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As the semester winds down and students eagerly await their fall classes or curse ISIS for a late registration time, many still cannot decide which courses are worth their while.

Though some may be looking for an easy "A" or a class without a required discussion, there are many courses out there which students found essential to their education at the University. As many students mentioned, it is frequently the combination of subject and professor that makes the class what it is.

The following five large lecture courses have been popular among students -- and for good reason.

ECON 201: Principles of Economics I

Prof. Kenneth Elzinga

Perhaps one of the largest lecture classes at the University, with two sections of 500 students each, Prof. Kenneth Elzinga's introductory microeconomics has been one of the most popular classes offered at the University since Elzinga arrived in the fall of 1967.

"I consider myself blessed to have had the opportunity to teach so many great students at U.Va. over the years-- possibly over 35,000," Elzinga said in an e-mail correspondence. "I used to be embarrassed by the size of the class. I no longer am; now I think it is one of the assets of the class."

Third-year College student Logan Riddick said he thought the size may intimidate some students, but if given the option, he recommended students choose Elzinga's class.

"At this point, he has the lectures down to a science," Riddick said. "He's just an excellent speaker. For students whose parents went here, their parents probably took the class under Elzinga."

Riddick added that students need not be interested in pursuing an economics major or anything in a related field -- he said the course could be beneficial for any and all interested.

"It was very clear early in the semester that Elzinga was an excellent authority on the subject," Riddick said. "It just gives you a better idea of how businesses really work in the real world."

Elzinga agreed his class could be to the advantage of many.

"I think a knowledge of economics is useful not only for U.Va. students going into business, but many other fields of endeavor are affected by economic events," Elzinga said. "Informed, participating citizens should have some knowledge of how the economy works."

Riddick emphasized students shouldn't feel intimidated by the course, adding that people have the freedom to determine how their final grade is computed.

"I tell my students, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that my goal is that they will be able to read an article in the newspaper about economics and understand it better than the journalist who wrote it," Elzinga said. "Students who receive an 'A' in Econ 201 should be able to run a small economy on their own by the end of the fall semester."

Riddick said he would agree with Elzinga's statement.

"I'm not going to disagree," Riddick said with a laugh. "It's hyperbole, but I'll agree with it."

ENGL 383: History of Literature in English III

Prof. Stephen Cushman and Prof. Michael Levenson

"The Cat," as Prof. Michael Levenson is more commonly known, is a nickname that is sticking quite well, just as his words stick with students, sometimes even years after taking the course. Fourth-year College student Jenna Berk is one such example.

"A lot of my notes were just things that they were saying that weren't even necessarily related to the class," Berk said. "Just things like [when Levenson referred to Sylvia Plath], 'I got cut off in traffic and I yelled, "The blood jet is poetry, loser!"'"

Levenson's connection of literature to daily life helped students make more of an association themselves but also served to demonstrate his love of his work.

"I think for both of us it's important to reveal something of ourselves and our own commitment to it," Levenson said. "I sometimes talk about my family in the course, my wife and my children, and that's because this kind of work crosses a divide between personal and professional."

Both Prof. Stephen Cushman and Levenson emphasized their respect and admiration for each other, which they said is key in their work together.

"Michael and I have known each other for 24 years -- we've taught together in a number of situations," Cushman said. "The things that we do best are when he shines a light from one direction, and I shine a light from a different direction and where the beams cross is often fertile ground for discussion."

Though the class has over 300 students, Cushman said they attempt to overcome the disadvantages of a big lecture course in teaching about modern writings.

"What we try to do is create an atmosphere for 50 minutes in which this is actually the most exciting thing that we could all be doing together," Cushman said.

Levenson agreed, adding that the large number of students is somewhat gratifying.

"The sensation I get standing up there in lecture is that I'm not alone," Levenson said. "The very discomfort of people crowded into a lecture hall that is not a lovely space by any means, that gives me a sense all the time that there are so many people committed to my sense that culture matters. When I look out and see 370 students on the first day and then more likely 320 students on subsequent days, I still think that's a very large number of people who are getting up early in the morning because they believe in it the way I do, and that's tremendously exciting."

Berk, who mentioned that students were sometimes forced to sit on the stairs during lecture, said the professors' enthusiasm for the material was infectious.

"All of the literature we're reading is really difficult literature -- we're reading 'The Waste Land' in a lecture class -- but they just refused to allow us to be intimidated by what we were reading."

Berk's reaction to such gigantic works of literature was just what Levenson said took him by surprise.

