A program for thriving at Duke

What if your classes not only shaped the way you thought but also the way you lived? What Now? The Duke Guide to Happiness, Purpose & Well-Being offers seminars designed to help you develop the tools and capacities to thrive at Duke and beyond.

Research across multiple disciplines suggests that students—and working adults—perform best when they are authentically connected to their work and to the people around them. What Now? classes are an opportunity for every student to consider what drives them, to learn habits that may help them succeed, and to have fun along the way.

Each seminar is a discipline-specific window into how to be happy, purposeful, or well. Explore the philosophy or social science of happiness; think about the meaning of belonging through Spanish literature; or consider how we communicate while learning about global health. These offerings give insights into different academic disciplines, but they also provide lenses through which to consider some of the fundamental questions that face each of us: What makes you happy? Why are you (or any of us) here? How do you choose the right path for you? What Now? offers a space not only to begin to answer those questions, but to live better in the process.

Faculty Committee: Martin Smith, Dean of Academic Affairs, Trinity College (ex officio); Denise Comer (Writing); David Malone (Education); Michael Kliën (Dance)

You take a seminar in the fall or spring of your first year. We’re offering first-year seminars (89S) and a more limited number of Writing 101 seminars in both the fall and spring semesters. Enrollment for these is open—sign up for the one you want.

graphic representing five different seminars, each a different color

As part of registration for a What Now? seminar, you’ll register for ETHICS 189: the What Now? Common Experience course. During this flexible “lab” course, students try out some of Duke’s best resources to support intellectual growth, wellness, and stress reduction. This .5-credit, pass/fail course also features faculty-facilitated conversations in students’ living groups, creating opportunities for students to get to know more professors and engage with scholars in a relaxed setting.

graphic representing five seminar colors mixed

You can search for What Now? seminars in the Advanced Search tab in DukeHub. Click Course Attributes and choose Interest Area. Select What Now? from the list.

The Classes

89S & Writing 101 Courses for the Spring


Offered online. W 1:45PM-4:15PM.

Fear, love, anger, pride, regret, envy – the emotions seem to play a big role in our lives, as well as in the lives of certain other animal species.  But what are the emotions?  Are they guides to behavior?  Are they judgments, or perhaps biases of judgment?  Are they motivations? Or maybe they are epiphenomenal – mere side effects of other mental processes, essentially irrelevant to proper mental function.  The course explores what the emotions are, what they are for, and how they evolved.  We begin with readings of some classic treatments of behavior and emotion in certain animal species, including gulls and chimpanzees. We then consider emotions in humans, reading selections from important works in psychology, neurobiology, and ethics. The central issue in the last part of the course will be the role of the emotions in human judgment, especially moral judgment.

Professor: Daniel McShea

PHIL 89S / ETHICS 89S (codes forthcoming)

Offered in person. TTH 12:00PM-1:15PM.

What obligations do we have to each other? Do we have different obligations to friends, family, and strangers? Is loyalty a moral value or is impartiality more important? We will consider whether social life is necessary for or an impediment to the best human life. In particular, we will focus on altruism–giving to others with nothing expected in return–and on collective moral obligations. When a moral problem, like alleviating global poverty or remedying climate change, is solvable not by individual action, but by coordinated, collective action, does that morally obligate each of us individually?

Professor: Jesse Summers

EDUCATION 89S / ETHICS 89S / PUBPOL 89S (codes forthcoming)

Offered online. WF 8:30AM-9:45PM.

How do communities, schools, and neighborhoods organize for social change? How do individuals organize their own commitments and energies to change the world around them? This course examines political activism, ethics, and education in the contemporary United States. It will introduce students to central philosophical and practical approaches to political organizing, help student develop skills in understanding and critiquing segregation and resegregation in the US, and enable students to locate their own commitments, callings, and aptitudes within the variety of accounts of organizing for social change.

Professor: Adam Hollowell

DANCE 89S / ETHICS 89S (codes forthcoming)

Offered online. M 1:45PM-4:15PM.

A recent study from University of Pennsylvania suggests that Nobel Prize winning scientists are 22 times as likely as their peers to engage in dance, theatre or magic. What we often call “genius” is an ability to see possibilities and connections that elude most of us, most of the time. But this kind of creativity can be cultivated. This seminar is an exploration of boundaries, connections, how we see, and what we do. Its structure will encompass multiple forms, including a practice-based studio, outdoor work and discussions. It introduces numerous established and experimental artistic methodologies as tools to aid process of creative, associative thinking and development of new ideas in any chosen field. Through the cultivation of awareness, perception and imagination and the exploration, experience and application of embodied thought, students will gain tools to unlock creative potential and visionary thinking in the personal and social realm. No movement or artistic experience required.  Students of all abilities welcome.

