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The Stanford Daily Fall Course Guide

We asked Daily staffers about the best classes they’ve ever taken during fall quarter, and this is the list of goodies — some well known, some obscure — that we came up with. Some of them are intro classes whose lessons have given us a lot of mileage in our studies, others are cleverly designed IntroSems and still others are upper-level seminars but very approachable for freshmen.

Girl Harried

AMSTUD 132/ARTHIST 132: American Art and Culture, 1528 to 1850

Tue., Thu. 9:00 – 10:30 a.m., 4 units, Bryan Wolf

GERs: DB-Hum, EC-AmerCul, WAY-AII

What makes Bryan Wolf’s class on early American art and thought great is not so much the mastery of the artists or writers themselves (colonial portraiture is certainly nothing to write home about), but the deft way in which Wolf weaves cultural themes together through these distinct objets d’art. On top of exposing you to a diverse range of artistic styles from America’s early years, this course will enable you to go into an art museum and bust out facts about some of our nation’s finest painters: John Singleton Copley’s breakthrough painting was of a mischievous squirrel, Charles Willson Peale built the first natural history museum in the country and members of the Hudson River School would paint their landscapes of the Catskills mountains months after they left the wilderness. Wolf knows his art, and his enthusiasm for the subject radiates beyond the confines of his PowerPoint presentations.

 

ARCHLGY 1: Introduction to Prehistoric Archaeology

Mon., Wed., Fri. 9:00 – 9:50 a.m., 3-5 units, John Rick

GERs: DB-SocSci, EC-GlobalCom, WAY-AII, WAY-SI

If you were ever fascinated by mummies or pretended to be a hunter-gatherer in your backyard, this is the class for you! Indulge your inner archaeologist and learn the basics of the field in this intro class taught by Professor John Rick, who walks you through the development of prehistoric human society and the methods used to discover the past. Rick is an engaging lecturer, but the best part of this class is actually the assignments, which give you the chance to make sense of real(ish) archaeological data. Sections are also exciting, with a hands-on lab component (you even get to create your own stone tool!). This class will convince a few of you to delve deeper into the tiny but wonderful archaeology department and, for the rest, allow you to play Indiana Jones for a quarter.

 

ATHLETIC 2: Abs and Glutes 

Mon., Wed. 11:00 – 11:50 a.m., 1 unit, Nancy Conniff

Keep the freshman 15 away with instructor Nancy Conniff, whose enthusiasm is contagious — she’s the female version of Richard Simmons, minus the rhinestone leotards. She gradually introduces more difficult moves and exercises throughout the quarter but never pushes her students beyond their comfort zones. And if you manage to stick with the course through midterms and up till Finals Week, you’ll get at least a four pack, though you might need some help explaining away Abs and Glutes on your transcript in a job interview.

 

ATHLETIC 164: Volleyball: Intermediate Sand

Mon., Wed. 1:15 – 2:05 p.m., 1 unit, Don Shaw

Take advantage of those new sand volleyball courts behind Stern Hall with some classes with Coach Shaw, who led the Stanford women’s volleyball team to four NCAA titles between 1984 and1999. Coach combines a short lesson at the beginning of class with a lot of playing time  — skill level in the Intermediate class includes beach regulars, converted indoor players and even newcomers whose only volleyball experience is peppering at a barbecue. Those afraid of the cold should wait until spring to take this class — by the time November rolls around, it’s going to be pretty chilly out there.

 

BIO 15N: Environmental Literacy

Tue., Thu. 2:15 – 3:30 p.m., 3 units, Terry Root

GERs: DB-NatSci, WAY-SMA

You may find Terry Root’s face familiar on your first day: her portrait is on the wall at CoHo. Her IntroSem, an introduction to climate change science with an emphasis on policy literacy, revolves around student questions prepared for a couple short readings. One of the greatest perks of this class is learning about climate change negotiations from an inside source: Root shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with Al Gore and the International Panel on Climate Change.

 

BIO 34N: Hunger

Tue., Thu. 4:15 – 5:30 p.m., 3 units, Kathryn Barton

GER: DB-NatSci

If you’re looking for an interesting class that won’t take up a lot of your time and is also an easy A+ (yes, A+), take this IntroSem. Rather than focusing on biology, the course has a historical focus on the topic of hunger, including causes and consequences of past major famines. At times, Professor Kathryn Barton tried to introduce some of the in-depth science behind food biotechnology, but most of the students — the non-pre-med ones — had none of it and instead drove the seminar discussion towards the societal impacts of hunger, which was a relief. That being said, Professor Barton is so knowledgeable about the subject and always eager to talk with students about their academic interests. The weekly readings are light, and the only major task you have for the entire quarter is to give a 10-minute presentation on a crop assigned by the instructor.

 

BIOE 44: Fundamentals for Engineering Biology Lab

Tue., Thu. 11:00 – 11:50 a.m., 4 units, Joseph Shih and Andrew Endy

GERs: WAY-SMA

This class will rock your world if you’re interested in biology, biotechnology, chemical engineering or just crazy cool applications of life science technology. BIOE 44 is the introductory lab class for the bioengineering major, but it is open and very accessible to non-majors. I like to think of this class as genetic engineering 101. In 10 weeks, you will learn all the tools needed to create and test your own genetically encoded device as part of a useful biological product. For example, a successful project last year included the development of a mercury ion detoxification system in E. coli. Professors Endy and Shih work hard to bring all students up to speed in biotechnology principles and skills needed to develop unique and exciting genetic engineering projects.

