Complex Problems

The AU Core First-Year Seminar

Complex Problems Seminars

Complex Problems Seminars, taken in the fall or spring of your first year at American University, use real-world problems or enduring questions to cultivate your intellectual flexibility for future work at the university and beyond. Each of these small, 3-credit seminars is taught by a leading, full-time professor at AU and offers opportunities to consider a variety of perspectives and practice scholarly methods of inquiry. The seminars include unique co-curricular experiences, sending you off campus or bringing area experts to the classroom to foster connections among ideas and experiences. In each seminar, a Program Leader (a sophomore, junior, or senior student) partners with your instructor to provide academic and social support, and to encourage classroom, community, and campus engagement.

Find Your Seminar

Browse the catalog of seminar descriptions published on Edspace before registering for Complex Problems. The detailed descriptions allow you to find an available seminar that sparks your curiosity, speaks to your passions, or challenges you to consider new ideas.

Current and Future Seminars
Seminar Title Faculty Description Link Offered
#BroadwaySoDiverse Blustein, Nathan Many scholars have regarded the 21st century to be watershed era for inclusiveness on Broadway. This course examines a chronology of such representation on "The Great White Way," including titles from... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
21st Century Silk Road Nakshbendi, Ghiyath How will the revival of the Silk Road via the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative increase the connectivity between nations and facilitate trade to the benefit of all parties when each country has the... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
A Problem Like Maria Garrett, Caimeen This course examines why nannies are trusted with our dearest possession, our children, yet are viewed with ambivalence and why there has been such little curiosity, in terms of biography... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Act Like a Man Kippola, Karl This course examines the search for and performance of ideal models of American manhood on theatrical, political, and social stages. Through investigating gender theory and masculinity studies, readin... Read Full Description 
AIDS in America Since the first diagnosed case in June 1981, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has impacted millions of Americans. As one of the most harmful epidemic in recent history, the HIV/AIDS crisis provides critical insight into US history, politics and society. What is the meaning of AIDS? To what extent is AIDS a social construction... Read Full Description 
Antisemitism: Enduring Hatred Nadell, Pamela Hatred of the Jewish people and Judaism appeared in antiquity and continues to this very day.  The phenomenon puzzles scholars, pundits, politicians, Jews, and people around the world.... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Arab-Feminist-Muslim-Queer Resistance Young, Gay The course asks & and attempts to answer & the question: How is critical understanding of Arab/Muslim social experiences changed when we put ideas about gender and sexuality at the forefront of the a... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Asia's Conflict "Flashpoints" Calabrese, John Why do interstate conflicts occur? What causes them to become intractable or to escalate in intensity such that they threaten regional or international security? To what extent could, or should the U.... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Borders, Migration & Globalization Castaneda, Ernesto Borders, migration, and globalization are terms invoked by the media and in everyday conversations; but it is important to dig deeply to understand what these terms mean. This course studies policies ... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Branding Nations and Cultures Branding Nations and Cultures will advance the goals of the Complex Problems program by using communications theory and practical application texts & learning tools to ,unpackŠ concepts of national narratives in global diplomacy... Read Full Description 
Challenges in US Immigration Enchautegui-de-Jesus, Noemi One of the challenges to advancing the debate over immigration in the U.S. is the tension between those who are apprehensive and those who are optimistic about the impact of newcomers on the receiving... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Cities: Destroyed & Reinvented Demshuk, Andrew The turmoil and traumas of modernity have transformed urban spaces into architectural and commemorative battlegrounds. This seminar introduces theories of memory and nationalism alongside controversie... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Competitive Advantage in Business Elms, Heather This course provides students with an opportunity to develop their existing critical thinking skills through a specific focus on the concept and empirical phenomenon of competitive advantage in busine... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Confronting Climate Change MacAvoy, Stephen The issue of climate change is a dividing topic in America, and the demand for action regarding climate is a hotly debated topic in political, economic, and social discussions. However, the effects of... Read Full Description 
