College professors are trying to lure students with elective classes filled with all manner of pop culture references and unconventional materials
By Abigail Tucker
January 27, 2008
With the spring term just around the corner, Professor George Plitnik is looking forward to donning his wizard outfit again.
"I wear it to pass out the syllabus - that really makes an impression," said the Frostburg State University physics instructor, who teaches a class on the science of Harry Potter. Later on in the semester he may masquerade as Severus Snape, using dry ice to create classroom smoke.
In between costume changes, though, Plitnik will also reference intimidating general science topics - magnetic fields, fiber optics, quantum entanglement - as a means of explaining various Potter phenomena. Past classes have explored, for instance, whether modern geneticists could engineer a creature like Fluffy, the three-headed dog.
Such questions are not always easily answered.
"There's always a rush to get into the class, but some drop because they see how much work is involved," Plitnik said.
At colleges across Maryland, the start of the new semester means plunging into a smorgasbord of peculiar academic offerings - classes that are hyper-specific, steeped in popular culture or focused on unconventional materials, like Tarot cards or comic strips.
Towson University, for instance, periodically offers both "Chemistry of Dangerous Drugs" and "Drugs in the Americas." The College of Notre Dame of Maryland brings students "From Homer to Star Wars: The Epic Tradition in Western Literature," and this semester the Johns Hopkins University presents "Drinking Parties, Homoeroticism and Gender Politics."
"Related films will be incorporated," a description of this last course promises.