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Summer reading for freshmen
to provide talking point with faculty
February 23, 1998

Along with registration packets and tours of campus, freshmen who come to orientation this June will receive something extra: a book for summer reading.

The idea grew out of the strategic plan. A number of faculty, during discussions on implementing the plan, proposed that all incoming students read a common book, discuss the book with faculty and have the author on campus for a presentation in an effort to enhance the undergraduate academic experience.

"We want to add an academic component to WOW week, the first real experience freshmen have on campus," says Veronica Makowsky, a professor of English who is on a committee to select the book.

All incoming freshmen will be asked to read the same book over the summer. Faculty will be assigned to groups of about 20 students and will write to them prior to orientation. Those faculty members who are available may introduce themselves during orientation and during the summer, students may call or e-mail their faculty leaders to discuss the book or any of their academic concerns.

The model is used at a number of different universities, says Judith Meyer, director of the UConn/Hartford schools partnership initiative and former interim vice provost for undergraduate education and instruction. One of the objectives of the project is to stimulate reading and the sharing of ideas between first-year students and faculty, she says.

At the start of their first full week on campus, on Monday, August 30, the same groups of students who met at orientation will get together with the faculty volunteers to discuss the book. A lecture and book-signing by the author will follow.

Makowsky says it is important for students and faculty to get together soon after freshmen get to campus. "I think we need to get over the perception that UConn is a large and faceless place and that the faculty doesn't have any contact with the students - and we need to do that soon after freshmen arrive, so there isn't any reluctance or hesitation built up about approaching faculty members or talking to them," she says.

The book is being carefully chosen. The criteria for selecting the book are that it have an educationally related message, be of high literary quality and have broad appeal, says Meyer.

The team of faculty and staff who have been reviewing books have narrowed them down to three top choices. They are: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn; Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King; and Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez.

Meanwhile, faculty volunteers - 115 of them - are needed to lead group discussions. To date, 45 people have signed up. Volunteers should be tenured, tenure track or permanent faculty and need to be available on August 30 for about three hours in the afternoon to meet with their groups and attend the author's talk. Each volunteer will receive a copy of the book, paid for by the Parents Fund, and a workshop on how to lead a book discussion will be available this spring.

Meyer says she hopes students and faculty at the regional campuses will also become involved in the project. Books will be provided for them and the author's presentation will be videotaped and made available to the campuses.

If you would like to be a volunteer, call Amy de Flumere, assistant to the vice provost for undergraduate education and instruction.

Sherry Fisher