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Fall 2020 CNS Honors Seminars

The NSC 110H seminars below are restricted to Dean's Scholars, Health Science Scholars, and Polymathic Scholars.

Getting In: Honors, Diversity, and the American Dream
What Makes Us Human?
Wellness 101: The Honors Student Edition
Bob Dylan and Our Lives
Rogue Medicine: Groundbreaking or Quackery?
The Master and Margarita
The Science of Mindfulness, the Art of Attention
The Science of Monsters
Emerging Treatments for Cancers and Infectious Diseases
The Literature of Science
2020: It's Time for Another Presidential Election
Health Communication
Mapping the Human Cortex
Narrative, Theater, and the Illness Experience
Difficult Discussions in Health

  

Getting In: Honors, Diversity, and the American Dream
Melissa Taylor and Madison Searle
Unique: 46185
Thursday 2-3pm
WCH 1.108
REQUIRED: Paul Tough, The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us
Many scholars argue that the American dream – the idea that equal opportunity exists for anyone who works hard – is becoming less accessible. Is our higher education system partly to blame? 

The most selective schools in the country continue to be remarkable engines of social mobility. If your family has little money but you attend an Ivy-level college, your economic future is nearly as bright as if you'd been raised by millionaires. The problem is that very few students who don't come from money, disproportionately students of color, get in. We contend that the benefits of and access to honors programs at flagship universities are analogous to the Ivies. 

Paul Tough's 2019 book will provide the foundation for exploring several questions he doesn't address. Some of the most pressing: What are the barriers to creating a more diverse community in honors programs? How can these programs' benefits be extended to a wider circle of deserving students? What can current students, faculty and administrators at this public university do to create a population that looks like the state that sustains it?

What Makes Us Human?
Inder Saxena
Unique: 46190

Monday 10-11am
PAI 5.42 
The human species is one of many species that inhabits this planet. Although there is a common evolutionary origin to all life forms, and common features exist between the different groups of organisms, certain characteristics distinguish each species from all others. In this sense, each species is unique, but it is the uniqueness of the human species that is of interest to most. This question of what makes us human has been addressed by thinkers, writers, evolutionary biologists and many others in the past. With the availability of genome sequences of not only modern humans, but also extinct species such as Neanderthals and Denisovans, one can now make much better comparisons and approach this question at a much higher biological resolution.

This course will view the question of what makes us human from a variety of perspectives, including literary, cultural, social and biological. Topics to be discussed in the course will be made known at the beginning of the semester and each student will make a presentation on one of the given topics. In every class meeting, students will be given an opportunity to express their opinion in a discussion on the topic of presentation.

"Our dream is to one day uncover the essence of what makes us human."
- Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, in an announcement pledging support for the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle.

Wellness 101: The Honors Student Edition
Kelsey Lammy
Unique: 46195

Tuesday 2-3:15pm
TBD
The current generation experiences higher levels of stress, depression, and anxiety than any prior generation. These issues are further exacerbated by the pressures of college-life and/or expectations of being high-achieving students. Stress is the number one reported impediment to academic performance (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30285563).

Mental health in healthcare has also become a topic of attention in recent years. There is still stigma surrounding mental health issues that creates serious barriers to help-seeking, access, and quality of care. The implications of such stigma have led to poorer patient outcomes, as well as inadequate mental health care and education, extending to even healthcare providers themselves. In this seminar, students begin to learn and practice strategies for cultivating and maintaining positive mental health in college and onwards, as well as ways to approach and help peers and colleagues struggling with related issues. Several guest speakers from various professional backgrounds—including staff from the Counseling and Mental Health Center and Longhorn Wellness Center—will help introduce students to mental health and wellness-related strategies and topics that can be carried and expanded upon through their education and career.

Bob Dylan and Our Lives
Thomas Palaima
Unique: 46200
Thursday 10-11am
PAI 5.42
We will listen to and discuss songs of Bob Dylan that comment meaningfully on how we live our lives as human beings and as Americans from the Civil War to the present. This will include discussions of key events, topics and figures in US politics, society and culture such as the civil rights movement, MLK and JFK, our many wars, American and English and Irish folk songs, love and death, and the arts of poetry and songwriting.