"One of the astonishing realizations that I never expected was the feeling that students could take away a great deal from notoriously difficult literature," Levenson said. "'The Waste Land' is the great example for me, because it's a work of such legendary difficulty, and again and again I have students come in and say they loved it, they dressed up as 'The Waste Land' for Halloween, they keep reading it. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to see students in there just grappling with this monster of a poem and really caring to figure out what they can say, what they can feel, how it comes out, is there hope -- all those questions seem urgent for the students."

Berk stressed that the course could prove useful for any student, not only the English majors who are required to take the class.

"I think that everybody would gain a sense that literature is important, it's one of the reasons why we're alive," Berk said. "There's eating, sleeping, survival stuff, but I think that you really can't survive without literature, without poetry. It's a joy of life, which is funny to say when your curriculum includes Hemingway. It makes you go out in the world in a different way and look for beauty, a different way of expressing yourself."

Levenson echoed that same sentiment, referring to the power of reading.

"At one point in this course or another, if you can't find a book that you will care about forever, then you're not fully alive -- so get fully alive," Levenson said. "We need to be a more thoughtful culture, but we also need to be a more emotionally expressive culture. A lot of what motivates the two of us, I know it motivates me, is just this idea that the power of precise thinking goes along with the power of deep feeling."

Berk added that she will take what she gained from the course with her even after she leaves the University.

"I think back to classes and see if I can remember anything from them," Berk said. "Some classes I don't remember anything that really lit up my mind, but this class has so many of those moments, I'm sure I'll look back and draw upon it after I graduate."

HIST 361: Espionage and Intelligence in the 20th Century

Prof. Gerald Haines and Prof. Timothy Naftali

For a class on espionage and intelligence, it would be difficult to find more qualified lecturers than Professors Gerald Haines, a former CIA officer, and Timothy Naftali, who, among other activities, did some work with the 9-11 Commission.

"The class is unique in that Tim knows a lot about Soviet and Russian intelligence, and, being a former CIA officer, 30 years in the Intelligence Agency, I can tell the American side," Haines said. "There's really no class like that in the United States."

Haines and Naftali have been teaching the course for four years, but this current term is the last semester they'll offer it together. Naftali is leaving the University to take the position of director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, but Haines said he will most likely continue teaching the class himself.

"We've really enjoyed [teaching the class]," Haines said. "We hope people have taken away some knowledge as well as been entertained by it. My regret is that it's grown so large that you don't really get to know everyone in the class, and that's unfortunate."

Third-year College student Allison Murphy agreed the class was very unique and said she enjoyed learning about an unusual side to an otherwise well-known past.

"It covers American history from an entirely different perspective," Murphy said. "You're learning about things that have only been uncovered in the past decade, about what really went on, and you're learning about a different side of the history which you know so well and a side that you also never even heard."

Haines said he thought the course was potentially appealing to students due to the relevance of the material to current affairs.

"Intelligence is really a hot topic now, and it wasn't one back when I was in school, because they wouldn't even allow intelligence community recruiters on campus," Haines said. "I think students today are very curious about the role of intelligence and the part it plays in policymaking, so to understand the intelligence aspect of U.S. foreign policy, for example, I think is very important."

Issues that aren't as recent are also brought up in the class, such as the Holocaust, and oftentimes still having a large impact.

"One of the most effective lectures that is done is done by Tim," Haines said. "It's a lecture on what the intelligence community knew about the Holocaust, and he starts out with a small family in Hungary. It's very dramatic, because at the end of the class, the family escapes and ends up in Canada, and their name is Naftali."

Murphy also mentioned how powerful that lecture was and learning of Naftali's family's personal involvement.

"He revealed that at the very end of the lecture, and I've never heard a lecture hall so silent -- you could have heard a pin drop," Murphy said. "It was incredible, and I talked before about bringing a new perspective to history we know, and I think that was one instance where that was particularly true. To hear that weighty fact is something I won't forget anytime soon."

Murphy said not only the class' subject sparked her interest, but the professors themselves made the lectures intriguing.

"They're both such dynamic speakers and dynamic people that they absolutely capture your attention," Murphy said. "For however long you're in there, they don't lose your attention, and there's something pretty incredible about that."

HIUS 323: Rise and Fall of the Slave South

Prof. and Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Ed Ayers

At a university where history permeates everyday life, Dean Ed Ayers's class on the slave South is particularly pertinent.

"No matter where they're from, while they are at U.Va., students live for several years in what was the largest slave state in the United States and in the capital of the Confederacy," Ayers said in an e-mail correspondence. "Thoughtful students are curious about the history beneath their feet."

