Written by

Rebecca Haddad

Arts + CultureNews

Are You a STEM Student at UWindsor? You Need to Take These Arts Electives

Published On: Tue, Mar 1st, 2022, 9:24AMLast Updated: Tue, Mar 1st, 2022, 9:24AM7.3 min read
By Published On: Tue, Mar 1st, 2022, 9:24AMLast Updated: Tue, Mar 1st, 2022, 9:24AM7.3 min read

As part of their degree requirements, most STEM students at UWindsor need to take at least two arts electives. Most of them tend to opt for an introductory philosophy or psychology course, overlooking equally interesting courses in other arts fields. To help rectify this situation, we’ve compiled a short, non-comprehensive list of underrated arts electives we would recommend to science students at UWindsor. On the flipside, if you’d like to hear about underrated science electives for arts students, click here

ENGL-2520: Frankenstein and its Afterlife

You’ve surely encountered Frankenstein in TV or film—that green, hulking creature with bolts in his neck and stitches across his body, traipsing forward with arms outreached like a zombie, moaning something unintelligible and vaguely threatening. Turns out Frankenstein isn’t even his name—it’s the name of the scientist who created him. Frankenstein’s creature, in its original 1818 iteration, is actually a well-spoken, gentle giant who comes to represent unethical science, bad parenting, and the nature-nurture debate. But you wouldn’t know that if you’d only heard about the Frankenstein myth in pop culture. 

Enter ENGL-2520: Frankenstein and its Afterlife. In this English course taught by Dr. Suzanne Matheson, you’ll get to learn all about the evolution of the Frankenstein myth, from its beginnings in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, to Richard Brinsley Peake’s 1823 play adaptation Presumption; or the Fate of Frankenstein, to the 2008 comic book titled Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel

Science students in particular are sure to love this course. For one, Shelley’s original novel offers us 21st-century readers a fascinating view into science in the 19th century, where doctors were just beginning to experiment with procedures like resuscitation and blood transfusion—and grappling with the ethical implications of it all. Students get to discuss the differences and similarities between the artist and the scientist, what happens when science is conducted in secret, and much more.

“I think Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus is an important novel because it was written in a period when the disciplinary lines between science and the humanities were more permeable,” explained Dr. Matheson. “It is a psychologically-rich exploration of the ethics of experimentation, and the necessity of community, empathy, and collaboration in good scientific practice.”

Daniel Lupas, a fourth-year student in the Integrative Biology program, took ENGL-2520 in the Fall 2021 semester and confirmed that he really enjoyed it. “Not only was Dr. Matheson an engaging lecturer, but the course content was also very enjoyable,” he said. 

“The course delved into Shelley’s original work and its derivative works in literature, theatre, and in cinema. We learned how the format can emphasize or minimize certain aspects of the original. Dr. Matheson also teaches the value of considering the author’s personal life and the state of society at the time of a work’s creation.” 

Daniel said without hesitation that he would recommend Frankenstein and its Afterlife to other science students. “Not only does it cover the scientific views from the author’s time,” he added, “but it also gives us a look at Victor Frankenstein, a picture-perfect example of what a bad scientist looks like.”

Frontispiece to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.

VSAR-3860: BioArt: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences

Have you ever wanted to put your science skills to use in an art project? Perhaps you’ve wanted to use algae as a paint medium. Or maybe you’ve thought about making a piece of artwork using photos taken under a microscope. You have the opportunity to do all that and more in VSAR-3860: BioArt: Contemporary Art and the Life Sciences, taught by Dr. Jennifer Willet. The course is affiliated with the Incubator Art Lab, an art/science laboratory at the University of Windsor, which opened its second location in September 2021

According to the course description available on the Incubator Art Lab’s website, VSAR-3860 is “a visual art and science crossover lab intended for students from various disciplines to foster interdisciplinary exploration of the intersections between art and life through hands-on laboratory protocols, critical readings, and the production of contemporary artwork”. Students get to learn about “the biological sciences, historical crossovers between the fine arts and the hard sciences, and contemporary artists in the art/science field”. Workshops in the course teach students about techniques like “microscopy, DNA extraction, and genetic modification”, all while emphasizing “health and safety and proper laboratory technique”.

