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Reading time: 2 minutes
black and white photo of students sitting in bleachers
Physics class held outdoors, University of Montana, Missoula, 1919 (Photo courtesy: National Archives)

For the first time, incoming freshmen at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa will take part in reading a shared text across academic disciplines during the upcoming school year. The pilot initiative was developed by the First Year Programs Common Read advisory group, comprised of more than 20 faculty, to promote multidisciplinary dialogue and curriculum development across their respective courses.

book cover for The Great Influenza

In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the group has selected The Great Influenza (2004) by John M. Barry as its first reading. The book gives a historical account of the 1918 influenza pandemic in America, and its impact on the development of medical science.

“We recognized that students were struggling in the online lecture format, and we wanted to do our part to enrich the undergraduate experience,” said Kyle Van Duser, director of UH Mānoa’s First Year Programs. “We wanted to create an opportunity to facilitate peer-to-peer, student-to-faculty and faculty-to-faculty relationships. A shared read across the participating courses seemed to make the most sense and we felt that The Great Influenza would be effective to utilize this shared experience.”

What was intended to be a small group of courses has expanded to more than 14 courses, with more than 23 faculty participating. Participating courses include: ANTH 151, AMST 150, BIOL 171, BIOL 172, CHEM 161, COMG 151, HIST 151, HIST 156, REL 150, UNIV 110 and more. The general education office and university library also extended their support for the initiative by aiding in the development of assessment outcomes and making the text available for free to freshmen Pell Grant recipients.

“Over 80 percent of incoming freshmen students will be encountering the text in their first year at UH Mānoa. Returning students will also have some exposure to the text. Students who are not enrolled in a participating course are encouraged to read the text and participate in the out of class lecture series as a way to build relationships with their peers.” said Van Duser.

Barry, an author and historian who advised both the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama in developing the federal government’s role in response to a pandemic, will be a featured presenter and will hold a question and answer virtual session with students in November.

Students will also hear presentations from Hawaiʻi Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who will cover Pandemics in Hawaiʻi: Past and Present, and Professor Vivek Nerukar of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, presenting on Evolution of Virology in the Fight against Pandemics.

The advisory group is also reaching out to other faculty who may be interested in participating in the fall 2020 pilot First Year Programs Common Read and would like to participate in the selection of a theme and book for fall 2021.

For more information, email

women at their desk wearing mask
Clerks in New York City wear masks at work (Photo courtesy: National Archives)
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