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April 25, 2008
By Zanny Marsh
This summer, members of the University’s Class of 2012 will read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, for the campus’ second annual Summer Scholars Project. The assignment invites incoming freshman to think critically about literature while sparking camaraderie with their peers.
“We want students to bond as a class and to build relationships with the faculty and staff who will help them develop academically over the next four years,” said President Milt Glick. “The idea of reading a single book and engaging in discussion offers students a shared experience and reflects important ideals in the pursuit of knowledge.”
The 2008 book selection, an “Amazon.com Best of 2001,” chronicles a social experiment by author and cultural critic Barbara Ehrenreich, who attempted to survive for two years earning minimum wage.
Ehrenreich worked two jobs, nearly seven days a week, and still came close to living in a shelter.
“This is a sobering look at what it is like for millions of people who live below the poverty line,” said Paul Neil, professor and director of the University’s Core Curriculum. “We hope that this shared experience will plant the seed of civic engagement and reinforce the importance of higher education.”
The Faculty Senate is currently seeking faculty volunteers from all disciplines to serve as facilitators of the discussion groups.
Susan Chandler, associate professor of social work, would like to see the book become required reading for all students.
Chandler developed a social work course based on the book. She challenged student teams to recreate, as a classroom exercise, the experience of surviving on minimum wage without public assistance. In four years, not a single team succeeded.
“Ehrenreich’s book is brilliant. Readers come away understanding low-wage life — and gain empathy, too,” Chandler said. “Many Americans work very hard and are still faced with an empty refrigerator at the end of the month. This book imparts an ‘eyes wide open’ experience of that reality.”
The University will mail books to incoming freshman at the beginning of the summer. Students are expected to complete the reading assignment prior to freshman orientation in August.
Intercollegiate Athletics is sponsoring the Summer Scholars Project this year and in 2009, and Faculty Senate will recruit faculty and staff to volunteer as discussion leaders.