I report, with minimal personal grief and raised eyebrows at DEFCON 4, the untimely demise of the University of Washington’s Freshman Reading Program (FYRP). Once celebrated as a crown jewel of freshman experiences, a choice topping on welcome week pizza and a marshmallow on the enrollment sundae, its death, albeit below a level of Shakespearean tragedy, is nevertheless somewhat suspect. . The exact time of death is difficult to determine, but it passed just before his 20th birthday. Administrators reported that he suffered from an undiagnosed case of terminal apathy for several years before his disappearance. My point of view differs somewhat from theirs.
I met FYRP shortly after joining the faculty. I had volunteered to be a faculty associate, and with the mission came the request to participate in FYRP. I do not hide my love of books, reading and literature. In this space, if asked to continue, I will tell stories about my AP English teacher and our lifelong friendship. Each year, the FYRP provided an opportunity for discussion and shared experience for first-year students. I don’t believe traditions should go on forever, and maybe it was time for the sun to go down on FYRP. As a mechanism, its time may be over, but I contend that the goals of the program are still worthy and valid. FYRP attracted faculty and staff from across campus, and our volunteerism was proof of our unconditional eagerness to meet incoming freshmen, begin to hear their stories, and share with them our love of writing. and the subject. chosen for the year.
I found little evidence of similar programs at other universities, but there is a at Northern Illinois University which has similar goals and desired outcomes. How did the FYRP program start at the University of Washington? To answer this question, I corresponded with Jill Stratton, formerly associate dean for residential life and learning at the University of Washington and now vice provost for experiential learning at the University Vanderbilt. She writes: “The program began in 2003 as part of […] the 150th anniversary of the University. Provost Ed Macias […] often said that we tell first-year students what not to do during orientation and that the reading program was a great opportunity to tell them what to do – i.e. to think in a way critique, debate ideas, and connect with a faculty member before classes begin. The reading program was also one of the very few, if not only, common academic experiences that all students shared. Many thanks to Jill for sharing this with me. The FYRP had noble beginnings and laudable goals.
In closing, I wonder what new programs could rise from the ashes of FYRP to allow students and faculty to share perspectives, stories, and conversations? I would like to participate in some kind of book/media club open to everyone on campus. Students could suggest books, podcasts, films of interest and we could meet to talk about them, listen to each other’s stories and share our passion for topics of common interest. Until then, rest in peace, FYRP; you ran well.
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