Altoona creates Common Read, Uncommon Experiences initiative

With the start of the fall semester, Penn State Altoona rolled out its new initiative Common Read, Uncommon Experiences.

Based on similar programs at colleges and universities across the country, Penn State Altoona chose to offer Common Read as a way to get students, faculty, and staff interacting with each other over a shared reading experience. Each first-year student was given a copy of "No Impact Man," by Colin Beavan, which was chosen by a committee of several Penn State Altoona faculty.

“We chose this year's book the way I believe we will choose all of the Common Read books,” said Laura Rotunno, committee member and associate professor of English. “We wanted a book that would get people thinking and talking. We wanted something with ideas that could shake up how people think about their world, their responsibilities within it, and their abilities to shape it -- like all good writing should.”

"No Impact Man," a true story of one man’s attempt to live an entire year without leaving a carbon-footprint, is a book that reaches across all academic curriculums and interests. It is a required reading, and events and activities surrounding the book’s premise and ideas are scheduled throughout the year, including lectures, discussions, a viewing of the documentary based on the book, a week-long carbon cleanse effort and a campus-wide no-impact experiment. These events are designed to approach the book from as many angles as possible, to show that there are many issues that Beavan's book raises and that merit more discussion. "No Impact Man" will also allow faculty to share their passions for green activities and green living.

“Our faculty members have rallied to think creatively about their teaching, and students will undoubtedly notice some impact in their fall courses,” stated Brian Black, professor of history and environmental studies. “I hope that student groups will also take the ideas from the Common Read book and run with it by creating their own programs and events.”

The academic administration hopes Common Read grows and becomes a successful staple of Penn State Altoona’s curriculum. “We would like to build a unique academic culture at Altoona,” said Black. “Common Read helps us break the intellectual boundaries of our college and come together. I believe that if we make this program a permanent part of our curriculum, we will also distinguish our college and the students who begin their academic careers here.”

There may be ways of expanding the program in coming years by acquiring a sponsor or some kind of outside support.

In the meantime, during its first year, Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Kenneth Womack stated, "I am delighted that the Division of Arts and Humanities has provided our students with the invaluable opportunity to enjoy a shared reading experience. This marks a vital milestone in the life of our college as faculty and staff come together to take a leadership role in this fashion."

“It's really as simple as saying: here is an interesting book; let's read it; let's talk about it,” said Rotunno. “I think too often we don't get or take the time to enjoy such a simple yet important activity."

Several activities and events centered on the book are already scheduled through October:

-- “Reacting to 'No Impact Man' in the Classroom, on Campus and Amongst the Penn State Altoona Community,” Faculty/Staff Colloquium, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 12:05 - 12:45, 101-103 Misciagna

Todd Davis, professor of English, will facilitate the discussion about the book and its potential "impact" on students, faculty and staff. Come ready to share what Beavan's book has made you think about and/or question.

-- "No Impact Idealism meets Low Impact Realism" by Richard Flarend, Common Hour, Thursday, Sept. 19, 101-103 Misciagna

-- "Pedaling the Perfect Circle of Life" by Sam Findley and Peter Hopsicker, 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25, 101-103 Misciagna

-- "Honors Students React to 'No Impact,'" Common Hour, Thursday, Oct. 24, 101-103 Misciagna. Learn about what freshman Penn State Altoona Honors students think about Beavan’s book.

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Last Updated September 06, 2013