Jun 27, 2011

Summer Reading Assignments for College Freshmen

Not long ago, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) compiled an interesting review of summer reading programs required of incoming freshman at colleges throughout the country.

Unlike traditional “required reading” assignments designed for students to get a little ahead or keep in the practice of reading over the summer, the college programs are more targeted to helping “start the conversation” during freshman orientation.

So what are freshmen reading? Based on an analysis of 290 programs, the top books last year were This I Believe (an essay collection assigned at 11 colleges), Enrique’s Journey (an immigrant’s story assigned at 10 colleges), Three Cups of Tea (the now controversial story of building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan) and the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (ethics in research).

The study, titled “Beach Books,” looked at the themes and politics of the books selected for freshman reading and concluded that books about multiculturalism, immigration or racism were most popular (60 colleges). Next were books covering environmental issues (36 colleges), the Islamic world (27 colleges), New Age or spiritual books (25 colleges), and issues related to the Holocaust or genocide (25 colleges). NAS also reported that 46 of the choices have a film version, 29 are about Africa, 9 are related to Hurricane Katrina, and 5 are about dysfunctional families.

Following the trend, several local colleges incorporated summer reading into their freshman orientation activities. Students at George Washington University will be reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and at American they will read The Good Soldier, by David Finkel. On September 7th, Finkel will visit AU to discuss the book in a program for newly-arrived freshmen.

Further to the east, students at Salisbury University will be reading Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton. Both authors will be available at a book signing event scheduled during lunch for new students, and Ms. Thompson-Cannino will be the featured speaker at Convocation.

Established in 1998, Virginia Tech’s Common Book Project is designed to enrich the first-year experience and create “sense of community for undergraduate students.” This year, all incoming students have been given a copy of This I Believe II.

Marking the fifth year of the First Year Experience program, freshmen at St. Mary’s College of Maryland will read A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Woman Confronts the Legacy of Apartheid by Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela.

At Lynchburg College, freshmen will read selected essays from the This I Believe series, and Catholic University will once again assign Homer’s The Odyssey.

“The Odyssey bears directly to what you’re about to do,” said Dr. Todd Lidh, director of the CUA First Year Experience program. He goes on to explain that the first four books are “about Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, and his quest to find out who he is and who he comes from, what to believe and what to discard, who to trust and who to avoid. And he does this by leaving home—just as you are about to do.”

1 comment:

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was an interesting read, it was interesting to see how her poverty kept her from getting the care she needed which could have changed her outcome. Another great read for college students is Moneyball which is by the author of The Blind Side. It's actually going to be a movie in the fall starring Brad Pitt!