What Now? Network

What makes you happy? Why are you (or any of us) here? How do you know when you’ve found “your” people? These kinds of questions can be fun (hard-fun) to answer, but they’re more than that. They may help shape your time at Duke and whatever you do next.

Plenty of research has shown that students who can align their interests and abilities with something bigger than themselves are more likely to be happy, excellent in their work, comfortable with uncertainty, and resilient. Purpose-oriented students are, simply put, more likely to thrive in complex, challenging, and diverse environments—those like Duke. In the fall of 2018, the Kenan Institute for Ethics and Trinity College launched a new network of interrelated seminars designed to help incoming Duke students develop the tools and capacities to thrive, here and beyond.

The What Now network of first-year seminars creates a community organized around (really!) big questions and building the skills to not only begin to answer them but live better in the process. Through the network, you’ll take a seminar led by engaged faculty. You’ll also regularly connect with students and faculty in related courses. By taking one course, you’ll have access to a wider array of ideas and students than is usually possible in a single seminar.

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


Your peers register for other, related seminars that are part of the What Now network.

Each What Now seminar also has a time scheduled together. We’ll use these to mix up and also connect with faculty teaching in the opposite semester. This is a great opportunity to make friends who share your interests and also to connect with multiple faculty–all through enrolling in a course that fulfills an academic requirement for first-years.

The Classes

Seminars for the Spring


Explores borders/fronteras as a national metaphor, including examining the U.S./Mexico border as a scar on land and bodies, a wall between friends, a line of demarcation for enemies, a nightmare for policy-makers, a delineation for human rights abuses, a law enforcement nightmare, a pass-through for trade and NAFTA, a catchall for the poor, and a diversion for traffickers. We will study U.S. border histories, cultures, and policies and we will think and write about how this line serves as a metaphor for other lines: between people representing racial, ethnic, gender, and class boundaries among others. Includes a significant section on farmworkers. Service Learning course.

Professor: Charles Thompson

Charles Thompson, Ph.D. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is Professor of the Practice in the Department of Cultural Anthropology. His expertise includes critical food studies at the nexus where food justice and immigration meet, with particular linkages to Latin America and the U.S. South.


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

Dan McShea, Ph.D. (University of Chicago), is a Professor of Biology. His expertise includes hierarchy theory, especially the causal relationship between higher-level wholes and their components.


The seminar is intended to provide an opportunity to ponder, critique, and reflectively engage diverse perspectives on persistent questions related to the concept of a life well-lived.  Specific topics include things like purpose, vision, direction, character, virtue, habit, achievement, success, failure, creativity, friendship, community, and justice.  The readings, exercises, and discussions are designed not to “give you the right answers”, but rather to invite you to ponder the questions, and examine how the topics intersect with and play out in your own life.

In other words, this class is not intended to be simply an academic exercise — where you study what other people have thought about a life well-lived — but instead to give you the space, time, and encouragement to consider and identify for yourself what your own life might look like if it is truly lived well.  My aim in offering this to first-year students is that it will increase your ability to navigate your time at Duke in a more purposeful, intentional, and considered way.  Put another way, my hope is that this class has a lasting positive effect on your life and the lives of those around you, and that its impact goes beyond the class itself.

Professor: Alex Hartemink

Alexander Hartemink, Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is a Professor of Computer Science and Biology. His research interest is the development of new algorithms in statistical machine learning and artificial intelligence, and on the application of those methods to complex problems in computational genomics.


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

Michael Klien, Ph.D. (University of Edinburgh), is Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance. His expertise includes socio-politically engaged choreography, interdisciplinary thinking, critical writing, curatorial projects, and choreographic works in the Performing as well as the Fine Arts.


We all take measured risks—but how do we know if it’s rational to do so? How do we measure successful risk-taking? These questions can be highly personal—what career should I choose?—or reflect global concerns—what interventions will mitigate the effects of climate change? In this course, we will consider how attitudes towards risk-taking and success have changed over time: from early fears that luck, fortuna, was a capricious goddess who could not be understood, to the Enlightenment hopes that the mastering of mathematical probability would give us the tools to solve most human problems. Through attentive readings of literary, philosophical, and scientific texts, we will explore the links between the literature, ethics, and mathematics of measuring every aspect of human life in our attempts to change the odds in our favor.

Professor: Astrid Guigni

Astrid Giugni, Ph.D. (Duke University), is Visiting Assistant Professor of English. Her research and teaching interests include political literature of seventeenth-century revolutionary authors, particularly John Milton, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies.


In this class, we will think critically about time in both our communal and personal lives. Looking at issues such as incarceration, religion, environmental policy, gender and racial inequalities, and public decision-making, as well as time-management, productivity, and work-life balance, we will consider different conceptions of time, what it is for, and how to use it well.

Professor: Jesse Summers

Jesse Summers, Ph.D. (University of California at Los Angeles), is an Academic Dean and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy. His research in philosophy is on the ethical implications of various forms of irrationality.


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

David Malone, Ph.D., (Duke University) is a Professor of the Practice of Education. His research and teaching interests are in educational psychology, school psychology, student-centered approaches to teaching and learning, experiential and service-learning, innovative educational approaches in higher education.