Constructions of Self and Other Charlton, Zoe Establishing one's identitie(s) is both real and invented. How one reads other's projected identitie(s) in a multi-platform culture is complicated, not only by how people adorn themselves, but by our ... Read Full Description  Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Contemporary World Cinema Middents, Jeffrey When the villain Elektra King tells James Bond "I could have given you the world," he replies coyly, "The world is not enough." But what does "the world" mean anyway? Is, as Bond might imply, the worl... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Creating Social Entrepreneurs Terjesen, Siri This Complex Problems course will introduce students to the complex problem: How we can create and support social entrepreneurs? Social entrepreneurs are individuals who create businesses to address s... Read Full Description  Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Cultures of Corruption Bates, Shawn Political and social leaders accuse each other of it, and are accused by a media that itself is then condemned for it. It is tweeted, re-tweeted, articles are written, journals published, and blogs de... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Death Penalty Perspectives Fabrikant, Jason The U.S. death penalty is primarily applied to murderers for heinous crimes, while at the same time there is evidence of the execution of innocents, as well as unequal punishments such as Life Without... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Defining American Cohn, Betsy This course examines the question: What does it mean to be an American? We ask questions about race and ethnicity, as well as about ideology and beliefs. While we explore our own identities - whether ... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Depicting the Divine Allen, Joanne When a New York resident sued the Metropolitan Museum in 2015 for displaying allegedly 'racist' paintings of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus, it was simply the latest iteration of an enduring philosop... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Do Better At Doing Good Choutka, Amanda This course examines the conversation on poverty in Washington, DC through scholarship, research, and community-based service-learning with an afterschool program. Horton's Kids is a local nonprofit t... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Design Thinking for Innovation Bellows, Bill This course helps students understand and apply a powerful new approach to solving complex problems through human-centered thinking. Design thinking is a problem-solving framework that is transformin... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Displaced Lives in the DMV Pike, David This course approaches cities and transnational migration in the context of the history and culture of the Washington DC region and its immigrant communities. The first weeks introduce DC; questions... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Diversity In STEM Bentley, Meg 70% of white students who pursue a Bachelor’s degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field will earn one; but only 42% of African-American students and 49% of Hispanic students will... Read Full Description 
DNA in the Digital Age Axe, Jennifer Sequencing the entire human genome has advanced from a 13 year, multi-institutional project, completed in 2001, to a simple automated procedure taking less than 24 hours to complete. Over the past 15... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Dying, Death, & the Afterlife Oliver, Martyn Few ideas have stirred the human imagination as has the question of the end of life. This course examines visions of the process of dying and accounts of a possible second life from Judaism to Hinduis... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Economic Globalization: Pros & Cons Porzecanski, Arturo Economic globalization refers to the increasing integration of national economies across the world through intensified cross-border movement of goods, services, technology and capital. Some view it wi... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Education: Problem or Solution Kravetz, Katherine While there is agreement that education is key to individual and community well-being, much controversy exists over education's goals and how to achieve them. Issues include identifying education chal... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Electric! Music since Edison Snider, Nancy From early amorphous blobs of computer generated sounds, to the pulsating beats of contemporary hip hop, we are experiencing electronic music in both conscious and unconscious ways. This course will e... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Empathy in a Digital Age Bernstein, Arielle This course will consider how our attitudes about our ability to connect with and empathize with one another have been shaped by new technologies, especially social media. Over the course of the semes... Read Full Description  Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Figueroa-Armijos, Maria Thoughtful understanding of the complexity of the relationship between business and sustainability requires an elementary understanding of critical technical concepts and trends at the intersection of... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Envisioning an Inclusive Future This course seeks to: dismantle the ideologies which reproduce social inequality and prevent inclusiveness in our schools and society; develop a collective vision for an inclusive future; and identify the role schools and other social institutions must play in an inclusive society... Read Full Description 
Ethical and Political Dimensions of Climate Change Eisenstadt, Todd With an overwhelming scientific consensus favoring the prevalence of theories that accelerating changes in the earth's climate exist and are due to anthropogenic causes, the problem of conveying the n... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Ethics, Morals, and Criminal Law Engert, Michelle Inherent within criminal law and justice is the power to make discretionary decisions that greatly impact the accused, victims, and society. This course exposes students to historical and contempor... Read Full Description 
