorical Studies. She teaches courses in Persuasion; Message Criticism; Female-Male Communication; Rhetoric of Film; Diversity, Identity, and Communication; and Foundations of Communication. Her research interests focus on historically marginalized groups and the way(s) in which they are (under)represented in popular culture, specifically through television and film.

In a previous life, during her free time Professor Reeher would have been found baking, reading, competing in ballroom dance, and consuming television and movies. These days she can be found trying to wrangle with her three small children who are all independent free spirits.


How New is #MeToo? The History of Gender Activism in the United States (HIS 198)

When: MWF 9:10-10:05 am
Instructor: Mary McCune

Course description
It seems like there has been an explosion of activism surrounding sexual violence and assault in the last year: #MeToo, Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s announcement that “feminism” was the most searched for word in 2017, and Time magazine naming “The Silence Breakers” as Person of the Year. Yet when asked about the female activists they know from American history, the most common responses from first-year students are typically Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks. Students often think women’s activism equates with the suffrage movement and ended with the suffrage movement. They often know little about the modern feminist movement. Many students, though fewer in recent years, think of Rosa Parks as the “sweet, old lady who just wouldn’t give up her seat on the bus and who sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.” They don’t know of her life-long work for the NAACP or, for example, her activism in 1942 to secure justice for Recy Taylor, a victim of gang rape by white men who were never brought to justice. Taylor’s story was featured prominently in Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the 2018 Golden Globes Awards.

Throughout the semester we will examine contemporary feminist activism(s) on issues such as reproductive justice, sexual harassment and assault, and electoral politics. Students in this course will team up with students in Allison Rank’s course (POL 198: The Witches Are Hunting: Contemporary Feminist Activism in America) each Friday to discuss the issue in focus for that week from a contemporary and historical perspective.

About Mary McCune
Mary McCune is the author of “The Whole Wide World, Without Limits”:  International Relief, Gender Politics, and American Jewish Women, 1893-1930.  She has taught classes focusing on the history of U.S. social movements, women in the United States, gender and war in the modern era, and the history of sexuality. She is particularly interested in the politics of identity and the ways in which people organize around identity in order to achieve civil, political and social equality.  When not thinking about gender and activism, she likes listening to music and especially attending live shows. Having two teenage sons who also love live music means she now has a whole new generation of bands to listen to.

BOUNCE Onto Campus: Laying the Foundation for a Lifetime of Good Health! (HSC 198)

When: MFW 10:20-11:15am
Instructor: Amy Bidwell

Course description
Students participating in this course will develop the knowledge and skills necessary to
enhance their overall nutrition, physical activity and stress management habits. BOUNCE Onto Campus (Behavior change, Optimizing knowledge, Utilizing Technologies, Nutrition, Counting steps, Eliminating stress) wellness course focusing on changing behaviors of college students to improve one’s overall wellness and prevent diseases associated with excess weight, sedentary behaviors and high stress levels. In this course you will learn ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle geared towards maintaining weight, increasing energy levels, improving attention, decreasing stress and improving fitness.

About Amy Bidwell
Dr. Amy Bidwell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness. She received her MS and PhD from Syracuse University in Exercise Physiology and Science Education with a research emphasis in nutrition, physical inactivity and disease progression. Dr. Bidwell teaches nutrition and exercise physiology at Oswego. Her aim is to increase the overall health and wellness of all college students by educating them on ways to incorporate physical activity, maintain stress levels and practice a healthy diet every day.

Dr. Bidwell enjoys involving her students in her research and has often been spotted sharing a healthy meal with her students at Lakeside. Dr. Bidwell practices what she preaches by running and doing yoga on her free time. She has completed 3 half marathons and a Tough Mudder!

Snapchat, Terror Cells, and Six Degrees of Separation: The Mathematics of Networks (MAT 198)

When: TTH 9:35-10:55am
Instructor: Sarah Hanusch

Course description
The branch of mathematics that studies networks is called graph theory. We use graphs to model situations when pairs of items are related. For instance, you can model a social network by drawing points to represent the people and drawing an edge if the two people are friends. We can use this model to answer many questions, such as, what is the minimum distance between two people, or how many pairs need to “unfriend” each other before the network splits into two distinct groups? In this course we will explore an assortment of graph theory concepts using a problem solving approach. In addition, we will read about large scale problems that have been solved using techniques from graph theory, such as six degrees of separation.

