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Commons iSeminars

What is an iSeminar?

The “i” in iSeminars stands for “I”mmersion. iSeminars are intended to prepare first-year students to pursue their passions by modeling rigorous, compelling, and unique projects in addition to exposing students to a particular seminar theme. iSeminar topics help students imagine ways to make a difference in the world by introducing them early on to the questions of why, how, and where having an immersive experience might make a difference in their undergraduate careers. Thus, the iSeminars are pre-emptive, preparatory, and exploratory, led by faculty dedicated to the university’s Immersion Vanderbilt  experience.

The iSeminar, “Deep Dive into the Literary Arts,” was intended to introduce first-year students to the literary arts—either as “producers” (creative writers), or scholars (potential English majors), or as literary “workers” (editors, arts entrepreneurs)—in regard to what Vanderbilt offers, while also leaking over a bit into the Nashville literary community. According to Kate Daniels, professor of English and director of the Creative Writing program at Vanderbilt, “We also looked at the influence of collaborative, participatory approaches to art making, which we see in Nashville in the music industry.”

iSeminars for the Class of 2022

  • Calum Avison (A&S—Psychology) “Drug Epidemics: What Lies Beneath?”
  • Joe Bandy (A&S—Sociology) “What’s Really on Your Plate?: The Environmental and Social Politics of Food”
  • Cynthia Brame/Sean Davies (A&S—Biology/Pharmacology) “So you want to find a cure: Preparing for immersive research experience in the biosciences”
  • Erin Charles and Anna Thomas (Blair—Music Education) “Music that Shapes You: An Immersive Experience in the Study of Music and Identity”
  • Lily Claiborne (A&S—Earth and Environmental Sciences) “Observing the Earth”
  • James Clarke (Engineering—Civil/Environmental Engineering) “Electric Power Generation: Energy Choices and Environmental Consequences”
  • Daniela D’Eugenio (A&S—French and Italian) “Made-in-Italy: Identities, Cultures, and Globalization in Italian Fashion and Design”
  • Avery Dickens de Giron (A&S—Anthropology)  “Latin American Ethnobotanicals: Ancient Grains and Medicinal Plants”
  • Jenni Dunbar (Peabody—Psychology and Human Development) “An Exploration of Resilience, Mental Health and Mental Illness: Myths, Facts, and Applications”
  • Chalene Helmuth (A&S—Spanish) “Designing Your Successful Study Abroad Experience”
  • Celina Callahan-Kapoor (A&S—MHS) "Learning to Listen to America”
  • Jonathan Hiskey/Robert Barsky (A&S—Political Science) “A Place to Call Home: Research on Refugees in Nashville and Beyond”
  • Shane Hutson (A&S—Physics) “Preparing for Immersive Experiences: The Pursuit of Scientific Discovery”
  • Kevin Leander (Peabody—Teaching and Learning) "Talking Across Differences in An Age of Polarization: A Group Examination of Dialogue and Social Media Communication”
  • Heather Lefkowitz/Nancy Nolan (Peabody—HOD) “Can I Laugh Now?”
  • Dan Morgan/Mark Petty (A&S—Earth and Environmental Science) “The Environment and Environmentalism of Vanderbilt”
  • Kendra Oliver/Garrett Kaas (A&S—Communication of Science and Technology) “Exploring Science Through Art: Artist-in-Residence”
  • Kendra Oliver/Bruce Damon/Joey Barnett (A&S—Communication of Science and Technology) “Science Mythbusting 101: Exploring Rigor and Reproducibility in the Media”
  • Betsey A. Robinson (A&S—History of Art) “The City as a Work of Art”
  • Christopher Rowe (Engineering—Engineering Management) “Triumph of the City”
  • Melanie Schuele/Alison Hessling/Jena McDaniel (Peabody—Special Education) “Explore Language: Discover the Expected and Unexpected”
  • Courtney Travers/John Koch (A&S—Communication Studies) “Immersive Experience in The Study of Presidential Politics”
  • Thomas Withrow (Engineering—Mechanical Engineering) “Building Your Skills and Designing Your Own Path”
  • Matthew Worsnick (A&S—History of Art)  “An Architect’s Toolkit: Seeing, drawing, making”
  • David Wright (A&S—Chemistry) “The War on Science: From Galileo to the March”
  • Sophie Bjork-James (A&S—Anthropology) "Nashville’s Civil Rights Legacy”

iSeminars for the Class of 2023

The Spring 2019 will be announced later this fall.

Propose an iSeminar

The submission window for Spring 2020 proposals is now closed.


  • Individuals or teams holding academic appointments in one of the four undergraduate schools or the professional schools are eligible. Specific requirements for faculty from the professional schools are detailed below. Instructors on annual contracts are responsible for securing a teaching appointment for the academic year or semester in which they offer the iSeminar in order to be eligible. 
  • Qualified university graduate students or staff professionals who partner with a VU faculty member are eligible. The faculty member must serve as the instructor of record and take an active role in the teaching of the iSeminar. 
  • Since Commons iSeminars are offered by departments or programs in one of the four undergraduate schools, faculty from professional schools must seek an instructional partner within the undergraduate department through which the course is intended to be offered. 

