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10 Classes you HAVE to Take Before Graduation

April 17, 2011

Ellie Beckett
10 Classes you HAVE to Take Before Graduation

I am absolutely astounded when I think about just how good life is at Claremont McKenna College. With the perfect weather, surplus of social and extracurricular opportunities, and the proximity to the ocean, snow, city, and woods (and all in the same day if you’re really ambitious. Looking for ideas?), it is easy to forget that CMC is--after all is said and done and bragged about to our friends back home-- a school. Registering for classes is one of the hardest parts of the year.  We are incredibly fortunate to have a wide array of  top-notch classes and professors offered to us each and every semester. In flipping through the course catalogue, talking to friends, and looking over the online course schedule, I find myself sad that I only have but four short years and eight semesters to fill.

Since registration is upon us again, I thought it would be appropriate to compile a list of “10 Classes You HAVE to Take Before Graduation.”  This list is by no means a complete list of the “best” courses that CMC offers. The number of quality classes and professors extends far beyond just what is listed here.  If you want to know how we came up with the list, I included a brief version of our  methodology below.

I refuse to even try to rank them, so, In a 10-way tie for number one…


The United States Congress (Government 101)

Jack Pitney

We have all seen the Schoolhouse Rock video “I’m Just a Bill,” but this class shows how laws are really made in America.  The course studies all aspect of the United States Congress and its centerpiece is a four night long multi-campus simulation. Each student becomes a United States Senator and battles through the entire legislative process, fighting for constituents, the party, issues and a place in history.  It’s the Congress simulation that has elevated the class to legendary status.  Students love the course not only for its unique layout, but also because Professor Pitney is one of the most animated characters on campus.  He has the ability to spice up anything--even discharge petitions or budget outlays.  The simulation reflects weeks of preparation, and for many students the simulation is one of the best experiences they’ll have at CMC.

The Prof Says:

“Students really become the senators that they portray.  I think of it as entering the Matrix.  (Neo knows its a simulation, but it feels real.)  Students get wrapped up in the maneuvering, spending far more time and energy on the exercise than I require.  For some, it really deepens their interest in politics.  In 2010, two fairly recent simulation alumni ran for Congress:  Craig McPherson in Kansas and Adam Kokesh in New Mexico.”


Accounting for Decision Making (Economics-Accounting 86)

Ananda Ganguly, Marc Massoud

Accounting is a crucial class because it teaches the language of business.  A basic knowledge in accounting will help you in the future, no question about it. Whether it be through a career in business or simply reading the newspaper, the content of this class will come back to you again and again.  Students say they like this class because they finally understand terms they’ve heard all their lives.  It also teaches students a new way of thinking about and analyzing issues.  By the end of the semester, students are masters of balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statement of changes.

The Profs Say:

Professor Ganguly is appreciated by his students because of his eagerness to help and the clarity of his explanations. Ganguly says, “ECON 86 is the most fundamental course for literacy in the corporate world. It teaches one to understand the language of business communication and make sense of what a company's financial statements are telling you. Every human being should take ECON 86, right after Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, Economics and Psychology.  And right before the classics. Of course, I am completely unbiased and objective and never end my sentences with prepositions.”

After meeting Professor Massoud, I now completely understand why so many students responded to my inquiry with, “take anything with Massoud!” Massoud says his classes are also about relationship building, he encourages his students and participates in their lives--many even affectionately refer to him as “dad.” His comments on the necessity of accounting echo the point made by his students, “It is very important to understand how it is done and what it means in our life. It’s very relevant to any job; you’ll be balancing your checkbook, managing house, paying tuition. You need to understand accountability.”


Fundamentals of Logic (Philosophy 95)

Amy Kind

Fundamentals of Logic aims to introduce students to formal logic - a system which represents certain aspects of human reasoning in a formal (symbolic) language. Throughout the course students understand what thinking logically means and  in turn become better reasoners, able to make sound arguments and easily spot bad ones. CMCers enjoy how engaging, helpful, and sweet professor Kind is. Logic is recommended to those who enjoy having opinions (so CMC, I think that means you). Perhaps the most convincing plug is that students claim that the subject is fun! It’s described like a game, and they notice a difference in their way of thinking within weeks, not to mention it is really helpful for the LSAT.

