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Keystone First-Year Seminars

All first-year students at Elmhurst College take First-Year Seminars as part of their required coursework. Through the Keystone Program, students can choose a STEM-focused First-Year Seminar. Here are some examples of recent First-Year Seminars that were available to Keystone students.

You Are What You Eat: The Science of Food
As consumers we are constantly bombarded with information on what to eat and what not to eat. Whether it is the FDA or the inventor of the latest diet, everyone wants us to eat better. But how can we eat better when we don’t really even know what it is we are eating? In this class, students will explore food composition and digestion, topics that lie at the cross section of chemistry and biology. Our exploration of food will begin from a chemical perspective. Students will learn about the chemical makeup and interactions of fats, oils, sugars and proteins. We will then explore how the human body digests each of these molecules. Students' understanding of the role of food in our lives will be made more complete through discussions of the contemporary debates involving food. Some of the topics may include the impact of high fructose sugar, the lack of food in local and global communities, food in local and global communities, food regulation, and the role of food in education. A major goal of this class is for students to understand the food world in which they inhabit. To that end, students will keep a food journal. Many of the assignments in the class will be tailored to each student’s unique eating habits.

The Art and Science of Digital Imaging
Digital cameras are everywhere! They are present in almost every aspect of your life. From surveillance cameras in supermarkets, shops and highways, to the high-resolution cameras on your cell phone, the world is now densely populated with digital imaging devices. With the rise of digital technology, where all data is a series of zeroes and ones, the film camera is now nearly obsolete. Two aspects of this digital transformation are somewhat less visible. First with the nearly ubiquitous availability of digital image processing software in which images can be cut-and-pasted, the ability to manipulate a photograph has gone from being the province of the expert to something that anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can do. Second, digital information can be transmitted around the globe in a fraction of a second or less. In this course, you will learn how digital cameras work and how to read and manipulate digital images with simple mathematical operations. You will also learn a powerful programming language called Processing that was developed to allow artists and others with no prior programming experience to manipulate digital images and create interesting visual art of their own. The course will also discuss the ethical issues that arise with the fact that digital images, unlike film-based photographs, can be easily manipulated by almost anyone.

Digital Technology: Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects
Digital technology has permeated the fabric of many societies and affects individual lives in a multitude of ways. While many benefits arise from digital technology, it also raises questions, concerns and issues from social, legal and ethical perspectives. At an expertise level for any major, these questions, issues and concerns in the context of current events, stories and scenarios are examined to help develop an understanding of the capabilities and limitations of relevant technologies. Central to these illustrations are topics related to privacy protection, intellectual property protection, computer and software reliability, and computer security. Underlying these topics are concepts that include data encryption, watermarking, covert information channels, and surveillance and monitoring techniques used by government agencies, commercial organizations and individuals. The benefits associated with digital technologies often have negative (foreseen or unforeseen) side effects and often generate a need for new or reformed legislation and raise ethical questions. To provide a foundation and framework for discussing these issues, four philosophical ethical systems are used: Kantianism, Act Utilitarianism, Rule Utilitarianism and Social Contact. The case for and against using a given ethical philosophical system is applied to several of the above-mentioned scenarios and stories involving digital technology.

Numbers, Numbers, Everywhere
An exploration of the numbers we encounter in everyday life. Specific attention will be paid to numbers used by governments, politicians, businessmen and the media to convince, persuade, deceive and support arguments. Students enrolled in this course will explore and research the origins of numbers found in public discourse. Students will examine risks and rewards visible in everyday life, as well as their portrayal in the popular media. Students will develop a “tool-kit” of principles that will help them critically examine numbers across many contexts. This course is not intended to meet any math requirements.

Welcome to Jurassic Park
Travel back in time to an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and the climate was much warmer, or perhaps to the ice ages, when mammoths trekked across the frozen tundra. What made Earth so different during those time periods? Prepare to find out the surprising facts behind trends in Earth’s history. An introduction to paleontology, astronomy, geology, evolutionary biology and beyond will reveal what information we have learned about the past and how we can use that information to understand the modern world and even predict future changes. Topics such as climate change and mass extinction are some of the most urgent problems facing our world. If we are in fact in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, how do we know? Only by understanding the past can we understand our present and hope to predict our future. The enormous amount of scientific information that has gone into understanding and recognizing those issues represents the very nature of scientific collaboration and discovery. We will look at everything from Arctic ice cores to fossils collected from the deserts of the world to understand methods of reconstructing past climates, biodiversity and geography.

Numbers and Native American Mathematics
What are numbers, and what is mathematics? The course will trace the development of numbers and mathematics from ancient civilizations in the Americas to the current use of mathematics in a computer-driven society. Along the way, we’ll investigate ancient and current number systems, patterns in Native American art, how language and culture influence number representation, and the influence of mathematics in today’s world.

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