2018 Spring Breakthrough Course Catalog & Videos

Believe it or not! Science and Faith in an Age of Unreason

WHAT IS TRUE?  WHO DO YOU TRUST?  In a time of “alternative facts”, “fake news”, predatory “scientific” journals, the ever-growing entanglement of science and corporate interest, and an overwhelming bombardment of information from the internet and social media, such questions are becoming harder and harder to answer.  Justifiably, the frustrated citizen has grown ever more confused and skeptical of scientific knowledge, and which “experts” to trust. As a result, withdrawal into the sheltering comfort of immutable political, moral, and religious tenets, is no longer a characteristic limited to the realm of “religious cults” or “pseudoscientific” fringe communities in the United States – it has entered the mainstream cultural discourse, on both sides of the political aisle.

Scientists and educators usually argue that the “crisis of faith” in science can only be cured by “more education”, “teaching critical thinking”, and “ridding the human mind of all forms of superstition”.  Unfortunately, this one-sided approach tends to isolate those already skeptical of the scientific endeavor by dismissing the importance of heartfelt religious and moral beliefs that are often, deeply anchored in people’s cultural identity.  At best, educators ignore these realms when discussing science, and at worst they openly seek to diminish them - sometimes through misunderstanding, sometimes through misrepresentation, and sometimes through open ridicule. In this course we will explore historical and contemporary voices on what science is, explore the characteristics of pseudoscientific movements, and delve deeper into the apparent and real differences between scientific, experiential, and theological reasoning.  We seek an answer to the question of how we can know what is true, and why an answer to this question is essential to bridging the ever-expanding chasms that divide American identity today.

  • Alexander Glass, Lecturer and Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Ray Barfield, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Christian Philosophy

Build a Bike

In five days we will build a “freedom machine” from scratch! Working with a renowned bicycle framebuilder, students will cut steel, file and prep, fit tubes and lugs, braze it all up, and ready the completed frame for powder coating. …three days down. On the fourth, while the frame is being powder coated, we will go for a leisurely ride (bikes provided), have a picnic, brew some coffee, enjoy a bit of two-wheeling comradery. On day five we will work with a local master mechanic to build up the complete bike in time to be ridden in to the Spring Breakthrough closing ceremony. When we are not working together with our hands we will learn about some fascinating moments in the social and economic history of the bicycle, bicyclists, and bicycle fabricators.

Note: Students will not individually construct bicycles. Only one bicycle will be built.

  • Joshua Sosin , Associate Professor, Department of Classical Studies
  • Jim Kish, Owner, Kish Fabrication
  • David LoSchiavo, Owner, Durham Cycles

Chopped! The Historical Edition

Bobby Flay, Marcus Samuelsson, and Rachel Ray meet history’s best recipes!  This course uses the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s unique collection of cookbooks and culinary advertising to explore the culture, politics, and economics of food. Students will read about the cultural history of food from the medieval spice trade and 17th century sugar plantations to Southern pound cake and biscuits. Top Durham chef, Chris Holloway, described by the Independent magazine as bringing an “attitude of rock 'n' roll” to cooking, will guide students as they recreate recipes in the Brodhead Center’s Chef’s Kitchen. Cupcake wars, cook-offs, and competitions will ensue!

  • Trudi Abel, Information Science & Studies and Research Services Archivist, Rubenstein Library
  • Kate Collins , Research Services Librarian, Duke University Libraries
  • Chris Holloway, Chef and Entrepreneur, Pitchfork Provisions

College: Made in China?

In an age of nationalism – of Trump, Xi, Modi, and Putin – Western-style liberal arts colleges are, paradoxically, springing up across the world. In just the last five years, Yale, NYU, and Duke have opened campuses in Singapore or China and other schools have formed partnerships across Asia and the Middle East. What’s behind this renaissance and how does it square with the growing anxiety in the U.S. about the value of a college degree? Is a liberal arts education even possible in authoritarian societies? Can China invent its own Apple without opening up its political system? What about reports that there is more free speech on these campuses than in the U.S.? Students will Skype, WeChat, and meet personally with advocates and critics, presidents and protestors, and faculty and students who are involved in these ventures. They will read transcripts of contentious Duke faculty debates, prickly editorials from Yale, and provocative faculty blogs from NYU and from Chinese universities.  A Next Generation digital learning experience (Hypothes.is, Slack, Practice.xyz, QallOut), students will encounter the diversity of doubts about, and hopes for, these ventures inside China and other countries. The course will culminate in a debate on the perils and possibilities of going truly global.

