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Common Reading Program Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement

WSU Common Reading Lecture Series Kicks Off Tues. Aug. 21 with Showing of “Law & Order” Episode Linked to This Year’s Book

PULLMAN, Wash.—How do television shows base stories on people in the news or in books? Washington State University freshmen reading “The Immortal Story of Henrietta Lacks” in dozens of first-year classes can see for themselves when the Common Reading Program sponsors a showing of an episode from the popular show “Law and Order” Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. in Todd Hall 116.

While the show’s credits state the episode is not based on the lives of real people, the characters and plot in “Immortal” seem to align pretty closely with the facts surrounding the life and times of Lacks.

The common reading book, by non-fiction science writer Rebecca Skloot, is about Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cell line known as HeLa, derived from the first letters of her names.  Cervical cancer cells were taken from her without her knowledge prior to her death at 31 in 1951 for use in scientific research. HeLa cells were used to test the first polio vaccine in the 1950s, and since have been used for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and much more.

Skloot’s book was published in 2010 and covers the lives of Lacks’ five children and raises issues about racism, scientific ethics, poverty, and cancer, among others. It has won numerous awards and has been used for common readings at many universities.  In May 2010, it was announced that Home Box Office (HBO), with Oprah Winfrey‘s Harpo Films and producer Alan Ball, plan to create a film version of the story. With some of the proceeds from the book, Skloot has created a non-profit public charity called The Henrietta Lacks Foundation.

The book is used this year at both WSU and the University of Idaho as their common reading for students.  The Common Reading Program is a program in the University College at WSU.

For more information on the WSU program and upcoming events and speakers, visit


SOURCE: Karen Weathermon, Co-Director, WSU Common Reading Program in the University College at WSU, 509-335-5448,

MEDIA: Beverly Makhani, Communications, University College at WSU, 509-335-6679,


WSU Common Reading Program Welcomes WSU Alumnus and U.S. Air Force Space Executive Richard W. McKinney for April 18 Lecture

PULLMAN, Wash.—Satellites, space, and policy are topics that Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for Space Programs Richard W. McKinney will discuss at his presentation “How Does the U.S. Air Force Use Space?” Wednesday, April 18 for the Common Reading Program. The lecture will be at 7 p.m. in Todd 116 at Washington State University, and the public is invited.

McKinney earned his B.A. in business administration in marketing from WSU. A distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC on campus, he spent 28 years on active duty before retiring as a colonel in 2001. The following year, he was appointed to the prestigious Senior Executive Service, a corps of federal government executives charged with leading the continuing transformation of government.

In his current position, he provides guidance, direction, and oversight for the formulation, review, and execution of military space programs, which includes integrating military space activities between Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office, NASA, and other agencies and nations. He previously served as the Director for Space Acquisition in the Under Secretary’s office and was the Air Force liaison to Europe to facilitate and expand Air Force international cooperation on space with Europe.

A native of Lacey, Wash., he maintains strong ties to WSU by serving as a member of the WSU Foundation Board of Trustees, on the advisory board of the College of Business, on the campaign steering committee of the University College, and as the creator of the Richard McKinney Honors Study Abroad Scholarship in the Honors College at WSU.

McKinney’s presentation on April 18 is the final Common Reading Tuesdays lecture of the 2011-12 academic year. The faculty/guest expert lecture series is part of the Common Reading Program, which promotes dialogue between freshmen and the university community around topics in a shared book. This year the Common Reading book is “Physics for Future Presidents,” by U.C.-Berkeley retired professor Richard A. Muller.

While in Pullman, McKinney will meet with Honors College students to discuss careers in public service, and also with his scholarship recipient.

At 10:30 on April 19 in the Bundy Reading Room in Avery Hall, McKinney will present “Space Policy 101” as a Coffee and Politics presentation hosted by the Foley Institute.

CONTACT: Karen Weathermon, Co-Director, Common Reading Program in the University College at WSU, 509-335-5488,
Beverly Makhani, Director, Communications, University College at WSU, 509-335-6679, Makhani@wsu


UC-Berkeley Physicist Richard A. Muller Presents WSU Common Reading Invited Lecture Sept. 27 at Beasley Coliseum

PULLMAN, Wash.-Richard A. Muller, author of “Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines,” will present the 2011-12 Common Reading Invited Lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011, in Beasley Coliseum on the Washington State University campus.