Requirements for Instructors from Professional Schools without an Undergraduate Division (Nursing, Medicine, Law, Owen, Divinity)

Commons iSeminars cannot be offered through the professional schools. In order for undergraduate students to receive degree credit for iSeminars, they must be offered through a department or program in one of the four undergraduate schools or colleges (Blair School of Music, College of Arts and Science, School of Engineering, Peabody College).

  • Instructors from the professional schools should identify a department or program in one of the undergraduate schools through which to offer the course.
  • The course instructor (or a member of the instructor team) should have an affiliation with the department or program through which the course is to be offered. This affiliation does  not  have to be a formal secondary appointment, but the faculty member should be approved by the department chair as an affiliated faculty member.
  • If none of the course instructors proposing the iSeminars have such an affiliation, they are required to find an instructional partner from within the undergraduate department or program through which the course is to be offered. The level of participation by this instructor will be determined by the teaching team, but the minimum requirement is that this instructor must serve as a guest lecturer or discussion facilitator in at least one session.
  • The instructor/s need to request approval of their Commons iSeminar proposal from the department chair or program director through which the course is to be offered (not from their home department in the professional school).

Scope and Content 

Commons iSeminars are one-credit, spring-semester seminars sponsored by the faculties of the university’s undergraduate schools offered through the Office of the Dean of The Ingram Commons. They have no prerequisites and are open to first-year students from any of the four undergraduate colleges or schools. iSeminars are typically capped at fifteen students and meet for the equivalent of fifteen contact hours during the semester in a variety of formats.

The Office of the Dean of The Ingram Commons seeks a wide range of topics that appeal to faculty and students from all disciplines. iSeminars present instructors with the opportunities for team teaching, experimental approaches to instruction, and the creation of unique intellectual experiences not typically offered by a department or school. We encourage, in particular, trans-departmental and trans-institutional teaching teams to submit proposals. iSeminar proposals that are linked to The Commons Reading for the Class of 2023 are also welcome.


A $2,000 research fund is available to instructors of each iSeminar.

iSeminar Curricular Funds

A fund of $500 will be available to each instructor or instructional team to support the educational goals of the iSeminar, e.g., group travel expenses, tickets, special materials for group projects, etc. Whenever possible, you will need to use Vanderbilt's tax-exempt form. Please inquire with Christina Robbins about expense policies and reimbursement procedures before making any purchases.

Course Proposals 

One-page proposals should outline the scope and topic(s), questions the iSeminar examines, methods of evaluation, and required text(s) if any. A class-by-class syllabus is not necessary. Instructors are encouraged to write the proposal with first-year students in mind so that, if approved, it can serve as a course description on The Commons website. You are welcome to include your preferred structure and times for teaching the iSeminar. The Office of the Dean of The Ingram Commons will contact you regarding scheduling after the courses have been approved.


Scheduling of iSeminars is flexible. Possibilities include, but are not limited to: 

  • fourteen 50-minute sessions 
  • twelve 60-minute sessions 
  • ten 75-minute sessions
  • eight 90-minute sessions (+ one 50-minute session during the first week of classes) 
  • six 120-minute sessions (+ one 50-minute session during the first week of classes)
  • four 180-minute sessions (+ one 50-minute session during the first week of classes)

All iSeminars should meet during the first week of classes so that students can be introduced to course expectations in order to decide whether or not they want to remain in the course before the end of the add/drop period.

Please note the following important dates for Spring Semester 2020:

Monday, January 6: First Day of Classes
Monday, January 20: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (classes do not meet)
February 29- March 8: Spring Break 
April 20: Last Day of Classes 

Choosing Time and Day for your Commons iSeminar: 

An ideal time frame for start- and end-times is between 2-7 p.m. This schedule will avoid the heaviest class times on the one end and extra-curricular and House activities on the other. Of course, other times can be arranged, including weekends. iSeminars should start at the regular class times for a given day. Mondays are challenging since no classes are held on Martin Luther King Day, and iSeminars scheduled after 5 p.m. will reduce the pool of potential female students due to Monday evening sororities meetings. 

Assignments and Assessment 

iSeminar instructors should consider reducing reading and writing assignments to a third of a regular 3-credit course. Instructors may also consider other forms of assessment such as creative projects, whether individual or group. While the amount of assignments is limited, the quality of the students’ work should be the same as for a 3-credit course. For specific resources from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching on course design and teaching seminars for first-year students, see below.

Submission and Approval Process for Proposals

iSeminars will be selected by a faculty committee from within The Ingram Commons. Please request approval for your Commons iSeminar from the chair of the department or program through which it will be offered, then submit your course description, along with a copy of the approval email, to dean of The Ingram Commons Melissa Gresalfi by mid-April, 2020. You will be notified by the beginning of May 2020 if your iSeminar has been selected.

Center for Teaching Resources 

Teaching First-Year StudentsFirst Day of Class; Team TeachingDiscussionsCooperative LearningClassroom Assessment TechniquesCourse Design; and Understanding by Design.


Further inquiries concerning eligibility, format, scheduling, and other procedures should be directed to Dean Melissa Gresalfi.