Professor: Michael Klien

MUSIC 89S / ETHICS 89S (codes forthcoming)

Offered online. F 10:15AM-12:45PM.

This course will explore two of the greatest musical collaborations in music history, The Beatles and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. We will pay close attention to the nature of the collaboration, which was unique in each case, and we will learn about two great periods in the history of popular music, Big Band Jazz from the 1920s through the 1950s and Rock and Roll in the 1950s and 1960s. Ellington worked with his musicians and with Billy Strayhorn to transform dance music into art music that helped define a modern identity for African Americans. Similarly, the Beatles turned rock into art. Without collaboration, these musicians would have been good; with it they make claims to the status of genius.

Professor: Thomas Brothers


Offered online and in-person. T 3:30PM-6:00PM.

The aims of education in general – and the purpose of college in particular – often remain invisible to and unexamined by students and faculty. This seminar will examine the multiple functions and purposes education serves – from credentialing to career preparation to finding meaning and purpose in one’s life. Students will examine the current scholarship on teaching and learning (SoTL) with a particular focus on emerging trends in progressive education such as self-authorship, integrative learning, experiential learning, growth mindset, and digital innovation. Students will analyze divergent philosophies of education and then develop and articulate their own educational philosophy and statement of purpose. Ethical issues and inequities in educational opportunities will be explored. Students will engage in a service-learning experience focused on development of an initiative aimed at changing campus culture to create a more inclusive and equitable campus community.

Professor: David Malone

ETHICS 89S / PSY 89S / SOCIOL 89S / I&E 89S (codes forthcoming)

Offered in-person. WF 3:30PM-4:45PM.

Nowadays, we can broadcast our thoughts to the world, yet creating the change one wants to see in the world requires leadership. In this class, we will examine the skillsets and mindsets of effective leaders in order to hone our own abilities to make change. Drawing on the interdisciplinary work business schools use to train students, we will study dimensions of leadership in theory and practice, particularly as it pertains to responding in moments of crisis or uncertainty. Through discussions, reading, reflection and experiential assignments, students will learn how to lead effectively and develop their leadership abilities in general, specifically focusing on leading social change.

Professor: Moran Anisman-Razin


Offered online. MW 10:15AM-11:30AMEducation has been linked to societal inequalities in health, income, and other life-chance measures. Thus, schools play a central role in social and economic well-being, particularly for minority groups. Given that the minority population within the U.S. has been steadily increasing and is projected to comprise 45 to 50 percent of the U.S. population in 2050, understanding racial differences in achievement is important for scholars, educators, and policy makers. This seminar will focus on the role of education in both the production and amelioration of social inequality. Particular attention is given to racial achievement gaps. By engaging both quantitative and qualitative studies, you will acquire 1) knowledge of the historical trends and understanding of racial differences in achievement, and 2) a broad understanding of the current issues/debates in the literature. In addition to focusing on the relative underachievement of Blacks and Latino/as, this course will also focus on the academic success of Asian Americans and Asians living within the U.S.

Professor: Angel Harris

offered at 3 different times:
TTH 10:05AM – 11:20AM (WRITING 101.05)
TTH 11:45AM – 1:00PM (WRITING 101.06)
TTH 3:05PM – 4:20PM WRITING 101.07)

College is one of the many turning points in your coming of age. It is a time when you separate from your family of origin, and thus are in a unique position to be able to reflect on your identity. The questions—“Who am I?”, “Who do I want to be?”, & “What do I want?”—are often daily challenges as you navigate being more independent and living a good life. Together, we will use the field of educational psychology to explore your personal and academic identity development, especially in relation to your happiness. In particular, we will reflect on emerging adulthood & student development theories, as well as scientific research on happiness, to help us understand how various factors—such as gender, socioeconomics, race, ethnicity, religion, and culture – shape the development of your authentic self.

By using a variety of texts, videos, observations and interviews about coming of age and happiness, we will engage with the work of others, learn to articulate a position, and situate our writing within specific contexts. To begin, we will read, discuss, and write about our classroom treaty and student learning and other identity profiles using both our personal experiences and existing theories on coming of age and happiness (2-3 pages). Informed by these theories, we will engage in case study research, which involves in-depth descriptive and analytical writing.

The final project will be an exploration in the form of an in-depth personal narrative & analysis of some issue(s) significant to your coming of age and happiness (10-15 pages). The topic, and the related additional readings, will be carefully chosen by you so that each personal narrative will be relevant & meaningful as you continue your coming of age journey at Duke. Throughout the course, we will write self and peer evaluations (2 pages) of our academic writing, and thus collaboratively strengthen our ability to improve our works in progress.

