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Lifelong Learning: On-Campus

Lifelong Learning at Swarthmore

During the spring 2019 semester all On-Campus and Center City courses will meet four times instead of the usual eight. Tuition will reflect this change. Tuition is $275 per course and we will apply a discount of $50 per course if you sign up for all three (even if one is canceled), and/or if you have never taken a LLS course. 

Spring 2019 Course: How Computers Compute  (LLS 185)

Meets Thursdays, 6:45–9:15 p.m.
March 7–28
Science Center, Room 102

Computers are ubiquitous in modern society, touching on every aspect of our lives. Computers run workplaces, and they allow people to communicate with family and friends, watch YouTube videos, read books, and play games. They are embedded—so far—in things like thermostats, children’s toys, car engines, and pacemakers. Yet most people have little idea how a computer actually works.

This course seeks to remedy that for its students.  We will look at some early computing machines before focusing on the technology that powers modern computers.  

Major topics

  • Fundamental building blocks of computers
  • Dissecting a computer and exploring what’s inside
  • The major components, including the central processing unit, memory, and storage
  • Communication among computers, including wifi, routers, and the internet
  • The future of computing.


Rich Wicentowski, professor of computer science at Swarthmore. His research interests are in natural language processing. Recently published projects include determining the sentiment expressed in Twitter messages and building categorical summaries of clinical trial applications.  In his upper-level course, “Natural Language Processing,” Rich’s students build systems that can identify hyperpartisanship in news articles.


Spring 2019 Course: Do You Have a Gut Feeling? (LLS 186)

Meets Tuesdays, 6:45–9:15 p.m.
April 2–23
Martin Hall, room 210

The microbes that live in our digestive tracks (our gut microbiome) enhance our physical health.  Now there is compelling evidence that they also influence our behavior and emotional well-being. Recent advances in technology allow us to sample and characterize our gut microbiome population with ease and accuracy.  The trillions of inhabitants in our gut communicate with our brain using chemical messages that may interfere with or enhance normal neurotransmitter function.

For this course no prior background in science is necessary.  The only prerequisite is curiosity.

Major topics 

  • What does a ‘normal’ microbiome profile look like, and how much is determined by genetics, diet and environment?
  • In what ways can our microbiome influence our emotions and behavior? (Just how do those starchy, sometimes greasy, ‘comfort foods’ calm us down when we are stressed out?)
  • How does antibiotic treatment (and our recovery from it) influence our gut microbiome?
  • What is the difference between a prebiotic and a probiotic in how they influence our microbiome?


I Contain Multitudes: The microbes within us and a grander view of life by Ed Yong
Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and survival in a bacterial world by Jessica Snyder Sachs
The Mind-Gut Connection: How the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts our mood, our choices and our overall health by Emeran Mayer


Amy Cheng Vollmer is the Isaac H. Clothier Professor of Biology. She has been at Swarthmore since 1989, teaching microbiology, biotechnology and metabolism. She has received wide recognition for her research in microbiology. Amy is especially dedicated to promoting science literacy on and off campus. She previously taught the LLS course “Why We Get Sick—or Don’t.”