Learning through engagement and discovery

Launching university-wide reading program

Book cover of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"
Book cover of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks"

Purdue Calumet is launching One Book/One University, a reading program designed to provide incoming students with a shared academic experience through reading a common text.

New students will receive a free copy of the book during new student orientation and read the book as part of their freshman year experience. Faculty participation in One Book / One University is voluntary and up to the individual faculty member as to whether or not they will incorporate the book into their syllabus.

As this is a campus-wide initiative, students may have more than one class that incorporates the book into the coursework.   Book discussion groups and activities related to the book will be held throughout the fall and spring semesters.

The goals of One Book/One University is to help new students make connections with other students and faculty; think critically about a social issue, belief, culture, or other topic of global concern; discover that learning can take place outside the classroom; and become involved in university activities.

Other universities provide this type of opportunity to their freshmen as it is a well-established practice to help integrate incoming students into the campus community.   Purdue University West Lafayette has a similar program, and the One Book / One University Steering Committee consulted with the director of their Common Reading Program when designing this one for Purdue Calumet.

The book selection for this fall is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  Henrietta Lacks was known to scientists as HeLa. Although she was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, her cells, taken without her knowledge, became one of the more important tools in medicine.  The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than 60 years.  HeLa cells helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping and have been bought and sold by the billions.

“This book is interdisciplinary, moving between law, medicine, history, and personal storytelling,” Rebecca Benson, One Book/One University Steering Committee member, said. “It touches on some of the most compelling issues today, including the degree to which we ‘own’ the medical information in our bodies, how and when science should be commercialized, and the relationship between race, gender, and science.  This book is going to lead to some wonderful public lectures and discussions.”

Fall 2012 will be the official start of the One Book / One University program.  However, events are already occurring to gear up for the fall semester.   The steering and book selection committees have been meeting to work on the details of the project, Faculty workshops are scheduled over the next two months to provide faculty with more information about the program and ideas on how they can participate.

Below is a list of Faculty Workshops located in SUL 321:

  • Wednesday, April 18 – 2-4 p.m.: Integrating Henrietta Lacks into the Freshman Year Experience.
  • Monday, May 7 – 2-4 p.m.: Campus Resources for discussing the science in Henrietta Lacks.
  • Friday, May 11 – 9-11 a.m.: A visit from Karla Sanders, director of the common reading program at Eastern Illinois University
  • Thursday, May 17 – 2-4 p.m.: A quick-start guide to Henrietta Lacks: A review of resources and strategies.

A different book will be selected each academic year based on recommendations from the campus community. The steering and book selection committees with representation from numerous university departments administer the program and determine which book will be used each year.  
More information about the One Book/One University program can be obtained by contacting Rebecca Benson at 219/989-2664 or at bensonr@purduecal.edu.