 

CS 106A/ENGR 70A: Programming Methodology

Mon., Wed., Fri. 3:15 – 4:05 p.m., 5 units, Mehran Sahami

GERs: DB-EngrAppSci, WAY-FR

CS 106A, the most ubiquitous Stanford course, is a great way to decide whether computer science is for you. The energetic Mehran Sahami, one of Google’s first engineers, teaches the course every fall and is filled with infectious energy for the subject and teaching in general. The course gives you great insight into basic coding, and you walk away with a much better understanding of how computer programs actually work: Lessons include simple introductions to arrays, and strings and basic computer commands are covered. If you find the assignments and exams easy, you’ll probably be a good fit for computer science, but if you find the material to be challenging, be warned — CS 106A is child’s play for computer science students.

 

INTNLREL 1/POLISCI 1: Introduction to International Relations

Mon., Tue., Wed. 11:00 – 11:50 a.m., 5 units, Michael Tomz

GERs: DB-SocSci, WAY-AQR, WAY-SI

You can’t find another class that covers as much material in as organized and digestible a way. This class explores a broad range of international relations problems in four short sections: war, trade, the environment and humanitarian aid. It’s also an overview of general social science thinking for non-majors curious about political science. Professor Mike Tomz, a winner of the Karl Deutsch Award for the most significant contribution to the field of international relations within 10 years of earning a Ph.D., was also a high school policy debate champion — he never says “um” and uncannily finishes lecture at 11:49.

 

ME 101: Visual Thinking

Mon., Wed. 1:15 – 3:05 p.m., 4 units, David Northway

GERs: DB-EngrAppSci

If you want a quick and dirty intro to design and building stuff, this is the class for you. It meets twice a week for two-hour stretches, with coursework consisting of building three design projects over the course of the quarter. There’s no escaping the elephant in the room, which is that the second project will take over your life, probably forcing you to break up with your girlfriend and abandon sleep for a few weeks. The plus side is that the class is really interesting and has no exams at all, only the three projects and their associated design logbooks. It’s a little tough for freshman to get in, but hey, you never know unless you try.

 

SOC 155/FEMGEN 155: The Changing American Family

Tue., Thu. 11:00 – 11:50 a.m., 5 units, Michael Rosenfeld

GERs: DB-SocSci, EC-AmerCul, WAY-ED, WAY-SI

It’s no secret that family life provides much of the fodder for film and fiction, from television sitcoms to indie dramas. Michael Rosenfeld’s course tracks the trends in American family demographics throughout the nation’s history, touching on changes in patterns of marriage, cohabitation, childrearing and divorce. Unlike other sociology classes that feature dense texts weighed down by demographic facts and figures, Rosenfeld’s literature of choice — including a book of his own — is replete with anecdotal asides, the historical background behind many of those changes and personal accounts of representative — and unique — American families. And two 50-minute lectures a week for a 5-unit class is not too shabby, either.

  • so frustrating!

    “If you find the assignments and exams easy, you’ll probably be a good fit for computer science, but if you find the material to be challenging, be warned — CS 106A is child’s play for computer science students.”

    Gah. I wouldn’t normally comment on The Daily’s freshman-year intro pieces since I’m a grumpy old codger and hence very far from the target audience, but this is too much. Dudes, are you serious? It’s like you want to sabotage students or something: make them feel not good enough for CS just because they think 106A is hard. I mean, “be warned” of what? That others think it’s easy, so you’re not up to it? Difficulty of an intro class in any subject means *nothing*. Perhaps others already have learned some of the material previously (a very good chance in 106A: many people have taken CS before but aren’t sure they are prepared enough for 106X). In fact, I would argue that an intro class that is easy is a poorly designed class. In a major, difficulty should be approximately uniform from intro to advanced (with some outliers, and these are usually widely known among students) because you’re learning at about the same rate the whole time. Pick a major because you like what you do in that major, not because of the difficulty of an intro, or any, class. Gee whiz.

    And another thing, actually. You know what? *All* of CS *is* “child’s play” to CS majors. That’s because when a child plays, she is sincere, not worried about what others think, unafraid of challenge, utterly dismissive of irrelevant and probably all criticism, completely immersed in what she’s doing. That’s what many CS majors are like; that’s why we get sucked in. So let me rewrite your sentence a bit: “If you find the assignments and exams *unbelievably fun (ok, maybe not the exams)*, you’ll probably be a good fit for computer science, but if you find the material to be *boring*, be warned — CS 106A is child’s play in the best way possible for (future) computer science students.” (Unless the class has changed, it’s not possible to be bored simply because you find the material too easy. The bonus challenges scale up to pretty much anything you want to put into them.)

  • Sam King

    I wanted to agree with “so frustrating.” It’s not true that “CS 106A is child’s play for computer science students.” I started CS by taking 106A with Mehran, and I’m now a software engineer at Google and the founder of Code the Change.

    While I found 106A enjoyable, I also found it to be challenging. There’s a lot going on, especially if it’s your first interaction with computer science. That is to say, don’t be turned off if you find 106A hard.