Carnegie Mellon University

Grand Challenge First-Year Seminar: Becoming Resilient in Challenging Times

Course Number: 66-136

“My heart is in my work” is a phrase that once rang true to many CMU students and remains the motto our institution lives by. But what happens if our hearts suddenly aren’t in our work anymore since life has been interrupted by a global pandemic? How do we as a society respond to challenges and struggles that go beyond our daily work routine and encompass threats to our physical and mental health, our social interactions, our family life, and our hobbies and leisure activities? Today, when the “new normal” seems to be lasting forever and we as a society are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis, how can we address questions of resilience, wellbeing and perseverance in the classroom, both from an academic and a personal point of view? How can we prepare ourselves to rebuild communities and societies after traumatic and scarring events, communicate and collaborate across disciplines to solve complex problems, and establish a world where we will be able to thrive and succeed again? In a more fundamental way, what does it even mean to be resilient, and where is the boundary between our own health and wellness and the cultural, societal, or economic expectations around these ideas?

To answer these questions, this course will use graphic novels from English-speaking, German-speaking, and Spanish-speaking countries as its core to introduce students to a variety of graphic approaches to the concept of resilience, including from a genre known as graphic medicine. We will explore mental and physical health and healing in innovative ways to analyze different perspectives on and models for wellbeing. Working comparatively across cultures, the graphic novels in the course will help re-examine and re-define our understanding of wellbeing and health and explore how visual storytelling can drive social change around issues of individual and community resilience.

Students will reflect upon and eventually tell their own personal narratives using a variety of storytelling tools and techniques (e.g., critical reading skills, comic theories, comic-making software and the support of local comic artists). In addition, students will work in groups to offer their newly-acquired knowledge or creative ideas to the Pittsburgh community (e.g., to a high school class or non-profit organization where students can showcase their work or discuss their ideas with interested audiences). All in all, students will a) gain a sense of curiosity about wellbeing and health-related questions, b) develop their ability to critically examine the voices of those who are allegedly well and those who are not and c) deepen their storytelling skills as both a form of advocacy and a source of resilience.

Semester(s): Spring