The Prof Says:

“The skills that students acquire in studying logic – such as figuring out how to reach a desired goal from a given set of resources, developing the habit of paying close attention to what a statement says (and what it doesn’t say!), and learning what makes an argument a good argument – are invaluable as they make their way in the world, no matter what course of study, or what career, they choose.  Logic can be somewhat infectious – in a good way! – and I’ve heard from many students over the years that it’s really changed the way that they think.”


Philosophical Questions (Philosophy 30) with Professor Huang

Jeff Huang

You may question the inclusion of Philosophy 30 in this list, isn’t that a GE? Well, yes, but with the frequency of Huang’s Philosophy toping lists of students’ favorite classes it was impossible to ignore. Students enjoy this course because of Huang’s genuine character, and passion for the subject despite being busy with his duties as Vice President of Student Affairs. Dean Huang does a great job making philosophers of the past relevant to students today. The course aims to tackle those “great questions” that have divided philosophers for millennia. Students say that nothing is off limits in this course, and while the atmosphere is very comfortable, he will push you to defend your positions with sound logic. (See there is that logic thing again)

The Prof Says:

“If there’s anything special about my course, it might be that I try to bridge the gap between philosophers from hundreds or thousands of years ago and the experience of today’s students. For example, all of us walk under the stars at night, and when we do so, we ponder thoughts about space, infinity, God, the meaning of life, and our eventual mortality. The question that we all share, then, is how we can make sense of this life and the world that we find ourselves walking around in. Socrates tried to answer the question this way, Descartes tried to answer it that way, and Sartre had yet another way of looking at it. Now, who makes the most compelling case and why? Discuss.”


California Politics (Government 117)

Ken Miller

California Politics analyzes the politics and policies in (you guessed it...) California.  The class comes complete with big name guest speakers and a two day trip to Sacramento. On this trip students get to meet and speak with elected and appointed officials, staff, lobbyists, and political journalists.  The Sacramento trip is great for class bonding and students get completely different understanding of what it is like to work at the Capitol.  Students praise Miller, saying that he is brilliant, understanding, and genuinely wants to see you succeed. Students in the class say anyone from California, or anyone planning to live here someday, should take the course.  It gives students a comprehensive understanding of how California, one of the largest economies and home to most CMC students, works.

This class is usually taught every spring, but Professor Miller will be on sabbatical next year. Stay tuned for Spring 2013!

The Prof Says:

“California politics interests students because the state is big, complex, and influential.  The state is experiencing major demographic changes and the political system is struggling to adapt to those changes.  In that way, as in many others, California is just one step ahead of the rest of the country.  The course gives students a chance to see how demographics, economics, politics, institutions, and policy interact in this interesting ‘laboratory.’”


Organizational Psychology (Psychology 037)

Ron Riggio, Craig Bowman, Ketan Mhatre

Organizational Psychology is about the study of behavior at work. Topics this class includes are: basics of human resources (hiring, evaluating, training, and developing workers), the needs of workers, motivation, work stress, leadership, and team processes. This class teaches you everything you need to know about management and being someone’s boss.  Each professor teaches the class with slightly different components.  Students admire Riggio, a prominent figure in the field of leadership, and say they enjoy the final project where they pick an organization and evaluate it in one of the topics learned in class. Similar praise for Bowman resound across campus.  In his final project, students get in groups and create their own companies, write policies, do market research and build business models.  This class is relevant to those outside the Psychology major, since most (if not all) of us plan to work after graduation and aspire to a leadership position someday.

The Prof Says:

“It provides the "nuts and bolts" of how to manage and lead people, but also looks at organizational processes from the worker's perspective. Before taking the class, students often feel that understanding of work and worker behavior is all "common sense," but they quickly learn that there has been over a century of psychologists (and other social scientists) who have carefully studied all aspects of work behavior to truly understand the dynamics of humans at work.  They are often surprised that common sense has it backwards.”- Professor Riggio


Leading Entrepreneurial Ventures (Psychology 141)

Jay Conger

The purpose of this course is to explore the leadership challenges that entrepreneurs face as they build their venture. Students learn what it takes to successfully start and run a business, deliver business pitches, do case studies, and compete at the end of the course in teams with larger business pitches. In the past, some have even gotten seed money to start their company. Students say that Conger is, “a boss,” and find him both inspiring and engaging. Every week, students in this course have lunch at the Athenaeum with guests from all areas of the business world. Students  love that they are able to engage in conversation with such influential and successful people.