Exoplanets in Fact and Fiction Harry, Gregory This course will look at the amazing discovery of planets around stars other than the sun. This wondrous adventure is happening right now and showing us much more about our place in the universe. We... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Fight Club: US War & Peace Susca, Margot This course provides an overview of the history and modern issues of peace and war with an emphasis on the institutions in Washington, D.C. (ie. Pentagon, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, A... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Food Justice Matters Snelling, Stacey This course explores food justice issues in the twenty-first century. Students think critically about topics such as whether food marketing to children should be restricted, whether agricultural subsi... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Food Water Energy Nexus Fox, Doug Food, energy, and water resources are interconnected, so addressing one resource will cause scarcities in others. This complex problem requires innovative, cooperative, and interdisciplinary solutions... Read Full Description 
Future of Technology Policy Quirk, James From the politics of social media and autonomous vehicles to asteroid mining, gene-editing, environmental issues, and innovations and implications we can't yet imagine - the future of technology polic... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Futures: What will be in 2040? Carmel, Erran Universities teach about the past and the present in depth, but what about the future? This course develops an anticipatory future consciousness and equips students with practical methods and first-ha... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
What does it mean to be educated? Gargano, Terra This course is designed to challenge your assumptions, broaden your understanding of identity narratives and cultivate your ability to imagine terrains of possibility. Questions this course will explo... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Global Hip-Hop & Resistance Dibinga, Omekongo This course will explore one enduring question: Why and how has hip-hop become equally a tool for revolution and capitalist expansion across the world? As hip-hop has attained the interest of corpor... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Happiness Levine, Alan Everyone wants to be happy, but what exactly is happiness and how is it attained? In our relativistic age, many people think that happiness is purely subjective and entirely relative to each individua... Read Full Description 
Happiness: Pursuit of the Good Life Kelley, Robert Happiness is considered by many to be the ultimate goal in life; indeed, virtually everyone wants to be happy. The American Colonies' Declaration of Independence takes it as a self-evident truth that... Read Full Description 
Harsh Justice Johnson, Robert The United States leads the Western world in the use of harsh punishments: life sentences, death sentences, and extended solitary confinement. Each of these punishments is a type of death penalty: lif... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Homo Addictus Ratekin, Tom Addiction is an extremely common human experience--an experience that highlights the particular joys and pains of being alive. Addictions to such varied things as alcohol, drugs, the internet, video g... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
How Are Latinx Changing US Vidal-Ortiz, Salvador This class adopts a less Western-centric way of framing knowledge by focusing on a U.S. ethno-racial minority group within the U.S. Latinxs are shifting the economic, political, cultural, and social l... Read Full Description 
How to Sustain an Ocean World Kim, Kiho The ocean gave rise to life on earth, holds much of its biological diversity, and to this day, sustains it. However, for much of human history, the ocean has been thought of as vast, unmanageable, and... Read Full Description 
Imagining Europe Beers, Laura This course examines the emergence, expansion, and erosion of support for the European Union over the course of the twentieth century, and asks: What's next for Europe? Topics for investigation will ... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Imagining the Future Kakoudaki, Despina How do we imagine the political structures, landscapes, challenges, and bodies of the future? This interdisciplinary course traces the visual, literary, and political implications of the way the futur... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Imagining the Other Morosini, Mirjana Grounded in a thorough examination of the various theories of society, such as social Darwinism, and designed around a comparative and multidisciplinary set of scholarly works, literary writings, and ... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Immigrant America Dondero, Molly The United States is often referred to as a nation of immigrants. As in centuries past, immigration continues to transform U.S. society. Today, the foreign-born population in the U.S. is the biggest i... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Incivility Weis, Lauren In our society, divided by inequality and ideology, many demand civil discourse to solve the problem of incivility. This course challenges our assumptions about incivility and "civil discourse." Cour... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Inequality in the U.S. Suhay, Liz Topics & readings. This interdisciplinary course focuses on economic inequality in the United States and its relationship to social and political inequality. Readings will be drawn primarily from the ... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Information Overload Click, Amanda We are bombarded by information constantly, some of which we seek and some of which we seek to avoid. In order to live full and healthy lives, we need and search for information about our work, classe... Read Full Description 
International Crisis Management Whitman, Dan While nation states and regional political groupings complete and sometimes clash, no one seeks conflict per se. Common objectives, however, often imply different approaches toward an endpoint of pea... Read Full Description  Fall 2019, Spring 2020
