Berks Common Reading Program fosters sense of community for first-year students

READING, Pa. — Students beginning their first year at Penn State Berks received their first homework assignment well before they showed up on campus for the first day of classes.

The assignment, part of the campus’ Common Reading Program, is to read "Living College Life in the Front Row" by motivational speaker Jon Vroman, who will discuss his work at 12:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, in the Perkins Student Center Auditorium. This event is free and open to the public.

The idea behind the Berks Common Reading Program is to not only foster a love of reading, but also to foster a greater sense of community and to have a shared experience with classmates and faculty members. When most students enter college, they generally do not know many people and feel disconnected. For the last 11 years, Penn State Berks has tried to remedy that situation with its Common Reading Program.

The selected reading is introduced to incoming first-year students during New Student Orientation and has been integrated into the First-Year Seminar courses. Several other areas of the college community have joined in this initiative by basing the orientation program, residence life activities, lecture series, and service opportunities on the book selection.

"In Living College Life in the Front Row," Vroman, shares his interviews of hundreds of students to learn the secrets of success from those who have “been there and done that.” The book offers strategies for getting more done while having fun doing it, landing the job of your dreams, and experiencing life to the fullest. It’s the cliff notes about college and life success from some of the most successful individuals.

Vroman’s mission is to encourage students to find and develop their unique talents so that they will make the biggest impact within their campus and community. Vroman operates by five core values: 1.) make authentic connections, 2.) create your own reality, 3.) be open to change, 4.) commit fully, and 5.) contribute to others.

In 2005, Vroman founded the charitable organization Front Row Foundation, which has been featured on NBC’s "Today Show." The organization has raised more than $1 million to give children and adults braving life-threatening illnesses a front-row experience at the concert or sporting event of their dreams.

Past common reading selections have included "Strength in What Remains" by Tracy Kidder, "Gaviotas" by Alan Weisman, "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser, "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho, and "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn.

Through the Common Reading Program, first-year students will embark on a new adventure: becoming responsible and productive citizens of Penn State Berks and the world.