Oberlin Blogs

Greek Tragedy, Economics, Gender Studies, and Chem

January 13, 2013

Ben Reid ’16

During my first semester here at Oberlin, I have been extremely satisfied with what Oberlin has to offer academically. To give you a taste of what I learned last semester, I will review each of my classes.

  1. FYSP 134: Crossing Borders: The Mysteries of Identity, with Professor David Walker
  2. Classics 101, with Professor Thomas Van Nortwick
  3. Chemistry 101, with Professor Matthew Elrod
  4. Economics 101, with Professor Jenny Hawkins

Let's begin.

FYSP 134 (FYSP= First-Year Seminar Program)

Course catalog entry for FYSP 134 in 2012-13

First off, my freshman seminar was incredible, and was definitely my favorite course. It was taught by Oberlin alum and fellow-blogger David Walker. This class explored humans' ability to change their identities, and our tendency to simplify others' identities by classifying individuals as strictly "male" or "female," "black" or "white," "straight" or "gay" and so on. We read many novels, short stories, and nonfiction works that reflected on the fundamental question of human identity: is an individual's identity fixed and clear-cut, or is it fluid, changeable, and at times ambiguous?

David said that he never had to worry about any of us not talking enough, as each and every one of us contributed to class discussion every day. Everyone had interesting ideas to contribute, and I learned a lot from the various perspectives that my classmates provided. I strongly recommend taking this freshman seminar if it is offered. As a student in our class said on the last day, this course was a perfect introduction to the Oberlin experience, as it questioned conventional notions of gender, sexuality, and race—something us Obies love to do. After all, we were the first college to admit women and African Americans—and we'll never let you forget it!

To avoid repeating what others have said, I will link you to some past blog posts about this seminar, since there are a lot. I think they all give a valuable assessment of the course in their own way.

Chinwe's post

David's post

Dara's post

Classics 101

Course catalog entry for Classics 101 in 2012-13

I am so fortunate that I enrolled in this class. I say this because I only enrolled in it after several classes that I wanted to take (i.e Hebrew, politics, etc.) conflicted with my schedule. Little did I know that it was Professor Van Nortwick's last time teaching this course after more than thirty years! At my freshman seminar teacher's house a few weeks ago, he told me, "Tom's leaving is really an end of an era in the classics department." TVN was a lecturer of unmatched quality—his lectures lasted precisely fifty minutes every single day, and he would get through all of the material that he wanted to cover (which is an impressive feat, considering we basically read an entire play for every class). After taking this course, I feel much more knowledgeable about Greek tragedy—a subject that I only glossed over briefly in high school with The Odyssey and some Shakespeare. Here's the lengthy list of plays and epic poems that we read:

Homer's The Iliad

Libation Bearers

Oedipus Rex
Women of Trachis
Oedipus at Colonus

Medea (my personal favorite)


King Lear

Chemistry 101

Course catalog entry for CHEM 101 in 2012-13

Intro chem occupies that awkward spot in the lineup of introductory science courses, in that it is typically known as the "easiest" (bio is supposedly the "hardest"). This is not to say that Intro Chem is easy by any measure, just that the others are notorious for being notably difficult and time-consuming. I had heard from various upperclassmen that Professor Elrod was a great professor, so I decided to enroll in his class. He, like my classics professor, delivered meticulously organized lectures, and would end with a photo finish, wrapping up the last topic right as the clock hit 10:50. Professor Elrod called on everyone in his lecture by their first names—something typical of many classes at Oberlin. You are unlikely to find an introductory science teacher calling on students by their first names at most other schools.

Professor Elrod also held extensive office hours, which I always attended the few days before exams to make sure I really knew all the material. His tests were straightforward and comprehensive, and his ample extra-help sessions before exams were invaluable in garnering a good grade in the class.

Econ 101

Course catalog entry for ECON 101 in 2012-13

I am a prospective Econ major who took AP Economics in high school, and this class was essentially identical to my two-semester AP Econ—micro and macro—course in high school (we even used the same textbook!). Unfortunately, Oberlin doesn't give AP credit for Economics—it does for lots of other classes though! You can check out their AP policies here.*

Textbook: Principles of Economics Sixth Edition by N. Gregory Mankiw
After reading it through a second time, I am really starting to like Mankiw's textbook!

In any event, the class was still very interesting. Professor Hawkins is relatively new, but her positive attitude and willingness to help always shined through in her lectures. I strongly recommend taking intro to Econ, because it is fascinating (at least to me!).

* Aside from Economics, Oberlin is typically very generous when it comes to using AP credits; a lot of my friends and I have already fulfilled most of our distribution requirements with our AP credits from high school!

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