The Common Reads Guide to 2018’s First Year Experience Conference

By Chris Schmieder | February 7 2018 | College & University Reads

Heading to the First-Year Experience conference in San Antonio this year? If so, you’re in luck. Now in it’s 37th year, the annual conference provides a dynamic forum for higher-ed pros to share pedagogical experiences, classroom breakthroughs, and ongoing concerns centering around the first year college experience, making it the ideal place to source inspiration for next semester’s Assigned Reading list.

If you’ve already had a chance to register for the conference, start getting excited for one seriously enriching experience. If not, no worries! Online registration is open until February 1st, and even the most drastic dawdlers will be able to register on-site at the conference starting on February 10th. (Click here for more registration info.)

As in past years, Common Reads will be hosting a number of author lunches, dinners, and even cocktail hours to complement the conference’s already impressive event line-up. If you’re interested in making the most of your time at the conference, read on for Common Reads’ full schedule of events as well as a comprehensive guide on what to pack, where to park, and most importantly, which sessions to pencil into your schedule.

FYE Conference: When and Where

Saturday, February 10 – Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Grand Hyatt San Antonio
600 E Market St
San Antonio, TX 78205

WiFi Details:

Network Name: First Year Experience 2018
Password: FYESA2018

Directions to FYE from San Antonio International Airport

By Bus

Take the 5 Downtown bus to N. St. Mary’s between Richmond Ave and Navarro Street (40 min), walk down the block to the intersection of N. St. Mary’s and Navarro (1 min), and transfer to the 24 Rio Grande bus (7 min.) Exit the bus on E Market St, in front of the Convention Center. Head east for about 2 minutes until you reach the Grand Hyatt entrance.

By Cab

You can catch a cab upon exiting the airport. Expect your trip to take approximately 20 minutes and your fare to be in the $35 – $45 range, not including tip. Note that additional fees may apply between 9PM and 5AM.

By Car

San Antonio International Airport offers numerous car rental company options, including Thifty, Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Rates vary depending on booking date and car availability, so make sure you reserve your vehicle early.

Paid parking is available at the convention center at the following rates:

Daily Self-Parking: $29 per day
Overnight hotel guest: $39 per day
Hourly Self-Parking: First hour: $10;
Additional hours: $5 each with a max of $30
*Surcharges apply for valet parking.

What to Pack for San Antonio

Though this year’s temps have been a little unpredictable, typical February weather in San Antonio ranges from 60 – 70 degrees F, meaning it’s safe to leave your parka and snow boots behind.

Instead, pack a light jacket, and several sweaters or scarves, in case the need for layering arises.

You’ll also want to pack a notebook or digital tablet for taking notes during interesting talks, a tote bag for lugging around potential swag and book samples, and a pair of comfortable shoes that’ll allow you to enjoy a day full of activities without pausing for pain.

Now that we’ve got the logistics out of the way, it’s time to get to the good stuff: must-see speakers, exhibitors, and events.

You can find a comprehensive list of all FYE happenings in their interactive guidebook portal. However, because sorting through four days of overlapping activities can get a little overwhelming, we’ve combed the listings for you, picking out sessions you won’t want to skip if common reading choices are on your mind. Read on for our suggestions for can’t-miss events, divided by day.

Common Reads Recommended FYE Conference Events



Dinner with Omar El Akkad, John Freeman, Lauren Markham, and Imbolo Mbue


Location: San Antonio Marriot Riverwalk, Suites A, B, C

Join Common Reads authors of new classics like American War and Behold the Dreamers in discussing their work and enjoying a catered dinner –on us!
RSVP required. Please note location is outside of main conference facilities.



Create your University Common Read


Matthew Ebbott –  Director of First Year Seminar, Western State Colorado University
Talk Description:Assigning a common read can be a challenge to faculty academic freedom. We have found the balance by creating our own place-based common read that is a resource for all instructors in our first-year seminar classes and helps connect freshmen to our university and community. Learn how Western created ours and how you can create yours!

