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ENGL 103 Spring 2021 Themes

Drexel University undergraduate students take ENGL 103, the third in the First-Year Writing course sequence, an in-depth textual and rhetorical exploration of themes across genres.

ENGL 103, the third in the First-Year Writing course sequence, invites students into an in-depth textual and rhetorical exploration of themes across genres. Each First-Year Writing instructor offers a unique theme. Below is a list of the courses offered for Spring 2021.

The Irish Short Story

Instructor: Jan Armon
ENGL 103 – 006, 008, 020, 024

To quote Irish writer Lucy Caldwell, “Irish Studies is such an exciting place… questioning so much that has so long been taken for granted, so keenly attuned to the voices and stories that we're not hearing... We seem to be at one of those magical, malleable moments, when such discoveries can be made, such change wrought, such new ways of seeing ushered in.” In these sections, students will be reading and writing about Irish short stories, most of them contemporary. Our two anthologies will be Being Various: New Irish Short Stories, edited by Caldwell; and The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland, edited by Irish writer Sinéad Gleeson. Your web site will have a PDF of Being Various. An ebook of The Glass Shore is available on

War and Its Human Toll

Instructor: Christopher T. Nielson
ENGL 103 – 018, 022, 028

Today’s wars are thousands of miles away from Philadelphia and remain out of sight and out of mind.  Some people might even toss the word war around casually without feeling or knowing its consequences on those who fight and their families. As we analyze war across genres, we’ll be looking at its survivors.  Readings will include Slaughterhouse-Five, Water by the Spoonful, and poetry by assorted poets—all selections are by survivors and/or family members.  We’ll respond to the texts, but we’ll also have workshops in which we’ll find ways to draw upon the authors’ experiences to write our own responses to war and its aftermath.

American Environmental Literature

Instructor: Craig Laird
ENGL 103 - 025

In this course we will read and write about American environmental literature, arguably America’s most important contribution to world literature.  Authors include Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, John Muir, Robinson Jeffers, John Steinbeck, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Aldo Leopold, Loren Eiseley, Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, E. O. Wilson, Mary Oliver, Terry Tempest Williams, and Al Gore.  Creative non-fiction, fiction, and poetry.  Text:  American Earth, edited by Bill McKibben.  Writing:  weekly journal, three major projects (a biographical/literary appreciation of an author, a conversation with an extra-terrestrial or a description of a utopia, and a transformation of a text from one genre to another).

Language Diversity and Your Unique Voice

Instructor: Juliet DelRio
ENGL 103 - 27

You and I, me and you. All our lives we are taught proper grammar and to write in “Standard English.” But what of those who speak other dialects of English? Dialects where the culture is made up of its own words and sentence structures? In this class, we will explore how language, both written and spoken, can be used to create a hierarchy. How desiring to speak the elitist language can stifle so many beautiful, diverse dialects. By the end of this class, students should be embracing their own authentic voices and sharing their stories to connect with and uplift others. Assignments include analyzing spoken word on language, reading publications from authors who have English as a second language, and creating a class blog.

Our Relationship with Nature

Instructor: Erica Kleckner
ENGL 103 - 034

This course will focus on our relationship with nature and the Earth. Using essayists, poets, novelists, and naturalists, the class will start by exploring creation myths and stories, and look at human awareness towards nature both historically and thematically through contemporary times. Through critical reading and analysis, students will look at their own views in regard to their relationship with nature and the natural world. With the use of relevant research and a range of rhetorical writing strategies, students will examine writers such as early explorers of North America, transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, activists and naturalists Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, and Leslie Marmon Silko as well as other writers within this theme. You will have three major composition projects in this course. These projects will demonstrate the student’s ability to do the following:  address audience and purpose, develop a main point or thesis, revise, use research and evidence, develop or organization , display grammatical and stylistic elements appropriate for college-level writing, and adherence to the conventions and guidelines of the project such as due dates, length, and format.

Murder She Wrote

Instructor: Anne Erickson
ENGL 103 – 36, 38, 40, 42

Examining murder mysteries by female authors and/or female detectives, we’ll explore the popularity of this genre, and the potentiality for exploration of gender roles in this field. Studying short and longer fiction, as well as the representation in film and television, students will generate several assignments both analytical and creative.

