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(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., Sept. 21, 2007) — When Cal State Northridge freshmen walked into classrooms on August 23, they were entering more than a bricks and mortar structure. They were entering a conversation.
The conversation revolves around "The Things They Carried," author Tim O’Brien’s powerful, award-winning collection of 22 stories chronicling the narrator’s Vietnam war experiences. Many freshmen will be reading and talking about the book this year as part of CSUN’s pilot Freshman Common Reading Program: "One Campus, One Book."
According to Cheryl Spector, director of the campus’ Academic First Year Experiences and prime mover of "One Campus, One Book," the new reading program "places academic engagement—teaching and learning—at the very center of the community we are asking students to join."
Under the program, participating faculty can order the "The Things They Carried" for individual sections of freshman courses such as University 100, 097 Developmental Reading, 098 Developmental Writing and the 155 freshman composition courses.
The 32 sections of University 100 courses alone include 600-plus students, said Spector, reaching students across a wide swath of disciplines—from business and pre-dental to psychology, science and math—as well as freshmen who are officially undecided.
That number does not even include freshmen who are or will be reading the book for other areas of study, said Spector. Political science professor Virginia Lussier, for example, has incorporated an entire unit on the book into her Political Science 155 sections.
Spector hopes the idea of the program will prove infectious. "You can’t really mandate the book, because faculty members have to be free to teach what they believe is appropriate," she said. "But it’s intellectual fun for the faculty."
"The Things They Carried" already is engaging students like freshman Matt DeMarco, a pre-cinema and television arts major. "It’s a great way to meet and talk with other freshmen, and to broaden your perspectives," said DeMarco, who is reading the book as part of part-time lecturer Linda Overman’s developmental writing class.
DeMarco appreciates being able to share ideas with a peer outside of his immediate area of interest; he has discussed ideas from "Carried" with a friend who is reading it in a theatre class. "It’s neat how they’re using the book as a universal thing," he said.
Freshman Brian Hosseiniyar agreed. "Having a common book for freshmen does make discussion more available between students who are from different classes," he said. For Hosseiniyar, the idea of being drafted hit home. "We are in a time of war, and a draft is not unforeseeable."
DeMarco saw in a chapter entitled "Spin" a message relevant for freshmen. One of its characters, he said, uses his immaturity as an excuse for his bad behavior. "I know a lot of freshmen who use that ‘I’m just an immature freshman’ excuse."
The spark of ideas is just what Spector and her committee had in mind when they gathered in October 2006 to create a common reading program that joined CSUN with a national range of universities where such initiatives already are in place. Reading programs are underway on at least five other CSU campuses.
California State University, Northridge has 35,200 full- and part-time students and offers 62 bachelor’s and 50 master’s degrees as well as 28 teaching credential programs. Founded in 1958, CSUN is among the largest single-campus universities in the nation and the only four-year public university in the San Fernando Valley. The university serves as the intellectual, economic and cultural heart of the Valley and beyond.
California State University, Northridge at 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330 / Phone: 818-677-1200 / © 2006 CSU Northridge