U-M’s Sophomore Initiative offers food for thought

September 28, 2011
Laura Lessnau,
Maryanne George, E-mail: mageorge@umich.edu, Phone: (734) 615-6514

ANN ARBOR—In a University of Michigan classroom 70 sophomores studied the effects of donuts on their health and the environment. Next month, they’ll write an essay on what it was like to eat on a daily budget of $3.50, the average allowance for food stamp recipients.

The students are enrolled in a new course in the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts titled “Twenty-Two Ways to Think About Food.” It offers students a multidisciplinary learning experience, using food as the organizing principle.

Throughout the semester students will hear lectures from top professors in economics, physics, chemistry, political science, sociology, biology, women’s studies and American culture. They’ll also get a chance to watch cooking demonstrations, sample food, produce videos and create blogs about what they are learning.

The course encourages students to develop critical thinking skills and analyze issues from diverse perspectives, according to Phil Deloria, LSA associate dean for undergraduate education, who is teaching the course. It is one of several offered through the LSA Sophomore Initiative, a new pilot program that helps students explore different topics and avoid the “sophomore malaise,” as they try to determine a major.

“Food offers an excellent organizing principle for this course because it nourishes our bodies, defines our environments, shapes our economies and lubricates our social interactions,” said Deloria, the Carroll Smith-Rosenberg Collegiate Chair of History and American Studies. “The production and consumption of food has always been a central human issue, and it makes a perfect problem for the kind of multi-sided contemplation we’ll take up in this class.”

The course also offers a chance to explore the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities and experience an interdisciplinary program in action, according to Deloria.

Numerous courses in political science, humanities, economics, history, languages, music and health are also offered as part of the initiative, as well as mini-courses explaining the value of a liberal arts education and helping students prepare for internships.

“Liberal arts degrees are great for all kinds of futures,” Deloria said. “In a world in which many future jobs have not yet been created, the flexibility of mind and problem-solving skills of the liberal arts offer some of the best preparation for what is to come.” 


The University of Michigan College of Literature, Science, and the Arts is U-M’s largest college, with 19,000 students and more than 70 departments and programs. The 2011 rankings by U.S. News & World Report and the 2010 rankings by the National Research Council placed 85 LSA departments, programs and fields of study within the top 25 in the nation, including nine ranked No. 1. For information, see www.lsa.umich.edu.

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