Orwell's 1984 and the Post-Truth Ethos 

Instructor: Chris Devenny
ENGL 103 - 037

Politicians making deceptive or untruthful statements is nothing new. There's a long history there. However, what we have not seen before, at least not to this degree, is a politically motivated subordination of reality as a means to secure power that simultaneously substitutes baseless opinion and affect for truth. This is unchartered territory. But maybe not entirely. As it turns out writers, philosophers, and filmmakers have been imagining just such a reality for quite some time. In this class we will focus on just one example: George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984. In addition, given that this is a writing class, our work in that regard will focus on 1984 in conjunction with a number of contemporary critical essays (I will provide these to you) that assess the relevance of Orwell’s novel to our present reality.

Robots, Androids, Cyborgs

Instructor: Valerie Booth
ENGL 103 – 130, 135, 138

In this class we will read stories that explore the continuum between Human and Machine, examining ourselves through the machines we build (or dream of building). Authors including Asimov, Vonnegut, Gibson and Barry will inspire the class to explore and write about our intimate relationships with the technology in our lives and imagine future upgrades.

Growing Up: Loss, Love…and Hope

Instructor: Lisa DiMaio
ENGL 103 – 131
ENGL 113 - 001

These sections of English 103 and 113 will explore the theme of “coming of age,” where characters in the novels we will read share common experiences associated with growing up: love, loss, bullying, acceptance. We’ll read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and Falling into Place by Amy Zhang. The novels include some uncomfortable topics like drug use, attempted suicide, and mental illness. We will explore additional readings to provide adequate background information and social context, so students can gain a deeper appreciation of the literature. Writing will include personal reflections, analyses, reader-response journals, discussion board posts, letters to peers, and collaborative writing activities in class.

The Power of Words 

Instructor: Jill Moses
ENGL 103 - 132, 178

‘There’s a blaze of light in every word…” 
from the song Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

Reading mostly contemporary poetry and prose, our focus will be on the power that language has to fascinate, incite, and move us. Focusing on the issues of free speech and censorship, students will look at the power of poetry, music, and how words can praise or demean others. We will read books that have been banned or challenged and create our own empowering written and spoken words. Students will write an analytical paper on a banned book of their choice and a comparative analysis of poetry and musical lyrics.  In addition, using professional writers as models, students will respond to creative writing prompts to develop the power of their own writing voice. 

The Artist as Rebel

Instructor: Ken Bingham
ENGL 103 – 133, 149

One of the most hotly debated topics of what “real art” is, is whether it should aim to change the world. Whether its goal should be to challenge the status quo. There are as many forms of art as there are artists. In this course, we’ll be looking at artists who have taken their art to new levels, challenging their audience, their fellow artists, and some, yes, changing the world. In “The Artist as Rebel,” we’ll be discussing and writing about such dynamic artists as Beethoven and his third symphony (“Eroica”), Pablo Picasso and his cubist movement, Orson Welles and “Citizen Kane,” Bob Dylan, and many artists suggested by the class itself. Students will write on the impact of these artists, the overall role of the artist in society, the work of current artists, and how they believe this reflects on the world of today.


Instructor: Gail D. Rosen
ENGL 103 – 136, 143

Through short stories and films, this course will focus on the way power and lack of power affects our lives. We will read works that focus on lack of power due to gender, race, economic level, or social status. We will also examine the way film and other adaptations of these works highlight their themes. We will write a variety of analytical texts. At least one of these texts will use research.

Literature of Conscience

Instructor: Deirdre H. McMahon
ENGL 103 – 139, 154, 165

Because books can shock, terrify, amaze, and bewilder us, they can make us reconsider or re-imagine our beliefs, even redefine who we are and the way we want the world to be. Examining literature as arguments that comment upon and influence the controversies of their day, we will discuss Spiegelman’s Maus II, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Glaspell’s Trifles, O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. Our own writing will include critical, historical, and creative options to explore the arguments that matter most to each of us. 