The University of California-Berkeley physics professor will discuss “Physics for Future Presidents: An Update for 2011.” The event is open to the public at no charge. It is hosted by the University College, of which the Common Reading Program is a part.

Richard Muller
Richard Muller

“Dr. Muller’s presentation is sure to add new dimensions to our understanding of topics raised in his book, and his interactions on campus with students, faculty, and staff will enrich the Common Reading experience overall” says Mary F. Wack, vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of the University College.

“Physics for Future Presidents” is being used by thousands of students in dozens of first-year and higher classes university wide. One of many books evaluated by a selection committee, it was one of a final handful presented to Provost and Executive Vice President Warwick F. Bayly, who made the final selection.

The book is based on Muller’s renowned Berkeley course for non-science students. Intended to explain basic science and how it relates to issues, the text uses little math while covering topics such as terrorism, energy, nuclear power, space, and global warming. Muller looks at history, misinformation, and hype while pointing to a more logical, scientific approach.

“In an era when national organizations and our own faculty call for increased scientific literacy among our students, the timing couldn’t be better for Dr. Muller’s book to be used as the common reading,” Bayly says.

Muller, who is also faculty senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory associated with the Institute for Nuclear and Particle Astrophysics, is a frequent guest on broadcast media, writes for popular magazines, and has authored several books. He is currently writing “Energy for Future Presidents.” He says, “What does a future U.S. President need to know about energy? It is at the heart of our national security, both military and economic, and it is central to the decisions made not only by Presidents, but also by every citizen.” And though he or she would have excellent advisors, their advice would conflict because each is a specialist; a leader, Muller says, would have to understand how the advisors came to their opinions and then balance the advice.

Each author of the common reading book for the year has been invited to lecture at WSU.  Muller is the fifth.  Past speakers have included Greg Mortenson, Michael Pollan, Mary Roach, and Gina Kolata, who wrote, respectively, “Stones into Schools,” “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” and “Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It.”

While thousands have attended each of the lectures, many more thousands of freshmen since 2007 have gone to a total of more than 50 Common Reading Tuesdays events intended to bring topics from the book home in a local and personal way. They have included lectures by faculty and guest experts, art and photo exhibits, panel discussions, food-related events, and film screenings.  Faculty and staff from all colleges, the residence halls, and the Libraries have helped to make the program successful.

A wide variety of information on Muller can be obtained online by entering his name in a search engine, or going to his website at

For more information his upcoming WSU lecture, check back often at .

SOURCE:  Karen Weathermon, Co-Director, University College/Common Reading Program,, 509-335-5488

Susan Poch, Co-Director, University College/Common Reading Program,, 509-335-7767

MEDIA CONTACT: Beverly Makhani, Communications Director, University College,, 509-335-6679

Faculty Dave Pietz and Cherri Wemlinger Honored at WSU University College Award Ceremony by Common Reading Program on April 19

PULLMAN, Wash.—Two Washington State University faculty members were honored at the fourth annual University College awards ceremony Tuesday, April 19 for their contributions to the Common Reading Program.

Karen Weathermon, director of Learning Communities and co-director of the Common Reading Program, says “We want to recognize those who went above-and-beyond to make WSU’s annual Common Reading Program a huge success,” she says.

David Pietz, associate professor in history and director of the Asia Program, and Cherri Wemlinger, teaching assistant in history and Asian Studies, were honored for their hard work and determination with the Common Reading Excellence Award. They created and piloted a one-credit Freshman Focus course that implemented the Common Reading book and Common Reading Tuesday’s expert lecture series as the center of its curriculum.

The course required students to attend a minimum of seven Common Reading events and in small groups extend that experience by creating final projects that explored an issue of interest on Afghanistan.

“This is the first time that the Common Reading has been used as the basis of a course, rather than a complementary element of an existing course,” Weathermon comments. “Their work gave us a foundation that we can build upon in future years.”

The book chosen for the 2010-11 academic year Common Reading book for over 3,000 freshmen was “Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” by Greg Mortenson.

The Common Reading Program, a part of the University College at WSU, strives to create a common academic ground and dialogue for all participants—new students, faculty, staff, and the community around them.

