Essential Questions

The Essential Questions Seminar is a signature feature of the Bridges Common Learning Experience (CLE). These smaller scale seminars are organized around animating questions that are essential because they: 

  • Articulate enduring human concerns;
  • Raise timely issues of great importance; or
  • Tap into your passions or excite your interest.

Essential Questions seminars awaken intellectual curiosity while acclimating you to habits of mind (i.e., persistence, metacognition, flexibility, openness) that are crucial to your success in college and your career readiness.

Sample EQs

Are Robots People?

This course explores what makes a person a person and whether robots can be considered people too. We begin by considering whether sentience is merely some sort of intelligence or whether it must involve a living, breathing body with biologically-generated emotions and self-awareness. We then consider how sentience might apply to different types of robots, in the real world and in fiction/film.

What Is Yoga?

There's more to yoga than stretching! We'll explore the way of life practiced by the ancient yogis, which teaches us how to reduce suffering and cultivate health in our thoughts and actions. Along the way we'll see what contemporary exercise science can add to the ancient yoga texts. And we'll do some simple stretching exercises.

Why Does Difference Matter?

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy said, "If we cannot end our differences now, at least we can make our world safe for diversity." Throughout life, we are frequently challenged by a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives. As a professional in your chosen field of study, you will be confronted with the challenges of difference and diversity in the workforce every day. In this course, we will explore the questions: Why does difference matter? What does it mean to be different? Why does difference lead us to a polarized, black and white world, both literally and figuratively? How can we achieve an understanding of common ground? — that space where we can all meet to recognize our differences and appreciate our standpoints, but more importantly, to celebrate the interconnectedness of these differences. Through a variety of learning experiences, this seminar will explore the contours of difference and diversity, how they have informed our worldviews, and how we can negotiate and accept differences to solve problems and achieve positive results.

What Is Power?

What is power? Do we have it or does it have us? Can we understand it to be the ability or capacity to do something, to be something, to resist something, to destroy something, or to change something? Is power always about politics and is politics always about power? Is power what makes us who we are, and if so, how does it intersect categories of personal and collective identity like race, gender, economic class? Taught from a multidisciplinary perspective, this essential questions seminar will investigate these questions through intensive discussion emerging from careful engagements with both contemporary and historical works of philosophy, literature, film, history and social-political theory.

Just Sex?

What does justice have to do with sex? We tend to think about sex and sexuality as private affairs. Yet, they enter into the public realm regularly in public policy, education and health care. Moreover, intimate relationships without justice can do a great deal of harm. This class examines the relationship between justice, sex, and sexuality. Students will gain an introduction to Christian sexual ethics and gender theory. Some of the questions we will explore are: What does justice look like in a partnered relationship? What does the bible say really about sex? What does a healthy masculinity look like? Why does our culture struggle to believe women, especially in the context of sexual violence? All participants in the course are responsible for maintaining a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Are Dogs Our Best Friends?

We will explore the latest science on dog evolution, dog psychology, and the story of us — the unique relationship between dogs and humans, to any level of dog enthusiast. We will learn about how and why humans bring wild animals into domestication, evolutionary theory, cognition and the theory of mind, and animal communication with a focus on faces. When you finish this course, you should think about dogs and humans in new ways and be able to apply your knowledge to higher level courses on biology, psychology and anatomy.

Can Religion Foster Social Justice?

This course addresses questions about whether religion can foster social justice. It asks some of these questions: Is religion and social justice interrelated? Does religion deal with issues of social justice? Does religion create opportunities for social justice? If so, how do communities come together to bring about changes? Does religion create division within a community and among communities? If so, what are the consequences of such division? Has religion contributed or not to a more just, peaceful and environmentally safe world? Students will be actively engaged in class discussion and oral presentation.

Can Religion Heal Us?

What is the relationship between religion and health? Must the health professions be exclusively scientific? Can religion join with science to help us prevent and cure physical and mental illnesses? Many voices from the world's various religious traditions say yes. Scientific medicine is increasingly open to collaboration with religion. This course surveys some of the ways religion and science are working together today to devise new therapies for healing diseases of the body and the mind, such as the rise of homeopathic and osteopathic medicine, the explosion of interest in meditation yoga in healing the body and mind, and the disease preventing power of vegan and vegetarian diets. Through class discussions and short essays, the course introduces new ideas from the frontiers of alternative medicine, as well as examining the guidelines offered in many of the world's sacred texts for holistic living to prevent disease.

Is God Good?

