Claremont McKenna College


We are living in the midst of a historic moment, which will shape our world for many years to come. Courses at CMC have been redesigned or newly created to deal with the key issues of the day: the global pandemic, race, economic dislocation, the presidential election, the realignment of global power, and many more that give you the tools to analyze, to connect, and to lead through uncertainty and change.

CMC faculty continue to work hard to deliver the best possible education to our students. They have developed courses that work well in an online environment. They have strived to make sure no student is excluded — with innovative assignment structures and separate class meetings for students in distant time zones.

CMC faculty have taken advantage of enhanced educational technology, training, and one-on-one coaching for teaching, research, and student engagement in a virtual world.

Many faculty have changed their pedagogies to include more small group discussions; invited speakers from academics, policy, and industry; research projects; one-on-one meetings; and other innovations. Small seminars and group projects around faculty research, student interest, and other selected topics for only 3 to 6 students are being introduced for credit this spring. Our IT office has made available enhanced technology and the training needed to use it well.

CMC’s Centers and Institutes continue to provide unparalleled graduate-level research opportunities for our students, such as the student-produced 2020 voting series from the Rose Institute of State and Local Government and the “Power of Humanities During a Pandemic” program from the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies.

As we prepare for the spring semester, faculty are inspiring each other to consider new techniques and approaches. Colleagues have created working groups to guide one another in developing and implementing new pedagogical strategies. They have identified the curricular innovations from the fall that were most effective, and shared them widely, to ensure that our spring courses are even more successful.


Spring Courses

CMC faculty continue to build on their successful innovations from the fall semester to reimagine and redesign spring coursework across the curriculum. Innovations—including newly modeled group projects, discussion pods, creative role-play games, and at-home simulations—feature the best of on-campus personalization with an eye on new, virtual adaptations for enhanced engagement. Several courses also spotlight key issues of the day and include expert guest speakers thanks to funding from the Dean of the Faculty office.

Taking lessons from fall, we’ve tried to better meet various student needs for online learning. A greater number and variety of courses are offered at non-standard times such as evening, to accommodate students in different time zones. More courses provide ways for students to learn the material that do not require always meeting at the scheduled class time.

To help students identify courses that best fit their interests, preferences, schedules, and learning styles, CMC faculty have provided additional information on 228 spring courses—detailing weekly class format, how they plan to help students in different time zones succeed, and other distinctive aspects of their courses.

Small seminars and group projects around faculty research, student interest, and other selected topics for only 3 to 6 students are being introduced for credit this spring.

Some of the spring courses being offered include:

  • Microbiology with professor Pete Chandrangsu. The lab engages in a citizen science project aimed at understanding the spread of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses) through contact with mailed packages. Coursework is of particular relevance due to the current pandemic and an increasing reliance on online vendors for everyday items.
  • U.S. Congress with professor Jack Pitney. The class incorporates videos and daily consumption of current political news to examine participant roles, party influence and leadership, and legislative functions. Students spend several class sessions in character as a member of Congress for a unique role play simulation.
  • Seminar on Diverse Teams at Work with professor Jennifer Feitosa. The seminar relies heavily on teamwork and cooperation to study real-world examples of team diversity. Students attend a virtual Athenaeum talk, discuss case studies, and work together to develop effective strategies to manage team diversity and translate science into tangible advice to organizational teams.
  • War II: Film with professor Jennifer Taw. Each week students watch one or two war films on a theme (like nationalism, leadership, and moral injury) or depicting a type of warfare (conventional war, insurgency, nuclear war, etc.) and then discuss the films and their own weekly research in seminar. Students conclude the semester by developing and presenting treatments of their own war film ideas.
  • Intro to Philosophy: Science, Technology, and Human Values with professor Gabbrielle Johnson. The course is divided into three units with an emphasis on discussion-based pods and interactive activities, including games, videos, breakout room puzzles, and a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style creative project.
  • Policy Lab with professor Zach Courser and Eric Helland. The class works in collaboration with the American Enterprise Institute on a project about federal disrupted elections policy. Students analyze the 2020 primaries and general election through collaborative group work, engagement with policy practitioners, and a team-taught, research-focused experience.
  • Quantum Mechanics with Computational Applications with professor Kevin Setter. The class uses lectures, student-led presentations, Zoom breakout rooms, and anonymous polling for concept tests, with an emphasis on student collaboration and reflection via Slack.
  • The Amazon with professor Sarah Sarzynski. The class uses pre-class and in-class exercises to study the history of Amazonia from the 19th-century rubber boom to contemporary environmental campaigns. Students work in small discussion pods and build toward a creative real-life simulation in the form of a video editing project and a report on indigenous histories for international health care workers.
Curricular Innovations

This spring, courses will offer more opportunities for:

Faculty-led Small Group Seminars and Projects

To generate close student-faculty collaboration and connections—critically important at a time when we can’t physically be together—CMC is sponsoring a number of for-credit seminars and group-based independent study projects, enrolling between 3 and 6 students, for the spring semester. These independent study courses will allow small teams of students to collaborate with faculty on complex problems in areas of their expertise.

“We will be supporting projects that engage with professors’ current research, seminars that explore topics central to professors’ expertise, and small-group independent studies on emerging topics that professors are just beginning to explore,” said Prof. Andrew Schroeder, Associate Dean of the Faculty.

Although the topics will be built around professors’ expertise, students will also have a significant role in shaping them,” he continued. “Students’ interests, for example, can help determine what aspects of the topics get explored. We considered what we could do to recreate as closely as possible the classroom interaction with students that is such an important factor in the CMC experience, but one that is harder to find in a virtual environment.

Collaborative student projects

Throughout the fall, students worked in small groups, creating research projects, policy proposals, and videos.

