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From cooking to Cuba: Eight classes you should take before you graduate

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Illustrated by Chloe Xu

By Kavya Sahni and Tomás Russo     12/4/20 11:50am

From garden-fresh fruits and vegetables to classic films and a spring break field trip to Cuba, Rice University is home to an assortment of interesting classes. With input from the Rice community, the Thresher has compiled a list of eight classes students should consider adding to their schedules while they’re at Rice — no matter what their major or interests. 

BIOS 204: Community Garden with Joseph Novak

Teeming with butterflies, frogs, songbirds and an all-you-can-eat buffet of fresh fruits and vegetables, Rice University’s picturesque Betty and Jacob Friedman Holistic Garden is nestled right behind the Moody Center for the Arts and is an overlooked gem on campus.



“Going to the garden on Sunday mornings was incredibly busy and relaxing at the same time,” Victoria Zabarte, a Lovett College junior who took BIOS 204, said. “It’s a gorgeous garden and Novak always had something for us to plant, harvest, or eat when we were there.” 

In Novak’s class, your time planting, nurturing and harvesting garden plants is supplemented with informative lectures about the science behind it all. For example, students learn why to never call soil dirt and how to pasteurize a compost pile to avoid nasty smells.

“I never thought I’d be interested in a lecture about different types of soils or learning how to make compost, but Novak made the class so interesting and applicable to our lives,” Zabarte said.

The rare opportunity to cultivate a green thumb while surrounded by stunning nature is one that students should not pass up. The free food, plants and workouts are an added bonus. By the end of the class, you will be growing your own garden-fresh fruits and vegetables to cook at home.

“It’s definitely a class that you should make room for while you’re at Rice,” Zabarte said.

For the spring semester, BIOS 204 will be offered Thursdays from 4:40 p.m. to 5:55 p.m. Labs will be in-person in the garden and lectures will be virtual.

FILM 180: 14 Films Before You Graduate with Marcia Brennan

Sit back, relax and enjoy classic films, from Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane to Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window, in FILM 180. Learn how to be a movie critic and see films more as works of art rather than something to do while eating your popcorn.

“It is my experience that students love being introduced to classic films, and to the larger idea of seeing films as works of art,” Brennan said. “The love of film is something to be explored and cultivated throughout your entire life, and classic films can provide valuable perspective on our own current era.”

FILM 180 is certainly a class to consider taking before you graduate — it’s literally in the name.

FILM 180 will be offered Monday 1:00 p.m. to 4:50 p.m. this spring, fully online.

ECON 100: Principles of Economics with James DeNicco

Economics may seem like a dry topic to some, but James DeNicco’s high spirits have elevated the class to become a Rice staple. According to Duncan College sophomore Vivian Wong, each class starts with a review of the last class’s material, and a few stories and life lessons from DeNicco.

“He’s super engaging and brings loads of energy to class every day, whether that be through singing the Solow growth model or random sound effects and stories in his slides,” Wong said. “His enthusiasm and knowledge of [Economics] makes tough material just a little more manageable.”

Will Rice College freshman Matthew Anderson said that DeNicco’s upbeat and positive energy made him eager to pay attention to lectures. Wiess College senior Amna Ali agrees — she said that DeNicco always made class fun.

“He’s an amazing lecturer, and he always used funny examples we could relate to in order to explain concepts,” Ali said.

DeNicco describes the classroom as a “happy place” for him — where students learn about cost-benefit analysis, business decisions, and the interactions that form markets.

“If you want to heal the world and make it a better place, you first need to understand the world,” DeNicco said. “Economics is part of that understanding.”

DeNicco said that he strives to make the classroom a place where students can not only have fun learning the material, but also relax and speak their minds.

“I always have an eye towards engagement and interaction with my students, whether that is being loud and trying to be funny, telling a story or discussing current events to make the material more relevant, or going through problems together while taking questions on the material,” DeNicco said.

ECON 100 will be offered Tuesday and Thursday 11:20 a.m. - 12:40 p.m. this spring, fully online.

COLL 202: Cooking with Chef Roger Elkhouri

Bring a tupperware to COLL 202, because you’ll be cooking up mouthfuls of food that will make scrumptious leftovers. Roger Elkhouri, senior executive chef at Rice University, has been educating students about cooking since 2002. In his class, you’ll gain basic knowledge about cooking and get to practice your cooking skills.

Elkhouri’s favorite part of the class is to see students who’ve never cooked anything in the kitchen before successfully bake bread on their own, he said.

“To teach and educate people about cooking and to see the results of what the students have made in class each time is extremely rewarding for a chef,” Elkhouri said. “They can use these skills to cook for themselves and for their family and [friends] in a very safe way.”

For Jake Yount, Martel College junior, the best part of the class is all the leftovers that he got to take at the end of each class.

“You learn different cuisines across the world, you make a feast at the end of every class,” Young said. “This class is the perfect package to learn some fun recipes and eat a lot of delicious food.”

COLL 202 is traditionally offered every semester, however it is on hold until further notice due to COVID-19.

