Top 3 Classes I've Taken Outside of My Majors

One of my favourite aspects of my Penn education is the fact that I have essentially free reign to take any classes that catch my eye, provided it fits into my schedule. As a senior, I've accumulated some pretty interesting classes under my belt as I made the best out of the vast and varied academic offerings at Penn. I am an International Relations and Economics double major with a minor in English.

1. Freud (GRMN253), taught by Liliane Weissenberg

Many people write off Freud for being essentially, a hack of a scientist. This class instead examines the life, cultural influences and societal impact of Sigmund Freud. This was one of the first classes where I was consistently engaged in lecture and recitation, delving into not only the cultural phenomenon that was fin-de-siècle Vienna but the philosophies of Freud and his contemporaries. Liliane Weissenberg made the most esoteric of concepts accessible with a dry sense of humour. I left the class with not only a deeper appreciation for Sigmund Freud and his works, but a greater understanding of European history and psychoanalysis today.

2. Information Strategies and Economics (OPIM469), taught by Lorin Hitt

Despite not being in Wharton, I was able to register for this Operations Management class because of Penn's One School policy, which took down many of the bureaucratic red tape surrounding taking classes outside of your school. Despite the seemingly dry name, this class explored how digital goods (like digital songs, e-books, and streaming) changes the way businesses are fundamentally run (think about how the rise of Uber and Lyft displaced traditional taxis) and how we use economics to price and regulate these information goods. Lorin Hitt is at the top of his field and his work as a private consultant for some of the biggest companies in the world meant that every lecture was filled with relevant cases he's worked on before. This was one of the classes that I saw myself applying the most concepts from in everyday life. 

3. Ancient Roman History (ANCH027), taught by Julia Wilker

I had always been a classics buff and I was very excited in my freshman year spring semester to immerse myself in Roman history. This class spanned the entirety of Roman history, from the myth of Remus and Romulus to the rise and fall of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire. This was another class in which the lectures and recitations complemented each other very nicely. I would learn about how Romans borrowed many parts of their culture from the Etruscans and then hear my super cool teaching assistant tell me about how she excavated an Etruscan village in Italy years prior in recitation. I loved classes like this one because you were able to be fully immersed in a topic that you have never delved into before and emerge at the end of a semester with your brain full of new information. Taking this class actually prepared me very well for future political science classes that cited various Roman wars and political thought. 

-Ber Ber X. '16


At Penn, There Are No Limits

Creativity is everything to me. In high school, I found my academics deprived of creative agency—I just stuck to the textbooks, to put it simply. I valued my academics, but I also wanted to integrate creative aspects into the curriculum. But, I never quite found a way to go about doing that. Without even knowing it, I was suffocating. Then, I came to Penn. I truly didn’t know what I was missing. Creativity courses through the heart of this school. I’m taking classes where you are encouraged to make something of your own to be proud of. My preconceived notion of academics was completely altered, in the best way possible, when I first went to a class here. I was learning things that I wanted to learn with professors who valued crazy ideas and original opinions. 

I’m surrounded by creative people who unabashedly express that creativity through various mediums. I’m constantly awestruck by the level of vision that exists in each person at this university. There are people starting their own business, social initiatives, cinema clubs, musical groups; there are talented people creating things all around me. I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes this sort of climate can get intimidating and tiresome. It can be hard to keep up with the pace at which my peers function. However, more than anything, my idea of what is possible has been exponentially heightened. Here at Penn, I can hash ideas out with fellow creatives and make something beautiful. 

I can sit in a room with cool people and turn a creative concept into reality. Creativity is everything to me, and some of the things that I always wanted to do in high school I’ve accomplished in college. At Penn, there are no limits. What I learned: collaboration is at the center of creativity. If you come to Penn, you are guaranteed to find amazing people who value the same things as you do. For me, that was creativity, but whatever you are looking for, I guarantee that there will be a community of students here to back you up.

-Karis S. '18

The Intersection of STEM and the Arts

My first experience with computer science, excluding self-teaching HTML to make my Neopets page look snazzier than everyone else’s, was in the spring of my freshman year, when I took an introductory course (CIS110) as a way of fulfilling the Formal Reasoning and Analysis requirement. It was never my intention to continue down the C.S. path beyond that course, but somewhere along the way, I accidentally became intrigued.

Fast-forward a little bit, I have now spent three and a half months waking up for an 8:30am class every Monday and Wednesday, staying up way too late typesetting assignments, and feeling dumbfounded because how on earth are you supposed to connect five vertices with only two edges? (note: that is impossible--but in said scenario I had misunderstood the premise of the problem. Frown face.)

