May 2009 Archives

We couldn't have come up with a better book to match our honors theme that connects to the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education.  Our honors community will be reading "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time" by Greg Mortenson.  Enjoy this summer read, and be ready for required assignments in our fall honors courses (ENGL 030S, AM ST 100U, HONOR 301H) and our honors alumni reunion dinner!

Book Synopsis

One day in 1993, high up in the world's most inhospitable mountains, Greg Mortenson wandered lost and alone, broken in body and spirit, after a failed attempt to climb K2, the world's deadliest peak. When the people of an impoverished village in Pakistan's Karakoram Himalaya took him in and nursed him back to health, Mortenson made an impulsive promise: He would return one day and build them a school. Although he was a homeless "climbing bum" living out of his aging Buick in Berkeley, California, Mortenson sold what few possessions he had to launch one of the most remarkable humanitarian campaigns of our time." "Three Cups of Tea traces Mortenson's decade-long odyssey to build schools, especially for girls, throughout the region that gave birth to the Taliban and sanctuary to Al Qaeda. While he wages war with the root causes of terrorism - poverty and ignorance - by providing both girls and boys with a balanced, nonextremist education. Mortenson must survive a kidnapping, fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, death threats from Americans who consider him a traitor, and wrenching separations from his family." Today, as the director of the Central Asia Institute, Mortenson has built fifty-five schools serving Pakistan and Afghanistan's poorest communities. And as this real-life Indiana Jones from Montana crisscrosses the Himalaya and the Hindu Kush fighting to keep these schools functioning, he provides not only hope to tens of thousands of children, but living proof that one passionately dedicated person truly can change the world.

When I look back, I am so impressed again
with the life-giving power of literature. 
If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of
myself in the world, I would do that again by reading,
just as I did when I was young.
~ Maya Angelou ~


"Launch" into the spring with a great book! The book we have selected fits with the Year of Evolution theme and events around the Philadelphia region for Darwin's 200th birthday--"Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body," by Neil Schubin. Students enrolled in LING 001U and GEOSC 021H must have the book completed before the semester begins to be ready for in-class discussions during the first week of classes.All honors students will meet during the spring semester for book discussions with their honors peers and honors faculty.

Book Synopsis

Why do we look the way we do? What does the human hand have in common with the wing of a fly? Are breasts, sweat glands, and scales connected in some way? To better understand the inner workings of our bodies and to trace the origins of many of today's most common diseases, we have to turn to unexpected sources: worms, flies, and even fish.

Neil Shubin, a leading paleontologist and professor of anatomy who discovered Tiktaalik--the "missing link" that made headlines around the world in April 2006--tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.

Shubin makes us see ourselves and our world in a completely new light. "Your Inner Fish" is science writing at its finest--enlightening, accessible, and told with irresistible enthusiasm.


Man ceased to be an ape, vanquished the ape,
on the day the first book was written.
~ Yevgeny Zamyatin ~


Student comments about this Literary Launch:

Your Inner Fish does an amazing job taking scientific concepts and breaking them down into understandable, interesting chapters. I enjoyed seeing the similarities between my body and long dead creatures. -- Adrienne Showalter

The book was alright. I don't know whether it really proves anything, though. Similarities between creatures' structures, bones, etc., can just as easily point to a common design as to evolution. There is more convincing evidence out there. -- Mary-Therese Capaldi

I found "Your Inner Fish" very interesting. One of the most interesting facts was how the human middle ear bones developed. I could not believe they were once a reptile jaw. Another fact that I found interesting was the gradual development of the human eye. One last thing was how human are susceptible to disease and other viruses. -- John Formento


In Spring 2009, Paola Pedraza-Rivera was part of an honors cemetery demography research group that recorded data from the tombstones at Cumberland Cemetery.  Congratulations to sophomore Paola for her winning entry!

Competing Forces, Creative Tensions

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I took this picture during one of my excursions to Cumberland Cemetery. To me, this represents the Competing Forces, Creative Tensions honors theme because it shows two different ways of remembering the loved ones that have passed away. We have the normal way, creating a tombstone and putting their name on it. However, you also have the colorful toys in front of it.  By using this unusual decoration the person who put it there is remembering the people as an individuals not as one more name on a tombstone.

- Paola Pedraza-Rivera

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