PSYCH 101: Introduction to Psychology with Colette Nicolaou

For the sensation and perception unit in Introduction to Psychology, Colette Nicolaou asks students to line up if they think they have sensitive taste, and then gives them phenylthiourea strips to taste.

“Those who were actually supertasters scrunched up their face once they licked the paper because it tasted really sour to them and it was really funny to observe,” Ashna Karpe, a Duncan College sophomore who said that this class convinced her to major in psychology, said.

Introduction to Psychology is a required class for the major, but Nicolaou’s unique teaching methods make it an interesting and engaging experience, Karpe said. The class starts with a focus on the physical structure of the brain, and moves on to research about thoughts, feelings and actions.

“The class doesn’t come to life until students slowly begin to share personal stories about their childhood experiences, their greatest relationships, their anxious feelings, their winning goals and their losing ones,” Nicolaou said. “There is a magic that is created when a hundred students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines come together to connect with the course material and with each other.”

Karpe also pointed out the way Nicolau connects students’ experiences to the course material.

“I love Nicolaou's teaching style because she incorporates both real life case studies in psychology and interactive activities to get all her students engaged, despite the class being so huge,” Karpe said.

Lovett College sophomore Maria Budin agrees — this class helps you understand yourself and others better.

“Nicolaou would always make an effort to help us connect the content to our own lives,” Budin said. “There were many demonstrations which made class fun, engaging, and something to look forward to.”

PSYCH 101 will be offered Tuesday and Thursday 9:40 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. and 11:20 a.m. - 12:40 p.m this spring, fully online.

SOCI 325: Sociology of Law with Robert Werth

This class may be the most demanding in terms of work on this list, but the hours you’ll spend reading and writing will be worth it — they will revolutionize your understanding of the relationship between law and everyday life. 

"My favorite aspect of Werth's class is the variety of perspectives he brings together, which challenge your assumptions about everything from government and legality to the production of knowledge itself,” Noah Johnson, a Martel College senior, said.

Throughout the class, you will analyze and come to understand works from a diverse array of prominent and radical writers ranging from 19th century communists to contemporary prison abolitionists. More specifically, you will learn about the dissonance between our idealized conception of law and its often messy and unjust reality.

“Learning about people like Marx, Angela Davis and Foucault has had a significant impact on me and I think every Rice student should be exposed to their ideas,” Johnson said. 

Despite the complexity of the readings, you will likely be surprised by how much you will comprehend under the facilitative tutelage of Werth.

“Werth is easily one of the most dedicated and inspiring professors at Rice," Johnson said.

SOCI 325 is offered every fall semester.

BIOS 122: Biology for Voters with David Caprette

In “Biology for Voters,” you will learn about politically relevant issues concerning biology through lectures and discussions. More specifically, class topics will provide the scientific background to better understand political debates concerning issues such as vaccines, genes, gender identity, evolution and abortion.

“For all Rice students with even a minor interest in American politics, I cannot recommend this course enough,” Michael Young, a Martel College junior, said.

Beyond politics, this class will teach you the essentials of a wide variety of biological concepts which are useful for everyday life without delving too deeply for those without a background or passion for biology. 

“[Biology] for voters assumes no prior understanding of the scientific concepts discussed in class, and I walked away from every lecture with a better understanding of important biological topics in our country,” Young said.

Young said that on top of the fascinating content, Caprette’s engaging lectures, powerpoint slides and experimental demonstrations will make anyone want to learn more about biology. As a bonus, this class counts toward distribution requirements. 

BIOS 122 will be offered Tuesday and Thursday 11:20 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. this spring, fully online.

SPPO 375: Trends in Cuban Culture with Luis Duno-Gottberg and Maria Fabiola Lopez Duran

Everyone loves a class field trip, but SPPO 375 takes it to the next level: a week in Cuba for spring break. The class teaches students about Cuba’s culture and history and culminates in a weeklong visit to the island where they can apply and appreciate all that they have learned.

“I felt like that class broadened peoples’ perspectives on Cuba and helped examine and deconstruct many biases and misconceptions on the country in a realistic and accessible way,” alumna Angie Vertti (Baker College ’20), said. “It was really a blessing to be able to go through Rice and be able to experience the whole island through a variety of lenses while being guided by professors who specialize in studying the island and its history.”

This unique class provides a rare opportunity to supplement your learning with an immersive and formative experience. Throughout the semester, you will explore Cuban culture through literary texts, films, music and works of art in order to analyze the intersection between politics and artistics representation. The week-long field trip offers a research opportunity to experience and learn more about Cuban cultural and historical sites.

“It’s easily the most memorable class I’ve taken because everything in class builds up to the trip and you leave the island quite literally as a more open-minded and curious person,” Vertti said. “I still look back at my photos and even at our syllabus fondly — and I have every intention of returning in the future because of the experiences I had in the class.”

SPPO 375 is normally offered in the spring every year, however it is on hold until further notice due to COVID-19.



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