Rogue Medicine: Groundbreaking or Quackery?
Arturo De Lozanne
Unique: 46205
Wednesday 1-2pm
PAI 5.42
You see it on the news and the internet all the time: A courageous doctor exposes the dangers of vaccines; a new natural treatment to [your favorite serious disease] was discovered; eat this, or don't eat this, to improve your health. How are we to make good health-related decisions based on all this information?? We will explore the boundaries between science and pseudoscience in the medical field and the different kinds of abuse done in the name of Medicine.

The Master and Margarita
Tom Garza
Unique: 46210
Wednesday 10-11am
PAI 5.42
REQUIRED: Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita. Diana Burgin and Katherine O’Connor, trans. ISBN-10: 0679760806
Stalin's Moscow, 1936. The Devil and his gang have come to the mortal world to determine how Mankind is faring in the mid- 20th century. He encounters a motley crew of Soviet bureaucrats, writers, politicians and artists who offer little hope for the future. Enter the "Master," an unknown writer struggling to finish a novel about the life of Christ told from the perspective of Pontius Pilate. Can this one writer and his work be reason enough to prevent the apocalypse? Enter Margarita, the Master's selfless companion and heroine of Mikhail Bulgakov's Soviet-era masterpiece, The Master and Margarita. Regarded by many readers and critics as one of the greatest novels of our time, The Master and Margarita is a fixed part of Russian culture. This seminar will explore not only the intricacies of the novel itself, but also its place among Bulgakov’s other literary works, and its varied sources from world literature, music and the visual arts.
 

The Science of Mindfulness, the Art of Attention
Rosa Schnyer
Unique: 46215
Thursday 12:30-1:30pm
CAL 200

Mindfulness--often described as the process of attending to whatever is arising in the present moment, in a particular way, on purpose and without judgement—has gained great popularity in the past decade and has been increasingly integrated into contemporary society from education to private industry, to health care.  Mindfulness involves self-regulation of attention and orientation of experience, which enables the cultivation of a different relationship with ourselves and the challenges we face.  In this seminar, while developing a mindfulness practice, we will explore the neural and behavioral effects of mindfulness, the cultural, historical and philosophical foundations, and its modern application.

The Science of Monsters
David Taylor
Unique: 46220
Monday 2-3pm
PAI 5.42
What is a monster? Is it the terrifying thing lurking in your closet or under your bed? The word originated to describe something that is malformed or different than ourselves. In this seminar, we will talk about mutants: their genetic basis, their phenotypes, their transformation into literary symbols. There will be a combination of readings from scientific journal articles and gothic literature. Is Dracula an evil blood-sucking vampire or does he just have a slight sensitivity to light?

Emerging Treatments for Cancers and Infectious Diseases 
Pratibha Saxena
Unique: 46225
Wednesday 2-3pm
BIO 301
Infectious diseases affect each and every one of us. Even today a large number of people succumb to infectious agents even after we understand a lot more about infectious agents and how to control them. Infectious agents include viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoans. Antibiotics helped control microbes in mid 1900s but now we are faced with multi drug resistance organisms that are proving difficult to control. While a large number of infectious diseases of the early 1900s are under control, there are many more emerging and reemerging diseases that we all are confronted with on a regular basis.

Some of the infectious diseases we will discuss are Influenza, HIV-AIDS, Zika, Dengue fever, Tuberculosis, Pneumonia (especially caused by multidrug resistant Klebsiella pneumonia), Healthcare associated (HCA) diseases and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). This seminar course will discuss basic concepts of these diseases, their clinical presentation and diagnosis, and both current and potential treatments.