About Sarah Hanusch
Sarah Hanusch is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics. Although her specialty is mathematics education, she also researches connectivity problems in graph theory. Dr. Hanusch enjoys designing activities and lessons that keep her students engaged and that promote a love of learning. Other activities that Dr. Hanusch enjoys are cooking, making music and teaching Zumba®.

The Injustice League: Crime, Justice, and Inequality in Comic Books (PBJ 198)

When: MWF 11:30am-12:15pm
Instructor: Maggie Schmuhl

Course description
Truth, (in)justice, and the American way? What is justice? How does society respond to and perpetuate injustice? Put on your superhero cape, and discover your superpowers to critically examine representations of justice, injustice, and institutional response to crime in comic books. From historical, feminist, and critical race perspectives students will explore how comic books address and fail to address social problems, such as crime and inequality. Students will read a range of comic books and graphic novels, from classics like Superman and The Justice League to modern graphic novels such as Persepolis, explore the sociopolitical context of their writing, and how ideas of crime and justice have evolved over time.

About Maggie Schmuhl
Maggie Schmuhl joined the Public Justice faculty at SUNY Oswego in Fall 2017. She earned her PhD in Criminal Justice from the Graduate Center/John Jay College at the City University of New York. Her research focuses on structural inequality, violence against women, and punishment. At SUNY Oswego, Maggie has taught American Criminal Courts and Judicial Process and Women and Crime.

The Witches Are Hunting: Contemporary Feminist Activism in America (POL 198)

When: MWF 10:20-11:15
Instructor: Allison Rank

Course description
America may be on the brink of a significant shift in its understanding of sexual assault and sexual harassment as whispered rumors transform into boldly told stories. In response to the (predictable) claim that accusations may create “a witch hunt atmosphere,” New York Times columnist Lindy West simply ceded the point: “Setting aside the gendered power differential inherent in real historical witch hunts… I will let you guys have this one. Sure, if you insist, it’s a witch hunt. I’m a witch, and I’m hunting you.” Taking West’s column as a starting point students in this course will draw on a variety of disciplines (including political science, women’s studies, sociology, communication, and history) to explore the ecosystem of feminist organizations, media outlets, and activists that have spent years building the resources to pursue political and social change on a wide range of issues.

Throughout the semester we will examine contemporary feminist activism(s) on issues such as reproductive justice, sexual harassment and assault, and electoral politics. Students in this course will team up with students in Mary McCune’s course (HIS 198: How New is #MeToo?) each Friday to discuss the issue in focus for that week from a contemporary and historical perspective.

About Allison Rank
Dr. Allison D. Rank teaches courses in American politics with a focus on American political history, political communication, race, and gender. In 2016, she worked closely with students across campus to coordinate a campus-wide, nonpartisan voter registration drive that collected over 2,500 voter registration and absentee ballot request forms. Her research agenda focuses on the role of youth in American politics, civic engagement, and political science pedagogy. When not on campus, Dr. Rank can be found testing a new cake recipe, training for this year’s Right to Run 19k at Seneca Falls, or binge-watching Netflix.

Black·ish Mirror: A Study of Black Characters on Television (THT 198)

When: MWF 12:40-1:35pm
Instructor: Mya Brown

Course description
From the Jeffersons to the Johnsons, black characters have been provocative, humorous, tragic, and inspirational. Let’s take a trip through the black mirror and reflect on the absence of, appearance of, and continuation of the black character on television.

This course will introduce students to the significant work of African American artists. Students will analyze and reflect on varying examples of African American characters in popular entertainment; discovering unique and specific perspectives on the past and present issues African Americans face in everyday society. As a result, the student will be able to:

  • Identify the societal restraints imposed upon African American artists.
  • Understand the personal perspective of African American characters and their creators.
  • Learn how to breakdown text to aid in analysis.
  • Identify advancements in society due to artistic endeavors.
  • Commiserate with others to nurture cultural awareness.
  • Establish a personal point of view, and articulate it in a positive and empowering way.

About Mya Brown
Mya Brown is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at SUNY Oswego. As an African American professional actor and director, Mya has first-hand experience dealing with the struggles artists of color combat to gain acceptance and validation in the field. Professor Brown is passionate about teaching students to embrace their individuality, and to understand the necessity for diversity in society. Come journey through the comedy, tragedy, and realism of black characters in popular entertainment.

Hakas, Hat Tricks, and Lambeau Leaps: The Theatricality of Sport (THT 198)

When: TTh 2:20-3:40pm
Instructor: Toby Malone

Course description
Sport is formative and integral to our society. Entire regions hang their collective hopes on the outcome of sporting contests in a rich array of different sports. A Texan high school football game. An Ontarian junior hockey tournament. An Indiana basketball fieldhouse. Fenway Park. Every major American city hosts sporting teams that cater to the entertainment needs of their citizens. In over a century of modern sporting life - and their more ancient forebears - our culture has grown to embrace the traditions, the idiosyncrasies, and theatricality of the sporting ritual. Theatricality? It’s not as strange as it might seem. Much like sport today, theatre once held the cherished position of a fundamental, unifying cultural cornerstone. And while the theatre has ceded ground to other pursuits in the public consciousness, elements of performance remain central. As Michael Billington, chief theatre critic for the Guardian newspaper, has written: “the idea that there is some unbridgeable gulf between art and sport is highly debatable. Both are public spectacles that reflect society and depend on attracting paying customers. The only real difference lies in the uncertainty of the outcome.” In Hakas, Hat Tricks, and Lambeau Leaps: The Theatricality of Sport, we will spend the semester investigating the theatricality of sport. Ancient traditions in the Roman colosseum. Elizabethan bloodsports. Modern innovations in our contemporary equivalents. The home run trot. Spanish toreadors. End-zone celebrations. John McEnroe’s ‘Superbrat’. The mighty Polynesian Haka. The Super Bowl halftime show. Muhammad Ali. All sport. All theatre.

While no experience in either theatre or sport are required, this seminar places great focus on the most integral player of all in any theatrical or sporting setting: the spectator. So, in the words of entertainment machine/Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens: get your popcorn ready.

About Toby Malone
Toby Malone is a lifelong sports fanatic, with his childhood in Australia entirely shaped by the fortunes of the Australian national cricket team and the Balmain Tigers rugby league team. This dependence has, since moving to North America, sadly transferred over to the Toronto Blue Jays and Maple Leafs. A rugby player of over 30 years, he is faculty advisor to both SUNY Oswego club rugby teams and dramaturg on all SUNY Oswego theatre department productions, solidifying the collision between theatre and sport. Toby is an Assistant Professor of Dramaturgy in the College’s Theatre Department, and holds a BA (Hons) from the University of Western Australia and a PhD from the University of Toronto. He has worked as a professional actor and dramaturg with companies in Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Why take a signature course?

  • Opportunity to work with our very best faculty in your first semester
  • Class size smaller than 20
  • Thought-provoking subject matter
  • Supportive learning environment that will prepare you well for additional college work
  • Students who take these courses engage in the campus quickly and deeply

About the faculty

The faculty members teaching these courses are full time and have a proven record of excellent teaching and interest in the success of first year students. All courses will feature collaborative and active learning as you examine an interesting topic about which each faculty member is passionate.

How do they count toward my degree?

  • All incoming first year students are required to take an “F” section and these courses would count.
  • These are not courses for any specific major but are opportunities for you to explore an area of interest.
  • All students need 120 credits minimum to graduate and some of those credits will be outside your General Education and Major requirements – we call these “electives.”

Learning objectives

Critical thinking and information literacy
Students will identify and critically evaluate information related to the course content.

Oral and written communication
Students will communicate meaning using oral and written language appropriate to the topic and the target audience.

Intercultural knowledge and competence
Students will examine alternative cultural perspectives / worldviews related to course topics.

Campus engagement
Students will describe opportunities to become engaged members of the campus community.