WSU common reading becomes system-wide shared initiative for 2016-17

PULLMAN, Wash.—What connects two books, six campuses, dozens of faculty from diverse disciplines, and thousands of first-year students at all Washington State University campuses?

Answer: the institution’s common reading program, or programs, to be precise.

While student learning and engagement has benefited for more than a decade thanks to common readings, the upcoming academic year will see more collaboration and cohesion among efforts at multiple campuses.

“Common reading programs across the WSU system have long had many touchpoints with each other in terms of books and programming, but we are embarking on an initiative for 2016-17 that represents a very focused, shared initiative,” said Karen Weathermon, program co-director at the main campus and director of First-Year Programs.  “This is an evolutionary milestone that we believe will have even more impact on students and their education.”

A planning group with representatives from many academic disciplines as well as urban campuses drove the planning process over the past several months. Noting the strengths of common readings across the university as well as shared goals for the programs, committee members believe the time is right to move ahead, together, with the change.

Themes, selections, outcomes, programming, speakers

Common readings across the campuses decided to all follow the theme of ‘leadership and social justice,’ which was used in Pullman in 2015-16 with its common reading book, Just Mercy,” said WSU Vancouver common reading leader Suzanne R. Smith, associate professor of human development. That theme was required for all books nominated for 2016-17.

In selecting their common reading book to be used by first-year students in classes across disciplines, all campuses drew from the same pool of 27 nominations submitted in fall. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by the world’s youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, will be used as the common reading for Pullman, Tri-Cities, Spokane, North Puget Sound at Everett, and the Global Campus. Integration Nation: Immigrants, Refugees, and America at Its Best, by Susan E. Eaton, is the book selected for Vancouver.  [

Kathleen McAteer, WSU Tri-Cities assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs, clinical assistant professor of biological sciences, and common reading head, added, “All common reading programs on the campuses now endorse the same three student learning outcomes,” said. “They were updated last summer and call for us to:

  1. Create a common point for new students to enter intellectual conversation.
  2. Introduce students to the diversity of ideas and the intellectual life of a research university. And,
  3. Illustrate how a complex issue can be explored from a variety of perspectives.”

Last but not least, all of the common reading programs will host a special guest speaker associated with the selected book. Integration Nation author Eaton is already scheduled to speak at WSU Vancouver on Oct. 26, a Wednesday evening. The lecture will be shared with the other campuses, as will the speaker chosen for I Am Malala, said Weathermon; Pullman and its partnering program campuses are in the process of selecting their invited lecturer.

Why common readings

Common reading programs have been popular on college campuses since at least the start of the new millennium. By assigning first-year students the same book, and aligning book topics with classroom lessons, administrators and professors have been able to ask new students to examine subjects from different perspectives. Programs are reported to stimulate not just the act of reading but also academic discussions among students, faculty, staff in residence halls, and the larger community.

Exam copies, ongoing information available

Weathermon, Smith, and McAteer are eager to share their respective book. Faculty who think they might use the common reading book in their first-year and other classes can ask for exam copies of the books from the program leaders. Teachers at WSU Vancouver can contact Smith by email at for Integration Nation; at WSU Tri-Cities, McAteer can be reached at For those at Pullman and the remaining campuses, Weathermon asks that requestors complete the online form at

For more information on the common reading in Pullman, visit