Orientation is a pivotal event in the lives of first-year students. For many, it is their first immersion into campus culture, and the College is committed to ensuring that they emerge ready to begin their undergraduate experience.
Each year, orientation includes a summer reading assignment designed to pull students into ongoing campus conversations and the rich intellectual life of the College. This year’s orientation program, which runs Aug. 22-25, will include a discussion of In the Shadow of Man by world-renowned primatologist, conservationist, and humanitarian Jane Goodall. The selection comes on the heels of a spring semester that featured an exceptional set of guest speakers, including Goodall, Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States.
“Orientation should welcome new students into a conversation that we are already having on campus,” says Hannah Stewart-Gambino, dean of the College. “The issues Jane Goodall raised on the intersection between nature and humans are exactly the type of interdisciplinary topics we do so well on this campus. This is the perfect topic and reading for orientation.”
In the Shadow of Man is Goodall’s account of the first part of her professional trajectory from research scientist to global ambassador for the natural world—her life among the wild chimpanzees of the remote Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve in Tanzania, where she recorded the chimps’ previously unknown behaviors such as making and using tools, an ability previously attributed only to humans. The book was chosen by a committee comprised of about 20-30 faculty and administrators.
Divided into groups by First-Year Seminar, the Class of 2017 will discuss the book Friday, Aug. 23, with their faculty leaders. According to Stewart-Gambino, the purpose of the discussion is not to teach the book, but to model what a college class will be like at Lafayette and provide a familiar group of students for when classes begin the following week.
It also begins building the bonds between faculty and students, one of the hallmarks of a Lafayette education.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the pedagogical strengths of our faculty,” says Stewart-Gambino. “It speaks a lot to Lafayette’s commitment to teaching and learning that our faculty lead these discussions.”
Goodall’s stirring Jones Visiting Lecture, which she delivered in a packed Kamine Gymnasium eight days after her 79th birthday, described her groundbreaking discoveries about the traits chimps share with humans, her crusade to help poor villages while preserving wild habitats in Africa, and her wildly popular program to teach young people how to save the planet. It was a typically inspiring speech from a United Nations Messenger of Peace popular enough to appear in an episode of “The Simpsons.”
During a reception that preceded her talk, Goodall mingled with students, teachers, and the young daughter of Provost Wendy Hill, a neuroscientist who specializes in animal behavior. Following her talk, Goodall participated in a Q&A session moderated by Hill and signed copies of her books for a long line of fans. Her visit highlights the impact students can have on campus—she appeared a year after policy studies major Anne Kaplan ’15 (New York, N.Y.) suggested her as a guest speaker to President Daniel H. Weiss during a Marquis Scholars dinner. Kaplan raised money on campus for Roots & Shoots, Goodall’s youth education and activism foundation.
Classes for both new and returning students begin Monday, Aug. 26.