Summer reading encourages service and global engagement

August 21, 2012
By Christine Urbowicz

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Members of the incoming freshmen class sat in the PNC Arena and listened as keynote speaker Rye Barcott asked them to reflect on these words from anthropologist Margaret Mead that have had such a significant impact on his life.


Rye Barcott, author of It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace, spoke to students during the Week of Welcome Convocation Festival on August 13.

During this year’s Week of Welcome Convocation Festival, Barcott, the author of this year’s summer reading assignment, It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace, challenged students to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it may seem.

It Happened on the Way to War is a memoir that focuses on Barcott’s time as a young Marine and his experiences in Kenya during his undergraduate career at UNC-Chapel Hill. The book also describes Barcott’s non-profit organization “Carolina for Kibera,” which aims to end ethnic violence in the largest slums in Kenya.

Barcott’s book offers a powerful message of how individuals can change global communities through service, which is something that the Common Reading Selection Committee hoped would spark thought-provoking discussion among the incoming freshmen who were assigned to read the book.

The Common Reading Selection Committee at NC State has been responsible for pickingsummer reading materials on the basis of six values, all of which encourage engagement. The committee is composed of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, professors and parents.


Some of the books the Common Reading Selection Committee has selected are The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson.

The summer reading selection is heavily discussed in the classroom during the first few weeks of classes. Students involved in the First Year College (FYC) were asked to complete a “circle of values” after reading the book as well as write a paper comparing their personal beliefs to those of the author.

Meredith Foulke, a freshman in communication media from Worcester, Pa., came to the university with a deeper commitment to serving the community after reading It Happened on the Way to War.

Rye Barcott’s story inspired me in more ways than one,” Foulke says.  “I was able to grasp a better understanding of service and how to achieve your goals through hard work and determination.”


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