First Year Reading Program
Engaging new students in a shared intellectual task before the start of their first semester at Stevens can ease the transition into college.
Over the summer, incoming first-year students will receive a copy of a prominent work of either literature or nonfiction to read prior to arriving to campus in August. During New Student Orientation, new students participate in small, faculty and staff-led discussion groups focused on the reading. Discussion groups gather informally and are based on Orientation groups already established for New Student Orientation. Faculty and Staff members are paired with Peer Leaders who assist with the facilitation of the conversation about the reading. This format is designed to give new students an engaging atmosphere in which to interact with faculty and staff members and begin to contribute to a college-level discussion.
The reading program will provide new students the following:
An opportunity to make connections with classmates, faculty and staff members, and their new intellectual community as a whole.
Prime students for themes that they can expect to encounter during their first year at Stevens, such as pluralism, ethics, leadership, technology, and social justice.
Introduce students to college-level tasks such as critical thinking, analytical reading, and high-level discourse with faculty members and peers.
A research guide created by staff of the S.C. Williams Library for our 2023 First Year Reading, How to be Perfect by Michael Schur, can be found here.
2023 Selection - How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Schur
From the creator of The Good Place and the cocreator of Parks and Recreation, a hilarious, thought-provoking guide to living an ethical life, drawing on 2,400 years of deep thinking from around the world.
Most people think of themselves as “good,” but it’s not always easy to determine what’s “good” or “bad”—especially in a world filled with complicated choices and pitfalls and booby traps and bad advice. Fortunately, many smart philosophers have been pondering this conundrum for millennia and they have guidance for us. With bright wit and deep insight, How to Be Perfect explains concepts like deontology, utilitarianism, existentialism, ubuntu, and more so we can sound cool at parties and become better people.
Schur starts off with easy ethical questions like “Should I punch my friend in the face for no reason?” (No.) and works his way up to the most complex moral issues we all face. Such as: Can I still enjoy great art if it was created by terrible people? How much money should I give to charity? Why bother being good at all when there are no consequences for being bad? And much more. By the time the book is done, we’ll know exactly how to act in every conceivable situation, so as to produce a verifiably maximal amount of moral good. We will be perfect, and all our friends will be jealous. OK, not quite. Instead, we’ll gain fresh, funny, inspiring wisdom on the toughest issues we face every day.
Summer Engagement Contest 2023
This is an optional reading contest meant to showcase different perspectives students have after reading our 2023 First Year Read. The first-place winner will receive a $200 bookstore credit and the second-place winner will receive a $100 bookstore credit. Pick one of the prompts listed below and create a submission that captures the essence of the prompt or question.
Writing Options (roughly 500 words):
Michael Schur emphasizes that we fail to be ethical all the time. He recommends that we embrace failure, and “fail better” next time. Describe a time when you failed to live up to your ethical standards and explain how it will help you “fail better” going forward.
Write an inspirational speech that you would hypothetically present to the Class of 2027 drawing on the main themes and ideas of the book.
Graphic Design/Art Options:
Based on the reading how would you redesign the cover of this book? Your redesign could be in the form of a painting, drawing, graphic design, or any medium you see fit.
Create a comic strip to accompany any chapter in the book.
Design a game to teach ethics to college students. The game is expected to develop participants' ethical decision-making skills and to make sound judgments when resolving and mitigating ethical dilemmas.
Design a roughly two-minute movie trailer for How to Be Perfect.
All contest entries must be submitted by August 11 to [email protected].
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work is an exploration of the joys and perils of the modern workplace, beautifully exploring what other people wake up to do each day—and night—to make our frenzied world function. With a philosophical eye and his signature combination of wit and wisdom, Alain de Botton leads us on a journey around an eclectic range of occupations, from rocket scientist to biscuit manufacturer, from accountant to artist—in search of what makes jobs either soul-destroying or fulfilling.
Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil
We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives—where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance—are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated.Tracing the arc of a person’s life, O’Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. These “weapons of math destruction” score teachers and students, sort résumés, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health. O’Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for their algorithms and on policy makers to regulate their use. But in the end, it’s up to us to become more savvy about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change.
What The Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistence, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha
Here is the inspiring story of how Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, alongside a team of researchers, parents, friends, and community leaders, discovered that the children of Flint, Michigan, were being exposed to lead in their tap water—and then battled her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. Paced like a scientific thriller, What the Eyes Don’t See reveals how misguided austerity policies, broken democracy, and callous bureaucratic indifference placed an entire city at risk. And at the center of the story is Dr. Mona herself—an immigrant, doctor, scientist, and mother whose family’s activist roots inspired her pursuit of justice.
What the Eyes Don’t See is a riveting account of a shameful disaster that became a tale of hope, the story of a city on the ropes that came together to fight for justice, self-determination, and the right to build a better world for their—and all of our—children.
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy; as Elizabeth Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.
Spare Parts, by Joshua Davis
In 2004, four Latino teenagers arrived at the Marine Advanced Technology Education Robotics Competition at the University of California, Santa Barbara. They were born in Mexico but raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where they attended an underfunded public high school. No one had ever suggested to Oscar, Cristian, Luis, or Lorenzo that they might amount to much—but two inspiring science teachers had convinced these impoverished, undocumented kids from the desert who had never even seen the ocean that they should try to build an underwater robot.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells - taken without her knowledge in 1951 - became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more.
2023 Selection Committee
Dr. Jennifer McBryan, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Teaching Associate Professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Dr. Lindsey Swindall, Teaching Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Dr. Kevin Connington, Teaching Associate Professor in Department of Mechanical Engineering
Danielle Maxson, Associate Director of Undergraduate Student Life
Sarah Minsloff, Assistant Director of the Writing and Communications Center
Vicky Orlofsky, Instruction & Scholarly Communication Librarian
Courtney Walsh, Research & Instructional Services Librarian