  • Noah Pickus, Associate Provost and Senior Advisor at Duke University; Dean of Curricular Affairs and Faculty Development at Duke Kunshan University; and Associate Research Professor of Public Policy at the Sanford School of Public Policy

Presidential March Madness

Who were the United States’ best and worst presidents?  What does it even mean to be the “best” or “worst” when factoring all of the opportunities and crises that have benefited and befallen each presidency?  Utilizing brackets and rankings based on the NCAA’s famed “March Madness” college basketball tournaments, students will examine the successes and failures of each presidency and draw conclusions on which ones were more successful than others.  By the end of the class, each student will possess the skills to more thoroughly scrutinize elected officials—a vital step in one’s development as an engaged citizen.

  • Fritz Mayer, Professor of Public Policy; Associate Dean for Strategy and Innovation, Sanford School of Public Policy; Director, POLIS (Duke's Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service)
  • BJ Rudell, Associate Director, POLIS (Duke's Center for Political Leadership, Innovation and Service)

Risky Business - The Stock Market

This mini course will explain why firms choose to have their shares traded on the stock exchange and how trading works. We’ll spend the first two sessions developing a language for talking about the stock market, firms, and firm and share performance. Then we’ll have a session on the “risk-return tradeoff”; this is an important topic to understand before we turn to our finale – how to create a trading strategy and see if you can use it to make money in the stock market! You’ll work in teams to create and test your trading strategy. Your team will need to know how to use excel and some basic statistics. But don’t worry if you don’t know this, we’ll cover everything.

  • Jennifer Francis, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs; Douglas and Josie Breeden Professor, Fuqua School of Business

The Biology of Popular Science Fiction TV & Movies

How is the use of magic inherited among people in the Harry Potter universe? How and why are there so many humanoid species on Star Trek (or planets with plants, for that matter)? How could The Doctor look completely different after regeneration? Come explore the entertaining intersection of science with science fiction and research potential biological explanations to your favorite Science Fiction media. Course is aimed at students with an interest in sci-fi/fantasy, a healthy imagination, and little to no biology background. 

  • Mohamed Noor, Professor, Department of Biology
  • Eric Spana, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Department of Biology

The Inner Work of Leadership

This is a course about how the activity of leadership and the process of critical reflection can become a package deal.  First we will explore the outer work of leadership, utilizing an analytical framework for addressing complex, systemic problems that lack easy answers—what we call adaptive challenges.   The focus of this course is the inner work of leadership—the practice of being present and able to reflect in the midst of intense, and sometimes contentious action.  It requires concentrated attention, which is easy to neglect in our fast-paced, distracted world.   We will introduce you to several modes of reflection: personal narrative writing, mindfulness practices, dialogue exercises, mentoring conversations, and approaches for thinking about aspirations, ambitions, commitments, and purpose.  Our anchor throughout the week will be experiments with the core tools of adaptive analysis—using narratives from films and articles as case studies for diagnosing adaptive challenges, and designing strategies to engage groups in adaptive work.     

  • Alma Blount, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Hart Leadership Program, Sanford School of Public Policy

Mucking About in the Marsh – Salt Marsh Ecology (Course is full)

Students in this field course will spend five days at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC, exploring the diversity of the coastal wetlands, their ecological functions and the critical services they provide humans.  Students will design and carry out short term field experiments in the marsh and will compare the biodiversity of the salt marsh to nearby oyster reefs, sea grass beds and sandy beach habits. Students should expect to get their feet wet and their hands muddy as we chase fish, crabs, snails and microbes around the NC coast.

  • Emily Bernhardt, Professor, Department of Biology; Professor, Environmental Sciences and Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Brian Silliman, Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Conservation Biology, Marine Science and Conservation, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Justin Wright , Associate Professor, Department of Biology

Puppies! (Course is full)

Puppies tell us so much about ourselves. They can help us answer important questions like, how should we bring up babies? What makes us attractive? Why do others make us feel good? Puppies also have some startling similarities with children, and have a particular social intelligence that is part of the reason why dogs are now the most successful mammals on the planet besides humans. We will visit a shelter and play cognitive games that might help puppies get adopted. We will go to the zoo and meet other baby animals that help us think about what makes puppies so special. We will meet puppies in training to help people with mental and physical disabilities. Spending time with puppies will allow us to explore concepts in cognitive neuroscience, veterinary science, evolution, behavioral economics, and more. Come play with some puppies with us.

  • Brian Hare, Associate Professor, Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
  • Vanessa Woods, Research Scientist, Department of Evolutionary Anthropology