International Intervention Cromwell, Alex This course will examine military, humanitarian, and post-conflict peacebuilding interventions to explore how the international community has worked to support victims of mass violence, injustice, bru... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Inventing Queer Lives Friedman, Dustin This course examines how dominant understandings of LGBT identity came into being in the Western world at the turn of the twentieth century and alternative paradigms for sexual and gender difference t... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Is Feminism Dead? Donald Trump shocked the political establishment, the pollsters, and the pundits when he defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College in 2016. The loss would have been demoralizing... Read Full Description 
Is Global Citizenship a Dream Groen, Bram With the recent rise of populism across the Western world, this course will help students with international aspirations to critically examine the emerging issues related to "being a global person." C... Read Full Description  Srping 2020
Jerusalem: Myth, History, Modernity Brenner, Michael Central for the three Abrahamic traditions, Jerusalem has been a locus of worship and dispute for over two-thousand years. The course proceeds thematically, beginning with the role of Jerusalem in the... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Judging Atrocity Souris, Nikki Our practices of holding one another responsible for wrongdoing depend on the attribution of moral agency, and the view that, as human beings, we are not simply causes in the world, but authors of our... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Juvenile Injustice Griggs, Claire Juvenile delinquency poses difficult and interesting problems for youth policy and criminal justice policy. This course looks at the misconduct of youths that brings them within the jurisdiction of th... Read Full Description 
Legally Speaking Mass, Michael Although it might seem that the law provides rules for personal and business conduct that are definitive and clear, in reality the law more often balances complex interests that involve many shades of... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Let's Talk About Sex Education Twigg, Marnie How do we learn about sex? It's a complicated question with unique answers based on our families, friends, schools, and identities. It's also a question that continually plagues students, parents, tea... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Living and Dying in DC Young, Jessica This course introduces students to health inequities and will use political, economic, historical, and sociological analyses of differences in power and privilege as it relates to quality of life, dis... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Living as a Digital Citizen Klein, Jill Digital citizenship broadly describes what it means to live in our networked world. The Internet fundamentally improves the economic and social life of those who gains access, but every click also le... Read Full Description 
Locating the International Rancatore, Jason This two-part course begins by exploring how we understand "the international." Usually, we tend to think of the international as being defined by the line between the "domestic" and the "fo... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Making Up Your Life Dussere, Erik Mostly we make our lives up as we go along, and although we might sometimes find it hard to imagine doing anything else, we may also sometimes wish that there was a narrative or organizational princip... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Maxing Out Planet Earth Alonzo, Michael As of 2017, 7.5 billion people inhabit the planet Earth. This is more than double the population of just 50 years ago when Paul Ehrlich published his dire warning (The Population Bomb) of famines and ... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Myth, Fantasy, and Meaning Cox, Chuck From Ovid's Metamorphoses to the Mahabharata, the Popol-Vuh to the Norse Eddas, myth gave people ways to understand the world, to develop cultural identity, to share values. But what is the role of my... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Navigating Childhood Palmer, Jane This course focuses on the extent to which inequality and public policy affect a child's experience of childhood. The course draws on historical, sociological and legal perspectives to examine what ri... Read Full Description 
Navigating Intimacy Krasnow, Iris The complexity of forming intimate relationships is an enduring topic of research, fascination and questioning throughout time. This course offers the unique opportunity for an intensive exploration o... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Neoliberalism and Global Jihad Partovi, Pedram This course investigates the links between the global spread of neoliberal economic policies and novel interpretations of jihad among Muslims since the 1970s. We will examine the numerous economic and... Read Full Description  Spring 2019
No Child Left Behind, Really? Decuir, Amaarah Societies expect students to shape the future by initiating change and transforming the world. But educators and policy makers relegate students to schools that structure inequalities and restrict le... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
No Home, No Refuge Sajjad, Tazreena NO HOME, NO REFUGE: UNDERSTANDING THE GLOBAL REFUGEE CRISISAccording to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are over 65 million displaced people in the world, a significant ... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
