Unique (and Possibly Crazy) Courses of Study (Part 4)

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Northern New Mexico College

Spanish-Colonial Furniture Making


This major is really specific. Don't you dare show up with the intention of producing furniture of the Portuguese-Colonial or Spanish-Revival varieties. Only Spanish-Colonial Furniture may be made here.

Northern New Mexico College serves a region that is largely rural and deeply inflected by the Latin and Native American cultures which envelope its main campus. This course of study channels these cultural influences into the design and construction of items with which to furnish your rancho, estancia, or hacienda.

Spanish-Colonial Furniture Making is a 100 level laboratory course worth four credits to its participants. There within, you'll receive an education in the basics of both power tool usage and safety. You'll also gain instruction on how best to select the appropriate materials for a given project and how to craft these materials into your very own muebles. Refine your wood-carving, staining, upholstering, and leather-working skills as you produce handcrafted decor evocative of a time in which Spanish conquerors swept through the Americas. Indeed, beyond the work that you'll do to hone your craft, you'll learn of the historical imperatives that helped spark the Spanish Colonial furniture movement and of the themes proliferated by this movement over the centuries to follow.

Historically, the finest of Spanish Colonial architects employed their talents to stylishly appoint the churches and palaces of yesteryear. But upon the completion of your furniture-making studies, you could live in the opulent luxury of a great conquistador…at least in terms of your furniture. Any plundering of gold would be merely incidental.

Texas Christian University

Ranch Management


If the photos that accompany this course description are any indication, you're going to need a cool hat and a whole lotta denim. This is the academic program for anybody who ever watched City Slickers and related more to Jack Palance than Billy Crystal.

The Ranch Management program at TCU was initiated in 1956 in collaboration with practicing professionals in the ranching industry. Observing that agribusiness was changing rapidly around them, ranchers in the surrounding Ft. Worth region urged for the development of a course of study addressing innovations in the field.

As this charming promotional video tells, a pioneering spirit, a bounty of luck, and “lifetimes of saddle-sense passed down through the generations” were all you needed to survive in the ranching business back in the frontier days.

Today, these virtues remain valuable. But you'll also need a strong background in agricultural resource management, marketing, and technology. This program recognizes the big business that ranching has become and provides students with a comprehensive academic program touching on each of its dimensions. You'll study livestock production, grazing systems, resource conservation, and personnel management.

Over the course of a single academic year, you'll interact with ranching professionals, engage in fieldwork, and ultimately undertake your own real-world agriculture asset management project. In case you're wondering, this is one course that you can't learn through the magic of the internet. All classes and fieldwork are mandatory.

Bottom line, if you stick with the program, your boots will get dirty.

University of California Irvine

Science from Superheroes to Global Warming


Did you ever wonder how the Incredible Hulk's shorts become magically enormous enough to contain his raging green unmentionables when he expands to 50 times his normal size? Do you wish you had a better grasp on the principles of trans-dimensional travel that allow Thor to wield his mighty hammer here on Earth? Does it at all concern you that Superman's X-Ray vision may be needlessly exposing unsuspecting civilians to high levels of radiation poisoning? And if so, could you provide enough scientific proof to justify a class action suit against the last son of Krypton?

All are pressing concerns in an era where superheroes mix freely with civilians. (Seriously, they are all over Times Square and Hollywood's Chinese Theatre.) If you wish to entertain these questions at the level of scientific inquiry, behold Science from Superheroes to Global Warming. Housed within the Physics & Astronomy Department at UC Irvine, this course explores the implications of "good science" by challenging students to take a critical approach to its representation both in popular culture and real life.

Students will gain a strong foundation in the scientific method, complete with an underpinning education in the mathematics and physics that are frequently required there within. Midway through the course, participants will have the opportunity to design their very own superheroes with the caveat that the powers ascribed to them are scientifically viable. That means you can create a hero with the ability to fast-forward through commercials by using telepathy or to predict food expiration dates without looking at labels so long as you can offer a defensible and empirical explanation for these gifts.

This fantastical pursuit is not merely the basis for your very own brand of fan-fiction. It also provides the background you'll need to pose serious speculative questions about the scientific discourse taking place in the world around you. Use what you've learned in this class to be a part of the important public discussion on issues such as global climate change, medical innovation, and of course, the aerodynamics of spandex.


Personal Robots


This is a course of study for all the times you ever told yourself that life would be better if only you had your very own R2D2 unit. Naturally, every Tatooine scrap-salvager and Corellian nerf-herder had their own service droid long ago in a galaxy far, far away. But all these millennia later, we're still playing catch-up with the inhabitants of the Star Wars galaxy. Fortunately, our friends at MIT are hard at work on a solution…if indeed you could call the lack of personal household service robots a problem.

