University Core Curriculum
Module I: Engaging Academic Inquiry

Inquiry Seminar in the Natural Sciences

  • Courses that introduce students to the subjects and methods of inquiry of the natural sciences by engaging in focused study of one or more particularly important questions arising from a natural science discipline. These courses introduce students to key concepts, knowledge, and principles of the relevant discipline as they relate to the questions being studied in the individual section. They are not intended to be survey courses or broad introductions to the discipline, but should be content-rich, with the content revolving around and connected to the central questions being studied.

    These courses engage students in studying questions about the physical/biological universe. All sections incorporate the direct examination of natural phenomena in either laboratory or field settings; use observation to develop and evaluate principles and hypotheses; and explore how knowledge of key scientific principles can be used to understand and interpret observations.

    Sample Sections

    Fierce Creatures: How Evolution Shapes Life on Earth

    Faculty: Heather Brown

    Why do giraffes have longer necks than zebras?  Why do we have wisdom teeth, if we don't need them?  From the tiniest bacterium to the largest tree, evolution shapes the biology of all organisms on the planet.  In this course, we will explore how evolution creates fantastic life forms with amazing adaptations, and generates the incredible biodiversity on our planet.

    Fire and Ice

    Faculty: Lyn Gualtieri

    The overarching question this seminar addresses is "What is the relationship between volcanoes (fire) and glaciers (ice), and how have these seemingly opposing forces shaped the landscape?"  You will design your own research questions, conduct your own geologic fieldwork, collect your own data, and learn how to apply the scientific method in a geologic setting.  You will participate in fieldtrips to Cascade volcanoes and their associated glaciers.

    Natural Disasters: Causes and History

    Faculty: David Boness 

    This seminar engages the student in seeing science as a form of detective work, incorporating concepts and methods from geosciences, physics, chemistry, and biology to study natural disasters, such as asteroid impacts, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis.  No previous college-level background in science is necessary.  The course makes use of seminar discussion, laboratory experience to teach physical concepts, written work (including a student research project), and oral presentation.

  • Learning Objectives

    All sections of this course introduce students to subjects, contents, methods, and perspectives of Natural Science disciplines.

    Students' mathematical and quantitative reasoning skills are strengthened through engaging students in careful measurement and analysis of numerical data.

    Together with several other courses that explore different disciplines, this course helps students understand and value the breadth and diversity of academic inquiry.

    All freshman-level inquiry seminars help students develop as thoughtful writers of effective academic prose.

    The oral presentation incorporated in this course helps students develop confidence and basic skills in public speaking.