Fourth-year Commerce student Anna Lee said the class could be useful for all students, not just history majors.

"I really feel like this class is what college is about," Lee said. "Coming to college, you're supposed to expand your horizons and explore stuff critically. For this one, nothing is ever one way. The North wasn't the good and the South wasn't the bad. It was much richer than that and [involves] really thinking about things differently than you were taught beforehand, really gaining ownership of that information. Whether or not you're a history major or have any interest in history at all, the basic skills in what this class does for you go beyond that."

Lee mentioned her favorite part of the class was the individual research projects they were assigned, in which they used the raw materials of the South found in the Special Collections Library.

The project "really puts you in the role of historian," Lee said. "It really gives you a sense of respect for the subject."

Ayers emphasized he allows students the freedom to pursue their own route.

"My goal is to get students to think about the moral dimensions of our own lives by using the history of the South as a sort of mirror," Ayers said. "Every student takes a different path through the course because everyone does their own research project and the teaching assistants are crucial allies. I love giving the lectures because they're my way of establishing a conversation with the people of this part of the American past."

Lee added that Ayers himself brought much enthusiasm to the class, so much that she felt she was able to comprehend the material through just his lectures.

"I feel like if Prof. Ayers was going to lecture on sewage systems or something not inherently interesting, I still feel like he'd find a way to make it come alive for his students," Lee said. For lectures, "he just started talking and suddenly everybody was there with him -- it was his own charm, I guess."

Lee, who will be working for Teach for America next year, said she learned from Ayers how to best approach being a teacher herself by being passionate about the subject and making the material relevant for students.

"I've taught [this course] for a quarter of a century, and it's new and thrilling to me every time," Ayers said.

RELG 230: Religious Ethics and Moral Problems

Prof. Charles Mathewes

"I teach about war, murder, capital punishment, sex and marriage, homosexuality, the environment -- who isn't interested about this stuff?" Prof. Charles Mathewes said in reference to his course.

His class focuses on the three main monotheistic world religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

"The point is not to give people the fantasy that there is a right Jewish, Christian or Muslim answer to any particular position," Mathewes said. "People may think that within the traditions or outside the traditions, but the point is to try to give them some sort of purchase on what you could call the basic grammar of moral deliberation in these three faiths."

Third-year Architecture student Nora White said what she learned in the class was easily applicable to her own life.

"I mean, how many classes do you really get to do that with?" White said. "It's not contained in the classroom, it has that real life application and that ultimately seems to me like the whole point of learning. It's something that I'll take with me my whole life."

White, who took the course as one of her electives, emphasized that she wanted to be careful in picking classes that would actually be beneficial for her with the little free space she has in her schedule.

"Especially being in the Architecture School, I am pretty much exposed to just architecture," White said. "What few electives I get, I try to pick something that's going to be a spectacular class or something I know at least I'm interested in, so that I'll get more of a well-rounded education."

Mathewes said he tries to make the class material pertinent to students' lives at the University.

"Why is it that everybody at U.Va., all these students are so over-scheduled?" Mathewes said. "Why is it everybody hardly has time to go out and sit in the Gardens, or sit on the Lawn, play Frisbee on the Lawn? You should not be able to walk across the Lawn and not be hit by two or three Frisbees, and yet you aren't. The Lawn is a pretty quiet place. Why are these undergraduates, who are supposed to be in classes 15 hours a week, scheduling themselves to have 50 or 60 hours a week of formal commitments?"

White said it was obvious to her Mathewes wanted students to learn beyond just reading, writing and taking tests.

"I'll see him on the street and sometimes want to just go up and be like, 'Prof. Mathewes, your class was amazing!'" White said.

Mathewes highlighted that he hoped students would appreciate the class, not only for the knowledge they would gain but also to realize how much more there is to know.

"I really want people to be more thoughtfully alive in the way that they inhabit these traditions and in the way that they come to think about the way these traditions operate," Mathewes said. "Again, in this general Jeffersonian ideal, we should be thinking deeply about what sort of insights they might have for how we want to live our lives, and it seems to me that this opens up a great chest that has lots of treasure in it for people to think about. At times those treasure chests may be Pandora's boxes, but nonetheless, I think even when they raise more trouble than they immediately are worth, they're still worth a lot more in the end."

These ideas are just what White said had such an influence on her.

"It just helped enrich my education that much more, especially since you have so few options, you want to take something that's just going to blow you away," White said. "The little threads I was able to pull away from it were just really helpful in making decisions and going along my own life. It's something that has affected me to this day."

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