June 21, 2017
Opportunity, ingenuity at core of 2017-18 common reading book
By Lauren Cotta ’18
Joshua Davis’ Spare Parts, an inspiring story about equal educational opportunity and overcoming odds, is the College’s Common Reading Program book for the 2017-18 academic year.
Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014) relates the story of four Hispanic teenagers who enter a national robotics competition with a minimal budget, little experience, and as many spare mechanical parts as they can find. Encouraged by two science teachers, the students defy all odds and defeat the reigning champions from MIT who have the support of a $10,000 grant.
The book, which was an overwhelming favorite among members of the Common Reading Program’s book recommendation committee, will be read by members of the incoming Class of 2021 and transfer students, as well as faculty and staff throughout the College. Committee members reviewed more than 100 books before making their recommendations to College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80 and Dr. Hugh F. Lena, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, who made the final selection.
Tiffany Gaffney, assistant dean of students, who chaired the book recommendation committee, said that Spare Parts is an appropriate text to inspire deep thinking among new students, who are asked to read and be ready to discuss it in formal sessions with faculty, staff, upper-class peers, and alumni during New Student Orientation in late August.
“What I valued most about Spare Parts was the opportunity to experience the human impact of policies, theories, and concepts we so often discuss in the abstract,” said Gaffney.
“Spare Parts raises many questions about immigration, education, and opportunity, but does not present or advocate for any specific political solutions. As a Catholic institution of higher education, we should be thinking very critically about social justice in our communities.”
The Common Reading Program was established in 2010 with multiple goals in mind, including inspiring depth in learning through carefully selected common readings, creating a more academic focus to orientation, and establishing an intellectually stimulating environment across the campus community.
Charles Haberle, assistant vice president for academic affairs and chair of the CRP Steering Committee, explained that the committee historically has sought books that support PC’s mission and values.
“In some instances, books have focused on ethical questions, stories focused on world events, diversity and human difference, access to education, and justice,” said Haberle. “We also seek to select books that may appeal to a good cross-section of students, faculty, academic disciplines, and others in our community.”
As the program has developed, the steering committee has sought to diversify the perspectives in the common reading discussion by choosing books that portray more global issues. For instance, the 2016-17 academic year selection, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (Brown, Little and Company, 2013), tells the story of a young Pakistani girl’s fight for women’s education in the face of resistance by the Taliban.
The program also has expanded its range of discussion facilitators by allowing student leaders and alumni to join faculty and staff in facilitating book discussions with the new students. Steering committee members believe there is a value in incorporating multiple perspectives into the group sessions. They point out that the book discussion is not limited to orientation, but that it continues during presentations and programs throughout the academic year.
In addition, the program includes a voluntary essay contest, in which students are invited to write a commentary or opinion piece on the particular year’s book. Three winners are chosen annually, with essays judged on creativity, clarity of purpose, engagement with major themes, and mechanics.
Skyler Carlin ’17, who served on the committee that recommended Spare Parts, said that through her experience as a student she saw how the Common Reading Program prepares new students for academic life at the College.
“Being able to appreciate different views through academic conversations is a valuable part of the classroom experience at PC, and the Common Reading Program provides a sample of what this looks like,” said Carlin.
The enhancements and opportunities created through the program’s growth has allowed for “an incredibly inclusive experience,” said Gaffney.
“The Common Reading Program is an opportunity for everyone across departments, offices, and disciplines to participate in a shared intellectual and academic event,” she said. “Whether you are a first-year student, a student leader, political science major, finance faculty, administrative assistant, an assistant dean of students, or a graduate, we can all participate in the conversation.”