Multimedia merges with traditional summer assignment for new Roanoke students

Salem, Va. - The traditional summer reading assignment for Roanoke College freshmen has a contemporary twist.

This summer, rather than picking up a book to read cover to cover, freshman at Roanoke watched a movie, read magazine articles and chapters from books and clicked through online photo galleries. Once they arrive on campus for orientation this weekend, they'll discuss this mix of multimedia material surrounding one theme, "Food: Why do we choose what we choose?"

For the past six years, Roanoke College has designated a book as required summer reading for freshmen. Last year's freshman class read the book, "When the Emperor was Divine," by Julie Otsuka.

But Roanoke's orientation team discovered that reading one book does not mesh with all students' learning styles, said William Greer, who is associate dean of student success initiatives at Roanoke College. Different learning styles demand new approaches, he said.

This year, a team of Roanoke faculty, staff and students created an innovative way for freshmen to learn through a contemporary platform that supplements intellectual reading material, with video and audio selections. They chose a theme from three ideas; food, social networking and philanthropic giving. A subject that focuses on global and local food issues, including why people choose what they consume, made the cut.

"We just wanted to be a little more engaging than just one text," Greer said. "We're hoping, because it is more of a contemporary theme, these students will feel comfortable speaking about it during new student orientation."

Selections on the summer's project list included watching the film, "Food, Inc.," which explores methods of production for the nations' food supply, and listening to a National Public Radio piece titled, "Debate over food movie missed most farmers."

Students also perused the website,, while reading articles that included "China's Big Mac Attack," published in Foreign Affairs magazine, and a chapter in the book, "Omnivore's Dilemma," called "Big Organic." Another is a Bloomberg Markets magazine story, "McDonald's no match for KFC in China as Colonel rules fast food."

"Our students live in a world that demands they be able to process information from a variety of media-from the scholarly to the popular-in order to be able to create viable and effective responses to the complex problems of our day," said Dr. Jennifer Berenson, associate dean of academic affairs and administration at Roanoke, of the material used in the summer assignment.

Once students read, watch and evaluate these and about six other resources, they're required to answer the question, "What will you buy to eat and why?" while considering global and local influences on food. They can answer the question with a three-page written essay or a project that incorporates creative work, such as writing, video, music or painting.

Nathan Castellano, a Roanoke senior from Alabama who was part of the committee that planned the summer assignment, said the food topic should offer college freshmen a broader range of discussion points.

A book was required reading for his freshman orientation, and "we ended up skimming the water on different issues," Castellano said.

Roanoke's approach to its summer learning program is unique, compared with other colleges and universities nationwide, said Joyce Holl, who is executive director of the National Orientation Directors Association. Still, she said she expects to hear of more schools making these kinds of changes to summertime assignments in the future as they try to stay ahead of technology.

Roanoke College, a classic liberal arts college in Salem, Virginia, combines firsthand learning with valuable personal connections in a beautiful, undergraduate setting. Roanoke is one of just seven percent of colleges nationwide with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest and most prestigious honor society. The Princeton Review lists Roanoke as the 18th most beautiful campus in its "Best 376 Colleges" 2012 guidebook. U.S. News & World Report ranks Roanoke No. 7 on its list of  "Up-and-coming National Liberal Arts College."

For additional information, call the Roanoke College Public Relations Office at (540) 375-2282.

Released: August 24, 2011
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