'Outcasts' book discussions aim to help freshmen connect

8/13/2010 - By: Claudene Wharton

With the start of the school year just a week away, many incoming freshmen at the University of Nevada, Reno are busy completing their first assignment. Each freshman received a copy of the Warren St. John book, “Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference,” at the summer orientation, and will engage in discussions of the book with other students and faculty members at the Wolf Pack Welcome Day for incoming freshman, Aug. 20.

Reno High graduate Katie Trent hasn’t minded the summer reading assignment at all.

“I feel like it’s kind of getting me ready for the semester,” she said. “And, I got a free book, and it’s a really good book,” she giggled. “I don’t really like fiction, but this is a true story, and such an amazing story. It’s one of those books, once you start reading it, it’s hard to put down.”

Trent is one of more than 2,000 freshmen expected to participate in this year’s “Summer Scholars Program,” which began in 2007. It is designed to help new freshmen engage in dialogue with faculty and peers; gain a shared experience with other new students; and gain a sense of the University community.

“It gives our freshmen an opportunity to make an immediate connection with our campus,” said Paul Neill, the University’s core curriculum director and the program’s administrator.

The book is meant to continue to be a connection for students throughout their first year. Instructors are encouraged to incorporate it into their lessons, and students are invited to create projects illustrating the themes of the book and submit them to the Summer Scholars Art and Essay Contest. The deadline for entry is Nov. 1, and first prize is $500 and recognition at the author’s reception on the evening of Nov. 16, when St. John will visit campus, give a presentation and sign copies of the book.

“He’s absolutely funny; a very talented writer,” said Dick Davies, longtime history professor at the University who recommended “Outcasts United” for the summer reading assignment, and has corresponded with St. John.

“Outcasts United” tells the story of a refugee soccer team in Clarkston, Ga., coached by an American-educated Jordanian woman.

“There are all sorts of themes in the book,” Davies said, “immigration, racism, assimilation, the fact that this is a Muslim woman coach and most of the boys didn’t want to play for a woman, gender issues.”

The class of 2014 will begin their journey at the University at 8:30 a.m., Aug. 20, at the Opening Ceremony at Lawlor Events Center. Students will then proceed to the colleges in which they are enrolled for a welcome from the colleges’ deans and faculty members, before proceeding to their Summer Scholars discussions around 11:15 a.m.

It is all new ground for these excited, bright young minds, and some are still trying to grasp it all. When asked about the book he received at orientation, one eager freshman grew wide-eyed and blurted, “Were we supposed to read that?”

So the journey begins.


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