While many students take to the beaches over Spring Break, others who stay on campus will soon be able spend their week playing with puppies or mathematically analyzing "Game of Thrones."

Spring Breakthrough, a new program this year, encourages students to explore their intellectual interests by offering short seminar-style courses in a risk-free setting. Classes are offered for no credit, no grade and no cost, although they will appear on student transcripts. The program will run for five days during Spring Break in 2017 from March 12 to March 16. Students will be able to sign up for courses where they can explore cognitive neuroscience and veterinary science by playing with puppies, discuss the intersection of biology and popular science fiction or investigate the historical and political role of black athletes in sports culture, along with eight others.

“So many students are focused on their GPA and meeting the requirements of their majors that sometimes it’s hard to step back and just learn for the sake of learning," said Laura Howes, program manager for Spring Breakthrough and associate director of strategy and operations in the Office of the Provost. "This program is designed to create space for students to refresh their thinking and engage in hopefully new topics."

The program is only open to freshmen and sophomores, and coordinators said that they hope students will use this as an opportunity to go outside of their focus areas.

“The thinking is that freshmen and sophomores are at a point in their trajectory at Duke where if they find a new passion, they still have time to follow that path," Howes said.

Each of the 11 classes will have between five and 14 students, and the faculty said they aim to create a sense of community among the students through field trips and communal meals.

Spring Breakthrough will be completely free for students, as it will be paid for by the Strategic Investment Funds of the Office of the Provost. Sign-ups for the program begin Nov. 7.

Howes noted that each of the faculty members teaching a Spring Breakthrough class got to choose the subject and design their courses themselves.

Anita Layton, Robert R. & Katherine B. Penn professor of mathematics and professor of biomedical engineering, will be teaching a course titled “Mathematics, As Seen On TV.” In an effort to create a course that appealed to college students, Layton said she turned to her 13-year-old daughter for inspiration. In this course, Layton and her students will explore the role that mathematics plays in shows such as "The Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones."

“I want to reach students who don’t intend to be quantitative science majors, but are curious about math. I believe that everybody should know some math and stats," Layton explained.

Dan Ariely, James B. Duke professor of psychology and behavioral economics, will also be teaching a class this Spring. The course will discuss topics ranging from romance and the psychology of money to dishonesty and motivation, with opportunities for students to gather their own data and make their own observations. This kind of experiential learning, in which students can personally explore the topic, is what drew Ariely to the program, he noted.

In the class “Hamilton: Music, History, and Politics,” students will be able to write songs that they thought were missing from the Broadway production of "Hamilton," said Noah Pickus, director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics and associate research professor of public policy. Students will have the opportunity to work with coaches from Hoof ‘n’ Horn and Small Town Records.

Pickus noted that he picked the subject of his course with the help of his wife, a librarian and historian, and his daughter, a "Hamilton" fan.

“The classes offered sound so interesting and I would be really excited to take them,” freshman Olivia Lee said.

Freshman Zoe Tang added that although she likely will be traveling during Spring Break this year, she thought Spring Breakthrough classes will be an exciting option for students who remain on campus to consider.