Special topics courses offer variety at KSU

Emily Mills

Kent State requires all students to take classes as part of the Kent Core — classes in math, science and writing. However, Kent State offers several special topics courses for students who are looking for something a little less rigorous.

Therese Tillett, director of Curriculum Services, said special topics courses are a way for the university to test new ideas for classes before they are official Kent State courses.

“What we use them for at Kent State is to sample new offerings to determine whether or not we want to make it a new course,” she said. “They’re very unpredictable. They can vary from semester to semester.”

Tillett said these courses are usually considered electives and are not required, so students can select courses that sound interesting to them.

“It might be a fun elective or something very different a student can explore,” she said.

All of the courses described below are open to all majors and classes.


Several basic physical education classes are available to students who are looking to stay in shape while still gaining some credit hours, said James Underwood, the assistant manager of the ice arena who teaches the Beginning Ice Hockey class.

“Physical education classes introduce a physically active lifestyle to the student,” he said. “Active lifestyle is a link to good health, muscle strength and fitness. [It] builds self-esteem and is the start of possible future friendships [and] develops cooperation, teamwork and sportsmanship skills. [It is] a break from the rigorous daily routine of a student, as it can be a way to relieve stress from a student’s life.”

Physical education classes include Flag Football (CRN 22048/22049), Beginning Ice Hockey (CRN 21976), and Bokwa (CRN 22444).

Shonnie Van Nostran, a secretary in the teaching leadership and curriculum studies for the College of Education, teaches Bokwa, which she said is a dance fitness class. She said Kent State is the first university in the nation to offer Bokwa as a course for college credit. 

Nostran said she thinks it’s important for students to take physical education classes not just for the physical benefits but for the mental benefits as well to take a break from the stress of academic classes.

“As an incoming freshman, most of your daily focus will be consumed with academics, which can be stressful,” she said. “Taking a [basic] physical education course can help relieve and reduce some of the stress associated with those classroom challenges.”

Dance classes are another option for students who want to stay in shape, said Eric van Baars, the director of the School of Theatre and Dance. Courses, which include ballet, modern, tap, jazz and hip hop techniques, are listed as Studio Level I classes in the course catalog and are worth one credit hour. 

“Taking a dance class in the middle of the day is a great way to release stress and avoid the dreaded ‘freshman 15,’” van Baars said.            


Science can be intimidating for some students, but Kent State offers science special topics courses for students looking to learn more about the subject in a fun way.

Horror Film and Environmental Geography (CRN 22107/22108) focuses on horror films that discuss environmental concerns, such as the 1954 Japanese film “Gojira” (better known as “Godzilla”) about a prehistoric monster brought to life by nuclear tests and the 2009 post-apocalyptic film “The Road.”

“Pop culture often provides insight into our social consciousness,” said Emariana Widner, a geography assistant professor who teaches the course. “This course examines environmental philosophies and social awareness of environmental issues through the horror film genre. Many notable environmental horror films emerged concurrent with the beginnings of the modern American environmental movement.” 

Another special topics course is Zombie Outbreak (CRN ), which is a public health course taught by John Staley that focuses on what citizens would do if a disease spread and began taking over people’s minds.

He said many students are drawn to the zombie aspect of the class but they do learn useful information about public health responses to a disease outbreak.

Staley said the class focuses on individual preparedness and who would be in charge in that sort of a situation.

One of the most important ideas Staley wants students to take away is to pay attention to the world around them.

“Always be aware of your surroundings,” he said.


Several special topics courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication focus on pop culture, including Popular Music Culture in the Mid-1960s (CRN 15480), Rise in the American Comic Book (CRN 15481), Reviewing Film and TV (CRN 15484), Vampires on Film and TV (CRN 15485), Will Ferrell (CRN 15489) and Cartoon Network/Adult Swim (CRN 15491).

Ronald Russo, a journalism adjunct professor, said Kent State offers the unique opportunity to take “world’s only” courses, or courses that are only offered at Kent State, including his Will Ferrell and Adult Swim courses and his previous course on Adam Sandler.

“[For the Adam Sandler course, Sandler] sent the class a personal video message,” he said. “Will Ferrell is my newest course and similar in methodology to Sandler. Will offered an in-character visit to KSU as Run Burgundy [the main character from “Anchorman”].”

College is a time to try different things and take classes you wouldn’t normally take, van Nostran said.

“College is all about new experiences,” she said.

Regardless of what classes you take, whether they’re for the Kent Core or they’re special topics courses, you’re sure to learn a lot about interesting subjects.

“Possibilities at a large college like KSU are unimaginable, especially to incoming freshmen,” Russo said. 

Emily Mills is the principal reporter for KentWired.com. Contact her at [email protected].