Step Out on Nothing is the First Year Experience Book at Washington Adventist University

Washington Adventist University selected Byron Pitts’ Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges for the First Year Experience Summer Reading Assignment this year.  Incoming WAU students read the book over the summer; their first college course assignment, four short essay responses to questions about the book, was due on their first day of class.

The Summer Reading Assignment at WAU emphasizes reading and writing skills and the important connection between the two.

Step Out on Nothing was selected, in part, to encourage students to emulate the author’s discipline and determination in the face of life’s challenges.  As they embark on their college journeys, students “will be faced with all kinds of challenges,” writes FYE Director, Sophia Ward.  “Learning how to conquer these situations will be a key component of your success.”

As they read the book, students were asked to consider how they could apply Mr. Pitts’ approach to success to their own lives.

As you begin to identify hurdles you, your family members, maybe even your friends have encountered, ask yourself: How did I deal with these difficulties? What lessons have I learned from those experiences that can help me rise above any challenges I may face while at WAU? What tools will I need to be successful in college? What is my plan? Keep asking these questions, and as you begin to form answers, recognize that even this process is part of your college journey.

Why this particular book?: Washington Adventist University FYE Summer Reading Assignment

For the first writing assignment, WAU provided nine short essay questions and asked students to answer four of them.  Click here to view the questions.  The assignment was not simply to answer the questions; it called specifically for first-years to give thought to the ideas and do their best work in order to make a positive first impression as WAU students.

Step Out on Nothing • St. Martin’s Press • 304 pages

A Long Way Gone is the 2010 Common Text at Wright State University

Wright State University’s 2010 Common Text is A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.  The university is giving a copy of the book to each member of the class of 2014 at Orientation sessions throughout the summer. The Common Text program was established:

—To expose students to WSU’s academic atmosphere from the time they arrive on campus for Orientation
—To provide a common academic experience for all first-year students by giving them the opportunity to engage with peers in intellectual discussions both inside and outside the classroom.
—To communicate the expectation that students will begin to read actively and critically, make judgments about the validity of what they read and be able to discuss challenging, sometimes conflicting, ideas.

Author Ishmael Beah will speak at Freshman Convocation, held when students arrive on campus in September. Beah’s address will kick off this year’s Presidential Lecture Series, which aims “to advance human justice and promote the university’s commitment to creating a diverse university community and learning environment.”

This year, the university has established a Common Text Essay Contest and invited first-year students to select and write on a theme and passage from the book.  The winner will be announced during the Freshman Convocation ceremony.

Later in the fall, Wright State University will host a Campus Big Read event—read-a-thon style!  Beginning at 8:30am on Wednesday, November 3, students, campus officials, and local celebrities will read passages from A Long Way Gone for 10-15 minutes before handing the book off to the next reader.  It’s an opportunity to unite the campus community while raising awareness for the plight of child soldiers.

A Long Way Gone will be central to many First-Year Seminars this year, as well as courses in WSU’s Learning Community program, which links General Education courses with specific seminars or fields of study.  Students who share similar interests or majors take at least two classes together, which affords a network of new friends and study partners while they make the transition to college life.

Previous Common Text selections at Wright State University include An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It and Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in AmericaClick here to see a list of other colleges and universities that have adopted Macmillan’s Popular Picks for common reading programs!

A Long Way Gone • Sarah Crichton Books • 240 pages


Ishmael Beah and his editor, Sarah Crichton, spoke recently about where he’s been and what he’s been doing since his memoir was published in 2007.

Crichton: I find it tremendously moving how the book keeps finding a larger and larger audience. So many high-school and college students read it.

Beah: Yes, more and more schools keep assigning it, and I keep meeting teachers who say, “This is the first time this kid has ever finished reading a book.” It is beyond my own comprehension. The book has a life of its own.

Read the complete interview at Work in Progress.