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Human waste, a Thomas Eakins painting, chess masters and the world’s only known enigmatology major — Penn’s theme years have brought all sorts of discussions and personalities to campus.

It all began six years ago, when then-Provost Ron Daniels decided to run the first trial theme year, the Year of Food, in an attempt to collectively engage the entire Penn community from an academic angle.

Since then, the University has cycled through six different theme years: food, evolution, arts and the city, water, games and proof. Its seventh theme year, for the 2013-2014 academic year, will be the Year of Sound.

Leading up to the theme year’s creation in 2007, Penn recognized that there weren’t that many academic experiences that all undergraduates, regardless of their schools, participate in, Director of New Student Orientation and the Penn Reading Project David Fox said.

“Before there was a theme year, we still tried to use the Penn Reading Project as a springboard for occasional other events through the year,” he said, referring to a program started in 1991, which engages all incoming freshmen to read and discuss a chosen book at the beginning of the year.

“But [the theme year] was a much more fully formed event, which was something that the whole Penn community can get involved in, around the single theme,” Fox said.

According to Fox, one of the biggest questions raised this year, the Year of Proof, was “How do you know what you know is true?”

Since this year is an election year, Fox added, the “proof” theme is particularly timely. “We have this nationally and internationally important thing happening that is a perfect arena for everybody to come together and think about,” Fox said.

“Proof is very important in everything we do — science, crime, law and in any situation,” said College senior Lara Maggs, one of six students who are featured on the Year of Proof website for their proof-focused research and activities. “I think this is a good theme for many people to get involved in research.”

Philosophy professor Scott Weinstein’s new class — Proof in Math, Philosophy and Law — was motivated by this year’s theme. Along with two other professors, he introduces various examples of proofs in mathematics and talks about how one deals with uncertainty.

“Three of us came together and thought that it was a particularly opportune time to start such a course,” Weinstein said. “The class is something that the Year of Proof provided the impetus for.”

To expand the theme year’s impact to people beyond freshmen during NSO, the University has been encouraging student groups and individual schools to create their own events, research projects and classes by funding and publicizing the programs.

Maggs also suggested it would be beneficial to devote part of the first week of classes to teach how the theme year can influence upperclassmen as well.

Beyond students, Penn is also focusing on engaging alumni and parents around the country through receptions at Penn Clubs and Penn Parents Associations, according to the Assistant Director of the Office of New Student Orientation Troy Majnerick.

Next year, Penn will be planning something different in hopes of engaging all of Penn right from the start.

According to Fox, the NSO schedule will be different because the school year starts before Labor Day.

“We are going to split the NSO schedule a little bit so that we will have an intense period for freshmen only early on and devote the Labor Day weekend to engage a larger population other than freshmen,” Fox said. “I think that this change of schedule will give us some opportunities [to reach out to others].”

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