Venue Interview: The College of New Jersey


Books In Common recently asked Dr. Tom Hagedorn, outgoing First Seminar Program Coordinator, and Dr. Lisa Grimm, incoming First Seminar Program Coordinator a few questions about The College of New Jersey’s First Seminar Program.

Any idea about how many campus literary events you’ve been involved with over the years?

Tom has been involved in running the last four Summer Reading Programs and has been a participant for about half of the programs (this is our 15th year). Lisa has been involved in selecting the summer reading book for the past three years.

What do you like about the Campus/Freshman Class Reads structure as a literary event format? Any thoughts on how they could be more effective?

We find the model adopted by The College of New Jersey to be very effective. We select an intellectual theme for the year and then choose a summer reading text that highlights the theme.  This year, our theme is “justice.” Our first year students will read The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates as part of the summer read. They then meet with a faculty or staff member the day prior to the start of fall classes to discuss the book. We fund events coordinated by faculty, staff, and students related to the intellectual theme throughout the academic year. Our first event is typically Community Learning Day, when we invite the author of the summer reading book to campus to speak.

We are thrilled that about 95% of the students read and participate in the program. We would like to improve on our structure by expanding our summer read to include more members of the campus and local communities.

What made you choose Wes Moore’s book for the 2014 event?  What do you think makes an ideal Campus Reads selection?

We selected The Other Wes Moore because it nicely embodies our intellectual theme of justice.  The book is about two boys with the same name who grew up in the same city. One becomes a Rhodes Scholar, decorated combat veteran, and business leader. The other is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder. This text is ideal as a campus read because it’s both accessible and powerful. Students will be able to engage with the book and benefit from thinking about the boys’ decisions and factors that influenced those decisions.

Would you share some notable experiences you’ve had at Community/Campus Reads events that you’ve participated in?

Tom: It has been inspirational to hear authors speak about the injustices in the world and how each of us can help improve the world. I remember listening to Sister Helen Prejean speak about the inequities in the prison system in 2007 when her book Dead Man Walking was chosen. And conversely, it was sobering to hear Jonathan Katz, author of The Big Truck Went By:  How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster, speak last year about the unintended consequences of good intentions and the mistakes that were made in humanitarian efforts to help Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

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