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

How to Think About Weird Things: Science Confronts Pseudoscience (CAS 198)

When: MWF 12:40 pm
Instructor: Paul Tomascak

Course Description
Are UFO's evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence?
Are there legitimate arguments against biological evolution? the use of vaccines?
Can a person read another's thoughts? Or influence their behavior with words?
Can we predict the future? Or see objects otherwise obscured to sight?
Do spirits persist after people die?

Science is the pathway by which we try to answer these kinds of questions. Unfortunately, another pathway, pseudoscience, is also used. Unlike science, pseudoscience takes short cuts and lacks rigor. It pretends to answer questions through science-like practices and attempts to convince those who lack a skeptical mindset.

In the words of Carl Sagan, "Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don't practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us--and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, a world of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who saunters along."

About Paul Tomascak
Paul Tomascak is a Connecticut native whose academic travels range from the desert of central New Mexico to the frigid plains of Manitoba to the bustling DC metropolis. He is an isotope geochemist, a fancy term for a geologist who studies how and when rocks form and where they come from. He has had a life-long curiosity with strange phenomena and took over teaching an earlier version of this course after arriving in Oswego in 2004. When not reading about weird things he runs long distances (slowly), plays hockey (poorly), and does his part to eliminate food waste (frequently by disregarding expiration dates).

“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.


The Injustice League: Crime, Justice, and Inequality in Comic Books (CRJ 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.

Mass Shootings in America: What’s Really the Problem (CRJ 198)

When: TTH 9:35-10:55am
Instructor: Jaclyn Schildkraut

Course Description
From Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook to Parkland, mass shootings continue to be a cause for national concern. Common responses typically center on the gun control-gun rights debate with secondary consideration given to mental health and violent media, among other proposed causal factors. This discourse, however, often is void of any scholarly or practical evidence and, as a result, little change is made before the next shooting happens. Then, "not one more" becomes "add another one to the list" and the conversation starts over.

This course will explore the impact of mass shootings on both the criminal justice system and society as a whole. Topics to be covered will include (but not be limited to) shifting law enforcement and first response practices, the impact of mass shootings on perceptions of safety, security protocols, psychology and threat assessment, and the way in which the media frame all of these issues and the impact it has on viewing audiences. Key events, including those listed above, will be explored further, as will the way in which the perpetrators of these shootings have become modern celebrities.

About Jaclyn Schildkraut
Jaclyn Schildkraut is an associate professor of criminal justice at SUNY Oswego. She joined the faculty in 2014 after graduating with her PhD in criminal justice from Texas State University. An expert on mass shootings, Dr. S.'s work has been featured by the national and international media after a number of these events. She recently co-authored the book Columbine, 20 Years and Beyond: Lessons from Tragedy (2019), her third to examine the topic of mass shootings, and she works with survivors of a number of communities impacted, including Parkland (the community where she grew up) and Orlando (where she went to school for her undergraduate and Master's degrees). She also works closely with local school districts helping to evaluate and implement new active shooter protocols. In her spare time, Jaclyn enjoys spending time with her three dogs (Bella, Bailey, and Chloe), going to concerts, and traveling.

I Have Something to Tell You: The Spoken Word (CRW 198)

When: MWF 10:20am
Instructor: Stephanie Pritchard

Course Description
Spoken word poems are meant for a crowd. Performance poetry (spoken word and slam) became popular in the United States in the 1980s, and this genre of writing and speaking emphasizes word choice, rhythm, repetition, and storytelling to address issues related to social justice.

This course will introduce you to contemporary spoken word poems and performers as well as the social problems they address in their writing: sexism, civil rights, poverty, body image, LGBTQ+ rights, rape culture, mental illness, religious freedom, and more. You will also compose, workshop, and perform your own spoken word poem.

About Stephanie Pritchard
Stephanie Pritchard is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the English and Creative Writing department at the State University of New York at Oswego. She received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2011. Stephanie teaches poetry writing, digital storytelling, and English composition courses, is Assistant Director for Writing Across the Curriculum and the Director of The Creativity Lab. She is the recipient of the Provost's Award for Teaching Excellence. In addition to teaching and writing, Stephanie enjoys going for long walks with her two beagles, instructing group exercise classes at the Oswego YMCA, and blowing raspberries with her eight-month-old daughter.

Mindful Living Through Yoga (EDU 198)

When: TTH 11:10am - 12:30pm
Instructor: Barabra Beyerbach

Course Description
Who am I? What is reality? What is mindfulness? How can mindfulness practices help me
explore the questions that humans have grappled with across the ages?

Mindfulness practices can help re-unite body and mind in the present moment, allowing us to examine connections between our inner experiences (thoughts, feelings) and our physical
experiences (restlessness, anxiety, physical sensations, energy, relaxation, sleep), and the world. Everyone has the capacity to cultivate mindfulness and experience life more fully.