Why do human beings suffer? How do we make sense out of violence, trauma, and devastation of the natural world? What are human beings supposed to be doing with our lives and where can we find hope? Every major religion has addressed these questions. In this class, we are going to explore different ways in which Christianity has interpreted suffering and evil with an eye toward hope. The course will engage a number of contemporary issues including: sexual violence and racism.

Can Faith Save The Earth?

We live in an unprecedented moment of human and Earth history, a time when the future of life on the planet is under threat, and we ask: will human beings and other living creatures survive? Can religious faith help us learn to live in a healthy and sustainable relationship with the rest of Earth? This course begins with a basic overview of the challenges of sustainability, merging science, economics, and ethics to address issues like climate change and fresh water. Next, we turn to the role various religious traditions can play in inspiring new ways of thinking about humanity's relationship to the planet. We will address ideas like: how important "nature" is for understanding what it means to be human and what we experience as sacred or divine; what ethical principles religious traditions offer; how religious traditions can diagnose the spiritual and ethical roots of the ecological crisis; and how religious and spiritual practices might foster the mutual flourishing of humankind and the rest of nature.

What Is Intersectionality?

In the words of Beyoncé, "Who run the world?" This seminar will ask you to think about just that: who has power (or runs the world) and why? What does it mean to have an identity that creates a power dynamic rooted in oppression? What does it mean to live a life where multiple identities intersect? How does gender, race, sexuality, class, ability, citizenship status and other identities affect the way we society and the world? And, how might approaching the world through a social justice lens help to build a more equitable future?

Is Empathy Possible Today?

This course will help students explore a wide variety of face-to-face and digital communication skills and theories to wrestle with the question "Is Empathy Possible Today?" We will cover challenging topics including: active/evocative listening; how to have hard conversations; neurodivergence and ‘the double empathy problem'; cross-cultural listening and responding across differences; the limits of empathy in a multicultural democracy; rewards and problems of digital communication during the pandemic; general skills for having better relationships; and lots more! Given the experiential nature of the course, students will be expected to bring themselves fully to participate in the creation of a safe yet challenging learning environment. Students of all backgrounds and interests are welcome!

Is This The Way?

How does medical science and technological advancements as depicted in science fiction shape how we understand our humanity? Using various mediums of science fiction (movies, literature and television) this course explores ethical and moral dilemmas that persist in our society, as well as those that may be created by innovation.

Are We Our Planet's Keeper?

Are we our planet's keeper? Consumption of energy and materials has grown exponentially for over half a century, greatly improving the material standards of living across much of the globe. At the same time, this development has triggered global warming, acutely stressing the planet's major ecosystems and the condition of the entire biosphere itself while leaving a great segment of humanity at levels of poverty and destitution. How can climate change and resource limitation be addressed while improving economic and social impacts? What is possible, with current technology, for building a sustainable world?

What Are You Waiting For?

Waiting is an important part of all our daily lives. We wait for many things. We wait for class to begin and end. We wait for dinner, for the plane, bus, train or subway. We wait for the weekend, for vacations, for spring or summer. We wait for the pandemic to end. We waited for a Covid-19 vaccination to be distributed. If one is refugee, one waits to leave, and/or to return. Existentially among other things, we wait for change, love, truth, redemption, justice, and ultimately, we all wait for death. This course will explore literature that highlights the centrality of the theme of "waiting" or "not waiting" to the foundations of our lives and the existential issues of our times.

What Counts?

We are surrounded by numbers: they describe, constrain, enlighten, and sometimes frighten us. Why are some numbers so important? Why do we value those numbers? If you are curious and enjoy a journey, this course is for you. The course covers the numbers of our daily life, where they come from, and their correct interpretation. We will explore a variety of numbers that count from such surveys as the Census, Bureau of Labor Statistics, along with Performance Evaluations, Student Evaluation Surveys, Minimum Wage, SAT Scores, blood pressure and body temperature. Should it really be 98.6? We will also explore comparative ideas such as the gross domestic product with Gross National Happiness (Bhutan). This is not a mathematics class; it is about provenance. Along the journey, you will have "aha" moments, and moments of creative expression, examine quantitative reasoning needed to be a global citizen, and critically think across many areas. Finally, through the activities you will learn a bit about yourself.

Is Care For The Planet My Responsibility?

With the stakes of climate change already high and ever rising, this essential-question course considers various levels of responsibility-personal, societal, global-for the ecological crisis facing humanity. The consideration of one's own responsibility will be facilitated by an engagement with myriad resources both within and outside of Catholic Christianity treating issues of ecology, care for the planet and a renewed understanding of creation and faith informed by dialogue with the natural sciences.