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The physics of baseball, food around the world, and other ‘minimester’ classes to check out

The special topics courses are being offered at VCU as part of three mini-semesters this spring.
a baseball batter as a pitch comes in

A class on pseudoscience? Learning about physics through baseball? This spring, students at Virginia Commonwealth University can take courses like these in five- or eight-week mini-semesters designed to allow them to explore new educational topics.

Among the classes being offered during three “minimesters” are “Theatre Appreciation,” which takes students backstage and behind the process of putting together a theatrical production, and “Pseudoscience,” a course that critically evaluates controversial fringes of scientific inquiry, such as those related to paranormal investigations and quack medicine.

Special topics classes like these give students “the opportunity to take courses that they’re excited about or interested in, that we think will keep them motivated to continue pursuing their degrees,” Tomikia LeGrande, Ph.D., vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success, told VCU News.

Here’s a look at some notable minimester courses being offered:

Food for Thought (UNIV 211)

February term (Feb. 15-March 19); instructor: Joe Cates

Cates, a VCU M.F.A. graduate and an assistant professor in the Department of Focused Inquiry, previously worked as a chef and food writer. He’s been teaching “Food for Thought” since its inception 10 years ago.

“It’s my favorite class to teach,” he said.

At its core, the course examines food security and insecurity in the local community. Students keep a food journal for two weeks and read articles that explore food and food systems through a variety of lenses, including sociology, anthropology, philosophy, art, literature, history, political science, psychology, economics and religious studies.

In the class, students explore the factors that have shaped the human diet across time and across the globe, right up to contemporary times, and how collective eating habits shape diets and food production methods. Cates has updated the curriculum this spring to look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the food industry. And his class will tackle the question of why we suffer from food insecurity in a society that has an abundance of food.

The Physics of Baseball (PHYS 291)

March term (March 29-May 4); instructor: Patrick Woodworth, Ph.D.

What makes a curveball curve? How much power is generated when a batter hits a home run? Woodworth, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics, will lead students on an exploration of these questions and more in “The Physics of Baseball,” a study of topics in introductory physics as applied to America’s national pastime.

“The great thing about baseball is that there are so many first-semester physics concepts that apply,” said Woodworth, who earned his doctoral degree in nanoscience from VCU in 2018 and teaches courses in interdisciplinary science and physics in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Students in Woodworth’s class will examine topics such as motion, projectiles, forces, collisions and energy. The five-week course begins March 29.

Theatre Appreciation (THEA 291)

Spring minimester (March 8-May 5); instructor: Virginia Donnell, Ph.D.

In “Theatre Appreciation,” an eight-week course designed with theater audiences in mind, Donnell, an adjunct instructor in the School of the Arts, aims to build “an enriched appreciation, understanding and critical perception of live theater performance.” The class will provide students with an introduction to theater as both art form and live event, with a focus on the fundamentals of theater and the process behind putting together a theatrical production.

Donnell has been working in theater and teaching for over 30 years, and her course, which begins March 8, will feature close examinations of recorded performances of landmark productions, including “Medea,” “A Doll’s House” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Learn more about VCU’s minimesters in our recent interview with Tomikia LeGrande. And check out the full list of spring classes.

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