No Such Thing as Pop/Classical Doyle, Sean Classifications of high and low art in music have existed well before our listening lives began. Likewise, disagreements on those boundaries have always been part of the conversations among composers,... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Normalizing Bodies Zurn, Perry This course examines the distinction between "normal" and "abnormal" bodies and investigates the complex ways in which abnormal bodies become "problems" for medicine. Looking at historical examples, e... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Obesity & Dementia: A Vicious Cycle Davidson, Terry Obesity and cognitive dementia are currently among the most pernicious threats to human health and quality of life.  Despite many years of research at enormous financial cost, understanding... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Obesity: A Complex Crisis Bracht, John Obesity is a public health emergency; a majority of Americans are currently overweight and a significant fraction are likely to suffer adverse health impacts including diabetes, heart attack, stroke, ... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Organizations and World Change Faulk, Lewis Complex problems challenge your generation. Some persist from prior generations, and others have recently emerged or intensified from rapid social, environmental, technological, economic, and geopolit... Read Full Description
Perspectives on Mental Illness Stepanek, Laurie This course explores not only the scientific basis for mental illness and treatment, but also how cultural, political, and economic forces impact mental health policy. Students consider issues such as... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Place and Politics Houser, Sarah So much of our lives today takes place in the virtual world of the internet that it is easy to forget or ignore the ways in which our physical environment affects our behavior and our self-understandi... Read Full Description  Spring 2019
Plagues, Plots, and People Marsh, Sarah Diseases, colloquially, are caught, transmitted, and contracted in many different ways: miasmas, bugs, germs, and vectors--to name just a few. How does the language people use to describe illness indi... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Plasticity: Shaping The Brain Comstock, Edward The great discovery of neuroscience is that the brain is fundamentally characterized by “plasticity”—a radically open-ended potential for both creative and destructive difference. But now that plasticity has been discovered... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Playing with Genes Marvar, Sarah This course explores divisive bioethical issues surrounding our growing ability to analyze and manipulate genes in humans, animals and plants. Students are introduced to the basics of the human genome... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Podcasts and Persuasion Oakes, Kristina Have you ever thought about how podcasts influence your knowledge and opinions? Any topic or theme you can imagine has a podcast covering it; they are modern, flexible modes of storytelling. But, the ... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Pollution Solutions Meiller, Jesse Today, contaminants enter our water, air, and land through many routes. This course is broken into these three sections (water, air, and land) as students pursue issues surrounding pollution in the en... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Post-Truth America Levan, Carl When do the virtues of majority rule spill over into the vices of populism? Can we have informed citizens without a shared understanding of the methods for establishing truth? What poses the greater threat... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Poverty in a Rich Country Baehler, Karen Do some Americans choose to be "takers" rather than "makers"? Or is the economy "rigged" to ensure that money and power flow continually from the poor to the rich? Through multi-media sources drawn fr... Read Full Description 
Poverty: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions Morrissey, Taryn This course addresses to one of the most pressing challenges of our time: poverty and inequality. The course is an interdisciplinary critical analysis of the causes and consequences of, as well as sol... Read Full Description 
Prejudice: Who, How Why Duval, Laura Prejudice is an attitude (usually negative) about members of another social group. The concept of prejudice has strong negative connotations such that most people do not freely admit to having such fe... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Quenching World Water Scarcity Sosland, Jeffrey Is there enough drinkable water to meet future global needs? Is water a US national security issue and will twenty-first century wars be fought over water? Can economically struggling countries develo... Read Full Description  Spring 2019
Quest for Justice Flanagan, Borden This course introduces students to an on-going dialogue at the core of Western intellectual history about how to think about justice. The course examines how the attempt to achieve clarity about the f... Read Full Description  Spring 2019
Reality After Einstein Johnson, Phil What is real, how do we know, and what does it mean? These simple sounding questions, as old as humankind, have no simple answers. The questions, however, have become only more interesting as science,... Read Full Description 
Reality: Distorted/Augmented? Shapiro, Art What is reality? How can we know whether our perceptions are accurate representations of the world? What happens when one person's conception of reality disagrees with another person's? These question... Read Full Description  Spring 2019
