Fewer freshmen participate in summer reading program

Fewer students submitted essay reflections this summer as part of GW’s First Chapter reading program.

The program encourages incoming students to get a head start on their academic career by reading a pre-selected novel over the summer. This year’s essay participation was down 100 students.

Dean of Freshmen Helen Cannaday Saulny said she was pleased to receive just under 200 essays.

Freshmen were encouraged to share their reactions to “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn for a chance to be considered for a dinner with special guests.

Last year, essay contest winners had the opportunity to dine with Thomas Friedman, author of “Hot, Flat and Crowded,” the summer reading selection for the Class of 2013. Saulny said she hopes the book selection will encourage and promote global action while engaging students in intellectual work over the course of the summer vacation.

“The purpose of the First Chapter program is to build a stronger freshman community while reinforcing the message that the University has promoted in the past year or so,” Saulny said. “We hope to encourage students to think globally by promoting service and civic engagement.”

The reading selection was chosen by a reading task force that took into account the areas of interest that potential students expressed in their admissions essays.

“The essays showed that these students not only care about their immediate community, but also care about the world and we wanted to support those interests,” Saulny said.

In addition to the essay contest, several campus events are in the works to incorporate the summer reading into the academic year. Events in residence halls, classrooms and around campus will continue the conversations the book started over the summer.

Saulny said the University has begun conversations with the authors to invite them to campus.

“We are working with their calendars. We hope to have them come to campus in the fall, but we are also looking at Women’s History Month in March,” she said.

Several freshmen have expressed positive reactions to the book on the program’s blog. Hannah Penfield, a freshman from Oregon, called it her “new favorite book.”

“It may seem strange that an 18-year-old girl’s favorite book is about the oppression of women and not dreamy, sparkly vampires,” she said. “But I believe it is my duty in life to acquire as much knowledge as I can about the indignities and injustices people face today and share that knowledge with the world.”

Saulny said she hopes the themes in the book will resonate with everyone who reads it.

“The book goes beyond women’s issues,” she said. “It impacts a number of issues and crosses a variety of disciplines.”

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