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Starting next school year, the Penn Reading Project will no longer be a solitary activity. 

Incoming freshmen will be able to collaborate with each other before their arrival on campus. In line with the Provost’s Academic Theme Year for 2017-2018, "Year of Innovation," students will read the book "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution," by Walter Isaacson.

Traditionally, incoming freshman are asked to read an assigned book over the summer. In last year’s case, students were assigned to watch a movie, "Citizen Kane," instead, and convened in a small discussion group for a day during New Student Orientation. However, starting next year, the groups will form in July and students will have a chance to participate in an interactive website where they will be able to annotate the text and share their comments with the rest of the group over the summer. The groups will still meet during NSO to discuss the text in person.

“In a way this is an interesting example of innovation,” David Fox, director of the Penn Reading Project and NSO, said. “The day when I started [as director], it was a physical book that was sent out to every student — long before e-books existed in a serious way.”

Some freshmen wished that the project was more profound. 

"I didn't find the discussion that helpful," College freshman Jess Li said. "Instead of just having like one two-hour discussion and that's it, we could stress the theme more or do more for the book so it's more meaningful." 

College and Wharton freshman Alejandro Romero also said that they should expand the reading project. 

"If they only devote about an hour-and-a-half to the actual discussion, it doesn't make sense to invest too much time before it," Romero said. "If they are already trying to expand and spend more time before [freshmen] come to Penn, then it would make sense to do more than just one meeting about it." 

Next year's book explores the history of the computer and the internet by looking at the collaboration of individuals who pioneered the field.

“I think it’s no secret that innovation is a huge part of Penn’s self-definition,” Fox said, noting the Penn Center for Innovation and the President’s Innovation Prize as examples.

The Penn Reading Project was created 27 years ago to introduce incoming students to the academic life at Penn. The Provost’s Academic Theme Year, created 12 years ago, extended the reading project into a year-long host of events that related to the theme that anyone at Penn can participate in.

“The nice thing is that [Penn Reading Project] brings together an entire freshman class of all four schools on a single idea, and [the Provost at that time] liked the idea that that would be extended into the rest of the community,” Fox said. 

The events held throughout the year include speaker events, conferences and a grant program that anyone in the current Penn community can apply for.

“A lot of the most interesting events are actually developed by students at the ground roots level,” Fox said.

The Office of New Student Orientation & Academic Initiatives is accepting suggestions for events for this year’s theme, the Year of Media. NSOAI is also seeking nominations for future academic theme years and Penn Reading Project selections.

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