Refugees, War, and Human Rights Vine, David Millions of refugees and other displaced people are fleeing war and violence from the Middle East to Central America and beyond. This course examine this global phenomenon as well as one of the world'... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Religion and World Politics Nimer, Mohamed Religion can mean different things to different people. While modern secular thought has permeated religious and communal life, traditional understandings of religion are still vibrant while fundament... Read Full Description  Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Resilience Potter, Cynthia How can individuals grow their own resilience to prevent mood disorders? What are society-based systems and policies that minimize mental health risks and promote the prevention of mental illness? Thi... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Rhetoric in History of U.S. Women's Rights Advocacy Clark, Mary This inquiry-based seminar examines enduring questions of argumentation and rhetoric in the history of U.S. women's rights advocacy, with particular attention to questions of race and class... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Sex, Power, Human Trafficking Stockreiter, Elke Slavery, or human trafficking in contemporary language, is one of the most puzzling, controversial, and enduring questions in history. This course explores changes and continuities in the institution ... Read Full Description 
Small Things with BIG Impact Lansigan, Michele When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, he said that it was "a small step for man and a giant leap for mankind". Today, this new "giant leap" may be represented by the advancement of "small steps" i... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Social Justice or Libertarianism? Merrill, Tom Social justice activists and libertarians are two of the most familiar social types in our polarized political climate. But how can such different perspectives speak to each other in a productive and ... Read Full Description 
Social Media for Social Good Woods, Stef How has social media changed how people communicate, collaborate and mobilize? This course will examine whether online tools lead to offline action and how digital advocay has impacted American cultur... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Tactical Urbanism Kiechel, Victoria For a problem of intriguing complexity, look no further than the contemporary city. Home to two-thirds of the world's population, modern cities - gloriously diverse cultural, innovation, and artisti... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
The Art of the Decision Sicina, Robert Decision making is one of our most important activities in both our professional and personal lives. In this course, decision-making processes will be unpacked and thoroughly analyzed. They will be vi... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
The Art of Theft Helfers, Edward From William Shakespeare to Beyonce, much of what we consider original art depends on borrowed text, recycled images, and familiar melodies. But where do we draw the line between influence and plagiar... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
The Bacon Terminator Rodriguez-Velasquez, Sorangel What if the whole world went vegan? A vegan lifestyle claims to be the solution to diverse worldwide complex problems such as (1) diseases of affluence (such as heart diseases, diabetes and cancer) (2... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
The Big Short: Money and Power Aufderheide, Pat This course on how the public understood and understand the Great Recession and specifically the financial collapse of 2007-2009 will expose students to different choices in storytelling about major a... Read Full Description  Spring 2019
The Era of Bad Feelings Semiatin, Richard America is more divided than ever today. Or is that true? How far back does this phenomenon go? The course examines the politics, culture, and history behind the current Era of Bad Feelings from the Civil Rights and Vietnam era to the present... Read Full Description 
The Highs and Lows of Drugs Gomez, Maria Drugs remain a complex problem, despite the investment of billions of dollars and many years into potential solutions. After over 50 years of scientific research, we have extensive knowledge of how dr... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
The Material World Harshman, Nate This course explores the matter that has mattered to humans, from stone and bronze through semiconductors and nanostructures. Cultures, economies, and nation-states flourish and decline based in part ... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
The Persistence of Pirates Craig, Dylan This course would bring together AU students across a diverse set of disciplinary foci and from a diverse set of educational and cultural backgrounds in the study of a truly complex problem for all of humanity... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
The Power of Curiosity Zurn, Perry The explosion of information in the 21st century has centralized the role of curiosity in our everyday lives. Never have the production mills of detail been more active. But how should we engage with ... Read Full Description 
The Problem of Freedom Merrill, Thomas This course considers why freedom is an enduring human desire and why that desire is complicated and problematic. Over the course of the semester, students examine why freedom is a problem, at once eliciting strong attachments and deep controversies. Students consider what it means to be free in a variety of perspectives and contexts... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
The Problem of Poverty in America Curtin, Mary Ellen One of the enduring ideals of America is "the American Dream," or the promise that any who work hard will be rewarded with economic mobility. But this premise presents a problem, in that poverty in t... Read Full Description 
The Shape of Wonder Keplinger, David What is wonder's purpose and progress in the human story? Investigating this question, The Shape of Wonder seeks to articulate the purpose of structures, stories, music, drama, and other arts and sciences... Read Full Description 