The Pain, Joy, and Insight of Humor

Instructor: Robert Watts
ENGL 103 – 140, 157, 162, 401

In this course, students will explore the close connection between humor and pain. Students read and respond to ethnographic and journalistic accounts of humans deploying humor to cope with pain (emotional and physical) and to identify absurd dilemmas. Students will write narrative and analytical responses to texts that describe the role of humor among doctors, nurses, residents of palliative care units and paramedics. Using the course texts as inspiration, students will recount own true stories of pain, humor and resilience.

Dishing it out: Food and Writing  

Instructor: Sheila Sandapen
ENGL 103 – 141, 158

We all eat, but how often do we think about how, when, what, and why we eat? Students will explore these questions through writing, research, and multimodal creative presentations. Writing assignments will include primary and secondary research and students will utilize writing to explore memories and associations with food as well as consider ways food forms part of our cultural identity. Furthermore, students will have opportunities to delve into wide range of food related topics including:  the science behind food, the history of food, and food and socio-economic status.

Writing and the Brain

Instructor: Kathleen Volk Miller
ENGL 103 – 145, 155, 164

We will explore the connections between writing and the brain, looking especially at how writing accesses parts of the brain responsible for thinking, language, creativity, healing and working memory. We will look at easy-to-understand neuroscience that illustrates ways to stimulate, nurture, and hone your brain into the ultimate writing tool. We will experiment with different approaches to writing in order to expand how you see yourself as a writer. Students will approach this topic from various directions. Writing assignments will include critical, analytical, and creative rhetorical modes, as well as collaboration and workshopping, and a daily log.

Adversity and Resilience

Instructor: Robert Finegan
ENGL 103 – 146, 147, 176, 183

Adversity means not getting what we want, or getting what we do not want, or getting what we want and then growing disenchanted with it. It covers everything from bee stings and traffic jams to tragic losses. In this course we’ll read texts that portray or evaluate a variety of responses to adversity and the depression that often accompanies it. We’ll focus on development of resilience as we survey the views of ancient philosophers, spiritual traditions, literary artists, and contemporary psychology. Writing assignments will include an exam essay, a collaborative project and online discussion assignments. We’ll look at how our own writing can be used to process adversity and cultivate resilience.

Write Out Loud: Writing for Social Justice

Instructor: Jaime Grookett
ENGL 103 - 151

Are you ready to make a difference? Learning to promote social justice issues through writing is the foundation of this course. You will examine the communications of a social justice organization that is important to you, then develop your own multimedia campaign to further the cause. You will read current think pieces, op-eds, open letters, personal essays, infographics, blogs, and speeches focused on social justice issues. We will study the writing of changemakers such as Greta Thunberg, Amanda Alcantara, Nelson Mandela, and Maya Angelou. Throughout the course, you will create three types of communications: print-based, web-based, and multimedia. You may work as individuals or collaboratively. This course empowers you with the writing skills to become activists and make a change today.

American Supernatural Tales

Instructor: Fred Siegel
ENGL 103 – 152, 153

In this course, we will read and discuss American weird fiction by authors such as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and others. We will write analytical essays in academic and non-academic genres, use the works we read to inspire our own scary stories, and create class anthologies. Our primary text will be the Penguin Classics Paperback anthology American Supernatural Tales, edited by S. T. Joshi, as well as some online resources.

Love Hurts

Instructor: Henry Israeli
ENGL 103 – 159, 163, 170

In this class, we will turn our attention to short stories and films that explore the extreme and sometimes downright awful things people can do to each other when they are in love. Some of the relationships we will study start off toxic, others turn poisonous over time, but rarely to they end happily. Some of the authors we'll be reading are George Saunders, TC Boyle, Kristen Roupenian, and Ottessa Moshfegh to name a few. There will be numerous informal writing assignments as well as a midterm and final essay. Warning: If you are looking for a class about romance, this is not it!

