SIP 14.11 Engaging Students through 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform: Lighting Fires and Opening Minds

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

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William Butler Yeats famously said, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” Regardless of our academic disciplines, as faculty members we hope the university experience sparks students’ curiosity, opens their minds and promotes the habits and values of lifelong learning. We strive to ignite those sparks in our classrooms. But powerful experiences of engagement often occur outside of the classroom as well.

Take a SIP of this: engaging students through 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform

For more than a decade, 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform has been sparking interest, empathy and social justice through reading. This common reading program is built on the idea that we can be transformed – and perhaps can transform our communities – by what we read and how we engage with others.  And Metropolitan State University of Denver faculty and staff members and students are invited to participate each year.

This year’s 1B/1P/2T selection is A Mind Spread Out on the Ground (Melville House, 2020), a book of essays by Alicia Elliott, an award-winning Indigenous (Tuscarora) writer. Her “raw, unflinching memoir” (New York Times) weaves in topics of colonization, intergenerational trauma, racial justice, gentrification, interpersonal violence, health disparities, missing persons, parenting and family, and mental health. “Elliott writes with honesty and empathy of her life and the lives of family, constantly reckoning with institutional racism and less intentional private prejudices” (Kirkus Reviews). This is a perfect selection with which to kick off Native American Heritage Month .

Engagement with the 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform program comes in many forms. Faculty members can “adopt” the book for their course in any discipline. And when they do, they receive free copies for all of their students. In the past, faculty members have formally integrated the book into their syllabi, while others have assigned readings as complementary or extra-credit work. Opportunities to perform service projects associated with the topic of the book have been offered on and off campus.

MSU Denver partners with Denver Public Schools students via the Center for Urban Education, and these young students come to campus to hear the author speak and to engage with the University community. And each year, an essay contest is held to encourage creative writing that corresponds thematically with the topic of the book. Winners of the contest get to introduce the author at their on-campus presentation.

The 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform program is run by a committee composed of faculty and staff members and students. The committee reviews selections from multiple publishers to choose a book that will meet our students where they are. Past topics have included homelessness, environmental concerns, navigating the foster-care system, institutionalized racism, water conservation and urban farming in food deserts. While traditional common reading programs are geared primarily toward incoming freshmen, MSU Denver’s nontraditional entry path (transfer students, spring starts and the lack of a true first-year-experience program) has led to the adoption of an approach that includes all levels of students. The books that are chosen broach topics that are pertinent to the many lived experiences of our students.

The 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform committee sponsors the development of an extensive Teaching and Learning Guide that suggests numerous ways the book can be incorporated into courses in any discipline. For example, check out the book chapter called “34 grams per dose” to learn how the book approaches the topic of food as a starting place for cultural exchange. Then, connect students to Tocabe – the “only American Indian owned and operated restaurant in Metro Denver specializing in Native and Indigenous cuisine.” Explore Tocabe’s menu or the Decolonizing Diet Project, which works to inform about and share foods of Indigenous peoples before colonization. Topics like this can span many courses in the humanities and sciences and can also touch on business or economic aspects of Indigenous culture in our city.

While it may be too late to integrate A Mind Spread Out on the Ground into this semester’s syllabus, it’s definitely not too late to encourage students to attend Alicia Elliott’s keynote talk Nov. 10 at 11 a.m. in the Tivoli Turnhalle. Or adopt the book for your spring course – there are still copies available for your class.

For more information about 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform and the events listed here, visit

Still thirsty? 

Check out this article from the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Peer Review on the importance of a common reading program.

This presentation called “Creating a 360º Experience: Common Reading Programs” offers detailed information on how programs such as 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform support academic and social-emotional growth for students on campus.

Interested in serving on the 1 Book/1 Project/2 Transform committee? Please contact Randi Smith, LCSW, Ph.D., professor of Psychology, at [email protected].

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