The Threat of Chemical Weapons Costanzi, Stefano Research and development efforts in the field of chemistry have significantly enhanced the quality of human life. However, they also pose threats to global security, since highly toxic chemicals can b... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
The Weight of Evidence and the Burden of Proof Girard, Jim One of the constants of forensic science is how frequently its applications become front-page news. Whether the story is sniper shootings or the tragic consequences of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
The West's Problem of Evil Tamashasky, Adam Great minds of every generation have struggled to explain why bad things happen to good people, why humans are cruel to one another, and, especially for the followers of the Abrahamic faiths, how a wo... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Theorizing Totalitarianism Adcock, Robert Hitler's rise to power led to totalitarianism in Germany and ultimately into the cataclysms of the Holocaust and World War Two. It also spurred the exodus of a wave of intellectuals from Central Europ... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Trump and the Constitution Edelson, Chris This course will consider challenges the Trump administration poses to constitutional democracy and the rule of law. Other presidents have pressed the limits of executive power, especially since 9/11... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Un-complicating healthcare Morrissey, Taryn This course covers an issue central to modern day life - health care - and the policy and politics around it. The course provides an introduction to the arcane but important terms and ideas surroundin... Read Full Description 
Understanding Sex and Gender Doperalski, Adele For many individuals gender and sex mean the same thing. If you are born with male reproductive organs, you are a male and vice versa for females. For others, sex assignment and gender have a comple... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Visual Identities Pearson, Andrea Drawing on museum collections in D.C., this course explores how visual images constructed, claimed, and sometimes contested identities across the geohistorical spectrum. Students consider how images c... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
Water Politics Crisis Sosland, Jeffrey Every year more people die from unsafe drinking water than from all forms of violence, including war. Global demand continues to rise, with a large part of humanity, some 25 percent, living with water scarcity.  It is a crisis that is only becoming more severe.  This course surveys the factors that are driving this dire situation... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Spring 2020
Welcome to the Anthropocene Waterworth, Rebeccah What is the role of nature in human life? How do our attitudes, understanding and assessment of nature shape our environmental impacts on earth? During the past 10,000 years, humans have become the p... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
What Causes Homelessness? Kerr, Daniel It does not take long traveling across Washington, DC to encounter people experiencing homelessness. As these encounters have become so common, fewer people ask how homelessness has become such an en... Read Full Description 
What is Legitimate? Esser, Daniel The course explores how and why equilibria around questions of legitimate action in the areas of domestic governance, foreign policy, and international interventions form and why they often remain contentious. The course encourages students to understand ideas of legitimacy as bound in time and space... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
When Trumpets Fade Gade, Daniel This course will introduce you to the men and women who have fought our nation’s wars since 9/11, and critically examine a few of the social, political, and moral implications associated with their service.  Who (and what) are they?  What do we owe them?... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Who is DC Stokes, Benjamin Outsiders often miss the vibrant neighborhoods of DC, which have deep histories and distinctive cultures. Today, DC neighborhoods face intense pressure to change. Through 3-5 field trips, interviews w... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Who's watching you now? Serhan, Randa Surveillance has become a commonplace term, yet it is often dismissed as only the concern of those who have something to hide. This suggests that only criminals/criminal activity is watched and having... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Whose Hip Hop Cultures Salois, Kendra Who lays claim to hip hop when its arts and cultures are shared worldwide? This course traces hip hop's movement over forty years from a transnational, Afro-diasporic South Bronx to six continents. To... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019
Why Big Government Rao, Gautham This interdisciplinary course explores a pressing intellectual challenge of our time: Americans' ambivalent historical relationship with the state. It explores how Americans from the era of Alexander ... Read Full Description  Fall 2019
Why Do We Punish Tschemplik, Andrea This course uses literature, philosophy and the social sciences to understand the complex phenomenon of punishment. Students examine why parents punish their children, why we punish ourselves as well ... Read Full Description  Spring 2020
Wildlife Conservation Heckel, Heather The World Wildlife Fund recently reported that total wildlife populations declined over 50% between 1970 and 2010. Our class will explore the primary causes of habitat and wildlife loss including con... Read Full Description  Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020
You expect me to pay for that? Schwartz, Lara As consumers, we generally only purchase the things we want: PC or Mac; private or public college; pizza or salad. The concept of choice is a powerful motivator for many Americans, whether it means ... Read Full Description 

