Nearly 3,000 freshmen will get “Flu” this summer — the book, not the virus — as WSU launches its first “common reading” project.

Common reading projects at universities have gained popularity since the early 1990s. They have been shown to enhance students’ academic transition to college and increase their success.

“‘Flu’ will provide rich topics for discussion among our new students and their professors across many disciplines,” said President V. Lane Rawlins. “It tells the story of the most deadly international epidemic in history, but it also raises questions that inevitably lead the reader to think about science, economics, politics, sociology, business, ethics and much more.”

4,500 copies due
“Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It,” was written by New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata.

More than 4,500 copies will arrive in Pullman in May. They will be stuffed with bookmarks defining WSU’s Six Learning Goals of the Baccalaureate. Adopted in 2006, these include: creative and critical thinking; quantitative and symbolic reasoning; information literacy; communication; self in society; and specialty in a discipline.

Copies will be given to freshmen attending any of the 10 summer “Alive!” orientation events, or will be mailed to them at home, to be read and considered prior to arriving for classes in August.

Copies will be given to faculty and teaching assistants from disciplines across the university so they can incorporate elements of the book into their courses. Copies will be distributed to staff and administrators involved in the common reading project.

Freshman Focus
In the fall, about 2,000 incoming freshmen will be in Freshman Focus living-learning communities, where students taking the same core courses also live together or nearby in WSU residence halls. The program began in 2005 and has proven both instrumental and effective in building a sense of community among new students. Students and their teachers will explore aspects of “Flu” in classrooms as well as residence halls.

“We want students to discover how a book like ‘Flu’ can draw them into the academic life of a college student,” said Al Jamison, interim vice president for student affairs. “We want them to … discover undergraduate research opportunities on campus, to explore ways to serve society and to become lifelong learners.”

“Common reading aligns perfectly with our strategic goal to ‘provide the best undergraduate experience in a research university,’” said Mary F. Wack, interim director of the Office of Undergraduate Education.

WSU historian sheds light on epidemic
A former WSU history faculty member helped draw attention to the little-studied 1918 influenza epidemic.

Alfred W. Crosby noted that life expectancy in the U.S. dropped dramatically from 51 years in 1917 and 1919 to 39 years in 1918. He set out to explain what had happened in 1918.

With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, he became a world expert on the epidemic. He encouraged further study of this influenza, which had been 25 times more deadly than ordinary forms of the flu.

Researchers from various fields eventually identified the pathogen and its origin.

Common reading yields many benefits
The common reading project will serve multiple purposes, said Provost and Executive Vice President Robert Bates.

It will:
• introduce first-year students to the intellectual life of the university;
• encourage students and faculty to talk in small, informal groups;
• communicate academic expectations;
• enable departments and faculty to connect informally with pre-majors;
• expose students to the value of research and the power of ideas;
• create common ground among students in their freshman year.

Faculty/staff brainstorming sessions scheduled
Two brainstorming sessions for faculty and staff to generate ideas for using the common reading book, “Flu,” will be held:

• 1 p.m. Monday, May 14, Honors Hall lounge, room 110.
• 9 a.m. Thursday, May 17, Smith CUE 518.

The website for WSU’s common reading project will be up soon, ONLINE @ commonreading.wsu.edu.