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NGCSU students share experiences through common book
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Freshmen new to North Georgia College & State University are each considering the same question this semester: What is my mark on the world?

Over the summer, the students read “The Last Lecture” and have attended lectures and campus discussion groups about author Randy Pausch’s inspiring life and battle with pancreatic cancer.

“The book’s themes look at how to fully achieve childhood dreams or any dreams and realizing that our lives are not simply about us and our successes but the successes of the people we will eventually end up leaving behind,” said Todd Campbell, coordinator of the first- and second-year University Experience program.

The novel is part of the college’s common reading program, which fosters a shared intellectual experience for incoming freshmen. Now in its second year, the program extends to students’ English, history and political science courses and after-school activities.

“They aren’t simply taking classes together or suffering through different professors together, they all have a common bond,” Campbell said.

Tanya Bennett, head of the English department at NGCSU, said common reading programs have become more of a trend in recent years. Similar “one book, one campus” programs also were launched at Brenau University in Gainesville as well as colleges across the state such as Kennesaw State University and Clark Atlanta University.

Brenau University spokesman David Morrison said students this year and last read the novel “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. The best-selling author was invited to the campus last year. This year, the High Museum created a special seminar for students with photographs from the civil rights era.

“We bused everybody down for that and a tour of the King Center (in Atlanta) so students would have a better understanding of what was going on in the South at the time in which ‘The Help’ was set,” Morrison said.

Campbell said the common reading programs provide a context to examine important subjects and build community around significant and sometimes regional issues.

Last year’s freshmen read “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits,” which dealt with immigration issues and globalization, and the novel chosen for next year will center on overcoming adversity.

“Dangerous Pursuits,” a collection of vignettes about Moroccan characters, also tied into the college’s plans for a study abroad program in that country.

“All of these traits are attributes we value highly. More schools want to involve their students not simply academically and what happens on campus but to somehow allow students to internalize what it means to be a student at whatever school they’re attending,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the current novel “The Last Lecture,” was chosen because of its inspirational value. The books are picked by a committee for their readability; usually the selections are short and concise, he said.

“We choose novels that speak to them on a deep level. Something they will learn from and apply to their own lives,” he said.

In addition to discussing the books in their classes, NGCSU also hosts discussion groups and will tie in related movies.

Program leaders chose the film “Rudy” for Pausch’s “Last Lecture” book.

“You have a character who never gives up,” Campbell said. “The brick walls are there to keep other people from achieving their dreams but not us.”

It’s also common for schools to invite the author to lecture at the campus after the book is completed, Bennett said.

She said students have been responsive to the text and because the material is more literary than academic, it gives students a chance to read novels they may not find in their other classes.

The program will continue next year at NGCSU with “A Hope in the Unseen” by Ron Suskind, the story of an ambitious student who attends high school in one of Washington’s most dangerous neighborhoods.