New MTU students inquisitive readers


Houghton Daily

Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON – Michigan Tech University’s Reading as Inquiry program is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this year.

The program is meant to prepare first-year students for college level reading by selecting a book for each student to read before coming to Tech. Then during orientation, students discuss the book in groups and often get the opportunity to meet the author.

“This is one of the most collaborative and inclusive programs we have at Michigan Tech,” said Robert Johnson, professor of rhetoric, composition and technical communication at MTU and self-proclaimed “instigator” of the Reading as Inquiry program. According to Johnson, Michigan Tech is the only technological university in the United States that has this type of summer reading program for incoming freshmen.

This year’s book, selected by a committee of faculty, staff and students, was “Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats,” a memoir about author Kristen Iversen’s experience growing up near a secret nuclear weapons plant in Colorado.

“I think (the students on the committee) were really ready for something that was more technological but still had a cause, something that you were either supportive of or not supportive of. They really wanted to select something that students can start thinking about and questioning by using critical thinking skills,” said Heather Simpson, a member of the Reading as Inquiry team.

Iversen visited Michigan Tech recently, hosting two presentations and discussion sessions with students and attending an evening reception where she also received questions about her work.

“Full Body Burden” deals with the controversial issues of nuclear weaponry during the cold war and government secrecy.

Her childhood home was located only three miles from a nuclear weapons plant in Colorado – a plant that the locals were told produced household cleaning products.

“When I wrote the book I didn’t know if anyone was going to publish it or, if I got published, that they were going to read it,” Iversen said. “All you have to say is ‘Hey, I just wrote a book about plutonium,” and people fall asleep. But people have been reading it and talking about it. It’s a story people are ready for. They want to hear it and they need to hear it.”

“Full Body Burden” was published in 2012 and since then has won multiple awards, including the 2013 Colorado Book Award and the Reading the West Book Award in Nonfiction. It was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews, the American Library Association and Mother Jones Magazine.

Iversen said she was pleased the incoming Michigan Tech students had not only read the book – something that has not always been been the case at other stops on her tour – but also had insightful questions.

While they were interested in the technical aspects of plutonium, they also discussed the social and personal impact of the plant and nuclear technology, she said.