July 19, 2002

An Array of Classes Draws New Students

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It’s huge, it’s entertaining, and it’s crammed with students. And it’s not a hockey game.

It’s Psychology 101, and every year 1,600 students take the course taught in the 2,000 capacity Bailey Hall.

The reason that students pile into the popular elective in droves is not a mystery: sometimes for a reputation of an easy grade, sometimes for an interesting subject, sometimes for an entertaining professor.

“Psych 101 is just a fabulous mix of many ideas and concepts,” said Katie Heley ’05, who took the course out of an interest in psychology and the course’s fame — t is the world’s largest single lecture course, according to the New York Times.

“Everyone at Cornell should take it.”

And many have. Recently, Prof. James Maas, psychology, the course’s instructor for 39 years, counted over 50,000 alumni students.

The course is all the more exceptional because it so depends upon the quality

of the solo lecturer, which often include demonstrations and short video clips.

Another popular course, Art, Archaeology, and Analysis, has a interdisciplinary approach: bring together five professors from five different academic departments and apply the methods of science to analyze objects from art and archaeology.

“It’s a hybrid class,” said Ben Gianforti ’05. “You get five, six, seven perspectives on the same topic.”

The course is listed as Archaeology 285, Engineering 185, Geology 200, History of Art 200, and Physics 200.

Field trips (last year to the Corning Museum of Glass, the Ward Nuclear Laboratory on campus, and the Malcolm and Carolyn Wiener Dendrochronology Laboratory in the basement of Goldwin Smith), frequent guest lectures and interactive demonstrations on paper making, painting techniques, light and paleontology all add an unusual element to the course.

But that’s not all that makes the course different.

“I’d describe [Prof. Peter] Kuniholm, [archaeology and history of art] as Foghorn Leghorn and Archimedes from Sword in the Stone combined,” Gianforti said, referring to the Looney Tunes’ impetuous, booming fowl and Archimedes, the learned owl.

Prof. W. Stanley Taft, art, is a co-author of the course’s textbook, “The Science of Paintings”; Lecturer John Chiment, paleontology, led an excavation of a mastodon found in the Chemung River two years ago with course students; Prof. Robert Silsbee, physics, and Prof. Robert Kay, geology, complete the course’s roster of performer-professors.

“As little as I actually learned, I got a good grade, I filled a science requirement, and I enjoyed the course,” Gianforti concluded.

Other Favorites

With a title like “Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds” it’s no wonder that Prof. George Hudler, plant pathology, captivates an audience of approximately 300 each spring.

“It wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be,” said Daniela Avrahim ’05. “There were lots of interesting lectures and lab demonstrations.”

Hudler shows would-be mycologists how fungus impacts everyday life.

“It wasn’t too science-heavy,” said Puja Gupta ’05. “It was really great.”

Of course, there is also the semi-famous Hotel Administration 430: Introduction to Wines, but, because of state drinking laws, don’t plan on taking that until senior year.

Some courses are just too good for freshmen.

Archived article by Peter Norlander