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Life-Changing Classes

Christie DeNizio '12 helps student in painting class

Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Christie DeNizio '12

A Swarthmore education has the power to shape and transform in unexpected ways. Here, Swarthmore students and alumni reflect on how their classes have had a significant impact on their academic and professional journeys.

Foundation Drawing, with Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Christie DeNizio '12

"Foundation Drawing with Professor DeNizio provided me with a new perspective that was different from my experience in STEM classes. Specifically, I think I learned how to appreciate the subtle beauty in the colors, shades, and shapes of life around me." — Jeffrey Mun '20, a biology major from Seoul, South Korea

Introduction to Art History, with Scheuer Family Professor Emeritus of Humanities Michael Cothren

"As with any class at Swarthmore, it taught me to look beyond the page, and in this case toward canvas, marble, and fresco. We explored the world through a different lens than what I was familiar with, given I had spent the prior three-and-a-half years focused on political science and economics. (Why didn’t I take art history sooner?!) I walked away appreciating and examining the world with a much fuller perspective." — Kyle White ’08, a marketing and communications manager with MarketAxess

Introduction to Computer Science, with Assistant Professor of Computer Science Joshua Brody

"I'm so grateful to have taken this. I left high school feeling pretty unenthusiastic about computer science, as the introductory classes were always confusing and relied on students passively memorizing snippets of code. I decided to give CS another try at Swarthmore, in large part because so many students recommended the intro class. For once, I felt like the various topics actually worked together cohesively, and I was strengthening my logical thinking in a way that could be applicable to bigger problems in the future. Professor Brody recognized that some students were taking the class so that they could use the tools in bio or other fields, making the ideas we were learning seem much more useful and interesting. By the end of freshman year, I decided to pursue a computer science major—a decision I would’ve been far from making a few years ago." — Alice Huang ’22, a computer science major from Chicago, Ill.

The Meaning of Life and the Russian Novel, with Assistant Professor of Russian José Vergara 

"It really changed the way that I think. Not only was I exposed to Russian literature, which I had never studied before, I was also exposed to a whole host of lived experiences that related to this literature so differently. It made me reflect on how we all relate with what we learn based on who we are and what we’ve been through, as well as how to navigate these differences without negating other people’s lives. On a less academic level, it taught me a lot about the incarceration system in the U.S., as well as how to break down preconceived notions and stereotypes to just see people for who they are." — Aria Parikh ’20, a psychology and peace & conflict studies major from Mumbai, India

Professor Ahmad Shokr instructs a class

Assistant Professor of History Ahmad Shokr 

Autocrats, Activists, and Artists Changing the Middle East, with Assistant Professor of History Ahmad Shokr

"The way that Professor Shokr gave us the tools to think about the world was unparalleled." — Grayson Mick ’21, an honors economics major from Columbus, Ohio

President's Sustainability Research Fellowship Program

"This program was a really impactful learning experience for me. It combines an academic course with an internship, in which students are paired with faculty-staff mentors to implement sustainability projects across campus. I gained valuable experience with project management and learned and practiced many skills that have since helped me function more efficiently and effectively both as a student and professionally. I think that the reason the President's Sustainability Research Fellowship program stands out so much is because it really challenged me to combine theory with action, translating abstract concepts and ideas into tangible solutions and change. It presented an unconventional pedagogical approach and learning experience that has stood out as unique." — Terrence Xiao ’20, an environmental studies and engineering major from Beijing, China

War and Peace: Russian Literature and Culture, with Visiting Assistant Professor of Russian Michael Pesenson

"The Russian Novel challenged my way of thinking through thought exercises academically and even religiously. As someone who focused on the hard sciences, I found it brilliantly refreshing and eye-opening to delve so deeply into the abstract and exact meaning, or sometimes no meaning, which left you thinking creatively and expressively, which was also so cathartic." — Daniel Hwang ’11, a computer science graduate student at Johns Hopkins University

Sa'ed Atshan passes out papers in class

Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Sa'ed Atshan '06

Gender, Sexuality, and Social Change, with Assistant Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Sa'ed Atshan '06

"I went into the class a little nervous, as I had no idea what we’d be exploring, but from the very first minute, I was challenged and pushed to view the world in a very different way. The first section of the class studied religious texts and homosexuality, and this was very transformative for me. I have always been intimidated by religious texts, but this class gave me guidance and confidence for critiquing and analyzing the texts. I was also able to engage with material about gender discrimination and peaceful protests against it, which continue to inspire me to this day. This class gave me the personal confidence to go after what I’m truly passionate about, and definitively set me on the track to my peace & conflicts studies major. I am immensely grateful." —  Giorgia Piantanida ’20, a peace & conflict studies and environmental studies major from Massapequa, N.Y.

An Introduction to Education, with Visiting Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Roseann Liu

"It rocked my whole world. I thought that my educational experiences leading up to Swarthmore were normal, somehow organically designed. And that quickly changed when I learned about the systematic engineering of my traditional schooling. I saw myself as the Queen: the champion of my education. And now I was a pawn. I will say though, I no longer see myself through that lens. Now, I am the creator of my experiences and am determined to reimagine education. I am committed to helping others recognize and actualize their limitless potential. This is largely due to the imbalance and injustice pervading the schooling system that I learned about through Intro Ed, personal experiences, and more; but also because I was meant to create something new. Learning must be in sync with what it means to live and be alive. I am committed to recentering learning as creation." — Karen Avila ’20, a sociology & anthropology and educational studies special major from New York, N.Y.

