I am nearing the end of my Sophomore year at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and facing the scary truth that I am nearly half done with college, nearly half of the way to graduating. Wow. I can still clearly remember the stress, nervous excitement, and freedom that I was feeling as I applied to schools over two years ago, it really doesn't seem that far away. When I was 17 I could never have imagined the ways that college would shape the person I am becoming, but as I look back on my first couple of years, I can pinpoint specific classes that widened my mind and made me a better learner and person.
I am interested in community health education, understanding and correcting health inequities, and incorporating traditional herbal healing methods into modern medicine. These are interests that I never knew I had, because I was never able to explore them in high school. But UMass gave me the chance to take classes that introduced me to the things I am passionate about and the work I am good at doing. I'm not saying that you will develop these same interests, of course not! What I'm saying is that college will expose you to new things and that you will find new passions and skills that you never even knew you had.
If you choose to participate in the Jump! program for incoming UMass undergraduates or in one of our many pre-college programs for high schoolers, you will get a good idea of what college academics are like. I want to tell you about some of my favorite UMass classes and get you excited for the endless possibilities that you will experience when you come to college, wherever you go!
1. Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 187: Gender, Sexuality and Culture with Professor Alexandrina Deschamps
This was one of the first classes I took at UMass and I still think about it all the time. I was lucky enough to enroll in this class when it was taught by Dr. Alexandrina Deschamps, a distinguished faculty member and the Associate Dean of recruitment and diversity for the Commonwealth Honors college. I had been considering myself a feminist for a while at this point but I didn't know exactly what that meant. This class showed me that the experiences that I have as a woman can be turned into theory to form solidarity and build relationships. I realized the power that I had as a woman and as a student. Further, I got the chance to get to know Professor Deschamps on an academic and personal level. Building relationships with your professors is very important, but it's also fun! Professor Deschamps is an amazing resource and friend to have on campus.
2. Biology 105: Biology of Social Issues with Professors Gerald Downes, Duncan Irschick, and Jeff Podos
At first I was worried about taking an introductory biology class in a big lecture hall, especially because hard sciences have never been my strong suit, but the structure of this class made it incredibly interesting and dynamic! The class was taught in three parts by three professors who are all experts in their field. UMass Amherst is a top research university, so faculty here is doing ground-breaking research on top of their teaching jobs. Each professor was able to bring in their own area of expertise and apply it to the social issues of today. Professor Downes is a neurobiologist so he focused on traumatic brain injuries and we talked a lot about the NFL in class. When Professor Irschick took over, he taught us about marine biology, showing amazing pictures he had taken of sharks and other animals while doing field work around the world. And when Professor Podos came in at the end of the semester, class was full of references to The Simpsons and discussion of Darwinian evolution, adaptation, and the environmental risk of human activity. This was a great way to learn introductory biology because the class always stayed interesting and relevant to the professor. Plus, I got to see the many exciting careers that a biology degree can open up for a person!
3. Comparative Literature 231: Comedy with Professor David Bendiksen
This class was an academic approach to comedy that filled an Arts and Literature. We traced comedy from Shakespeare through the Cold War and into the modern age of YouTube videos and SNL skits. We watched movies like Bringing Up Baby, Dr. Strangelove, and Raising Arizona and we read notable comedy writers like Sherman Alexie and Joseph Heller. We discussed how comedy can be much more than simply a way to make people laugh. We explored the ways that comedy is used to speak about American life: racism, heterosexism, homophobia, class biases against the poor and the undocumented, misogyny, war and other burning issues of the day. This class was a general education requirement for me, but even though it didn't have much to do with my major it was still one of my favorite classes. I knew that I would laugh and learn something new every time I went to class, and it's always nice to have a reliable and fun class like that in your schedule!
4. Stockbridge 297W: Herbal Approaches to Women's Health with Professor Brittany Nickerson
This might be the most personally relevant class I've taken at UMass. Professor Brittany Nickerson is a local herbalist who runs her own practice and business (you can find her at thymeherbal.com). This class is all about how to use herbs as preventative ways to stay healthy and for minor illnesses like insomnia, headaches, stress, and digestive issues. Because of this class, I now use herbs tonically to take care of my health. I have also learned how to eat healthy without stressing to much about calories or carbs, but rather focusing on eating things that will benefit my body. Herbal healing knowlege can be used by anyone to gain autonomy over your health and take care of your body.
5. Public Health 389H: Health Inequities with Professor Louis Graham
Professor Louis Graham is a Public Health researcher, who recently had a grant approved and funded to study levels of stress among Black men and the societal determinants of health that cause Black men to suffer from higher levels of stress than their white counterparts. His class is amazing because he is actively working in the field that I want to go into. He often has our class attend his colleagues' presentations and learn about their research and he is always bringing in new studies to discuss in class. One of the benefits of going to a research university like UMass is getting to know up-and-coming researchers like Professor Graham who are actively engaged in the research that is shaping what we learn in school.
These are only a tiny number of the many exciting classes offered at UMass Amherst. There are even more fascinating classes in my future and in yours!
To get started on your college career, consider joining one of our many summer programs! If you are a high school student who wants to start learning about college and have something cool to put on your college applications, check out our wide variety of summer pre-college programs for high school students:
If you have already been accepted to UMass (congratulations!) and want to learn how to get ahead before you even start your Freshman year, or are simply looking for something to do this summer, check out the Jump! program for incoming undergraduates: