Every undergraduate at UT who isn't a transfer student has participated in it.
The Life of the Mind program has become a staple for UT freshmen and is entering its 10th year of existence on campus. This year's rendition of the program will feature the book "Eaarth," by Bill McKibben, which will be read this summer by the entering class of 2017. A committee of 18 faculty, staff and students chose the 2013 Life of the Mind book after searching for a book revolving around sustainability. Elizabeth Schonagen, co-chair of the Life of the Mind committee, said that narrowing down hundreds of books to ten finalists is a long and grueling process.
"Nominations are solicited during spring and summer from the Volunteer community," Schonagen said. "Book lists found in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times Review of Books, Pulitzer Prize and Hugo Award winners and nominations from campus partners (are also considered)."
Schonagen explained that all of the choices are then fitted against Ready for the World learning outcomes and other considerations. Those that survive the process are reviewed by dozens of faculty and students, and eventually ten finalists are presented to the Life of the Mind committee.
Evan Ford, a sophomore in philosophy and economics who serves as the Haslam Program's representative on the committee, said the book stood out to him in a powerful way.
"I personally read seven or eight books in the selection process, and 'Eaarth' was a standout," Ford said. "It's specific and powerful while managing not to get repetitive over 290 pages ... it's an optimistic, though demanding, game plan for how to repair and sustain our Earth."
Ford hopes that after reading the book, students will learn more about the climate and how it is changing.
"I hope they learn that we are in a grave, but fixable crisis," he said. "Often we see headlines about climate change and dismiss them, either because we think it's all a hoax, or because we're scared there's nothing we can do about it. This book, at its core, aims at dispelling both this non-belief and this hopelessness."
To supplement what students will learn from the book, faculty will design environmental service learning projects for the FYS 129 courses. According to Dr. John Nolt, a professor of philosophy, a workshop will take place in May to begin designing those workshops.
"These (service learning projects) will vary in content and the service projects will also vary from course to course ... the course content and projects will emerge from the workshop," he said.
Ford explained that reading the book will teach students to read critically and open their minds to new ideas.
"In addition to learning about the climate, I hope this book shows freshmen how to read books the way college students should: critically," he said. "To be knowledgeable and 'smart,' you have to be able to read things despite your bias and decide whether or not the facts convince you. You can't just wantonly dismiss truth because it doesn't mesh with how you were raised. I hope students give McKibben, a legitimate expert, a chance to educate us about a subject we know little about."
The committee consisted of co-chairs Ruth Darling and Elizabeth Schonagen, faculty members Sherry Cable, Chris Cox, Paul Erwin, Joanne Logan, Thura Mack, Mike McKinney, John Nolt, Nate Sanders and Tricia Stuth. Staff members Gordie Bennett, Kirsten Benson, Stella Bridgeman Prince, Melissa Shivers and students Michael Croal, Elisabeth Spratt, and Ford also served on the committee. More information about the book and the 2013 Life of the Mind program can be found at torch.utk.edu/lifeofthemind.