General Education 1300 (GNED 1300-1) - First Year Seminar

Big Books, Big Ideas

MEB 206
11:30-12:20 MWF

Faculty Instructor:

Dr. Steven Bachrach, Semmes Distinguished Professor of Chemistry
office: 408C MEB, Department of Chemistry
phone: 999-7379
office hours:  9:30-11:30 MW and by appointment

Peer Tutor:

Sara Dahill-Brown
phone: 999-4588
office hours: TBA

Course web page:

Schedule of Readings:

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers

Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter

Purpose of the course:

First Year Seminar is designed to prepare first-year Trinity University students to evaluate materials, develop critical thinking skills, and develop communication skills both verbally and in written form. The different sections of GNED 1300 approach these goals from various perspectives and differing subjects, but all maintain a fundamental consistency in focus on student participation and student-led discussion.

This class will explore a variety of topics introduced and developed by the three authors of the books we will read and discuss. These topics will allow for a fairly wide-ranging discussion. While we discuss philosophy, science, music, rhetoric, race, mathematics, technology, strange loops, etc., please do not lose sight of the main goal - development of critical thinking and communication skills that will be applicable to all aspects of your scholastic and professional careers.


There are three assigned books for this course. These books can be purchased at the campus bookstore or at many other bookstores in San Antonio or online.

  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  • The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers
  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter

We will be reading a significant portion (most likely all) of each of these books. Students will be asked to uncover other articles and books of interest and report and comment on these during class. As other resources are discovered, I will likely add them to the class web site. Also, musical selections will be placed on reserve in the library for your use.


You will be evaluated on two factors, oral and written communication. The oral component will be worth 40% of the grade and will be evaluated based on your participation in class and your class discussion leadership. The written component will be based on four essays (40%) and a final report (20%). Attendance at all class sessions is mandatory. Every three absences that are unexcused will result in a one-letter grade reduction of the course grade. The granting of excused absences will be made at the discretion of the instructor only. Students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the day's topic(s). This means that all relevant materials have been read and understood prior to class. Be sure to regularly check the course web page since additional recommended resources will be made available throughout the semester. (In fact, student input of additional relevant sites is encouraged and sought after.) Class participation in the classroom discussions will constitute half of the oral component of your grade (in other words, 20% of your overall grade). Class participation means actively partaking in the discussions, asking questions, coherently arguing your opinion, politely but vigorously objecting to some opinions, defending others. I expect all students to feel free to make any comments the wish, without insult or fear. Honest discussion and argument will require all of us to respect each other. Your grade is not dependent on your opinion coinciding with mine! (I may, in fact, take contrary positions in class simply to stimulate discussions within certain areas.) If you have not talked in class for a period or two, expect to be called upon at the next session.

Each student will lead the class discussion for one class period. This involves having thoroughly read the pertinent materials and developed a list of questions and comments to launch the day's class discussions. We will develop a schedule for the student-led discussions in the second week of class. Each student will meet with Dr. Bachrach a few days prior to the class they will lead to discuss the topics they plan to cover in class. The remaining portion of your oral grade (20% of your class grade) will be judged on your ability to lead the class discussion. We will have open dates so any student who wishes a second opportunity to lead the discussion, for example if you performed poorly, can repeat as class leader. The schedule of the discussion leaders will be posted on the class web site as soon as possible.

The four short essays (each worth 10% of the total grade) will be assigned about every 3-4 weeks during the semester. The dates and topics of each essay will be announced in class at least 2 weeks prior to their due date. The essays will be evaluated predominantly on the basis of the quality of your ideas and how well you argue the issues. A final long report (8-10 pages) will be due the last day of class. This report will be a research project related to some issue raised in the books and we will discuss potential topics later in the semester.

All essays and reports must be written in grammatically correct English. While this course is not an introduction to rhetoric or writing techniques, poorly written prose dramatically reduces the impact and quality of an argument, a discussion we will in fact have during this class! If you are unsure of a grammatical rule or spelling, please consult appropriate resources, like a dictionary, a writing style guide, the Peer Tutor or the Writing Center. Essays must have an introduction, a body where the major arguments are made, and a conclusion. References must be cited completely and correctly, following a consistent format and style. All essays must cite at least 4 works and the long report must cite at least 10 references. At least half of your references must come from resources besides the Internet.

All papers must be your own original work. Be aware of what constitutes plagiarism and theft of intellectual property and be sure to understand Trinity University's rules on academic integrity. Understand the difference between properly citing someone else’s work and stealing it. I take the issue of intellectual property extremely seriously. Plagiarism will be dealt with in the most severe terms possible under the University policy.


Attendance in the class is mandatory. Since a sizable portion of your grade is based on your participation in the discussions, any absence makes it impossible to participate and therefore diminishes your performance. Furthermore, the success of this class is predicated upon active participation by all students. Therefore, for every three unexcused absences your course grade will be reduced by one full letter grade. Excused absences will be granted at the discretion of Dr. Bachrach alone.

Schedule for Student Discussion Leaders





Feb 11

Katrina Bayer
Feb 13

Sara Dahill-Brown

Feb 16

Dustin Parker
Feb 18


Feb 20

Megan Gallant

Feb 23


Feb 25

Josh Peterson
Feb 27

Heather Highland

Mar 1

Trisha Hong
Mar 3

Jessica Hook
Mar 5


Mar 8

Carson Baker
Mar 10

Aaron Sandfield
Mar 12

Mar 22

Mar 24

Mark Cochran
Mar 26

Mar 29

Mar 31

Tom Doggett
Apr 2

Apr 5

Scott Willson
Apr 7

Apr 9

Good Friday

Apr 12

John Painter

Apr 14

Apr 16

Miguel Deleon

Apr 19

Candice Olund

Apr 21

Apr 23

Casey Hill