From One Book One Twitter to the Common Experience Program at Texas State University San Marcos, My College Guide has listed the benefits of these programs before: to build a sense of community, to make new friends and get to know faculty, as well as getting to know your college campus! The PREFACE Program at the University of South Carolina Upstate puts a spin on the common book program by also combing college classes! We spoke to Dr. Esther Godfrey, assistant professor of English and coordinator of the PREFACE project, with special thanks to Tammy Whaley for her assistance.
Okay, so what is the Preface program?
The PREFACE program is a co-curricular common book program that involves Composition 101 and University 101 classes during the student’s first year.
How did the Preface program come about?
The PREFACE program began in 2003 under the direction of Brenda Davenport as an effort to enhance the first-year experience at USC Upstate and to support general education learning objectives. Over the past seven years, the program has grown from a small project largely based in the English department to a university-wide, semester long effort that draws nationally recognized speakers to campus (Ron Rash, Barbara Ehrenreich) and fosters interdisciplinary collaboration.
Did we see that first year USC Upstate students don’t just read the same book, they also participate in events, too?
This fall, all first-year students at Upstate read Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks , the story of the poor black woman whose cells were used to develop the HeLa cell line—a line that has been essential to cancer research, the development of the polio vaccine, and even space travel. The Immortal Life was selected because it raised questions of race, class, and gender that would likely appeal to our student body. Committee members also considered the book’s ability to bring in other departments on campus as part of the conversation about the book. Committee members also noted the quality of Skloot’s writing and research.
Students engage the text in both their Composition 101 and their University 101 classes. Students are also required to attend two of a number of co-curricular events throughout the fall semester. Several of the events involve professors from other departments on campus, including history, biology, and nursing as well as community leaders.
Event topics ranged from lectures on issues related to the book (The US Public Study at Tuskegee; Medical Ethics; Race and Health Disparities; Cancer Research) to game shows to volunteer opportunities to a student-led conference. There is no separate budget for the PREFACE program, but select events are funded case-by-case through Student Affairs.
In addition to attending the cultural events, all students in Composition 101 are required to write cultural responses about these events, and to write textual analyses of the PREFACE text.
Do you have any favorite past events?
The game show (modeled after Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) has been a consistent favorite in years past. Faculty lectures and the author visit are also very popular events.
What are topics that Preface students have covered in the past?
Topics have included the environment, class, and race. For 2011, Upstate plans to participate in a national conversation about September 11th as part of the ten-year anniversary of the tragedy.
Why do you believe this program can help a student successfully make the transition to college?
Studies show that common book programs help students form relationships among their peers during their first-year and can be an excellent opportunity to engage in academic discourse across multiple disciplines.
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