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August 27, 2009
By Skyler Dillon
As a special welcome to the class of 2013, the Summer Scholars Program seeks to provide all incoming University of Nevada, Reno freshmen with common ground by asking them to read David Auburn’s play “Proof” before participating in discussions of the text at the Wolf Pack Welcome, Saturday, Aug. 22, after the Opening Student Ceremony.
Mary Phelps Dugan, general counsel for the University, will lead a discussion group for the program this year and says it is a wonderful way for new students to get to know each other and to get their first taste of a university-style discussion class before the semester begins Aug. 24.
The Wolf Pack Welcome discussion groups will be led by University faculty volunteers from all parts of the University, meaning that each group leader will offer original outlooks on the play.
“That’s what makes this program so interesting,” said Dugan. “You’ll have (women’s basketball coach) Jane Albright and myself leading a group, and then (provost) Marc Johnson leading a group. We’ll both be discussing the exact same text, but we will obviously have very different perspectives, so each student will learn something unique.”
Elliott Parker, faculty senate chair and professor of economics, who will also be leading a discussion group this year, agreed.
“It contributes to the goal of what President Glick calls a ‘sticky campus,’” he said. “He wants to show that there is a diverse community here that incoming students will become a part of.”
The program, now in its third year, grew out of discussions during the weekly meeting of the President’s Council, a gathering of campus senior administrators. Vice President for Information Technology and Dean of Libraries Steve Zink raised the idea after seeing the impact of a similar program on his alma mater university, Louisiana State. Now, a committee of both faculty and students chooses a text each year to assign to the fall semester’s incoming class, and the initiative is led by the Faculty Senate Office.
“They’re looking for a book that lends itself to good discussion,” Dugan said. “It doesn’t have to have a message that everyone agrees with. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s a controversial one that encourages people to disagree and debate with each other.”
“Proof,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, tells the story of Catherine, the daughter of a brilliant and recently deceased mathematics professor, and her struggle to define her identity both within her family and in the broader world around her. It was chosen for its themes of self-discovery, relationship struggles and university life, all of which are often highly relatable to new college students.
“Many freshmen start college thinking that it will be like thirteenth grade,” Parker said. “But they’ll end up finding that those familiar peer groups are gone, and that college is a very different world. One of the goals of the program is to prepare them for that.”
Parker also notes that the program gives year-mates a way to connect with each other and to distinguish themselves from the other classes. He hopes that this will encourage students to graduate in four years, instead of spreading their education out over more semesters.
“We’ve found that it’s wiser to push through and graduate on time and to get a career started than to take things more slowly,” he said. “By giving students a reason to think of themselves as ‘the class of 2013,’ we can promote that attitude.”
Parker participated in the program last year and found that students were eager to offer their insights in discussion. Dugan hopes that the same will be true this year.
“I want them to be inspired to offer their own viewpoints and to learn to respect the attitudes of others who might not see things the same way,” she said. “They should see right off the bat that being at the University will make them challenge the beliefs that they have, that not everyone will agree with them. And that’s a good thing.”
SKYLER DILLON IS A STUDENT WRITER IN UNIVERSITY MEDIA RELATIONS.