Prof. Mary Evans is currently collaborating with two CMC students and Prof. Laura Grant to look at policies that the EPA and many states adopted to give some discretion to facilities regulated under environmental regulations during COVID. “At most universities, undergraduates have to compete with graduate students to collaborate with faculty on research projects that might lead to publications,” Evans said. “At CMC, this is not the case. Students are constantly learning new methods and techniques in their courses, and these faculty-student collaborations, whether they happen via the institutes or via relationships they’ve built with faculty, give students the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned to explore tangible questions.” The faculty and student team recently submitted a research paper to a journal and are waiting to hear if it’s been accepted.

Likewise, Prof. Andrew Sinclair recently co-authored an in-progress academic paper with Nohl Patterson ’22 about the California Department of Motor Vehicles. “I benefit just as much from these collaborative efforts as the students do. One of the best parts of teaching is getting to continually learn from your own students.”

Expert guest speakers

Many faculty called upon outside speakers to virtually visit their classrooms, presenting students with new opportunities and perspectives this fall. This strategy will be deployed again in spring, with the dean’s office providing the funding to support guest speakers in all spring courses.

This past fall, Prof. Rima Basu invited 12 junior and senior scholars to her philosophy class. She asked them to provide a piece of writing that had not yet been published so the students could workshop the paper together as a class. “There’s something special about getting to meet the person who wrote the paper you just read,” Basu said. “You get to ask the source themselves clarificatory questions, raise objections, and watch the ideas evolve in real time.”

As a result, students moved beyond being passive receptors of knowledge to co-creators of knowledge. “In some cases, they were the very first people to read a draft, and no doubt the questions will shape how the paper gets revised and perhaps a few will even end up in the acknowledgements of the final products,” Basu said.

The Gould Center for Humanistic Studies also hosted several noteworthy guest speakers. A two-part workshop called “Let’s Write a Pilot” was led by writer and producer Matt Pyken ’83, known for Empire and Mr. Robot, and screenwriter Colin Waite.

During the first workshop, Pyken gave a crash course in how to write a TV pilot. The students were assigned to write one or two scenes for a pilot using a prepared outline. In the next workshop, the students learned how the pilot came together and participated in a read-through of the script.

Teaching Summit

Faculty share lessons learned from the fall semester that can be applied to improving virtual teaching in the spring and even when we return to campus:

  • Coach the Professor: Adrienne Martin, associate professor of philosophy, politics, and economics, said she initiated regular one-on-one feedback sessions, where students could give her guidance about what aspects of the course were working well for them and where improvements could be made. She plans to continue these feedback sessions, even when we return to in-person learning. “I’m doing this from now on,” she said. “My students were creative about ways to cultivate community in the classroom, and insightful about which pedagogical strategies were most effective, and why.”
  • Tech Improvements: For fellow faculty members seeking ways to engage more effectively with their students, Mark Huber, the Fletcher Jones Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, suggested incorporating a document camera, which he uses to record his hands in close-up as he draws equations. By capturing his movements as he works through complex math problems, Huber thinks the doc cam “gives students a better sense of how mathematics is done.” “I often use dice and playing cards to demonstrate probability,” he said. “Using the doc cam makes it much more life-like.”
  • Mitigating Stress in the Classroom: Associate Professor of Psychology Stacey Doan breaks out of her own comfort zone while Zooming her lectures, using psychological insights to create a positive environment for students. She also arrives early to class, just as she did before transitioning to a remote classroom. “I create time for conversation in every class, even if it’s just five minutes,” she said. “It’s important to be authentic and intentional.”
    Academic Calendar

    Spring 2021

    • Start courses on Jan. 25
    • Spring break, March 8–12
    • Fall 2021 course schedule available April 5
    • Pre-registration for fall 2021 courses April 20-22
    • Classes will end on May 7
    • Final exam period for all students May 10-14
    • Commencement May 15

    A reimagined virtual Athenaeum program includes world-class speakers and lively discussions on current critical issues. Upcoming expert guest speakers include:

    Monday, January 25

    Raj Chetty, William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University, public economist, and MacArthur “Genius”

    Where Opportunity Happens: How Neighborhoods Affect Social Mobility

    Using the powerful lens of data and economics, Professor Raj Chetty will lay the intellectual, theoretical, and statistical groundwork to evaluate whether the American dream still remains attainable today.

    A MacArthur “Genius” and one of the most esteemed public economists in the world, Chetty will draw on his data-rich, nationwide research to illustrate how a residential zip code—where a child is growing up—is more predictive of social mobility and economic fate than any other national metric.

    With each street in the United States mapped onto his “Opportunity Atlas,” Chetty’s research foretells which neighborhoods in America offer children the best chance to rise out of poverty, mines where and for whom opportunity has been missing, and even suggests targeted solutions to help more children and families rise out of poverty.

    Monday, February 8

    Gary Hoover, chair of the Economics department at the University of Oklahoma

    Gary Hoover will speak on a topic in policy analysis of income distribution/poverty, public finance, or ethics in economics.

    Hear him on NPR’s Marketplace

    Thursday, February 18

    Stefanie Johnson ’00, associate professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business

    Stefanie Johnson will address topics from her studies on the intersection of leadership and diversity and her book: Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams:

    Tuesday, February 23

    Richard Lowry, conservative columnist, author, commentator and editor of the National Review

    Richard Lowry is a respected voice on the American Right. Lowry became editor of the National Review in 1997 when he was handpicked by William F. Buckley to lead the magazine. He appears frequently on NPR, Meet the Press, and Fox. He is expected to address the post-Trump presidency landscape for the Republican party.

    These are preliminary updates and additional information will be provided as plans are finalized.


    Innovation Videos

    Click here to view our series of Academic Innovation videos.

    Athenaeum Programming