Linear Algebra Honors Seminar, with Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Deb Bergstrand 

"It changed my life. Before coming to Swarthmore, I thought mathematics was a solitary ritual where people blankly stare at the blackboard or scribble exotic symbols, patiently waiting for their 'Aha!' moment. On my first day, Deb explained how to write proper mathematics proof. Guess what? It should read like well-organized prose: Every sentence begins with a capital letter and contains one key idea. Moreover, how mathematicians phrase each sentence within a proof reveals their habit of mind and their personality. This class taught me to see people beyond the theorems they have worked on and to appreciate their humanity. This insight has influenced my work philosophy as a Writing Associate and a computer science peer mentor: to work with students, not just with their papers or their codes. Every person’s journey matters." — Peem Lerdputtipongporn ’21, of Nonthaburi, Thailand

Alexandra Gueydan-Turek teaches course in seminar room

Associate Professor of French Alexandra Gueydan Turek

Intensive First Year French Language, with Associate Professor of French Alexandra Gueydan-Turek

"When I began taking French lessons in my freshman year, I didn’t know any French. Once I met Professor Gueydan-Turek, I was touched by her enthusiasm and the whole world she made us discover through the study of language. That motivated me to learn more and more. Thanks to her teaching, I was able to study abroad and intern in France, achieve full fluency in French language, and eventually relocate to Paris, where I now live." — Renan Meira Gascho ’19, an M.A. candidate at Institut Français de la Mode

Bible and Politics, with Associate Professor of Religion Gwynn Kessler

"It allowed me to acknowledge my gay identity’s co-existence with my faith. It gave me the ability to find a home within a space that is usually used to justify hatred and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community." — Ramiro Hernandez ’23 of Hidalgo, Texas

International Politics, with Assistant Professor of Political Science Emily Paddon Rhoads

"I learned the importance of learning where other people are coming from and how they view the world. There is power in understanding, and this class allowed me to understand many different perspectives to the same systems in a digestible way. This class taught me how to distinguish and apply key epistemological and ontological differences to texts and essays, which gave me more confidence in approaching new theorists." — Lucy Fetterman ’22 of New York, N.Y.

Contemporary Irish Poetry, with Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English Literature Nathalie Anderson

"Poetry has always been a window into the human experience, but this class opened my imagination to what language can do. In reading Paul Muldoon’s work (and later attending his poetry reading at The Rosenbach with Professor Anderson), I unearthed layers of wit and narrative invention that taught me how to be a more keen observer of the world and to express the stories in my life through my own practice of writing poetry." — Iris Chan ’17, a research assistant in the Zon Lab of Harvard Medical School

Control Theory and Design, with Visiting Professor of Engineering Mike Piovoso

"The content of this course gave me a new perspective on how fundamentally systems can be modeled and controlled though feedback to achieve a desired state. The underlying concepts of Control Theory pervaded many aspects of my life, but I particularly found interest in the connection between controls and plant biology. Connie Bowen ’16 [now a partner at Farmacopia Farms] and I built a controlled environment climate cell to study and optimize water and nutrient-use efficiency for watercress crops. The ability to apply theory from coursework to a real-world project was a critical step in my education and made me realize what I wanted to do post-graduation." — Jess Karol ’16, an M.Sc. candidate in sustainability management at the Earth Institute at Columbia University

Denise Crossan between two students

Lang Visiting Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Denise Crossan (center)

Social Innovation Lab Seminar with Lang Visiting Professor of Peace & Conflict Studies Denise Crossan

"It afforded a group of us the chance to not only study pertinent global conflicts but also fully embrace the essence of bridging our education at Swarthmore to enact pragmatic change in the world around us. Specifically, my peers and I were matched with community leaders spanning from Japan to Northern Ireland. The ability to constantly engage with these leaders furthered our understanding of leadership and innovation by offering a remarkable opportunity to travel abroad on two distinct trips. The support shown by the Lang Center to offer this seminar attests to a unique commitment to change the lives of Swatties through opportunities that deepen our personal growth and civic engagement." — Chris Gaeta ’22 of Lincroft, N.J.

Modernism and Forgetting Honors Seminar, with Assistant Professor of English Literature Sangina Patnaik 

"It’s the reason I’m in grad school! She not only introduced us to some mind-blowing texts, but also taught me how to read through confusion and discomfort. Because of her, I have learned to find what is useful in frustration and alienation, both on the page and in my own life." — Alessandra Occhiolini ’17, a literary studies graduate student at the University of Wisconsin

Global Capitalism Since 1920, with Franklin and Betty Barr Professor of Economics Stephen Golub

"It exposed me to the tumultuous and complex realm of real-world economic application. Unlike previous classes, Global Capitalism allowed me to use previously learned theory to explore debated stances on topics such as government intervention, financial institutions, and globalization. This course introduced me to a number of historical events, a diverse array of country case studies, and various economists’ perspectives. It inspired me to pursue opportunities that focus on real-world application of economic theory. Since this past summer, I have continued to work with Professor Golub as a research assistant, co-writing an official report for the U.N. on export diversification in least developed countries. Not only has this research built off of the material I learned in Global Capitalism, but it has also provided me with a more personal adviser-advisee relationship and a wealth of knowledge I am proud to share." — Alaina Chen ’21, an honors economics major from Carson City, Nev.

The Urban Underclass and Public Policy, with Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves ’88

"I took the class because I thought it sounded kind of interesting and I left it committed to wanting to work in some area of public policy and law." — Vamsi Damerla ’19, a J.D. candidate at Columbia Law School

Keith Reeves instructs course

Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves ’88

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