Known on campus as FRINQ, Freshman Inquiry provides students the academic and social foundation to integrate their university experience by engaging them in transformative learning experiences with their fellow students. 

Built around a theme of inquiry, over the course of a year, each FRINQ provides students a place to examine challenging course topics through a variety of perspectives while gaining knowledge and skills they will need in their other courses and career.

Staying in the same small class for the year helps students transition to Portland State and allows them to build friendships with students from a variety of majors.

Freshman Inquiry themes are more alike than different.

Each FRINQ is:

  • Interdisciplinary (examines a subject using arts & humanities, social science, and natural science).
  • Reading, writing, and research-intensive.
  • Experiential and integrates community-based learning.
  • Focused on developing the whole student. 
  • Address the four University Studies Goals.
  • Participation and discussion-based.
  • Emphasizes critical self-reflection on learning.
  • A learning community of peers.
  • Taught at the same time and by the same professor each term.
  • Supported by a Peer Mentored Inquiry section.
Student headshot
Student walking

Five important things to know:

  • Freshman Inquiry has a main section and a Mentor Inquiry section that are held at the same time all year—find out when courses in your major will be in Winter and Spring terms to avoid conflicts.

  • Freshman Inquiry is cumulative—a student must pass each term to take the next section.

  • Stay with your cohort—the shared, year-long experience is a critical benefit. If something comes up, a student should contact University Studies.

  • Freshman Inquiry transfers to other schools as 4 credits each of 100-level Humanities, Natural Science, and Social Science, and 3 credits of Writing 121.


Design & Society 

Designers influence the creation of products, images, infrastructure, and environments surrounding us, both virtual and real. Acting in a deliberate manner, designers engage with the problems facing their communities and act to solve them by developing pragmatic, creative, and innovative solutions. This course will use designers' activities as a lens across a variety of activities.

Health, Happiness, & Human Rights

This course examines the nature and state of healthy individuals and populations in their various environments. A dynamic approach is used to study the places where people live and interact, such as the community, the workplace, and the natural environment. Specific emphasis will be given to the intersections between health, communities (both local and global), and human rights and the impact on happiness.


The human animal is considered to be both a part of and yet distinct from nature. This relationship between our human selves and the natural world we inhabit is complicated and perplexing. This theme explores the complex connections between humans and nature. Is there such a thing as human nature, and if so, what is it? How are we related to nature and the larger natural world? Over the course of the year, we will attempt to answer questions like these, drawing on the resources of the social and biological sciences, history, literature, and the arts.

Immigration, Migration, & Belonging

The movement of people across borders is a central political and cultural issue throughout the world. Although many are aware of the mobility of goods and capital in a global economy, we tend to be less aware of the movement of people in the global economic system and we also tend to forget that the movement of people, both as workers and as refugees, is not a new phenomenon.

Life Unlimited?

This course delves into the fascinating relationship between non-living and living matter, life and death, nature and the artificial, humans and machines. Our inquiry starts with the fundamental question, “What is life?” We explore the ways the human search for “perfection” is embodied in various myths and utopian visions. As well as examining the risks and opportunities of technologies and how they redefine social relations and values.


How do our surroundings shape our lives? How do we shape our surroundings? In this course, the complex relationship between people and the places in which we live, recreate, and work is explored. We specifically focus on Portland: its place as a context for human development and cultural expression; its place as an urban area of diverse communities; and its place within the natural, material, and social environment of the Pacific Northwest.

Power & Imagination 

This course explores the interwoven relationships among domination, resistance, and empowerment--from the interpersonal to the global--through the stories of power and perception as they are represented in art and literature, science, and politics. Historical and contemporary case studies will help us understand the positive consequences and potential dangers of mythmaking.

Race & Social Justice

This course will study biology that undermines the concept of race itself; sociology that defines the concept as socially constructed; a history that is not acknowledged in standard K-12 texts; and literature that opens a diversity of windows onto the experience of race. Through both increased knowledge and personal reflection, students can develop capabilities useful to the work of moving U.S. society past its racial dilemma.


Although we often think of the natural world as separate from our largely urban lives, our most basic needs such as nutritious food to eat, clean air to breathe, and clean water to drink depend on the health of the natural systems of which we are a part. This course explores the interconnectedness of global systems (including physical, ecological, cultural, social, and economic) and their impact on the world.

What are Great Books?

This theme focuses on some of the great literary works, watershed scientific discoveries, and seminal insights and creative acts that characterized the last two millennia of human thought and culture. To do so we will cross disciplines at every stage, working to understand how history, literature, art, philosophy, math, and science are not discrete disciplines but have always influenced and contributed profoundly to one another.

The Work of Art

Approaching art from a variety of disciplines, this course examines how the work of art shapes, reflects, disguises, and complicates our personal and cultural identities. We explore the various roles that art plays in our imaginary, political, and social lives.