• November 29th, 2016

webstory_commonbook_keckIncoming Honors College students joined together in a common activity this past summer, long before they stepped foot on campus to begin classes. The Honors Common Book Experience offers one book each year for all incoming freshmen to read, which they then discuss in the fall in classes, in their residence halls, and in informal discussion. This year’s Common Book, A Land More Kind than Home, culminated in a campus visit in September by the author, Wiley Cash, whose jam-packed schedule was designed by Honors Year One intern Stephanie Keck.

Stephanie, a junior majoring in PR and Marketing, became involved in planning Cash’s visit because “I was in the right place at the right time.” On campus in the early summer, as plans for the author’s visit began to come together, Stephanie was assigned responsibility for creating a schedule that brought Cash into contact with as many students as possible.

“Having the author of the Common Book on campus really allows students to go deeper into the meaning of the book and think about how the themes affect them,” Stephanie says.

According to Dr. Ross Bryan, assistant dean of the Honors College, “We chose the book because we felt that the characters in the book wrestled with the concept of ‘home’ and ‘ideology’ while they were negotiating ‘who’ they wanted to become.  Just like a freshman college student, many of the characters in the book were at the crossroads of their own past, present, and future selves.”

Stephanie’s goal was to give as many students as possible the opportunity to interact with the book in a new way by hearing from the author. Working for a total of about 8 weeks through the summer and early fall, Stephanie collaborated with Honors College staff and fellow intern Cokie Thompson to create an itinerary that included visits to several classes, meals with student groups, a book signing, and the culminating event, a public lecture to over 400 students.

“I was able to use a lot of what I have learned in class about understanding target market to schedule events that would matter to students,” she says. “I think there were probably 1000 things that I could have done differently, but I learned a lot from this project. It was really a success because of Dr. Cash, who made the best of every event. I owe the success to him.”

Stephanie is particularly pleased with the impact on students of Cash’s public lecture. “Dr. Cash was really ‘present’ throughout the lecture and fully engaged the audience. He didn’t just ‘show up’-he was funny, he talked about themes that really matter to freshmen. I could have listened to him for another five hours,” she laughs.

What is the ultimate goal of the Common Book Experience? According to Dr. Bryan, “One of the best ways to begin building community is to have a shared, common experience.  In this way, we feel that A Land More Kind than Home has given our community of scholars a way to welcome in new members and create a space for all of us to discuss important issues, like narrative, agency, dissent, family, and ideology.  These are only some of the elements of a strong, well informed community, but we feel the Honors Year One program and Dr. Cash really hit a home run in getting the class of 2020 off on the right foot.”

For her part, Stephanie admits, “I hate required reading,” but she says that each common book is thoughtfully chosen and offers powerful themes for students to think about. Even more important, it lets students build real connections with each other from the beginning.  “It sounds like just an assignment,” Stephanie says, “but it’s the basis for real conversations among students from the very beginning.”

What was the impact for Stephanie of working on this long and complex project? “I was so honored to take this on,” she says. “I really learned from the experience.”

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