Student Perspective

AU graduate Abby Kleman



“I thoroughly enjoyed the Complex Problems course because I was able to spend time with my classmates, whether we were volunteering, exploring museums, or having meaningful conversations about a topic we were all interested in.”

– Abby Kleman, Class of 2022


  1. Complex Problems - Students may enroll in any Complex Problems seminar with the course number CORE-105
  2. For Transfer Students - Transfer students should consult with their academic advisor before registering for Complex Problems
  3. For Living-Learning Communities - LLC students take Complex Problems in the Fall
    1. AU Honors - Accepted students enroll in a 4-credit, Honors-designated Complex Problems section with the course number HNRS-200
    2. CBRS - Accepted students enroll in a CBRS section of Complex Problems with the course number CORE-106
    3. University College - Students may apply to be enrolled in sections with the course number CORE-107

Learning Outcomes

You will have the chance to demonstrate all of the following learning outcomes in your Complex Problems seminar. The topical nature of these seminars means that you will engage with the learning outcomes in the context of the course.

A.  Complexity. Identify and engage with complexity (or gray areas) within issues or contexts by explaining the factors influencing different positions

B.  Multiple Perspectives. Use multiple perspectives to refine your understanding of an issue or context

C. Awareness. Investigate the sources of your own groups’ norms and biases

D. Civility. Demonstrate civility through argumentation or intellectual exchange

A. Audience. Identify the audience to make choices about how to communicate your ideas

B. Sources. Integrate materials or sources to develop and refine your ideas

C. Organization. Use organizational strategies to develop a clear purpose or aim

A. Summary. Summarize an author’s or authors’ message, main points, and supporting ideas

B. Response. Engage with a “text” by responding to it

C. Conversation. Put “texts” into conversation with other “texts”

A.  Feedback. Incorporate feedback from faculty, staff, or peers in subsequent work

B. Metacognition. Practice metacognition by reflecting on feedback and your revision processes

A. Connect. Connect experiences and academic learning