If you are interested and willing to learn about yourself & others through personal writing, discussions, and readings, then this W101 class might be a great fit for you.

Professor: Sheryl Welte

offered at 2 different times:
WF 11:45AM – 1:00PM (WRITING 101.24)
WF 1:25PM – 2:40PM (WRITING 101.25)

In her powerful memoir, Hunger, Roxane Gay writes, “This is what most girls are taught—that we should be slender and small. We should not take up space. We should be seen and not heard, and if we are seen, we should be pleasing to men, acceptable to society.” While she goes on to encourage resistance to this message/lesson, it’s worth posing the question, “Where does this message come from?”

The idea that harmful messages about body image—and so much moremdash;come from the media isn’t really new anymoremdash;nor is the call to resist them and change the narrative. But how early are children exposed to these messages, and how influential are they? Criticsmdash;both academic and non-academic alikemdash;are quick to lay a large portion of the blame at The Walt Disney Company’s feet, citing their influential presence in the lives of American children and the popularity of their seemingly ubiquitous Princess franchise.

With that in mind, this semester, we will be looking specifically at gender in Disney films: particularly the Disney Princess franchise and its contribution to girlhood and “princess culture.” These films in particular have had a profound and lasting impact on popular culture and gender stereotypes and, whether we realize it or not, on ourselves. Some of the questions we’ll consider are: How does Disney define femininity? How does Disney define masculinity? What impact have Disney films had on gender stereotypes? How does Disney (and the princess franchisemdash;both heroes and heroines, as well as villains) affect the conversation on what it means to be a “woman”? On what it means to be a “man”?

We’ll explore the answers to these questions primarily through class discussion and several major writing assignments. Our class discussion will focus on several films in the Disney Princess franchise as well as scholarly interpretations and opinions of those films. Our writing assignments will involve: creating and maintaining a blog to (1) practice digital writing and (2) engage with the conversation in a low-stakes setting; a 4-6 page analysis of a Disney film; a literature review on a topic of your choosing; and a 12-15 page final research-based narrative essay.

Finally, please note that no prior knowledge of or experience with Disney or the Princess franchise is necessary for this course. However, a genuine interest in the topic, as well as a willingness to consider the potential negative messages of these childhood classics, is strongly recommended.

Professor: Lisa Andres

offered at 2 different times:
WF 11:45AM – 1:00PM (WRITING 101.28)
WF 1:25PM – 2:40PM (WRITING 101.29)

MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle has characterized the twenty-first century as a time in which we are increasingly “alone together.” The Internet has brought us into an unprecedented state of interconnectedness, but the connections we forge online may not always be healthy for our emotional lives or our overall well-being. This course will explore what it means to connect with ourselves and others in the twenty-first century. As part of the course, we will explore four major areas of research in wellness: the science and practice of mindfulness; the impact of technology on our cognition and our relationships; the importance of community and social connection; and the relationship between our brains, bodies, and the world. The final area of research will incorporate a variety of topics such as studies on exercise, sleep, and human connection to the natural world.

Your own writing will drive much of your experience in the course. Writing projects will include an analysis of one of the course texts, an experiential writing assignment in which you document your own application of a practice known to foster well-being (e.g., mindfulness, limiting social media, or joining a community), and a final research project delving into a wellness topic of your choice. For the final project, you will draw on your experiential writing to craft an article for the public that incorporates your own experiences as well as academic research into the topic. This course is ideal for pre-med students or students interested in the social sciences, neurology, or physiology. However, the course is also designed for all students who want to learn more about the science of wellness and how to incorporate healthier practices into their everyday lives at Duke.

Professor: Susan Thananopavarn


Offered online. TTH 1:45PM-3:00PM

What place(s) matter to you? How do artists, musicians, and writers construct place? This course invites you to explore the complexities of place through art and literature. Be it through music, performance, photography, poetry, literature, art, film, poetry, fiction or nonfiction, artists and writers have a long history of exploring, imagining, and constructing place. Our geographic musings will first include several shorter writing assignments (each 400-500 words) that ask you to respond to place-based theoretical texts. Your first major writing project (750-1000 words) will consist of applying one or more of these theories to a primary text featuring a place (i.e., a photograph, song, poem, etc.). Your second and final writing project (2000-2500 words) will ask you to choose a particular place (virtual or real), research a set of primary texts about that place (travel narratives, songs, photographs, music, fiction, poetry, and/or nonfiction), and argue a larger point about the texts, place, and/or about our notions of place more broadly. You’ll also have the opportunity to craft a creative text (i.e., a photographic essay, poem, song, travelogue, archive, etc.) about a place of your choosing. Because our course is a writing seminar, your writing will be the primary area of focus, and all writing will be drafted and revised with feedback from peers and instructor.

Professor: Denise Comer