Although this course would be of particular interest to science students, no experience in biology is necessary to successfully complete the course. 

Dr. Willet highlighted some of the reasons why a science student would enjoy VSAR-3860 and how it could actually enhance their science skills. “The bioart class is a lot of fun,” she said. “Students make artworks using organisms, techniques, and technologies from the sciences. This can increase creative and innovative thinking and contribute to enhanced science communication skills. This is a great class for science majors to take, as you will have the opportunity to use your scientific skills in a very different and creative context.”

Giulia, a second-year student in Behavior Cognition and Neuroscience who is currently  enrolled in VSAR-3860, can testify to the course’s appeal. “The projects have allowed me to use what I know about science to be creative,” she explained. “It’s given me a chance to have fun and relax a little, especially with my heavy course load.”

“I would recommend this course to other science students because it is a chance to use things that I’ve learned about in my other classes and incorporate them into an art project. The projects are also super fun and you don’t have to know anything about visual arts to do well.”

INCUBATOR Art Lab, 2019. Photo credit: Justin Elliott.

GRST-2000: Topics in Classical Culture: Science and Technology in the Ancient World

How did ancient civilizations build pyramids and aqueducts? How did Greek mathematician Archimedes invent exponential notation? How did the ancients use what they knew about medicine to survive plagues? All these questions and others are answered in GRST-2000: Science and Technology in the Ancient World, taught by Dr. Robert Weir.

According to Dr. Weir, the department of Greek and Roman Studies offers GRST-2000 once or twice a year as a rotating topics course. “It was only in Winter 2021 that we made one of those offerings on science and technology in the ancient world,” he said. “That first offering had about thirty students, and this year it has about forty, so we will likely make it one of our regular Greek and Roman Studies courses.”

The course touches on a wide range of topics, including but not limited to ancient math, engineering, medicine, political science, urban planning, biochemical warfare, and paleontology. “I also devote time to fields that we generally consider un-scientific but were legitimate and rigorous fields of quote-unquote scientific inquiry in ancient times,” added Dr. Weir, “for instance, astrology and magic.”

“Overall, modern students of science get a better sense of where their disciplines have come from and what their long-term contexts are.”

It also helps that the course is “at the two-thousand-level and has no prerequisite, which means no assumed knowledge about ancient civilizations.”

Max Beadow, a second-year Biochemistry major, was in the first-ever cohort of students who took Science and Technology in the Ancient World. “For it being the first ever time taught here at the university, I was really quite impressed,” he said.

“As a Biochemistry student, the science and technology aspect fit right in, and was the best combination I could have asked for in an elective. From the very first lecture, learning about how mathematics came into history books, to studying alchemy and constellations, it was just a nice, refreshing twist on modern-day science.”

Max also appreciated Dr. Weir’s teaching. “His passion for what he teaches was felt through the screen,” he explained. “His lectures about even the so-called boring topics were interesting, and I say boring because the average person would find the very first computer—the Antikythera mechanism—no more interesting than industrial mills or Roman bathhouses.”

The cherry on top was seeing other students’ projects for the course at the end of the semester. “You saw students making videos shooting catapults, using ancient makeup techniques, or making ancient weapons,” Max enumerated.

“This course is one that I feel deserves more recognition and advertisement. It was extremely well-structured, and I really enjoyed it.”

Archimedes Thoughtful by Domenico Fetti (1620).

Are there any other underrated arts electives that you would recommend to STEM students at UWindsor? Email us at editor@thelance.ca to let us know!

Share this article

About Rebecca Haddad

Rebecca Haddad is an undergraduate student at the University of Windsor pursuing a double-major in French Studies and Political Science along with a minor in English Language and Literature. She is not quite sure what her future holds, but she hopes that her career will allow her to explore her varied interests in languages, art, politics, social justice, journalism, and social media.