Exploring the Theme of “Racial Passing” in Literature and Film

Instructor: Nwenna Kai Gates
ENGL 103 - 161

Through novellas, scholarly articles, films, and short stories, this course will focus on developing critical and analytical writing in response to the theme of “racial passing” in earlier twentieth century literature. We will read and discuss the works of Nella Larsen, Kate Chopin, and James Weldon Johnson,and view films and documentaries such as Imitation of Life and The Rachel Divide. While exploring the theme of “racial passing”, students will continue to enhance their skills in critical thinking, active reading, research, and analytical writing that includes literary analyses as well as a research paper.

Adaptation in Art & Life

Instructor: Cassandra Hirsch
ENGL 103 – 166, 167, 169

What does the concept of adaptation mean to you? How have you found yourself adapting in various ways in your life? This process can refer to biology, to life's circumstances, or to the creation of one art form from another, such as how a book or a play can become a film, or how a poem can become a dance. We will explore, and emulate through writing, creative works in myriad forms and genres, both adapted and not. Through reading, listening, and watching various media, we will think critically, write, and discuss in order to arrive at an understanding of our own living adaptation within our own environment. We will unveil many themes as we explore, and in doing so we will discover what form adaptation has taken – of one kind or another – for us.

PEN America: Endangered Writers

Instructor: Harriet Millan
ENGL 103 – 168, 416

PEN America is a membership organization that works to defend creative expression and writers incarcerated or under threat around the world. Did you know that Drexel has the only PEN America undergraduate club outside of the UK and that we've helped free several unfairly imprisoned writers? Come on an adventure to learn about the world we live in and the times we are witness to. Learn what steps you can take to support free expression when it is being threatened by autocratic leaders around the world. How do the times we live in and the governments we live under determine what gets written? Besides learning how writers around the world risk their lives in order to express themselves, we will learn how to write and read more creatively. Writing will consist of weekly exercises and a group presentation and written dispatch on a writer chosen from PEN America's advocacy and action list.

Writing and Medicine

Instructor: Ted Fristrom
ENGL 103 – 171, 417, 419

This course examines how stories shape our understanding of illness. We will look at fiction, memoir, graphic novels and film. Students will be encouraged to write analytically about the representation of illness as well as being encouraged — not required — to write and reflect on their experiences or those of family and friends. Be warned that some of the topics like cancer treatment and mental illness may be discomforting. Likely authors include: Atul Gawande, Margaret Edson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, William Carlos Williams, Amy Hempel, Nancy Mairs, and Meri Nana-Ama Danquah.

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to Composition

Instructor: Donald Riggs
ENGL 103 – 177, 403, 411

We will be using the above mentioned text, by Jeffrey Weinstock, which develops the process of writing various kinds of essays—expository, analytical, and research—following the metaphor of the Mad Scientist creating “life” in a laboratory setting. We will read a variety of poems, short stories, and plays, using the techniques developed in the text to respond to, analyze, and research about those texts. We will not restrict our reading to Mad Scientist literature, but use the techniques explained by Weinstock to direct our focus. 

Thematic Analysis Across Genres: Gender-Bending Through the Centuries

Instructor: Donna Rondolone
ENGL 103 – 144, 148, 184, 400

In this course, our reading, viewing, discussion, research, and writing will center on questions of gender.  We’ll consider and compare several works, written over the course of some 900 years, that force us to confront our assumptions about gender roles, sexual orientation, and transgenderedness.  Our cornerstone reading will be Silence, a 13th-century poem that tells the story of a noble girl raised as a boy to circumvent the king’s edict forbidding girls from inheriting property.  We’ll also investigate the castrati singers, the “rock stars” of the 18th-century European opera stage; read some short stories by Mark Twain, who struggled to come to terms with his daughter’s lesbian identity; and read poetry by modern Afghan women, some of whom have been raised as boys.   Research and writing projects completed for this course may focus on a wide variety of gender-related issues in literature, film, graphic novels, or video games.

When Science Fiction Comes True

Instructor: Alexis Apfelbaum
ENGL 103 - 173

Science fiction has always acted as a conduit through which we understand our desires and fears about the future. However, we exist now in a world where the breakneck pace of scientific and technological advancements reorients the role of science fiction and speculative fiction. We will consider the series Black Mirror, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and several short fictive pieces in different genres in order to delve into where and how fiction gives birth to truth and truth becomes stranger than fiction. Students will compose both fiction and non-fiction research-based prose as we consider the space that exists when speculative fiction and “real-life” begin to blur.

