A Book That Works: The Utility of Literature Outside the Academy

A Book That Works: The Utility of Literature Outside the Academy

This week, we are thrilled to share insights and reflections from Erin Ulrich, a senior English major at Oberlin College who recently completed a month-long internship with Books@Work.

My internship with Books@Work has focused primarily on data-analysis and listening to interview responses from program participants. While the nature of this work may seem mundane at first, it has offered me a first-hand glimpse into how exactly Books@Work works.  While the impact of the program improving colleague relationships and promoting a fruitful, healthy and productive work environment are obvious from the company interviews, I have been particularly moved by the community interviews.

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Nurturing a Culture of Growth at Work

Nurturing a Culture of Growth at Work

“In your career, you’ve worked with numerous companies on cultural transformation. Is there anything about Books@Work that is new for you? Is there anything different in how the program nurtures individuals and the community?”

There are several dimensions that are different. In my McKinsey days, the cultural transformation was always embedded in a business transformation and a performance imperative. We would ask what role culture played in achieving tangible business goals, whether that is sales growth, cost reduction, responsiveness, whatever it is.

I was initially skeptical about Books@Work because it did not tie directly to a business outcome. How would I know that I was actually making progress?

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Digging Little Rivulets: An Interview with Professor Bernie Jim

Digging Little Rivulets: An Interview with Professor Bernie Jim

We recently had the chance to speak to Professor Bernie Jim about his experience as a facilitator with Books@Work. Bernie has a Ph.D. in History and has worked as a SAGES Fellow and Lecturer in History at Case Western Reserve University since 2007. He leads seminars on cities, spectacle, matters of proportion and puzzles. His favorite writers are Gabriel García Márquez and Haruki Murakami.

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The Conversation Is the Point

The Conversation Is the Point

The joy of being a professor is getting to share what I love with a mostly rapt, albeit captive, audience. Whether the course is a requirement they begrudgingly take or an elective they happily attend, the contract of the classroom is the same. We will read the Baldwin or Ehrenreich I assign, the main purpose of which is to instruct them on how to think and write. Though my students influence the semester, I do the bulk of the steering, ensuring we hit the landmarks I have designated en route to a final destination I have, however loosely, predetermined.

At Books@Work, however, the readers are not my students.

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Exploring Our Personal Stories: Professor Brock Spencer on Books@Work

Exploring Our Personal Stories: Professor Brock Spencer on Books@Work

We recently had the chance to speak with Brock Spencer, who recently retired as the Kohnstamm Professor of Chemistry at Beloit College where he taught environmental and interdisciplinary courses in addition to a range of chemistry courses. Brock has been involved nationally in NSF-funded projects to develop and disseminate an inquiry-based approach and instructional materials to better engage students in their introductory chemistry courses.

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Breaking an Academic Taboo: Professor Laura Baudot on Books@Work

Breaking an Academic Taboo: Professor Laura Baudot on Books@Work

We recently had the chance to speak with Laura Baudot, an Associate Professor of English at Oberlin College who has facilitated Books@Work sessions at a private high school and an adhesive manufacturing company. Among other things, we discussed her experience as a facilitator and how it differs from her experience teaching at a university. How do the humanities translate out of the academic world?

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Memory and Narrative: Finding Common Ground

Memory and Narrative: Finding Common Ground

As a shy, dreamy teenager who wrote poetry and often lived more fully with the fantasies in my head than in the real world, I could easily relate to Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical Another Brooklyn. The opportunity to talk about the book with a diverse group of paraprofessionals from two suburban schools intrigued me. Would they take to a book with such a poetic, impressionistic writing style?

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Embracing the Interrogative: Vulnerability and the Power of Unanswered Questions

Embracing the Interrogative: Vulnerability and the Power of Unanswered Questions

The interrogative is a dying form – not only of grammatical expression but of life. At a time when efficiency and productivity seem the driving forces of culture, it makes sense that emphasis should lie on the generation of answers rather than the formulation of questions. Answers, after all, mean closure – answers grant one permission to put one thing to rest and move on to the next, and that seems the very definition of progress. Questions, on the other hand, are messy, imprecise things that tend toward the propagation of their own kind, leading ad-infinitum to heaven knows where.

How do we get a group of strangers during a Books@Work session- many of whom do not consider themselves “readers” and for whom being in a room with an English professor evokes unpleasant classroom memories – to embrace their vulnerabilities and enter into an interrogative mindset?

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A Special Lens: Science Fiction at Work

A Special Lens: Science Fiction at Work

We recently had the chance to speak with Professor Robin Zebrowski, an Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at Beloit College. Among other things, she studies artificial intelligence and embodiment. Robin recently read and discussed science fiction as the facilitator of a Books@Work session with a group of engineers. We asked her to share her experience: What in particular does science fiction bring to discussions in the workplace?

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