Common Reader Brings First-Year Students Together
JONESBORO – When first-year students at Arkansas State University were asked if they could learn to share a compelling personal story, some may have said "You better believe it," because they did.
The First-Year Experience program at A-State manages the "Making Connections" course, which is a first-year seminar that helps students get connected to campus, and their major, and to succeed overall in their first year.
A-State students use what FYE calls a “common reader,” a book that the entire first-year class reads, in part or in its entirety, within their Making Connections class.
This year’s reader is “This I Believe II,” a compilation of short personal essays written by remarkable people from throughout the world.
"Reading this book can help prompt discussion surrounding any number of issues," said Kelli Listenbee, director of Learning Support Services and coordinator of FYE. "Overall, the book helps students to understand their own personal narrative and how powerful that can be."
FYE annually hosts a special event around the theme of the common reader, but because of the ongoing pandemic they faced the challenge of figuring out how to carry on in a new way.
"A-State has a comprehensive FYE program and the common reader is one of several programs designed to enrich the first year at A-State," said Dr. Jill Simons, dean of University College and associate vice chancellor for academic services. "We are delighted that we were able to continue the event in a virtual format."
All of the Making Connections classes were eligible to opt-in for the common reader event, which followed a new path this year.
Students were asked to write their own personal narrative starting with broad questions, such as “How did you end up at A-State?" or "How do you think being a part of the Pack will impact you long term?”
After the students wrote their narratives, they shared them with fellow class members.
Based on those presentations, each participating class voted to select a single student to represent their class in video format. At that stage, the university's Digital Creative Media team, in the Division of Marketing and Communications, stepped in to assist. They recorded the selected students as they shared their stories.
Any student who was not recorded, but still wanted their story shared, was encouraged to submit their written essay to be included as part of a compilation in PDF format, "Red Wolf Reads," which was posted to the university's website. Some students even chose to share their stories anonymously.
Once the event went live, students, faculty and staff started voting on the narratives they felt had the most impact. They could vote for their favorite, or use any criteria they wanted in the voting process.
So far, close to 200 people have voted, and voting continues until midnight Nov. 12.
Two winners, one from video entries and one who submitted a written narrative, will be selected, with winners to be announced Friday, Nov. 13. Each winner will receive a Lynita Cooksey First-Year Experience Scholarship valued at $250, to be used for spring semester books.
"This is my first semester coordinating FYE, but the common reader event was a great way for our faculty and students from across campus to come together (virtually) to celebrate our first year students," Listenbee said. "It is an accomplishment that they are here, and we look forward to celebrating them now and until they walk across the stage in four years," Listenbee continued.
"When staff like our Digital Creative Media team and our faculty can come together and rally around our students and their successes, even in times like these, I think it helps us to feel that much more connected to each other and to campus. That’s really what FYE is all about."
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