Interesting classes at MU range from Amish studies to social biotechnology

Thursday, July 25, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA —  There is far more to academic life at MU than the standard general education requirements such as chemistry and college Algebra.  MU has many interesting and challenging courses to offer.  

Here are three such courses that, while offered by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, are open and relevant to those in any field of study.

Rural Sociology 1150 – The Amish Community

For those who are fans of the shows "Breaking Amish" and "Amish Mafia," a class called "The Amish Community" should be a perfect fit. Taught by Caroline Brock, this three-credit course explores three questions about the Amish: 

  • Who are they?
  • How and why do they resist certain aspects of modern American life and embrace others? How does this vary from settlement to settlement?
  • What contributes to their success, and what can we learn from them?

The course explores the history of the Amish church from its beginnings, as well as the rituals and customs that make up Amish life, how the Amish are portrayed in popular culture and media and whether this depiction is accurate.  

The course takes an interdisciplinary approach, covering religion, agriculture, economics, peace studies and sociology. 

Ag Econ 3241 – Ethical Issues in Agriculture

This course discusses issues such as animal welfare, the environment and sustainability, to name just a few. But it is a little bit different from the average lecture.

"Instead of 80 percent material and 20 percent opinion, it's reversed," said course instructor Harvey James Jr. Students should be prepared to not only give their opinion on ethical subjects but also to back them up.  

The course work includes class discussions, case studies, a group project, and because this a writing-intensive class, several writing assignments.

The writing assignments are first evaluated as "acceptable" or "not acceptable." If the student gets a "not acceptable," the paper can be re-written as many times as necessary to reach an "acceptable" level. Once the paper is acceptable, it is then given a score of between 20 and 25 points.

Another part of the course is a group project. The students make a documentary film and post it on YouTube.

Harvey has some advice for those interested in the course: "Be prepared to think, to speak and to defend your reasons verbally and in your writing." 

Bio Chem 2112 – Biotechnology in Society.

Biotechnology in Society is a course that looks at the way biotech affects human society, with a survey of issues and terminology.  

Sharyn Freyermuth said she enjoys the teaching this class because she can bring in topics that are timely. She teaches the science behind the news.

Another aspect she enjoys is the relevance to everyone, regardless of major, and the importance of teaching students to be informed citizens.

She does have a warning:

"It's hard to do well if you don't come," she said. "Attendance is important. It's not impossible to learn the material on your own, but you miss out on the in-class assignments, and you can't make up those points."


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