Hands Across the Sea: UK/USA Collaboration on Common Reading


Alison Baverstock – Associate Professor and Director, Kingston University London and The University of Mississippi
Wendy Morris – Specialist Librarian and KU Big Read Champion, Kingston University
Leslie Bannerhan – Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, University of Mississippi
Dewey Knight – Associate Director, Centre for Student Success and First Year Experience , University of Mississippi
Melissa Dennis – Head of Research and Instruction Services, University of Mississippi
Talk Description: Pre-arrival shared-reading is well established in the United States, much less so in the United Kingdom. The University of Mississippi and Kingston University, 5,000 miles apart, outline their involvement and summarize how associated research projects can monitor and publish evaluated outcomes. Both institutions’ common reading programs (the University of Mississippi’s Common Reading Experience and Kingston University’s Big Read) intend to welcome new students and improve enrollment, engagement, and retention. Collaborators share best practices and explore points of difference.


Lunch with Nate Blakeslee, Francisco Cantu, Franklin Foer, and Yaa Gyasi

Location: San Antonio Marriot Riverwalk, Suites A, B, C


Enjoy light lunchtime fare while meeting with the great minds behind some of Common Reads most popular books, including The Line Becomes a River and Homecoming.
RSVP required.

Please note location is outside of main conference facilities.


Integrating Service Learning & Common Read Initiatives for Transformative Learning


Catherine Barber – Associate Professor Director, Research Program
Jo Meier-Marquis – Associate Professor; Chair of Psychology Director, Freshman Symposium
Ulyses Balderas – Associate Professor, Director of Study Abroad
Lindsey McPherson – Assistant Vice President for Student Success
Randy Soffer – Assistant Professor, School of Education
University of St. Thomas-Houston
Talk Description:Service-learning and common read programs are successful high-impact practices often incorporated into the first-year experience. Students may experience increased benefits when these practices are integrated, with a major service-learning project stemming from the theme of the selected common read. Furthermore, integrating these initiatives may provide greater opportunities for transformative learning. This facilitated discussion uses reflection activities and group discussion to explore questions of how best to integrate service learning and common read initiatives, how to manage co-planning, and how to effectively measure outcomes.


Yes, No, Maybe: Student Ratings of 75 Common Reading Books


Tom Carskadon – Professor of Psychology and Director of FYE Programs
Theresa Fitchie – Graduate
Mississippi State University
Talk Description: Session will explain a specialized methodology for rating potential common reading books. We will then share systematically obtained data from representative samples of first-year students who read and rated 75 possible choices for common reading books, including many of those most frequently adopted nationwide in recent years. Some books get a definite “yes,” others a definite “no,” and some a qualified “maybe.” Specific, practical suggestions for program success will be provided, along with individual book ratings data that are, to our knowledge, unavailable anywhere else. Participants are encouraged to share their own common reading experiences at this session.


How to Assess Common Reading Programs


Karen Weathermon – Assistant Director of First-Year Programs
Suzanne Smith – Associate Professor, Human Development
Leslie Jo Sena – Assistant Director of First-Year Programs
Washington State University
Talk Description: The session will help participants plan appropriate assessment of their institutions’ common reading programs. Recognizing that different types of institutions serve different student populations and have varying reasons for using a common reading as part of the first-year experience, this session will walk participants through the basics of measuring programmatic outcomes for students. Topics will include determining the goals of a common reading program, articulating outcome statements, choosing programmatic elements to measure, collecting/sorting data, and the IRB approval process. In addition, we will address the rationale for and uses of common reading assessment data within larger institutional frameworks.


CI-100 Empowering Students to Design College, “Designing Your
Stanford” Course Insights

Lone Star B

David Evans
Co-founder, Stanford Life Design Lab
William Burnett
Executive Director, Stanford Design Program
Stanford University

Students have mastered the art of getting into college, but they often
arrive underprepared to make the most of it. To meet this challenge, the
Stanford Life Design Lab created “Designing Your Stanford” (DYS), teaching
students to use design thinking to “get more out of college—not cram
more into it.” This session will describe the DYS curriculum development
process, review student impact via pre-course and post-course survey
analysis, compare DYS to other first-year Stanford programming, share
insights from the first five years, and provide a forum to discuss how design
thinking can grow student self-authorship and creative confidence.


Cocktails & Conversation with Jon Ronson and Andrea Petersen

Location: San Antonio Marriot Riverwalk, Suites A, B, C


Sure, meals are nice, but what’s better than a good cocktail and an even better conversation to punctuate your conference experience? Join Common Reads authors Jon Ronson and Andrea Petersen for this much-needed session.
RSVP required.

