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A Bwogger’s Guide To Good First-Year Classes: Fall 2020 Edition

Unsure of where to start when looking for classes? Debating on whether or not you actually want to follow through on your original plan for a major? Bwog’s here to help!

Ah, yes…the Black Friday of the fall semester. Before you know it, you’re going to have to make the most important decision yet before officially starting your journey at Columbia: selecting your courses for the fall semester. And while Vergil and MyBarnard are still unreliable with registering all available courses, and while the bulletin has a seemingly endless catalogue of options, Bwog is here to help!

No, we haven’t taken every class listed, but we can guarantee that we have taken classes. And some of our classes are so good that we want you to know that you would enjoy them! So, from our brains to yours, here is a small list of classes that you should definitely know about before making any decisions.

Core and Foundations-Related Courses:

  • First-Year Seminar: Postcolonial Comics — Professor Atefeh “Ati” Akbari
    • Although first-year seminars are Barnard’s first-year only classes, it’s important to choose a good topic. Fall 2019 was the first time this course was offered, and I happily took it. In it, we got to read various kinds of graphic novels about postcolonialism, orientalism, and colonization in typical and atypical forms. What I loved about this course is that we didn’t read all good ones. Some of the books we read were done purposefully to understand what we’re supposed to be looking for, what we’re supposed to critique, and how the plots of stories could either be about postcolonialism or a form of colonialism/postcolonialism itself. For example, we read a graphic novel called “Habibi” by Craig Thompson, which takes place in a fictional middle-eastern country and follows the life of Dodola as she experiences the challenges of life as a woman in a religious society. The book itself was very sexualized, racist, and orientalist, and we were able to use this book as a jumping-off point for understanding how white colonization affects the perspective on what middle-eastern society and Islam are, and how this book is a manifestation of that. In contrast, another book we read was “Embroideries” by Marjane Satrapi, which shares the experience of the women of an Iranian family (and some female friends) drinking tea and discussing their sex lives, all of which are from different times, backgrounds, and personalities. This story, based on Satrapi’s actual life with her family, opens up the discussion of female sexuality and shows the reality of living as a woman in a religious society that is perceived to be anti-woman. What’s fantastic about reading only graphic novels is also beginning to understand the use of illustration and handwriting in terms of literary analysis. If you can, take this class. Professor Akbari is an incredibly intelligent and kind professor, and this course is a perfect way to start off your first year at college and begin to understand the importance of literary context.
  • University Writing: Performance Arts
    • Everyone in CC/SEAS is required to take University Writing, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring! The Performance Arts section brings in multiple aspects of culture, social constructs, humanity, and more to the stage, seeing how our world is often interpreted through the lens of theatre, art, and music. You read essays by Tennessee Williams, Susan Sontag, John Keats, and more, all while looking at famous paintings, documentaries, and films. It’s more than just indulging in the performance arts; its using our culture as a means to understand deeper topics and qualities of our social world! Even the ‘STEM’-iest STEM people enjoyed this class, so I’d look out for it!

STEM Courses:

  • Applied Statistical Computing (offered in the spring) – The statistics department’s intro coding class that teaches you how to code in R programming, which is maybe a useless coding language if you’re not doing statistics (and even if you are?), but is a super fun class. Wayne Lee, who taught it in spring 2020, was a magical man. When he is not busy being a statistician, he is a dancer, and those two energies combined are just incredible. He was the most approachable professor I had all year and was always super, super helpful during office hours. Learning how to code—especially if you really, really do not want to but have to for your major (like me)—is a roller coaster of an experience with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This was an emotional journey of a course, but a genuinely good one.
  • Frontiers of Astrophysics – Caleb Scharf
    • This is a really great way to learn about different astronomy and astrophysics research going on around campus if you’re thinking about the major. It’s a one-credit class and super fun way to spend your Friday morning!
  • Discrete Math is a fun time because you get to learn a lot about logic. Even if you’re not super STEM-y, there’s a lot of plusses to taking that class
  • If you need to take Calculus with anyone, take it with Lindsay Piechnik (she’s teaching Calculus II this semester). This has been the only math class I’ve ever taken here where I feel like I fully understood the material and felt really good after taking Calc with her! She’s also a super fun and engaging professor and really genuinely nice.
  • UI Design – Professor Lydia Chilton (offered in the spring)
    • Her teaching style was really motivating and got me to stay engaged in class. The course allowed for a lot of creative freedom which isn’t something you really get in computer science courses here.

