Whether it’s been two months or 20 years since you’ve stepped into a classroom, the excitement you felt when discovering an amazing class sticks with you. From an energetic professor to engaging study material, there are many ways to find enlightenment in the classroom. At Mason, where innovative approaches to teaching and learning are the rule—not the exception—our outstanding classes are a point of pride. It was hard to narrow it down, but read on for 20 of our favorite classes, many of which are taught beyond the walls of a traditional lecture hall. But beware; you might just be inspired to sign up next semester.
And be sure to check out our extra credit assignment: five more reasons to go to class .
1. Baby Animals
Students who take part in the Smithsonian-Mason Semester at the National Zoo’s Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, work alongside and learn from some of the world’s most prominent conservation scientists. Last year, students were able to play a role in one of the institute’s success stories by working shifts during an around-the-clock pregnancy watch for one of the endangered clouded leopards that gave birth to two cubs on Valentine’s Day. Cute and good for the planet.
Sensors, circuits, and the Roomba. Mason computer science students begin dabbling with robotics as early as CS 101: Preview of Computer Science. They then have ample opportunities to explore the field throughout their time at Mason, including joining the Applied Robotics Club or working in one of the state-of-the-art labs such as the Autonomous Robotics Laboratory.
3. Question Authority
As part of an ongoing academic program with C-SPAN, Mason Communication students enrolled in Political Journalism  have had the opportunity to discuss changes in the media via video-conference with prominent reporters. In recent years, NBC anchor Brian Williams, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, and ABC White House correspondent Ann Compton have participated in the discussions.
Mason professor Maggie Daniels found that so many people in her event planning course wanted to plan weddings for their final projects that she created a special class—and wrote a textbook. In Wedding Planning and Management , students interact with caterers, florists, photographers, and professional planners as they learn the ins and outs of this billion-dollar industry.
5. Amazing Adjuncts
Most universities don’t run around bragging about their adjuncts, but at Mason, it’s hard not to. Because of our location, we are able to draw on the resources of the region and put entrepreneurs, executives, and consultants in the classroom. Sport management students learn from two of our most notable adjuncts—NFL veteran Charley Casserly, who spent 23 years with the Washington Redskins, moving up the ranks from an unpaid intern to general manager, and Craig Esherick, former assistant and head men’s basketball coach at Georgetown University. And sometimes they bring in guest speakers. Imagine the possibilities!
The U.S. Capitol is always impressive. Each semester, the Department of Public and International Affairs takes students majoring in government and politics to Capitol Hill for a tour and to network with the Mason alumni working there.
College students can now make a career of all of those hours spent playing Halo. Yes, they can major in computer game design! This hot new program allows students to combine creativity and technical savvy in this evolving medium. There is also a Game Analysis and Design Interest Group (they are too cool to be a “club”) that brings together students developing their own games.
Mason dancers have the opportunity to learn from the hottest choreographers in the field through a long-standing guest artist residency program. Renowned choreographers come to campus each year, cast dancers, and conduct intense rehearsals for a performance of one of their works. In recent years, students have performed the work of Mark Morris, David Parsons, Kate Skarpetowska, and Twyla Tharp. Morris, who has been to campus many times, even has an honorary degree from Mason!
9. It’s All about You (or It Can Be)
Social research as a topic might sound dry and too scholarly, but it all depends on your vantage point. Students in Feminist Approaches to Social Research regularly take on eye-opening topics affecting students’ daily life from the effects of the now-defunct gossip website JuicyCampus on campus interactions to the sociological rules governing pickup basketball games in the Field House.
10. Giving Peace a Chance
The Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Toothpaste and orange juice. Some things just don’t go together. But students in the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution are working to change that. Master’s and doctoral students in Marc Gopin’s graduate class, Citizen Diplomacy as Conflict Resolution , have traveled to Syria and Israel to engage in citizen diplomacy, which promotes understanding between different groups.
11. A Few Good Men (and Women)
The Clinic for Legal Assistance to Service Members gives Mason law students trial runs at being lawyers. The first clinic of its kind, it’s the best of both worlds: Mason law students get hands-on experience, and U.S. military families get the legal support they need and deserve. Sixty clients have been represented in the clinic’s five-year history.
12. Living the College Dream
Why shouldn’t you get class credit for compassion? Social work students plan an annual event with a specific mission: Expose at-risk youth to the university experience to plant the idea of postsecondary education. The class invites a group of kids to the Fairfax Campus for the College Dream Tour , which touts the highlights of college life.
Students in John Nauright’s sports management class traveled to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The group spent 16 days attending World Cup soccer matches, studying the role of sport (including cricket, golf, rugby, and soccer) in South Africa, and conducting research on World Cup attendees and visitors to South Africa.
14. CSI: Mason
From crime scene analysis to computer forensics, Mason has a variety of forensics course work in which students can get their rubber gloves “dirty.” In the Forensic DNA Analysis course , the semester culminates with a mock trial where students learn proper courtroom procedures and how faulty evidence can affect verdicts. Each year, the university even brings in Dr. Henry Lee, who was made famous by the O. J. Simpson trial, to conduct a special two-day “cold case” seminar.
15. Primary Colors
Each election season, New Century College professors Janette Muir and Lisa Gring Pemble take students in their On the Campaign Trail course to New Hampshire for the first presidential primary with the goal of attending as many of the candidates’ speeches and town hall meetings as they can. Students are encouraged to blog about their experiences, the candidates, and the issues. Getting your photo taken with a candidate or celebrity is a perk.
16. Out of This World
What would it take for extraterrestrial life to exist? In the Honors course, Astrobiology: The Origin and Evolution of Habitable Worlds , students learn about biology, chemistry, astronomy, and geology for a multidisciplinary look at how life came to be on Earth and the possibility of finding life elsewhere.
Dead in Virginia is a history course that takes a different approach to learning historical methods—from the ground up. Student are expected to find a small family cemetery in Northern Virginia and use it to learn the ways historians find evidence and turn that data into analysis by visiting archives and libraries and county record offices, as well as using online sources.
18. Parliamo italiano! (Let’s Speak Italian!)
The Little Italies  course is a benissimo (very good) way to knock out the foreign language requirement in one summer. In this intensive program, students develop intermediate-level proficiency in Italian through class meetings, lunch hour conversations eating traditional Italian cuisine (yum!), and weekly excursions such as touring the Italian collection at the National Gallery of Art.
19. Beware of the Bunnyman
Students in the Folklore and Folk-life course offered through the English Department explore traditional folklore concepts and approaches by researching their own family traditions or local legends and writing about them. Many of the papers make it into the online Northern Virginia Folklife Archive  where you can find items on just about anything from fraternity rituals and ghost stories (see Bunnyman Bridge) to folk remedies and oral histories.
20. From Geeks to Gazillionaires
How about a class that pays off—literally? That’s the case in a course called From Geeks to Gazillionaires: Turning Ideas into Successful Companies . One lucky team earns $5,000 in seed money in a class where students come up with a new business idea, research and test that idea, and then develop a comprehensive written business plan based on it.
For even more reasons to go to class, check out our web exclusive extra credit assignment: five more reasons to go to class .