Please note location is outside of main conference facilities.




Taking the Common Read Out of the Classroom


Alex Barron – Director of First Year Experience
Jennifer Ansier – Assistant to the Director of General Education
Joi Torres – Assistant Director, Student Life
St. Edward’s University
Talk Description: This session will share strategies for building relationships across campus and connecting curricular and cocurricular activities through your common-read program. We will describe how to increase faculty and staff buy-in through creative initiatives. For example, we will discuss how to develop local opportunities for service, experiential learning excursions, partnerships with artists that result in collaboration with students, and study abroad trips, all based on the common read. The session will include time for brainstorming opportunities to collaborate with current and potential partners on your campus, as well as new program development.


Pushing the Boundaries: Successful Variations on Common Reading Programs


David Randall – Director of Communications, National Association of Scholars
Marcy C. Glassford-  Director of First-Year Experience & Student Retention , Utah Valley University
Kaye Brown – Committee Co-Chair, OCTC Common Reading, Owensboro Community & Technical College

Tonya Northenor – Committee Co-Chair, OCTC Common Reading, Owensboro Community & Technical College
Talk Description: Common-reading programs frequently use a relatively narrow selection of nationally popular, recently published nonfiction and memoirs. We examine different ways that existing common readings successfully vary from standard text selection. We will present (a) an overview highlighting and analyzing classic texts used by common-reading programs nationwide in the past decade, (b) a case study of a classic selection common reading program at Utah Valley University, and (c) a case study of a local-author focus at Owensboro Community & Technical College.


Lunch with Lynser Addario, Karan Mahajan, Maryn McKenna, and Joe Tone

Location: San Antonio Marriot Riverwalk, Suites A, B, C


This lunch closes out Common Reads’ planned festivities, allowing participants a final chance to connect with the authors of new common curriculum classics such as The Association of Small Bombs and It’s What I Do.

RSVP required.

Please note location is outside of main conference facilities.


Becoming a Marian Knight: ‘Common Reader’ to ‘Common Local/Global Culture’


Holly Gastineau-Grimes – Director of First Year Seminar, Assistant Professor, Department of History and Social Science
Jennifer Plumlee – Director, Center for Academic Success and Engagement
Marian University
Talk Description: As part of a series of three that includes building retention through the first-year experience and partnering with student services in first-year seminars (FYS), this session will focus on how to build an FYS that introduces students to the intellectual curiosity of the college classroom and campus culture. Universities increasingly strive to prepare students for transformative and global leadership. Common readers are integral for connecting FYS with global awareness. Marian offers 21 seminar sections that read a shared title, emphasizing how communities are formed out of difference and the local and global dimensions.




Common Book Selection: Game of Thrones Edition

Tara Coleman – Associate Professor, Kansas State University
Mariya Vaughan – Assistant Director, K-State First, Kansas State University

Talk Description: Selecting a common book can feel like a battle for the Iron Throne. To ensure that our book isn’t chosen by the faction with the biggest dragon (power) or biggest cache of gold (resources), we employ various strategies to ensure the rightful heir is crowned the ruler of Westeros.. This session provides an insight into the committee selection, data collection processes, and qualitative coding.

Broaden Your Horizons: Travel, Embrace, and Exist through Reading!


Camelia Rubalcada – Student Success Advisor
Wendy Anderson – Student Success Advisor
Allen Clarke – Coordinator of Student Involvement & the Student Center
Georgia Gwinnett College
Talk Description: We will open the cover of an award-winning novel and turn the pages to passages that explore immigration issues, express honest thoughts about the passages through group discussion, and design a book club agenda. This presentation will guide you in developing a successful book club, receiving institutional support, and seeking donations. In addition, you will discover how to select books that enhance cultural competency, formulate discussion questions, and encourage dialogue. Come travel with us!


Sign Up for Our Author Events at FYE!

If you haven’t signed up for a PRH Author Event at the First-Year Experience Conference in San Antonio yet, there’s still time! RSVP here for any of our events to enjoy a conversation over lunch, dinner, or cocktails with our authors.