Courses for the Social Sciences:

  • Intro to American Politics – Professor Michael Miller
    • This is definitely one of the best classes that I’ve ever taken in my entire life. Miller gives you a no-bullshit, in-depth history of the American government and an analysis of American politics that’s incredibly interesting and super useful. You also get to simulate a U.S. House floor vote and are assigned specific Congressional representatives to represent in the vote, and, in recitation, have your own Congressional committee and discuss actual bills and vote on amendments. If you’re majorly interested in politics or just want a background in it, take this class. It’s life-changing.
  • Intro to Urban Studies – Professor Aaron Passell
    • This class is not like a traditional intro. Passell’s teaching style is based predominantly on readings and then the discussion of those readings in class. Regardless, you get a well-rounded introduction to Urban Studies and the billion different intersecting topics that are bound up in it. You learn about things like urban design, the sociology of cities, mass incarceration, and the sexism of suburbanization, among others. It’s amazing.
  • Fundamentals of Global Health – Professor Dr. Rachel Moresky, MD (I had to put her doctor stuff in here because she deserves to be known!!)
    • This course is unlike most other intro courses you’ll take during your time in college. Each class session is taught by a different instructor, all of whom are incredibly well-read and intelligent, and are leaders in the public health field, and each lecture is on a different subject, like global drug policy, climate change and health, social determinants, and malaria. These instructors are often some of the most powerful public health figures in the world, some having led the CDC, the WHO, Doctors Without Borders, and other medical organizations. Moresky is an extremely intelligent professor who leads these guest lectures and discussions and, sometimes, gives lectures of her own, which are also amazing. If you’re interested in social sciences or STEM (especially if you’re pre-med), take this class.

Humanities Courses:

  • Intro to European Intellectual History
    • Beginning in the Enlightenment and ending with post-structuralism, this course covers all the intellectual, literary, and artistic movements throughout Europe, revealing how single ideas can spark revolution and major change in politics and culture. The professor explains and condenses difficult topics into easily digestible notes, and the course itself is a lot of fun. It is taught in the fall, and it can be taken at any year! And yes, this course makes you read over 15 books and a LOT of essays, but the supplemental material is both extremely interesting and well-selected to help you understand the specific movements and styles used and popularized in different time periods of European history.
  • Latin American Civilizations I/II
    • These courses really help you understand Latin American history, from the well-known origins, to the unclear (often romanticized and warped) histories of the Cold War era. This class was designed for everyone, so if you’re either a history major or an engineer, this class will still be very informative and fun! You read original speeches by famous Latin American leaders, as well as textbooks (some written by Columbia professors) to get a better picture and understanding of the objective reality of Latin American History.
  • 20th Century Britain
    • I took a history course on 19th Century Britain in the Spring, so the sequel, with my understanding of the first course, will be just as interesting, if not more. Professor Susan Pederson is a brilliant woman with dedication and deep knowledge about the history of this country, and even though it’s dense and a lot of material to cover, she explains everything very well and is very responsive with questions. The assignments aren’t going to be too bad, and all the supplemental material was really interesting. So, based on my experience with 19th Century Britain, I can guarantee that 20th Century Britain will have the same great quality of education as its predecessor.

Now that you’ve taken a look at some of the classes we think would add to your overall experience, here are some tips about scheduling in general that might help with some of your decisions:

  • If the class you want to take says that class days are on “R”, that means “Thursday.” You’d be surprised at how long that took me to figure that out.
  • Scheduling classes with a ten-minute gap is possible, even if both are in-person and are on opposite sides of campus. Wear comfortable shoes if so.
  • Take a language course. Yeah, if you don’t test out of it, you’ll have to anyway, but the language departments are really good (and might inspire you to double major)! Also, the sooner you take it, the better you’ll do. And if you do test out of it, at least take a conversations course if available; you’d be surprised at how much progress you’ll make if you just focus on communicating with other students in a foreign language.

Now, happy shopping!

what to take, what to take via Columbia University Directory

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3 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous thank you so much for the advice!! – incoming freshman here :D

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous i’m sorry who the fuck recommended incoming freshman take Discrete Math and applied statistical computing for their first semester???

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Discrete math is like baby’s first college math class, chill out brother

      2
      1
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