Ten courses that will blow your mind

a weather baloon

The delivery of education may have changed in the time of COVID-19, but the excitement of learning has not. Discovery, exploration, creation, and conversation are hallmarks of learning, and you can still find them all in courses offered at the University of Minnesota.

Here are 10 introductory level courses that illustrate why education can be fun—and relevant—in today’s world. And if none of these pique your imagination, take a look at the Schedule Builder, with courses from A to Z.

Ballooning: Design, Build, and Fly (Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics)
Does now feel like a good time to get away from it all? Then why not head to outer space in your own DIY craft? In this hands-on course, students hone spacecraft-building skills, including microcontroller programming, soldering, and CAD, then design and build miniature spacecraft and use (relatively) inexpensive helium-filled weather balloons to carry them into the stratosphere (AKA “near-space”), which has many of the same physical properties (and views!) as outer space. The course includes discussion and activities associated with full-fledged spaceflight, including the scientific accomplishments and engineering challenges of past, current, and future missions.

Cultural Heritage and Environmental Change in Gullah/Geechee Nation (Geography)
Did you know that within the United States there exists an internationally recognized nation with a unique language and traditions? Along the eastern coast of the U.S., a queen presides over the Gullah/Geechee Nation. In fact, this course is co-taught by Queen Quet, the chieftess and head of state of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.

The Gullah/Geechee people are descended from freed and escaped enslaved Africans. The course explores the thorny challenges at the intersection of cultural heritage and environmental change by engaging with the case of the Gullah/Geechee people, who today still live on land their ancestors bought during Reconstruction and practice traditional fishing and farming.

Social Change, Social Justice: An Introduction to Applied Calculus (Curriculum and Instruction)
Can you understand social justice through mathematics? The short answer is yes. The long answer you’ll find by taking this class, which offers an introduction to differential calculus: instantaneous rates of change, derivative graphs and formulas, multivariate scenarios, partial derivatives, and integration. Applications focus on analyzing change in social science scenarios such as gentrification and racial disparities in housing using authentic Minnesota data.

Blackness and Reality Television (African American and African Studies)
For some people, the proliferation of reality television and the roles Black participants have played in it has been welcome, while for others it has been a major cause for concern, particularly given the complex history of Black representation in U.S. public culture. In this course, students consider what is at stake in the cultural battles over reality television and the fraught history of Black media representation. The final six weeks of the course are dedicated to a reality television-style competition among groups of students.

How Insects Shape Society: Pollinators, Pests, and Policy (Entomology)
Do you eat genetically modified foods, or do you avoid them? Vaccinate, or not vaccinate? Did you know these are in part insect related questions? Insects make up more than half of the living organisms on this planet, and they have a profound effect in shaping human society and culture. Even so, insects are swatted, stomped, squished, and otherwise misunderstood. This course examines the interactions between insects and humans, focusing on how insects dictate human actions, policies, and behaviors.

Arrow, Fist, and Sword: Conceptions of the Hero in Asian Cultures (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies)
The world always needs a hero, but what defines that, exactly? This course explores origin concepts of the "hero" in Persian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cultures: How did various societies define "hero," how did versions of the hero change over time, and how was the hero redefined in the context of modern nationalism? The course also covers gender roles among heroes, popular film representation, and more.

American Indians in Minnesota (American Indian Studies)
The State of Minnesota’s name comes from the Daḳota name for this region, Mni Sota Maḳoce: "the land where the waters reflect the skies." In fact, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus is built within the traditional homelands of the Daḳota people. This course explores the history, culture, and lived experience of American Indian people in Minnesota, including the self-representation and histories of Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and Dakota peoples through film, music, oral traditions, and written texts.

The Journey of Food in Your Body (Animal Science)
Explore the fascinating journey of food, from how the digestive system works to how nutrients are taken up by our bodies. The course runs the full gauntlet of food: fast and slow food, diets, bugs, and poop. Students fact-check popular Internet claims and learn how to distinguish well-supported information from the bogus. Students also learn to search and read scientific papers and understand the basics of technical writing in the field.

Migrants, Refugees, Citizens, and Exiles: The U.S. on an Immigrant Planet (American Studies)
Immigration is a political topic du jour, but to understand immigration in the present, one must look to the past. This course explores immigration to the United States at various historical periods and across geographical/political terrains, examining how immigration, as a national/racial project, is shaped by legal categories and practices based on race, class, gender, and sexuality.

The Art in Science (Chemistry)
It may seem strange to discuss art within a chemistry course, but science is indeed an art, and likewise there is much art in science. From beautiful and inspiring photographs, videos, and sculptures, science can be a source of inspiration for art. Conversely, artworks in many media are powerful tools to understand and explain science. Students in this course discuss the vision of science and how it can be portrayed in art, explore research ongoing at the University of Minnesota, and create an art project such as a journal cover or a photography portfolio to illustrate their vision.


Want more? Take an in-depth look and view a slideshow of one of the U of M's most popular courses: Product Innovation Lab (formerly Toy Product Design).