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A book penned by a UT faculty member has been chosen as the 2016–17 Life of the Mind book.

leaving-orbit-dean-200x300Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Associate Professor of English Margaret Lazarus Dean will be the selection that next year’s freshmen will be asked to read prior to arriving on campus in fall 2016.

“This is the first time we’ve chosen a book written by one of our own faculty members,” said Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of first-year studies. “Margaret’s book has gotten great reviews and garnered a lot of national attention. And space travel is a hot topic for Volunteers right now with one of our own—UT Space Institute alumnus Scott Kelly—spending this year aboard the International Space Station.

Margaret_Dean“There are a lot of exciting programming possibilities on this topic, and we look forward to seeing what our campus community might come up with,” Mastrogiovanni said.

Anyone on campus or in the community who is involved with space exploration projects or would like to collaborate with upcoming Life of the Mind programming, is invited to contact the First-Year Studies Office at 865-974-3523 or

Dean said she’s excited to have her book featured as the Life of the Mind selection.

“I’ve been involved with the Life of the Mind program since I’ve been a professor at UT,” she said. “I’ve always read the books and have led discussion sessions whenever I could.

“As a writer and a reader, I love the idea of welcoming students to campus with a work of literature. I’ve seen how students engage with the selections from past years, so I’m pleased and honored that my book has been chosen.”

Leaving Orbit explores what space exploration means to ordinary Americans, looks at past discoveries, and speculates about the future of space flight. The book chronicles the shuttle era with Dean detailing her experiences attending the last launches of Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis.

The New York Times called Leaving Orbit “wonderfully evocative” and said Dean “writes with the passion of a lifelong lover of space exploration and an ability to communicate, with tremendous kinetic power, the glory and danger of its missions. … She captures both the science and poetry of NASA’s missions, and the romance of space travel.”

Dean, who is also the director of creative writing in the English Department, teaches a creative nonfiction course featuring the work of writers like Joan Didion, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson, and Norman Mailer.

Now in its fourteenth year, Life of the Mind is part of First-Year Studies 100, a zero-credit pass-fail class that gives students their first taste of college studies and requires them to complete online lessons on topics including alcohol awareness, financial literacy, plagiarism, technology, civility, and succeeding at UT. Students are asked to read the Life of the Mind book and complete a written response before arriving on campus.

The 2016–17 Life of the Mind book was chosen by a committee of faculty, students, and staff led by Mastrogiovanni and Ruth Darling, associate provost for student success.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,