Right now soon-to-be college freshmen are poring over registration books, flipping frantically through course catalogs, or scrolling wide-eyed down a never-ending computerized list, trying to figure out which first-year classes they'll register for. Wondering what your freshman year classes might be like? Naturally, they’re going to differ a lot, depending on the university and what you’re studying. But I thought I’d take this time to review some of my favorite courses from my first year at Hopkins to give you a preview of what kinds of classes you might take your freshman year.
Class: Contemporary International Politics
By far, this has been my favorite class at Hopkins. Taught by Professor Stephen David (who happens to be one of the world’s leading experts in the field of international affairs), the course covered the historical and theoretical foundations of international relations, from the Peloponnesian War all the way up to the present day. Professor David is an incredible lecturer, and there’s something inspiring about being taught by such a prominent expert in the field. I even enjoyed writing my final paper—an analysis of Operation Neptune Spear, the mission that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. I examined the motivations and origins of the operation through individual, domestic, and international perspectives, painstakingly sifting through materials on JSTOR to find the perfect quotes. I hope to be able to take another class with Professor David in the coming years.
Class: Expository Writing: Guns, America, and the Second Amendment
Almost every college has some kind of university writing requirement, a class or seminar that every student must take in order to graduate, and they usually occur during freshman year. This class trains college students in written communication—an important but often-overlooked skill! At Hopkins, most students fill this requirement by taking an Expository Writing class on the subject of their choice. Expository Writing is more informative than creative, and students learn to write thesis statements, formulate responses, and structure arguments in the strongest way possible. I chose to take my Expository Writing on the subject of the Second Amendment. I am a pre-law student and very interested in constitutional law specifically, so this course seemed to be a perfect way of knocking out my college writing requirement while also studying a subject of interest to me.
I was certainly not disappointed by my experience in the class. Led by a passionate PhD candidate in Political Science, we read and dissected four major interpretations of the right to bear arms, including the case DC v. Heller and the earlier but no less groundbreaking US v. Miller. Over the course of the semester, we wrote four essays responding to each of the different cases and documents we read, exposing flaws in the arguments of the authors and discovering the best way to respond to them. I certainly learned a lot, not just about argument-based writing, but also about the background of the Second Amendment and about the motivations behind each side of the gun debate. With such an in-depth examination of a current issue, the political science nerd in me was ecstatic.
Class: First-Year Arabic I
If you read my earlier article on choosing a major, you may remember that I came to Hopkins intent on being an International Studies major. I wanted to do a Middle Eastern focus with a possible concentration in gender equality and human rights. As a result, I signed up for First-Year Arabic before my first semester. I enjoyed the language so much that I registered for First-Year Arabic II in the spring.
Midway through the year, I ended up changing my major to Computer Science, and as a result there wasn’t an immediate need for me to continue taking Arabic—or any other language, for that matter. However, I decided to stick with Arabic. The language is beautiful, the script is fascinating (it reads right to left, which definitely took some getting used to), and Middle Eastern culture is incredibly rich. Our class consisted of 12 students and was taught by professor Rajab, who is originally from Saudi Arabia. Not only was the class interesting and informative, but professor Rajab is also one of the best professors in the school. All of the student bonded over difficulties with the language and often went to get lunch after class together. And at the end of the semester, professor Rajab took us all out to an Arabic restaurant in Federal Hill, a quaint foodie neighborhood of Baltimore close to the Inner Harbor. We feasted on flavorful Middle Eastern cuisine as we chatted with some of the older Arabic students about their experiences and plans for after graduation. I look forward to several more semesters of Arabic to come!
Class: Introductory Programming in Java
When I was still exploring the possibility of a Computer Science major in college, I decided to take Introductory Programming in Java to see if I even liked to code. The class was large (one of the few lecture classes at Hopkins) and led by professor Sara More. I had taken AP Computer Science in high school, so I already had a lot of the background knowledge. But, as is typical for a college course, Introductory Programming in Java (or “Intro Java”, as we call it) went much more in-depth than my high school course did.
We studied inheritance, polymorphism, handling errors, and other subjects that we only briefly talked about in high school. But the real fun of this course was the homework. (I know—weird, right?) Every week, professor More would assign us between one and four real-life tasks for us to code. They started off as pretty basic programs (for example, if the number is even, return True). But by the end of the semester, we were making full-length programs, including my favorite, which was to create a Mario game!
The hands-on practice was very helpful in mastering concepts, because programming is hard to teach in a lecture setting. Professor More was also willing to meet one-on-one for individual issues, and she offered an optional lab session on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which was helpful for programmers of all skill levels. The course really solidified my decision to switch to Computer Science, and I am excited to say that I have professor More for two of my CS classes this upcoming fall!
College Class: The Ethnic Gangster in American Cinema
One cool thing that a lot of people don’t know about Johns Hopkins is Intersession. JHU has a very long winter break—five weeks. While the first two weeks are holidays for all students, the last three function as a sort of mini-term, when students can take classes that aren’t offered during the regular semester. These courses—such as Ballroom Dancing, Food Fermentation, and Cults in the Greco-Roman World, to name a few—meet a few times a week and are taken pass/fail, which means they do not affect your GPA.
My favorite Intersession course was called The Ethnic Gangster in American Cinema, and it explored Hollywood’s portrayal of gangsters throughout history. We had to watch three movies: The Godfather, Scarface, and Goodfellas. We then discussed the impact of ethnicity, gender, and certain characteristics that we noticed in these three gangster movies. We also discussed character development: Why did these characters all become gangsters? What was the motivation? What role did the other characters play?
The professor, Anthony Wexler, a faculty member in the English department, was truly one of the most passionate instructors I have ever had. He was so interested in the subject matter, and his enthusiasm was contagious. I hope to be able to take another course with professor Wexler before I graduate!
College Class: Introduction to Fiction/Poetry I
The last class I want to talk about is Introduction to Fiction/Poetry, or, as we call it, IFP. These classes are part of Hopkins’ top-ranked program in the Writing Seminars, which is just our fancy way of saying Creative Writing.
My IFP section was led by professor Goldberg, who was simultaneously pursuing an MFA in poetry. The class was split into two parts, with the first half devoted to poetry and the section to short fiction. We studied many well-known (and lesser-known) poems, dissecting their use of imagery, diction, syntax, and other literary devices. But what really made this class unique was the hands-on application of the concepts we learned in class.
Every week, each student would have to write a poem or short story using whatever literary device we were covering that week. We also had final projects in both units, where we had to write a final poem as well as a ten-page short story on topics of our choosing. Four students were chosen each week to have a piece workshopped by the class, and professor Goldberg was great about giving feedback and pointers to make poems even stronger. For the students who were interested in English and creative writing, he was even willing to meet with them after class and help with one-on-one editing and review. He encouraged us to send our pieces to magazines and papers if we wanted to, and he was truly one of the most encouraging, enthusiastic, and engaging instructors I have ever had. The class was a great experience with writing and forced me to step out of my comfort zone, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing my weekly assignments.
These are only a few of the classes I took at Johns Hopkins as a freshman. But I’ve enjoyed every college class I’ve taken and I look forward to three more years of eye-opening academic experiences!