While CIS160: Mathematical Foundations to Computer Science is not even cross-listed in the College like CIS110 is, the College curriculum gives students the flexibility to take some non-College electives, and I would definitely recommend the class to anyone as crazy as I am, i.e. willing to spend too much time feeling very dumb until you figure out the proof. Even if math is not your thing, because it definitely isn’t mine, understanding concepts like graph theory and induction gives me a completely different way to approach the content I am learning in my English classes. In fact, these theories and applications are surprisingly applicable to all facets of life.

As cheesy as that sounds, I believe maintaining different skills that complement each other is very important. Additionally, my professor, Rajiv Gandhi, is notorious for assigning many difficult problem sets, but all of his students love him despite the fact. We are either masochistic students, or he is an efficient and dedicated professor. I’ll tell you now it is definitely the latter, and if there is anything that I know holds true across all fields of study, it is that a good professor is the most important factor of them all.

-Julia Wang '18

How to burst the "Penn Bubble": Courses that Take You Beyond the Classroom

Before coming to Penn, I was excited to take advantage of its "campus within a big city". I wanted to see the PMA, watch Broadway shows at the Kimmel Center, enjoy the perks of Restaurant Week, and frequent Phillies and Eagles games.

However, upon arrival, I was instantaneously swept up into the maelstrom that is NSO and the piece of jargon known by Quakers as the "Penn Bubble". But perhaps more importantly, I soon came to appreciate the classes that transported us outside of the classroom and into the wilderness city. Often times, I've found that in such classes, I've learned more than a textbook or a slideshow could ever teach me (and far more interestingly at that), and I've been able to explore and appreciate the city better. My favorite Penn-bubble-bursting classes? I’ve described a few of them below:

ENGL 157 -- Introduction to Journalistic Writing: Writing About Food with Rick Nichols

A class that not only teaches how to think and write critically, but how to think and write critically about food (...and the people, the trends, and the experiences, of course). Frequent field trips took us to restaurants around town, where we could profile famous chefs or prominent members of the Philadelphia food scene and hang out with them for a day before writing a piece on them for a final project. Not only a nice break from Penn, but also a nice break from Penn dining halls!

ARTH 106 -- Architect and History with Professor Haselberger

What better way to learn about architecture than to walk in the shadows of one of America's most culturally diverse and historically rich cities? Professor Haselberger is famous for teaching this course every fall, which attracts majors and non-majors alike. Almost every Friday afternoon, we would take the SEPTA into the city proper and look at a different building inspired by whatever time period we had been looking at earlier that week—Greek, Post-modern, Rococo, etc. A bonus? I learned how to better navigate the city for outings to come.

FNAR 222/URBS 322 -- Big Pictures: Mural Arts with Shira Walinsky and Jane Golden

This class is taught by two wonderful women—Shira Walinksy and Jane Golden, the founder of the prolific Mural Arts program that has created thousands of murals all around Philadelphia and given employment opportunities to hundreds of inmates of Graterford Prison. It’s a community-service based course in which you learn about the ways in which public art shapes the socio-economic development of an area and changes the people who inhabit it. The final project involved creating a mural with a community that was eventually installed at a school in West Philadelphia—an unconventional solution to a common problem.

The Penn bubble is, in my opinion, absolutely real. We get sucked into our textbooks and laptops and papers. And while the resources that we have here on campus are beyond wonderful, sometimes you really cannot beat learning from the real thing. There’s so much of Philadelphia to be explored, and luckily Penn provides the courses to do so.

-Helen Nie (C’18)

Learning to Speak a New Culture

The fact that I had to change the language back into English in order to type this is a testament to my attempt to truly integrate myself into the French culture and language while I’m abroad in Paris. Although my computer may be set to French, it is still a daily struggle to communicate with my professors and host family, although I do notice my language skills improving. Writing my papers in French and trying to take notes in lecture is more difficult than I could have anticipated, but one of my favorite things about my abroad experience has been learning outside of the physical classroom.

One of my courses “Nineteenth Century French Painting” has a component where students meet once a week at the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay to interpret the paintings we learn about in class in person. I aspire to work in a museum one day, so the ability to be in front of the works while discussing them is not only a great cultural experience, but also it is also helping me in developing my skills of visual analysis.

Another one of my classes called “Castles and Gardens” also has an excursion component, and each week we spend half of the seminar in lecture and the other half going off into the city to tour the historical buildings and landscapes we have learned.

Being able to explore museums, galleries, and historic buildings in Paris both as part of my classes and on my own has been one of the most valuable parts of studying abroad for me. Although I am used to living in a major city like Philadelphia, I too rarely take the time to wander and get lost when I am so busy at Penn. 

-Hannah Fagin

Nutrition and Abnormal Psychology

One of the classes I took last semester was "Nutrition: Science and Applications, which is a class in the School of Nursing". It was a pleasant surprise to learn just how interdisciplinary nutrition is as a field of study. I registered for the class, hoping to study mainly food science. I learned a lot about how to...

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