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UMass Dartmouth Summer Reading Project Putting Incoming Freshmen on the Same Page

A book called "Red" is putting incoming UMass Dartmouth freshmen on the same page.

The university's new summer reading project kicked off on July 1 with an English Department-facilitated blog, where students, faculty and community members are welcome to offer their thoughts and interpretations of "Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert" by Terry Tempest Williams. During June orientation 1,500 incoming students were given copies of the book, a study guide with information about the blog, a highlighter, and a bookmark.

The shared reading experience is designed to introduce the campus newcomers to more critical thinking, prepare them for the rigors of college academics and establish a mutual bond and sense of community.

"The Red Project gives participants a peek into what will be expected of them when they get to UMass Dartmouth. Showing up isn't enough. We want them to be active in their learning. This project opens the door to that process," said Penny Rego, a part-time English instructor and writer/blogger.

"Reading closely and reading critically is vital to succeeding in college. Offering everyone a common reading experience gives us all a common reference point," said Prof. Catherine Houser, chairperson of the English department.

During the August 29 new student convocation, Dr. Jeannette Riley, associate professor of English & Women Studies will speak about Williams' work. Following the event, students will be split into groups of 20 to discuss "Red" with faculty members and peers. Riley noted that the book raises issues including conservation of wilderness areas, sustainability, our use of and relationship to land and the need to be citizens of our community.

"The main goal is to engage students in the academic world from day one on campus," Riley said. "We also thought that a common reading would offer students something to talk about and a way to help them begin to join the academic community."

"Much of the book deals with becoming an active community member and talks about going beyond just contributing community to the point of transforming community," said Associate Dean of Students Mary Beckwith. "I hope students come away with both an understanding of what is expected of them as members of this community as well as a genuine commitment to this community."

The blog was created as a fun, non-threatening forum where participants can offer ideas and engage in diverse discussions. Rego expects the blog to feature two to three new posts weekly concerning different aspects of the book. In addition, contests and other questions will be posted with winners chosen and prizes awarded during convocation.

"We want to show students that learning doesn't have to hurt, even when it happens in the summer," Rego said.

The project culminates on October 23, 2008 when Williams will speak about her latest work, "Finding Beauty in a Broken World" and sign books during a presentation at 7 p.m., in the Tripp Athletic Center. The English, Women's Studies and Student Affairs departments and Office of Campus and Community Sustainability are hosting the event, which is free and open to the general public.

Williams is also the author of "Refuge-An Unnatural History of Family and Place", "An Unspoken Hunger-Stories from the Field," "Desert Quartet,"  "Leap" and "The Open Space of Democracy." She is currently the Annie Clark Tanner Scholar in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. In addition to her writings, she is well known for her testimonies to the U.S. Congress on the importance of wilderness protection.

Author:  "John Hoey"
Date:  02-Jul-2008
Department:   English

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