The Personal Robots Group is part of this venerable Massachusetts university's Media Lab and offers participants the opportunity to become familiar with the principles, techniques, and technologies that propel the development of “socially intelligent robot partners.” In other words, you aren't just developing the next Furby or Tickle-Me-Elmo.

You'll be developing robots that actually have the capacity to help us in our work, education, and everyday lives. But this is more than a mechanical engineering course. Personal Robot studies include a serious consideration of Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), which, as evidenced by the attribution of shorthand initials, is clearly a real scientific discipline. The basic premise of HRI is that robots—properly designed—will have the capacity to cooperate with and learn from their human counterparts.

Pursued properly, this discipline could provide you with the knowledge, support, and resources to develop a robot with the capacity to save lives, perform medical procedures, or replace your knockoff Roomba. Pursued improperly, you could be responsible for hastening the destruction of humanity at the hands of an unstoppable army of artificially intelligent robot killing machines.

Whatever the outcome of your work, your participation will provide a direct path to the receipt of either a Master of Science or a Doctor of Philosophy in Media Arts and Sciences.

UC Berkeley

The Simpsons and Philosophy


If you're anything like me, you've based most of your life decisions on things you learned from The Simpsons. This interminably long-running animated primetime comedy—presently in its unprecedented 27th season—has endeavored to confront nearly every topic imaginable, from gun control and alcoholism to presidential politics and the psychedelic effects of ingesting Guatemalan Insanity Peppers. The sheer breadth of subject matter engaged by one of America's favorite dysfunctional families readily lends the show to deeper intellectual probing.

At UC Berkeley, these qualities have been channeled into a course of study which aims to elucidate some of philosophy's most challenging tenets. The primary goal of this course is to render the ideas put forth by Plato, Kant, and Marx more accessible, relatable, and-—it is important to note—-humorous. Not that Nietzsche wasn't an absolute hoot to be around, but this course lifts the veil of seriousness that can make philosophy alienating and abstract for the modern learner.

Begun in 2003, The Simpsons and Philosophy has proven one of Berkeley's most enduringly popular courses. Its intent is not to suggest that The Simpsons explicitly wrestles with Aristotelian concepts nor that Sartre would be moved by the existential crisis that inclines Krusty the Clown to fake his own death. Instead, the premise is that The Simpsons has been a source for the observation, subversion, and outright mockery of culture, be it culture of the high-brow, popular, or modern persuasion. As such, many of its best moments will serve as inroads into a broader consideration of philosophical imperatives such as ethics, theology, and free will.

In a sense, the course description notes, the absurdity which is unique to a cartoon universe makes it the perfect context in which to evaluate philosophical concepts that themselves rely heavily on absurdity. Moreover, that Homer Simpson is a creature almost entirely motivated by impulse and desire makes the character a remarkable vessel through which to explore the very best and worst of humanity, a defining motive for all philosophy if ever one existed.

Engaging more than a thousand students during its decade+ of existence, this is one course that has truly embiggened the philosophy department at UC Berkeley.

Triton College

Circus Stunts


Sometimes, finding balance between your college studies, your extracurricular activities, and your social life can feel like a tightrope walk. When you study Circus Stunts at Triton College, the thing that feels most like a tightrope walk is the tightrope walk. Technically, this is an area of study open to all who live in the counties surrounding Triton's River Grove, Illinois campus. So that means that you need not be an enrolled student to partake of this Continuing Education Course.

It would, however, help to be limber and not particularly self-conscious about wearing a leotard. We would also suggest that this is not the club for you if you suffer from an actual fear of clowns (as opposed to the basic mistrust of clowns that most of us experience). Describing itself as a non-profit club dedicated to the “preservation of the circus arts,” Triton's big-top troupe deals in subjects otherwise absent from the traditional college curriculum including trampolining, trapeze flying, stilt-walking, juggling, and cycling (which we assume is of the “uni” variety).

In addition to circus stunting, you'll study costuming, lighting, and music scoring, all the elements you'll need to ultimately stage your own circus during the spring semester. An event popularly attended by the members of the Triton community, the annual spectacle gives Triton's Troupers a chance to produce, promote, and perform their show under the bright lights of the Robert M. Collins Gymnasium.

While participation in the Triton Troupers Circus won't net you any credits, you will get a free T-Shirt. Not only that, but your one-time entry fee makes you a lifetime member of the troupe.


American Pro Wrestling


If I have one regret from my college years, it's that I didn't spend more time studying Andre the Giant. But then, I didn't go to MIT. Had I attended this elite Institute of Technology, perhaps things would have been different. Indeed, it is MIT's course in American Pro Wrestling that earns it a second entry on our list.

It may be fair to argue that we, as a society, take for granted the profundity and cerebral depth of American pro-wrestling. On the other hand, it may also be fair to suggest that professional wrestling is little more than a bunch of anabollically-enhanced men rolling around in their underwear.

