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Wednesday, May 31, 2006
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Common reading project encourages interdisciplinary thought for first-year students

ATHENS, Ohio (May 31, 2006) -- When they visit the bookstores next academic year, there's one title first-year students at Ohio University will be sure to pick up. Michael Pollan's "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World" is the book that most first-year students will read as part of a program aimed at creating a common experience for incoming students and encouraging them to engage in interdisciplinary and critical thinking.

The book will be integrated in various ways in all sections of first-year composition and COMS 103, Fundamentals of Public Speaking. Instructors of courses in other disciplines will be encouraged to incorporate the book, and residence life staff will host informal conversations about it.

One of the project's main goals is to help students feel like they're a part of a community that they can contribute to. "We want to get most students to read the book so they can have a common intellectual experience of talking about, thinking about and reflecting on this book," said Sherrie Gradin, director of writing across the curriculum and the Center For Writing Excellence.

This is the fifth year for the program in which students, faculty members and parents are encouraged to read the same book. Previously the common reading book was not incorporated formally into the first-year curriculum, as it will be this year.

A committee of faculty members from across campus accepted faculty nominations and collaborated to choose this year's book. "Botany of Desire" was chosen for its ability to help students develop an understanding of how interdisciplinary knowledge is created. The book ? which looks at how plants and culture evolved together ? uses various disciplines, such as psychology, biology and literature, to consider the relationship between plants such as the apple and humans.

"The goal was to pick a book that could be tapped into by different disciplines. By the end of their first year, we want students to have an appreciation for interdisciplinary approaches to understanding salient topics and issues. We hope students will connect diverse theories from across disciplines to the ideas expressed in the common reader text," said Lynn Harter, assistant professor in the School of Communication Studies.

For many of the first-year composition classes, students will use the book for the course's research component, and for COMS 103, the book will serve as an example from which students learn about approaches to communication, such as using evidence to engage in reasoning. Faculty members, however, say they're interested in the book for the broader lessons it helps teach.

"I'm interested in what the book teaches about humanity, about how parts of science and technology and society are organized," Harter said.

The common reading book, written by a journalist, is also intended to spark meaningful dialogues among students of different majors and others across campus. "The book lets us set up conditions where conversations might happen. We have lots of things to learn from people whom we might not engage with otherwise," said Candace Stewart, director of composition.

In collaboration with student affairs, the committee hopes to have events throughout the year related to the book.

"Thanks to the leadership of Candace Stewart, Sherrie Gradin, and Loyd Mbabu and Lorrain Wochna from the libraries, as well as to all of the faculty who served on the selection committee, the new students entering Ohio University in fall 2006 will have a common intellectual experience embedded in the curriculum and enriched by co-curricular opportunities during the whole academic year," said David Descutner, dean of University College and associate provost for undergraduate education.

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations Jack Jeffery, (740) 597-1793 or jefferyj@ohio.edu, or Media Relations Coordinator Jessica Stark, (740) 597-2938 or starkj@ohio.edu

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