The Literature of Science
Josh Roebke
Unique: 46230
Wednesday 1-2pm
WCH 1.108
Who writes about science and what are they trying to tell us? Poets, scientists, journalists, playwrights, novelists, publicists, historians, and philosophers have all been known to opine about science, but how do they communicate differently? Are they even describing the same branches of knowledge? We will read a variety of texts—from blogs to memoirs, essays to poems, and articles to humorous sketches—to discuss the many ways that writers communicate science and the ways they depict real and imagined scientists. Each week, we will read an article, essay, or short excerpt to debate the merits of different styles of writing by either scientists or non-scientists. Basically, we will discuss good writing about science and talk about why it is good. Students will have the chance to lead a discussion about the writing genre that they prefer or the area of science that they like best.

2020: It’s Time for Another Presidential Election
David Laude
Unique: 46235
Wednesday 2-3pm
WCH 1.108
Every four years in my seminar we follow the presidential campaign week to week.  At the same time, being something of a political wonk going way back, I help the students in class to understand the historical frame for how the electorate voting patterns have changed over the last several decades, and how they are likely to change again during this particularly amazing campaign cycle to come. Warning:  I predicted Trump’s victory in 2016 the first week of seminar four years ago. Yes, they laughed at me, but then they cried.  This seminar topic isn’t always pretty, but it is a chance for that Government class you took online in high school to finally pay off.

Health Communication
Mike Mackert
Unique: 46240
Thursday 12:30-1:30pm
PAI 5.42
Health communication is the science and art of using communication to advance the health and well-being of people and populations. In this seminar we will explore health communication ranging from the interpersonal level (provider-patient) to mass communication (national ad campaigns) across a range of health issues and populations. We will also discuss how health pervades popular media and new frontiers in health communication resulting from advances in science and medicine.
 

Mapping the Human Cortex
Alexander Huth
Unique: 46245
Thursday 4-5pm
PAI 5.42
The human brain is a biological and computational marvel. It can learn, talk, see, touch, smell, taste, think, feel, and listen, while using less energy than a modern laptop. Our brains accomplish these feats through specialization, where each part of the brain focuses only on one or a few tasks. In this course we will take a tour through the human brain in an effort to learn at least a little bit about every single area in the cortex. Because the human cortex is involved in nearly every aspect of human life, we will touch on a broad set of topics, including vision, language, audition, touch, decision making, and social cognition. We will also discuss methods for mapping the brain and organizing principles that may be at play.

Narrative, Theater, and the Illness Experience
Craig Hurwitz
Unique: 46250
Wednesday 6-7pm
PAI 5.42
In this course, students will use techniques from narrative medicine, poetry and theatre to explore the illness experience. 

Traditional medical culture focuses on disease from an objective and scientific perspective. Although scientific modes of inquiry and discovery allow remarkable improvements in the treatment of disease, these paradigms are inadequate to the task of characterizing the subjective illness experience.

Long before the advent of scientific medicine, humans have turned to art, literature, and narrative to answer the existential questions that illness provokes. What does it mean to be sick? To experience suffering? To experience healing? To contemplate mortality? 

This course will use poems, stories, plays and movies as discussion and writing prompts for students. The course may also include a performative element where students will perform both student written monologues and scenes from published plays.  

Texts are likely to include, but not limited to excerpts from: The Illness Narratives- Arthur Kleinman, Narrative Medicine - Rita Charon, Wit - Margaret Edson, Ikiru - Akira Kurosawa, William Shakespeare, Anton Chekov, Leo Tolstoy, poems by William Carlos Williams, Raphael Campos, Anne Sexton, and anonymous medical narratives from case reports and other medical publications.

Difficult Discussions in Health
David Ring
Unique: 46295
Monday 3– 6pm 
PAI 5.42
Note that this is a 3-hour, graded class (NSC 323).
Training for healthcare professionals has long emphasized technical knowledge and assumed that communicating expertise would come naturally. It is increasingly clear that nontechnical skills (e.g. effective communication strategies, emotional intelligence, cultural humility, etc.) are also important to help people get and stay healthy. In this seminar, students interested in the health professions can begin to learn and practice helpful communication strategies. Guest speakers from various clinical and professional backgrounds will help introduce pre-health professionals to aspects of effective communication using group dialogues and practical exercises. Students can preview the complete syllabus here.