In this practice-based course, we will experience various mindfulness practices including yoga and meditation, and investigate the impacts on our awareness, emotions and thoughts. We will explore the ancient roots of yoga in India and look at ways eastern and western practices have co-mingled and influenced one another in modern yoga and meditation practices. We will use these cross cultural explorations to reflect on and examine our own cultural beliefs. Together we will discover the fascination of exploring our interior spaces.

About Barbara Beyerbach
Dr. Beyerbach is an education professor, a certified yoga teacher, an artist, and an activist. A faculty member in Curriculum and Instruction, she teaches Culturally Relevant Teaching and
co-directs Project SMART (Student-Centered, Multicultural, Active, Real-World Teaching). She has visited India to explore the roots of yoga and works with area schools to bring mindfulness practices to teachers and children. She has walked the Camino de Santigo, and has visited and worked with schools in Benin, China, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Costa Rica and India. She, Davis and Ramalho most recently published the second edition of the edited volume, Activist Art in Social Justice Pedagogy (Beyerbach, B., Davis R. D , & Ramalho, T., 2017, Peter Lang Publishing).

Victorian Monsters (ENG 198)

When: TTH 2:20pm
Instructor: Sarah Berry

Course Description
What do Frankenstein's creature, Dracula, mad scientists like Dr. Jekyll, and underground Morlock societies tell us about the collision of culture and science in Victorian society? Monsters take the shape of the fears and desires of the society in which they are invented. They provide a window into the "sides" of some key debates that emerged in the nineteenth century about medical research ethics; disease control; and the treatment of addiction and mental illness. We will read Frankenstein, Dracula, The Time Machine, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and pay attention to social contexts such as the place of women, the working class, and immigrants as these debates unfold and take on the terrifying forms of monsters. The monsters of the nineteenth century, a great age of scientific advancement and social reform, are still with us in fiction, on the screen, and in news stories about science and technology. We will use techniques of literary and cultural analysis to think critically about what monsters tell us about ourselves.

About Sarah Berry
Sarah Berry earned her Ph.D. in English from Syracuse University and her Bachelor's degree from Cornell University. She teaches in English and Creative Writing at SUNY Oswego; her courses examine the relationship between embodiment and citizenship in U.S. literature as well as intersections among literature and healthcare in diverse literary forms. She is the author of essays on medicine, gender, race, and cultural history, covering topics ranging from Charlotte Bronte and the early days of public health to Nathaniel Hawthorne and vaccination to Henrietta Lacks and medical privacy and serves on the board of the Health Humanities Consortium. She grew up in Onondaga County and is proud to be a 3rd-generation Oswegonian, following her grandmother and father who both earned degrees here. When not on campus, she enjoys growing things in her garden and walking her terribly spoiled dachshund.

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®.

A Tale of Two Worlds: The Politics of U.S.-Latin American Relations Seen Through Literature, Cinema, and Comics (SPA 198)

When: TTH 9:35am
Gonzalo Aguiar

Course Description
What would happen if we start talking about the often neglected cultural relations between the US and Latin America as a two-way street? What would happen if the power of representation was not in North American hands anymore but in the hundreds of millions of subaltern voices composing the rich cultural history of the three Americas? All of a sudden, we are embarked on a fascinating journey where dance, food, visual arts, literature, revolution, religion, human rights, and popular uprisings determine the incredible vitality of Latin America since its emancipation from the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Are you ready to be a part of it?

In this course, we will challenge some of the most common assumptions about Latin America by taking a closer look at its culture and history through several modes of storytelling. Throughout the duration of the course both instructor and students will weave a fun tale of US-Latin America cultural relations that will uncover a series of conflicts, negotiations, misinterpretations, prejudices, and stereotypes that have oftentimes clouded a mutual understanding between the US and its southern neighbors. The course will address important questions such as why the US has long regarded Latin America its backyard, or what the place of Latin America is in the current state of global capitalism.

About Gonzalo Aguiar
Gonzalo Aguiar is an Assistant Professor of Spanish & Portuguese in the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures, where he teaches language, culture, and literature courses in Spanish and Portuguese. He was born in Uruguay, where he played soccer actively as the sport is his country's national pastime. Dr. Aguiar is also a Hart Hall Faculty Resident Mentor, which allows him to organize fun activities related to his expertise on all things Latin American. He is passionate about reading, traveling, and music – especially jazz and Brazilian music. He is also learning to play the trumpet as reading musical notes can be serious fun! Dr. Aguiar has published articles, book chapters, book reviews, and conference proceedings in the US, Venezuela, Argentina, and Uruguay. His book on Latin American culture is coming out in 20

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.

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.