Magical Realism and Surrealism in Short Stories

Instructor: Rachel Kolman
ENGL 103 - 179

This course explores the role that magical, surreal, and fantastical elements have in short fiction. How can a magical or fantastical element highlight a universal theme or controversial issue? How do writers incorporate surreal or strange aspects into their stories and make them seem plausible and real? Authors we will be reading include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell, Italo Calvino, and others. Work will include online discussion posts, informal quizzes, and written analysis. Students will peer review and produce 3 writing projects that include leading class discussion, reviewing a chosen story, and analyzing for themes. Students will also have the option of writing their own magical or surreal piece, if they choose to.

Strangers in Strange Lands

Instructor: Scott Stein
ENGL 103 - 182

This course will look at adventurers, aliens, outsiders, immigrants, and time-travelers as we consider how tales of strangers in strange lands satirize or examine human behavior and society and help us to see the world with fresh eyes. We will explore the novels Planet of the Apes and Gulliver’s Travels, as well as stories, essays, excerpts, nonfiction, movies, and television. Student writing will include analysis of and informal reflections on texts and their connections to the real world and each other.

The Future of Being Human

Instructor: Maegan Poland
ENGL 103 – 142, 402, 406

Do we think differently after we’ve grown accustomed to having a smartphone nearby? Do unseen algorithms shape how we view the world? How does the specter of constant surveillance in the internet age cause us to alter our behavior? If it becomes possible to build strong AI or to expand our brains with synthetic neocortices, how will society be altered? What will we define as human? We will discuss science fiction short stories, movies, philosophical essays, and podcasts that engage with these questions and others related to the possibility of a posthuman or transhuman future. Students will be asked to write an analysis of a science fiction narrative and to explore key concepts from the reading in discussion posts. In addition, students will write an annotated bibliography and incorporate their findings into a final project: a science fiction story accompanied by a research-based introduction. Creative writing experience is not required.

Word and Image (Reading and Writing in Hybrid Genres)  

Instructor: Valerie Fox
ENGL 103 – 409, 410

In this class, we will read, analyze, and create in multiple genres, with an emphasis on graphic memoir, a hybrid (flash/prose poetry) work, and different styles of ekphrastic poetry. There will be an emphasis on works that blend art-forms. In addition to offerings found online, there will be two required texts, one being Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel. This is a writing class, and you will be “reading to write,” using this opportunity to practice your writing skills while engaging with the hybrid forms and genres. If you happen to already enjoy graphic memoir, microfiction, or visual arts, you may find a new favorite author or two, but if any of the genres are new to you, take this could be a great opportunity to expand your horizons. 

Writing in Many Modes

Instructor: William Vargo
ENGL 103 - 415

In a world of TikToc, VR, and social media, what does it mean to “write?” How does the method of content delivery affect the meaning we ascribe to information? And how does composition technology affect how we view the world? In this course, we will take a critical look at the different media and modes we use to communicate on a daily basis. The course uses videos, podcasts, and texts—including Ted Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life”—to explore this interplay. Students will complete low-stakes composition projects utilizing different modes each week. Major projects are a rhetorical analysis of a genre and a research project exploring the efficacy of a particular mode.

The Legacy of Malcolm X and the Ongoing Civil Rights Struggle

Instructor: George MacMillan
ENGL 103 - 416

This course explores the life and teachings of Malcolm X while drawing connections to contemporary Civil Rights issues. Students will look to the text and current events to evaluate in their writing what progress has been made and identify areas where the struggle to ensure progress in protecting Civil Rights remains tenuous. In this class we will look back on the early Civil Rights Movement and draw connections to modern empowerment and equality efforts. Using the course text, The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, and other short texts and excerpts selected over the course of term, students are encouraged to examine the Civil Rights Movement’s past and present course on both a personal and societal level. Through informal writings, academic essays, and visits to local sites important to the Civil Rights Movement, students will reflect on how to contextualize these themes in relation to their contemporary world.