Whatever your take on the subject, this course—part of MIT's Open Courseware program—will challenge your sociocultural assumptions about pro wrestling (assuming you have any). Contained within the university's Comparative Media Studies department, the class uses American Pro Wrestling as a lens through which to explore the changing typification of masculinity over the course of recent history. By examining the characters, performances, and narratives unique to professional wrestling as it has evolved over the past seven decades, students will consider the intersection of machismo, violence, and entertainment in modern media.

Class time will be dominated by a combination of discussion, primary source viewing, and an array of guest speakers, including former WWE champion Mick Foley (who you might know better as Mankind, or Cactus Jack, or—my personal favorite—Dude Love). Homework will largely involve watching Friday Night Smackdown during your personal time.

Undertaken with direct endorsement from the WWE, this is the course of study for anybody who aspires to a career in professional wrestling or who simply wishes to learn how best to endure a suplex without fracturing a vertebrae.

Alfred University

Maple Syrup: The Real Thing


Syrup may seem like a simple American sweetener but not just anybody can study the subject at Alfred University. This Allegheny County, New York campus reserves its Maple Syrup studies for Honors students only. If that seems a bit exclusive, consider the wide spectrum of disciplines that figure into the process of yielding maple syrup.

This seminar will incorporate elements of meteorology, chemistry, botany, forestry, and cookery. Perhaps another reason for its relative exclusivity is that you have to really, really like maple syrup if you want to take this course. You'll spend long hours working in cold, snowy, and muddy conditions. Thus, if you plan to take this course, you should probably be the type of person who leaves an International House of Pancakes filled with wonder and unanswered questions.

In addition to your work in the field, you'll have the chance to visit syrup producing facilities, as well as the facilities where syrup is best enjoyed, including restaurants and festivals. Perhaps most appealing, you'll have the opportunity create and consume any number of syrup-based confections.

In addition to learning the techniques that drive modern syrup production, you will learn of the comestible's history as well. What you'll find, says the course syllabus, is a process that has been largely unchanged over its history. Indeed, we are told that the methods used to produce syrup today closely echo those employed by the Native Americans who first discovered the sweet, sticky maple extract so many centuries ago.

This is the perfect course for lovers of nature, history, and waffles.

Centre College

The Art of Walking


In this course, students pad around campus wearing shoes dipped in paint just to see what happens. Ok, that's not at all true but can you imagine if it was? The Art of Walking is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a course that produces academic extrapolation on a subject that probably doesn't need it.

Offered during the three week interim between Fall and Spring semesters on this Danville, Kentucky campus, The Art of Walking asks its participants to reconsider their relationship with such closely correlated activities as strolling, wandering, ambling, and rambling. The Art of Walking is not so much concerned with the techniques that you use to walk as with the observations that you are inclined to make while doing so.

The idea behind this course is that far too many people resist walking as a form of transportation under the assumption it is both boring and time-consuming. During each interim semester since its inception in 2002, The Art of Walking has challenged this assumption by urging participants to take notice of the beauty around them, both in nature and in everyday life. This endeavor is facilitated by the course's direct connection to Centre College's study abroad programs. In addition to the extensive constitutionals that students will undertake together on their own campus, participants will also have the chance to walk overseas.

Let me clarify. This course will not teach you how to walk on water (consult the university's Christian studies programs for instructions on this). Instead, you'll have the chance to walk in places like France, Germany, and England, where you will rediscover the joy of wandering. Perhaps more than any other course on our list, this one stresses that it is the journey and not the destination which makes life worth living.

Belmont University

"Oh, Look, a Chicken!": Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing


Are you easily distracted by bright shiny objects? Do you change the channel during commercials and forget what you were originally watching? Do you find it difficult to focus on the task at hand when you could be staring out the window at every passing bird, motorist, or mailman?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, that's kind of weird. This isn't actually a survey. Who are you even talking to?

For those of you who just silently nodded in the affirmative to these questions, you aren't alone. We, as a society, are inundated with media, information, and stimuli. Maintaining focus in the face of this constant bombardment is no easy feat. The internet is basically designed to prevent you from ever getting anything done. Admit it. You spend as much time clicking on embarrassing Buzzfeed lists as you do working. Well, fortunately, Belmont University offers a First Year Seminar course that might help you to better understand this behavior.

This Nashville, Tennessee campus has finally designed the perfect course for students with Attention Deficit Disorder. Learn how to…well, I'll be honest, it's not exactly clear what you'll learn how to do. But class discussions should cover a wide gamut of tangentially related subjects including no shortage of irrelevant non-sequiturs.
Ultimately, you should come away with a better understanding of what it means to be a distracted learn and a greater ability to cope with the varying and often unrelated sensory experiences that drive you to distraction. This means that you'll either learn how to resist clicking on those Buzzfeed links or you'll at least learn not to feel guilty and shiftless when you do.

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