MU’s Summer Reading Program seeks to change first-years’ beach reading list
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Friday, April 27, 2012 01:04
Summer is a time to relax, hang out with friends and maybe land a job as a lifeguard at the pool. With so much to do, the Summer Reading Program (SRP) seems like a contradiction to some students. After all, summer is meant to be the time when students can enjoy the fact that they do not have to read.
“I read the first part of the book,” first-year Jackie Green said. “I didn’t finish it because I got caught up doing other things.”
According to Green, the summer after high school is one of the only times students get a break from their studies.
The committee for the SRP sees things a little differently. For them, summer is a time to prepare the incoming class of students for the liberal arts education Miami offers.
However, each year the book chosen by the SRP committee is met with mixed levels of participation from the first-year class it is assigned to.
Jennifer Kinney 2012 committee-co chair said she usually gets mixed reactions to the book.
“We always get those who really get into the book,” Kinney said. “Then we get the ones who only read parts and pieces, and then there’s always some who don’t touch the book at all.”
The SRP has stood as an introduction for the incoming first-year class to the liberal art education at Miami for the past 31 years, according to John Jeep, professor and interim director of international studies and co-chair of the 2012 summer reading committee. Since then the committee has worked hard to choose books that interest students and encourage discussion. Most of the time, the author of the chosen book comes to convocation to speak to the new class of first-years, according to Jeep.
“I think our list of speakers and the variety of topics we have would hold up to anybodies,” Jeep said. “And ours might even be the best.”
Past author/speakers include Caryl Phillips, Barbara Ehrenreich, Tim O’Brien, Cornel West, Taylor Mali and Abraham Verghse.
After the author of the assigned book speaks at convocation, students attend discussions about the book led by resident assistants and Miami faculty. The pillars of the Miami Plan are introduced and discussed in the context of the assigned book during convocation.
The SRP was designed to, “introduce students to what it means to be a part of an academic community where we can talk about ideas and express our opinions and learn about different opinions,” Kinney said.
Jeep said the discussions also feed a social purpose, as it is, “the first thing that the incoming class does together.”
Kinney seconded this opinion.
“It is also used for students to meet the people with whom they’re going to be living,” Kinney said. “I think students are generally more interested in meeting people than discussing the book.”
Statistics from the 2011 Student Voice online survey offered to first-year students after their first week at Miami show that roughly 62 percent of the students who completed the survey read the SRP book.
“I think everyone will agree too few students read the book and the discussions would be better if more did,” Jeep said.
First-year Stephanie Pearce said she did not stay for the whole discussion.
“We left our group early, only a couple of people had read it and the discussion didn’t have enough structure to be worth our time,” Pearce said.
Lauren Sicterman, also a first-year said she enjoyed the discussion groups.
“It was a good thing to get us all together and force us to talk to each other at the beginning of the year,” Sicterman said.
Kinney said the loss of focus on the reading might be a result of the presentation of the SRP to the new class.
“Even though we try to explain what the SRP is, I think they are overwhelmed in a sense by everything going on during orientation,” Kinney said. “I think that we could do a better job explaining what the program is.”
First-year Susannah Carson agreed the program is under-explained.
“I think they sent us an e-mail,” Carson said. “I didn’t read (the assigned book) because the e-mail said there would only be a discussion group. I actually thought it was optional.”
Kate de Medeiros, first-time Summer Reading Program committee member, is looking deeper into the situation.
She said today’s students have a different take on education than past generations and have assembled focus groups to find out more.
“I have heard the fear is that fewer students are reading the book,” Medeiros said. “The focus groups are meant to figure out why.”