Female professor talking to students in a small room while seated around a table

University Seminars

For more than a decade, the University Seminar (USEM) program has provided an opportunity for undergraduate students to take unique seminar style courses in a variety of topics taught by faculty from any of the University’s twelve schools. University Seminar faculty engage students in discussion, hands-on experiential learning, research, and in critical self-reflection that helps students shape the direction of their studies at UVA.

New for the 2023-2024 academic year, University Seminars are one-credit courses available to second- and first-year students. USEM courses are offered during both the fall and spring semesters, are capped at 18 students, and are offered on an open enrollment basis to any second- or first-year student interested in the topic of the course. It is expected that these courses will help students develop critical thinking skills and explore new ideas in an environment that encourages interactive learning and intensive discussion. Enrollment in a University Seminar should provide second- and first-year students the opportunity to work closely with faculty and to develop an intellectual community with other students around a shared area of interest.

Spring 2024 Courses

Please refer to the USEM course listings within SIS for course meeting times.

Death, Dying and Bereavement

Richard Steeves

You should take this University Seminar if you want to think and talk about dying, death and bereavement and read those who have about the subject deeply.

Although American culture has a reputation for being death denying, we do in fact confront images of and talk about death almost a daily. This course will about those who have thought about our mortality seriously and extensively. The course will be divided into three foci: (a) writers and poets, (b) death professionals such as hospice workers, funeral directors and grief counselors, (c) social scientists who study homicide, suicide, and grief.

Falling From Infinity

Michael Palmer

You should take this University Seminar if you want to grapple with big, beautiful, unanswerable questions.

This thing we call infinity fills our dreams and sparks our imaginations, yet it lies just beyond our reach, lurking in the shadows, evading our questions. Our curiosity compels us to ask: what is infinity? In this class, we will explore the infinite and the infinitesimal by looking through the eyes of great thinkers from a range of disciplines.

Behind the Stethoscope: Doctors in their Own Words

Dianne Pappas

You should take this University Seminar if you want to explore the writings of physicians in order to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a physician and practice medicine today.

Behind the Stethoscope utilizes physician writings to explore the formative experiences of today's physician (e.g. education, mistakes, challenges of race/gender, death) in order to understand the human side of what it means to be a physician. Through readings, class discussions, one paper and one final presentation, students will also refine their skills in active reading, critical thinking, and effective written and oral communication.


Mark Thomas

You should take this University Seminar if you are interested in learning about a fascinating part of the world that on the surface it looks quite familiar to American audiences, but is truly distinctive, in terms of its history, its politics, its culture.

Australia is a paradox. A penal colony that became the richest country in the world within a century; independent of Britain since 1901, yet the King remains the head of state; long among the most urbanized of global societies, with a cultural identity that is largely shaped by rural idealism. We will use novels and diaries, movies and artwork, to explore these paradoxes: to understand the history, culture and society of the land ‘down under'.

Journeys through Hell

Dariusz Tolczyk

You should take this University Seminar if you would like to step outside your comfort zone and place yourself in the shoes of people who experienced some of history's profound assaults against humanity and wrote about it.

How does evil originate in history? Our readings and discussions will allow us to confront our own assumptions with discoveries of those who lived through extreme experiences – genocide, persecution, enslavement, concentration camps. What did they discover about being human? We will discuss the Bible, Plato, Elie Wiesel, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Witold Pilecki, Varlam Shalamov, Zhang Xianliang and others. Readings will be complemented by films.

Documentary Films in American Education

Stephen Plaskon

You should take this University Seminar if you are interested in documentary films about American Education and the making of films.

This USEM will explore a number of pressing issues in American Education and will preview both popular and documentary films and television programs that have been made about some of those issues. Students will work in small groups to identify an issue of interest and will develop, with the instructor's guidance, a proposal for a possible documentary film about the selected issue. Proposals will be shared and reviewed as a concluding activity.

Cancelled?!: Accountability and Freedom in Higher Education

Caroline Warren

You should take this University Seminar if you want to understand what debates about so-called "cancel culture" can tell us about the limits of free speech, the meaning of accountability, and the purposes of a university education.

What does it mean to “cancel” someone? To some, it is a way of holding powerful people accountable for their actions. To others, “cancelation” is a threat to free speech, akin to censorship. This interdisciplinary course explores how the threats and realities of "cancelation" have impacted life and work in academia. We will use real-life case studies to guide our analysis of the ethical and political stakes of this controversial topic.

Living in a Liminal Time – Exploring Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Taison Bell and Kyle Enfield

You should take this University Seminar if you are interested in understanding social and leadership challenges associated with a pandemic.

Explores COVID-19's societal impact through the perspective of two frontline healthcare workers. Spanning topics like history, policy, equity, and ethics, this course explores the systemic impact of a pandemic and empowers students to navigate a dynamic world. Students who participate will learn about the social and leadership challenges associated with a pandemic.

Work in the Age of Algorithms

Claudia Scholz

You should take this University Seminar if you want to learn about how data and automated decision-making will shape your future as employees, managers and/or entrepreneurs.

This is a course about the future of work and how it will be impacted by data, algorithms, and automation. It is also a course about the work embedded in algorithms. What we call "AI" is built on human decisions, labeling and interpretation. This reciprocal relationship between work and technology is the theme of the course. Students will explore their own experience with work and their career goals while learning about algorithms / automation.

Lab-Embedded Science Writing

Kateri DuBay

You should take this University Seminar if you are interested in science writing for a general audience!

This course is designed for students interested in science writing. A critical component of the course is that each student will visit regularly with a host research lab at UVA to learn how scientific research unfolds in real time, while also receiving formal training in science writing during class sessions. During the semester, students will write and revise a piece for the public reporting on the research initiatives within their chosen lab.

Introduction to Genocide Studies

Jeffrey Rossman

You should take this University Seminar if you are interested in exploring the multidisciplinary field of genocide studies.

This course offers students an introduction to the multidisciplinary field of genocide studies. Case studies include: the Herero genocide; the Armenian genocide; the Holocaust; communist mass killing; ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian war; and the Rwandan genocide. Themes include: the experience of victims; the psychology of perpetrators; genocide denial and memory; strategies of prevention and intervention; and the prosecution and law of genocide.