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Interesting College Courses at Sweet 16 Schools

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Sweet Sixteen schools are obviously pretty good at basketball (this year, anyway). But they're also pretty good at coming up with interesting classes that have students clamoring to enroll. Check out some of the unusual past and present offerings in the Sweet 16.

University of Florida: Lightning Research Laboratory. Students and researchers basically spend their summer trying to trigger lightning. It may be a storm chaser’s dream, but there’s a lot more than just chasing going on here: a few years ago, students in this lab made the groundbreaking discovery that lightning emits x-rays.

Indiana: The Art and Science of Beer was a course offered a few semesters ago, and while getting credit to study suds sounds like a great idea to me, the professor who taught the class said many students were disappointed to find out that it was “a real class instead of a keg stand.”

Michigan State: Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Catastrophes & Human Behavior.

Been watching a lot of The Walking Dead? If the AMC series has you wondering how you’ll prepare for the zombie apocalypse, the Spartans have just the class for you; the seven-week course starts in May. Perhaps taking a cue from all of those zombie movies, the faculty even made a trailer for the class:

North Carolina: Into the West. A study of the American cowboy and his depiction in American pop culture. Class work includes writing and producing a short film starring a cowboy. A semester of Rooster Cogburn and Josey Wales? Sign me up.

Louisville: Communicating Hip-Hop Culture. An “analysis of rap music as a communicative force both within and about hip-hop culture”; topics of study include “the origins, development, and participants of the culture.” Fascinating, and students no doubt get to listen to some pretty great music in class.

Syracuse: Star Trek and the Information Age. What can you learn from Star Trek, you might be wondering? Only everything from management skills to unmanned, remote warfare. “The class’s Trekkie TA also mentioned human rights issues: “Is the android who’s on our team, is he considered a human? And why or why not?”

Wisconsin: Daytime Serials: Family and Social Roles. What better way to study familial relationships than by analyzing shows where a character’s stepmother may also be his ex-girlfriend, his child’s mother and his adopted sister?

Officially, the syllabus says:

“Analysis of the themes and characters that populate television's daytime serials and investigation of what impact these portrayals have on women's and men's roles in the family and in the work place. The course will compare and contrast prime-time programs with daytime serials for these themes."

Ohio State: Sports for the Spectator. That’s three credits to “Develop an appreciation of sport as a spectacle, social event, recreational pursuit, business and entertainment.” You think this class involved a couple of field trips?

Kansas: Dance, Dance Revolution. When Dance Dance Revolution was at its height a couple of years ago, Jayhawks could earn a cool credit by getting their groove on with an activity credit. Students who prefer outdoor exercise could play sand volleyball, another pretty sweet way to get a credit.

North Carolina State: Forensic Analysis. This is no textbook course. Students at NC State actually examine bones and other remains to see what they can learn about the deceased. One class even discovered that a previously unidentified victim was actually the sixth in a line of murders attributed to the Edgecombe serial killer.

Baylor: Homosexuality as a Gateway Drug. This course isn't as "interesting" as it is newsworthy: the college made the news in November when they listed this eyebrow-raising sociology class for Spring 2012. After public outcry, the name of the course was changed to “Special Topics in Sociology.” Baylor said the topic was going to be researched by one student as part of an independent study course and was not intended to offend.

We’re always looking for more interesting college classes. If your school has one (or even if you just want to discuss zombies), leave a comment or send me a Tweet.

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What's the Kennection? #159
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11 Classic Facts About Converse Chucks
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Converse’s Chuck Taylor sneakers have been around since the early 20th century, but they haven’t changed much—until recently. In 2015, The Chuck II—a new line of Converse that looks much the same as the original shoe but with a little more padding and arch support—hit stores. In honor of the kicks' staying power, here are 11 facts about Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars.  

1. They were originally athletic shoes. 

The Converse All-Star debuted in 1917 as an athletic sneaker. It quickly became the number one shoe for basketball, then a relatively new sport (basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891, but the NBA wasn't founded until 1946). By the late 1940s, most of the NBA sported Chucks. They remain the best-selling basketball shoes of all time, even though very few people wear them for basketball anymore. (Many teams switched to leather Adidas in the late ‘60s.)

2. Converse previously made rain boots.

The company started in 1908 as a rubber shoe company that produced galoshes.  

3. The All-Star design hasn’t really changed since 1917.

The updated Chuck II is Converse’s first real attempt to update its flagship product since the early 20th century. The company is understandably reticent to shake things up: All-Stars make up the majority of the company’s revenue, and like any classic design, its fans can be die-hards. In the 1990s, when the company tried to introduce All-Stars that were more comfortable and had slightly fewer design inconsistencies, hardcore aficionados rebelled. “They missed the imperfections in the rubber tape that lines the base of the shoe,” according to the Washington Post. The company went back to making a slightly imperfect shoe.

4. Chuck Taylor was a basketball player and trainer ...

Chuck Taylor in 1921. Image Credit: North Carolina State University via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Taylor was a Converse salesman and former professional basketball player who traveled around the country teaching basketball clinics (and selling shoes) starting in the 1920s. His name was added onto an ankle patch on the sneaker in 1932

5. ... And though he sold a lot of Chucks, he wasn't always a great coach.

Taylor is in large part responsible for the shoe’s popularity with athletes (the company rewarded him with an unlimited expense account), but his training advice wasn’t always the best. As former University of North Carolina player Larry Brown told Spin in an oral history of the shoe:

My greatest memory of Chuck Taylor—probably ’61 or ’62—is that he told Coach [Dean] Smith that he’d make us special weighted shoes in Carolina blue. The idea was that we’d wear the weighted shoes in practice, and then during the games, we’d run faster and jump higher. Well, we tried them for one practice and everyone pulled a hamstring.

6. Converse didn’t intend for their shoes to be punk.

“We always thought of ourselves as an athletic shoe company,” John O’Neil, who oversaw Converse’s marketing from 1983 to 1997, told Spin. “We wanted to sell a wholesome shoe.” The company was still touting its shoes as basketball sneakers as late as 2012, and some of its non-Chucks sneakers still have pro endorsers.

7. The company owns a recording studio.

Finally embracing its role in the music scene, the company launched Rubber Tracks, a Brooklyn-based recording studio where bands can record for free, in 2011.

8. Not all the Ramones were fans. 

Chuck Taylors are associated with punk rockers, especially the Ramones, but not everyone in the band wore them. “Dee Dee and I switched over to the Chuck Taylors because they stopped making [the style of] U.S. Keds and Pro-Keds [that we liked],” Marky Ramone told Spin. “Joey never wore them. He needed a lot of arch support and Chuck Taylors are bad for that.”

9. Chucks were initially only high tops. 

In 1962, Converse rolled out its first oxford Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Previously, it had just been a high-top shoe. Four years later, the company would introduce the first colors other than black and white.

10. Rocky ran in them.

In 1976, All-Stars were still considered a viable athletic shoe. If you look closely at the training montage from Rocky, you’ll see the boxer is wearing Chucks. 

11. Wiz Khalifa loves them. 

The rapper named his record label Taylor Ganag Records, in part due to his appreciation for Chuck Taylors. In 2013, he launched a shoe collection with Converse featuring 12 styles. 

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