Auburn University is instituting the Common Book program, “Auburn Connects!,” this fall with the reading of “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.
The Common Book program, which is used in more than 100 universities across the country, was developed to promote a shared academic experience among students, especially incoming freshmen.
“The goal of incorporating a Common Book is to enhance our campus community by fostering dialogue and incorporating shared knowledge into students’ classroom experiences,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Mary Ellen Mazey. “Students will have the opportunity to discuss and write about the many themes explored in the book such as diversity, education and overcoming adversity, while sharing their social, political and personal views.”
“We are focusing on doing projects to increase students’ intellectual connection to each other and to the university very early on, ideally in their first semester,” said Constance Relihan, senior associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and chair of the Common Book committee. “If we can ask students to read a book over the summer, then bring them together when they first get to campus in the fall through activities like discussion groups, lectures and service projects, they can be engaged in something that isn’t just social.”
The committee was asked by the provost to recommend three books from which she would make the final choice. The selection committee based its recommendations on a list of six goals: to promote intellectual community on campus; to help students gain a global perspective; to promote a culture of service; to emphasize individual empowerment, responsibility and the need for hard work; to help set the stage for intellectual engagement; and to be able to be linked to several types of programming on campus during the academic year.
“‘Three Cups of Tea’ meets all of the criteria,” Relihan said. “It’s one man figuring out what he wants to do and really working to achieve that. It also creates awareness about a part of our world that the students need to know more about, and emphasizes how you work with another culture. Additionally, it is most certainly about service to other people.”
Mortenson is the founder of the Central Asia Institute, which is dedicated to promoting peace through the creation of schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The book tells the tale of how he found his passion for his work and his struggles to get his first school built.
Many freshman classes will integrate the book into coursework and class discussions, and all Learning Community sections will use the book in a variety of interdisciplinary courses. In addition, the university and its departments will sponsor public lectures, small group discussions, film series and service-learning projects based on the themes and cultural references in the book. The committee has invited Mortenson to campus in October.
Relihan said that they would like to see everyone, not just incoming freshmen, participate in the program on some level.
“Yes, our primary target is freshmen, but there will be a lot going on publicly. So, why not use the text in upper division classes too so that all students can take advantage of the resources the university is providing?” Relihan said.
The committee will conduct a faculty development workshop on Feb. 18 to provide support and resources to faculty on how to get started and how to plan to utilize the text within their classes.
Relihan said that a new book will be chosen each year, with the plan to bring to campus the author or someone who is connected to each book.
“We’ll keep looking for books that hit on individual potential, hard work and intellectual engagement, all of which is college life,” she said.
For more information about the “Auburn Connects!” Common Book program, go to www.auburn.edu/auburnconnects.
(Contributed by Carol Nelson.)