The Prof Says:

"What makes the course unique are the case studies of actual entrepreneurs and business ventures as well as presentations by successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. It is a very interactive class. Students make venture pitch presentations for their own business ideas as well as compete in a business plan team. In addition, each student works on a market feasibility study of an industry or business that is of great interest to them"


Bioethics (Philosophy 186)

Alex Rajczi

This class is about the ethical issues of health policy. It starts with a study of the U.S. system and the systems of other countries and then the class turns to political philosophy. But the class goes deeper than just what is good health policy.  Students are required to take the policy deeper and ask why? Is this right? This latter component is often missed in policy debates and the skill is useful for anyone looking to have a significant impact in any policy decisions.  The course also grapples with complicated questions like eugenics, performance enhancement, end of life care or others.  Many rave about how much they love professor Rajczi and appreciate his dedication to his students. Apparently along with his classes come hiking trips and banjo singalongs.

The Prof Says:

“Health policy isn't a flashy subject, but I think students like the course because they end up understanding that the topic is very important.  Thousands of Americans die every year because they lack health insurance, so we need to ask ourselves whether that’s fair and what, if anything, we should do about it.  By the end of the course the students also realize that they know more about health policy than most people, including many legislators who are writing health care law.  They like mastering an important public debate.”


Introductory Arabic (Arabic001)

Ayman Ramadan

This class is suggested for those of you who aren’t sure which direction to go in for your three semesters of foreign language. Arabic and Mandarin are undoubtably the most in demand languages in the world today. In keeping with the CMC-only classes theme, you have to take Arabic. The CMC Arabic program is structured to get students to speak Arabic as quickly as possible. It emphasizes all four language skills speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Students say CMC’s Arabic department is outstanding, and that professor Ramadan (who would be your teacher at the introductory level) is very enthusiastic, is committed to students outside the classroom, and even takes students on trips to Little Arabia.  The course is designed for students with no background in the language and aims to provide a solid foundation for future study.

The Prof Says:

“Knowing Arabic will give our students a career edge in such fields as diplomacy, business, engineering, international development, and academia. Our program at CMC provides comprehensive understanding to Modern Standard Arabic where we use variety of authentic materials like newspapers, magazines, songs, advertisements, menus, YouTube videos (etc.) to make the cultural context come alive; supported by exciting field trips and weekly cultural activity nights where national and international figures, from different fields, are invited to add more distinction to the program.”


Intermediate Macroeconomics (Economics 102)

Cameron Shelton, Marc Weidenmier, Thomas Willett

Learning about macroeconomics is important because it shows us tradeoffs between different variables in our economy. The class is critical to understanding how the economy, financial markets and government policy works and affects our daily lives.  This class also brings to light the reactions of our economy and how if one event shocks our economy, how our economy, and potentially the world economy,  is effected. One section of Econ 102 was taught through the lens of the Great Recession.  Students learned how the recession happened, its impact on the economy and what the government should and should not do to fix or mitigate the problem.

The Prof Says:

Shelton’s students will tell you right away that the man is brilliant, students have said that he is on a whole other intellectual plane. He says,My goal is to enable students to knowledgeably read macroeconomic journalism and thus to follow macroeconomic news throughout their lives as educated citizens. I teach an integrated model so students have a single framework in their minds as they continue to learn going forward... the goal is to understand how various events and policies affect the dynamics of the economy of time horizons ranging from a few quarters to several years.” His course is very difficult but you will understand the material, and it will stick with you once the class is over, “I think holding oneself to a high bar: making sure one really understands why something is true, not just that it is true, is an important part of learning.”

Final Comments

These classes were chosen after talking to many students across multiple years, and even alumni, digging through course evaluations, looking at the frequency that they are offered and many other factors. These classes made the list after considering overall popularity, the professors teaching them, any unique qualities, the practicality and applicability of the subject matter, evidence of critical thinking and some personal experience.


f you know of a class missing from our list or want to add a course that you loved, please comment on the article and tell us why we should add it, then maybe we will. Obviously I don’t know about every class at CMC since there are so many, so please, help me out. I want to hear from you too!

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