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Sally McMillan

Each fall, first-year students read a common book in the Life of the Mind program. The goal of Life of the Mind is to provide a common experience for freshmen that will help them bond and grow academically, and ultimately improve their chances for success in college. An important part of Life of the Mind is participation in discussion groups led by faculty and staff members during Welcome Week. I invite you to lead a discussion group.

This year students will read a book titled “Mountains Beyond Mountains.” It is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder’s best-selling biography of Dr. Paul Farmer. Topics include Haiti, health, poverty, science, religion, and more. See a review at

We are planning multiple programs related to the book’s themes, including service learning opportunities.

Based on feedback from students and faculty members, we will make a few changes this year that will focus on increased student participation and streamlined processes for discussion leaders. We also will have a “custom version” of the book available for students to purchase at the bookstore. That book will include UT Knoxville and Ready for the World logos and a welcome letter from the chancellor and provost that explains the importance of the Life of the Mind program.

The provost’s office will host sessions for discussion leaders to talk about strategies for engaging freshmen with the book. Leaders also will receive discussion guides and background materials. We are working on developing a Blackboard site that will enable students to submit their Life of the Mind “homework” electronically. This year, we will allow students not only to write essays, but also to submit other creative responses — including drawings, videos, poems, etc. To keep your job manageable, we are working to automate feedback to students so that you don’t have to do any “grading.”

To stress the importance of the Life of the Mind program, we are scheduling discussions at times when there are no conflicts with other Welcome Week activities. Discussion groups will be held from 1-2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 16, and Tuesday, Aug. 17.

Please join us as we reach out to our first-year students. I think you will enjoy this year’s book, and I ask you to contact Drew Webb at to volunteer. Please be sure to indicate what day(s) you prefer. We will deliver the UT version of the book to you when we receive it from the printer.