Bookmark to the future

Summer Scholars Program enters an important year in 2010

12/18/2009 | By: John Trent  |

The Summer Scholars Program will mark its fourth year in 2010, and plans are already underway to revamp, re-tool and re-focus a valuable program that is still seeking a lasting identity.

Provost Marc Johnson has committed to the program for the 2010-2011 academic year, with the hope that the positive strides made by the three-year-old program will continue.

Originally envisioned as a way to help first-year students transition to the academic life at the University of Nevada, Reno, the program’s centerpiece has been the reading of a book selection – provided by the university to the student for free – during the summer, followed by a one-hour discussion of the book with faculty and staff volunteers scheduled during the first week of the fall semester. Students have read “Sweet Promised Land” by Robert Laxalt (2007), “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich (2008) and “Proof” by David Auburn (2009).

The effort to re-organize and perhaps re-imagine the program’s purpose and objectives has been the focus of several meetings on campus in recent weeks, and has included individuals from a Faculty Senate ad hoc committee and the campus’ orientation staff, among others. In addition, Johnson announced recently that Paul Neill, director of the Core Curriculum, will lead the campus conversation and administration of this year’s Summer Scholars Program.

Neill said that by organizing now, the program will have a better chance for success.

“Every year, the organization of the program began too late … that has been the biggest complaint,” Neill said. “In past years faculty were given notice of the program in late spring and early summer. This limits the quality of the program and may discourage faculty participation. Students, although they like the program, have said that they’re not quite sure what the program’s purpose is.”

Data, key feedback and recommendations for the future was compiled by Sandra Bever of the Office of University Assessment in a 43-page document. The program’s organizers have used the document as central to their discussions.

So far, Neill said, the need to expand the program to something more than it already is – a summer-long reading experience followed by one-hour discussion – has been agreed upon by all charged to revamp it.

“The original goal was pretty straightforward, to get freshman engaged not only with the campus, but with a faculty or staff member, which would help our retention efforts,” said Neill, who has been a volunteer discussion facilitator for all three years of the program’s existence. “That one-hour interaction, though it can be fun and exciting, has also created some questions. In particular, can we take advantage of this opportunity to build semester-long, or even year-long, programming around themes developed in the selected reading?”

Neill said the organizers have formulated some good ideas, such as incorporating a movie or movies based on the summer reading, inviting the author of the book to campus for a lecture/discussion, creating a year-long first-year experience/seminar that would ensure continued interaction between students and their faculty and staff mentors, and even tying connections to the university’s curriculum, through the use of the book, or its themes, in freshman courses.

“The Summer Scholar program has almost limitless possibilities,” Neill said. “Our hope is to add meaning and purpose to the program with the goal of enhancing faculty and student engagement.”

Neill said feedback for the direction of the program, the program’s reading list, ideas on how to ensure more faculty participate and more students complete the reading, is welcome. A new website for the program will be unveiled soon, with the goal to make the site more accessible and easy to find.

Currently, organizers are looking at the following books as possible subjects for this summer’s program:

  • “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin;
  • “Outcasts United” by Warren St. John;
  • “The Soloist” by Steve Lopez;
  • “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein.

Neill said he would like to hear from faculty and students about these books, or other possible titles that might suit the program’s needs. Generally speaking, books used for the program should be relevant to the lives of first-year students and be of current interest. They can be fiction or non-fiction.

Neill said one of the biggest challenges will be re-tooling the program’s focus. He said the program’s greatest benefit should be the relationships that are forged between first-year students and their faculty mentors. “We need to look for ways to extend the experience beyond a one-hour meeting during orientation, through the first-year students’ first semester, if not their first year on campus,” he said.

“We’ve gathered a good group of faculty and staff this year who attended the summary of the Summer Scholars Program assessment, and we’ve invited those folks to the table to re-design the program this year and for coming years,” Neill added. “We need to fix a lot of things. But I think that by organizing now, we’re already headed in a good direction.”

Details on the revamped Summer Scholars Program website will be announced soon.

To submit feedback, ideas for the future or preferences for book subject for the Summer Scholars Program, email Neill at


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

Get Nevada Today in your Inbox!