CONTACT: Beverly Makhani, Communications Director, WSU University College, 509-335-6679,

Karen Weathermon, Learning Communities Director, WSU University College, 509-335-5488,



Desk Copies of Common Reading 2011-12 “Physics for Future Presidents” Available to WSU Faculty

PULLMAN, Wash.-Copies of the 2011-12 common reading book, “Physics for Future Presidents:  The Science behind the Headlines” by Richard A. Muller, are available to Washington State University faculty interested in using the book in their undergraduate courses for the coming year.

“Physics for Future Presidents” was chosen as the common reading book for freshmen by Provost and Executive Vice President Warwick M. Bayly in late March.  The 2010-11 book, “Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Greg Mortenson, was widely used in first-year classes by faculty across campus.

The book covers five complex, contemporary issues: terrorism, energy, “nukes,” space, and global warming in a manner that is designed to be understandable for readers from all backgrounds.  Each set of chapters concludes with a “Presidential Summary” that explains the decisions the reader would need to make on the topic as the president of the United States.

In the text, Muller looks at history, misinformation, and hype while helping the reader balance those with a more logical scientific approach.  The physics professor’s book is based on his own renowned course at Berkeley for non-science majors.

Muller’s book is broadly applicable to fields across campus, including business, communications, education, the humanities, political science, and STEM disciplines.

To enhance the experience of students using the book in classes, the Common Reading Program hosts an evening lecture series, which starts during the week-of-welcome.  The events feature WSU faculty, students, and guests presenting topics inspired by the text.  For the 2010-11 program, 77% of attendees reported that the lectures helped further their understanding of the issues presented in the book.

Those interested in a desk copy should contact Karen Weathermon, co-director of the WSU Common Reading Program, at 509-335-5488 or by email at

For more information on “Physics for Future Presidents” and on the Common Reading Program visit

MEDIA CONTACT:  David Clarke, communications assistant, WSU University College, 509-335-8070,

SOURCE:  Karen Weathermon, co-director, WSU Common Reading Program, 509-335-5488,



WSU Opens Nominations for 2011-2012 Common Reading Book for Freshmen

PULLMAN, Wash.-The selection committee of the Common Reading Program at Washington State University is looking ahead the next academic year, and has announced its call for nominations for the 2011-2012 common reading book for freshmen.

Faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends of the university are invited to use the online nomination form to suggest any book that would stimulate conversation, inquiries, and critical thinking among new students in classes across all disciplines, says Susan Poch, co-director of the program and head of the selection committee.  The Common Reading Program is part of the new University College, where she serves as associate dean.  The closing date will likely be in early December.

“The purpose of the Common Reading Program is to create a common academic ground for all who participate in it, including new students, faculty, staff, and the community,” says Poch.  “Each year since 2007, a single book has been chosen by the university to be read by all freshmen and used in their courses and in special programs outside of classes, as well.

“Students, professors, residence hall staff, librarians, and others lend ideas and actions to bring to life topics raised in that common reading book.  Many WSU faculty members are leading researchers in their fields, and the program provides a great venue for them to share information from their research with students that ties to the book.”

In summer 2010, about 3,200 copies of this year’s book, “Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” by Montana humanitarian Greg Mortenson, were distributed to freshmen attend orientation.  In addition to its use in dozens of first-year courses underway now, the book is the source of topics for faculty and guest presentations spread across two semesters in the popular evening series, Common Reading Tuesdays.

Mortenson is also coming to Pullman January 26, 2011 for an evening lecture directed to students but also open to the public.

Last fall, the selection committee read numerous nominated books before selecting its top four to send to Provost and Executive Vice President Warwick M. Bayly for his evaluation.  It was he who chose “Stones into Schools” for this year.

The process is to nominate a book will again be easy, says Poch.  An online nomination form asks the nominator to include about the book they favor and how it could be widely used across disciplines as the common reading.

Previous common reading books include:

  • “Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It,” by Gina Kolata.  In fall 2007, it was the first common reading book.
  • “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” by Mary Roach, was the second, used in fall 2008.
  • “Omnivore’s Dilemma: A History of Four Meals,” by Michael Pollan, was the third in 2009-2010, but the first to be used in both fall and spring semesters.

Each author visited campus.  A former faculty member, Alfred Crosby, a historian, also visited campus in 2007 to present on the 1917 flu pandemic.

For more information, visit

CONTACT: Beverly Makhani, Communications Director, WSU University College, 509-335-6679,

Susan Poch, Co-Director, WSU Common Reading Program, and Associate Dean, WSU University College, 509-335-7769,