Unusual classes spark curiosity in students, offers different perspective

Unlike many complex academic questions, the most important question Glenn Tiede asks one of his classes has a yes or no answer.

That question has a correct answer, but people don’t know what it is yet, said Tiede, a lecturer in the Physics and Astronomy Department.

Tiede’s question is, “Is there extraterrestrial life in the universe?”

This question is explored with students in a class called Life in the Universe. The interdisciplinary class includes aspects of astronomy, biology and biochemistry.

While this class focuses on the universe, other classes focus on topics closer to home.

Students may be surprised to find that they can take a class called TV Comedy. Popular culture students usually are not surprised to hear of the class, but students in other areas can be, said Becca Cragin, associate professor in the Department of Popular Culture, in an email.

“[Students] expect the class to be about comedy, but usually aren’t expecting it to focus so heavily on cultural politics and inequality,” Cragin said.

But topics being debated in society come up in TV shows and are commented on by them, Cragin said.

“Comedy is also a great place to look to see cultural values that are often unexpressed elsewhere — because comedy involves violating cultural norms, what a culture finds funny, or over the line, is highly significant,” Cragin said.

Junior Patrick McAdoo took Cragin’s Gender and Sexuality in the Media class last semester.

McAdoo said the biggest thing he learned was that “Almost everything that is produced in popular culture makes some sort of comment on gender and sexuality representation.”

This representation could even come in the form of not representing a particular group, McAdoo said.

In Life in the Universe, Tiede and his students explore the history of life on Earth, what makes earth special and whether the conditions that allow for life here could be found elsewhere.

“It’s looking now like Earth is probably not that rare,” Tiede said.

There are probably 10 to 100 billion earths, Tiede said.

But Tiede’s goal is not to convince students that life exists or doesn’t exist elsewhere.

“It’s exactly what college should be. I’m not telling students what to think or how to think,” Tiede said.

Instead, he gives them the knowledge they need to make their own decision.

Students enjoy the way Tiede teaches his class.

“The professor’s really good,” sophomore Jenna Fryer said.

She said she enjoys that the class is not just lecture-based.

“He was just phenomenal, so I had to take him again,” said freshman Odero Ajamu. “He mentioned [Life in the Universe] in Intro to Astronomy, and right away I knew I would be taking it.”

Ajamu said he thinks there is life in the universe.

“I believe there should be because we’re here,” Ajamu said. “If something happened once it could happen again.”

While Ajamu thinks anything can happen twice, Fryer has a different outlook.

“I do [think there is life], but I don’t think we’ll actually find it,” Fryer said.

Although Tiede has students who believe there is life in the universe, no one has claimed to have contact with life from elsewhere.

“I never had anyone who was really out there,” Tiede said.

Some students have talked about UFOs they have seen, Tiede said, but no one has shared abduction storiest