Project Wake

Conversations on character.

Wake Forest has a long tradition of engaging in a summer academic project on an issue of intellectual and social importance. The tradition includes setting aside time during New Deac Week for students to engage with a faculty or staff member on this issue. It has become a favorite New Deac Week activity.

This year, Project Wake explores what it means to live a life of character. During college, you will grow personally, you will develop important relationships, you will be an important part of our community, and you will prepare yourself for life beyond (many of you as leaders). Character, honor, and integrity are the bedrock on which you, your relationships, your community, and your leadership can flourish.

Character is particularly important to Wake Forest because we all commit to living by an Honor Code that fosters a community of honor, trust, and mutual learning. As Dr. Martin Luther King wrote as a college student for his college newspaper: “The function of education . . . is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. . . . We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” (The Purpose of Education, 1947)

We invite you to participate in Project Wake to begin a collaborative exploration of the content of character with members of your new community. Together with a faculty or staff leader and your peers, you will consider questions like the following:

  • What does it mean to live with honor, integrity, and character?  
  • How can such qualities be developed?   
  • How do we maintain our commitments when tested?
  • How can Wake Forest foster a community that supports these qualities and commitments?

Choices of books are available from many different genres and disciplines so that you can select a group that is most interesting to you. These conversations have proven to be an exciting and meaningful way to make new friends and discuss issues that matter. If you have a concern with obtaining or purchasing a certain book, please contact the Office of Academic Advising. We hope you will join us. 


Phone: 336.758.3320
Fax: 336.758.4548

P.O. Box 7225, Winston-Salem, NC 27109

Reynolda Hall 125

Date and Time

Sunday, August 26th
1:30-3:00 p.m.


View here. (updated as rooms are confirmed)


Register Today!

Book Titles

Please click on the title below to read its description, learn about the discussion leader.

  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley)

    Sometimes the narrative of Malcolm X that we are most aware of is based on the part of his life with which we are most familiar. In fact, that most know him as Malcolm X rather than by two of his other names (Malcolm Little and el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz) speaks to the time of his life when he most captured the world’s attention. To know only that name and that part of his life, however, would be to miss what makes him one of the most influential and (from my vantage point) admirable humans in modern history. The story of Malcolm X is one of constant self-reflection, honesty, and evolution – certainly some of the most essential components of living a life with integrity and character.

    Discussion Leader:  James Raper, University Counseling Center

    My name is Dr. James Raper, and I am the Director of the University Counseling Center. The story of Malcolm X first captured my attention during my junior year of high school, and I spent most of my junior and senior years of college researching and writing about Malcolm X’s evolution. Since that time my professional career has been focused on providing therapy to university students, a process that can sometimes be almost solely about self-awareness, honesty, and evolution. I’m thrilled to spend time again with this book and with a group of incoming first year students as we explore what it means to be reflective and do things that are difficult. Isn’t that what the college experience is about?

  • (FULL) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


    “The circus arrives without warning.” Calling all rêveurs, dreamers, and lovers of the magical and whimsical! What can a fictional story about magicians teach us about character? On the surface, The Night Circus is about two young people who are in a duel meant to prove which one is the superior magician. But the story is also about how people relate to each other. At their worst, the characters deal in issues of power, deception, collusion, and cruelty; at their best, they reveal teamwork, creativity, a sense of responsibility toward others, and love. Though the circus is black and white, the rest of the world rarely is; things are not simply good or evil, but many shades of grey. This is a charming book and I hope you’ll join me to share your thoughts about it.

    Discussion Leader:  Betsy Chapman, Family Communication & Volunteer Management

    My name is Betsy Chapman (’92, MA ’94), and I am the Executive Director of Family Communication and Volunteer Management, author of the Daily Deac blog, and an academic adviser. My work on campus involves helping your parents and families feel engaged and informed about life at Wake Forest, and I also run our New Student Receptions program. I was an English-French double major at Wake and am currently pursuing a PhD in Higher Education.

  • (FULL) Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah


    From apartheid South Africa to the current host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah’s fascinating journey from his “criminal” birth to his celebrity adulthood is told through a series of personal essays that are deeply moving, terribly unsettling, yet absolutely hilarious. Noah is a gifted storyteller, and his character is highlighted in each story. His experiences with racism, religion, politics, and family are both relatable and compelling, and I’m certain that we will have a lively and meaningful discussion about what it means to live a life of character. Each story is beautifully written and seamlessly blends tragedy with comedy. Noah’s memoir provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the political and social systems of our world, while appreciating his sense of humor.

    Discussion Leader:  Dr. Michael Shuman, Learning Assistance Center

    My name is Michael Shuman, and I am the Director of the Learning Assistance Center and Disability Services. My office is committed to providing opportunities for all students to achieve academic success, and we coordinate many of the academic support services, including peer tutoring and academic coaching, that new students find invaluable as they navigate their college experience at WFU. I also teach a course in the Psychology department aimed at teaching students the skills and approaches that are associated with success in college.

  • (FULL) Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge by Booton Herndon


    The true story of Desmund Doss is even more gripping than told in the award winning film, Hacksaw Ridge. His courage and commitment to his deeply held values, even in the face of death, during WWII give us intense fodder for discussion of our own character. We will peel back the layers of his choice to be a conscientious objector who went into battle unarmed and ask ourselves how we might identify and hold to those few values that are so important to each of us. To what principles will we hold even at great personal cost? How might we be challenged in our everyday lives to live a principled, courageous life? We will also discuss the potential of viewing the film together at a later date.

    Discussion Leader:  Dr. Holly Brower, School of Business

    My name is Dr. Holly Brower, and I teach studies leadership, trust, and board decision making. I am an associate professor in the business school teaching organizational behavior, leadership and nonprofit leadership principles in undergraduate and MBA programs.

  • Bread and Wine by Ignazio Silone

    Silone’s powerful novel of pre-WWII Italy asks profound questions about what constitutes a worthy life. An ascetic anti-Fascist activist must escape Rome and disguise himself as a priest in order to survive and work, at distance, for his cause. But what will such a change foster in himself and in the people he encounters in the countryside?

    Discussion Leader:  Tom Phillips, Office of the Dean of the College

    My name is Tom Phillips, Associate Dean of the College. My academic interests include the Victorian novel; continental novels; fiction and ethics; and novel to film.

    Sunday, September 9, 1:30 – 3:30 pm, 104 Reynolda Hall

  • (FULL) Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown


    Daniel Brown (no, not Dan Brown…this is not another Da Vinci Code book!) writes with amazing detail about the 1936 U.S. men’s Olympic eight-oar rowing team. It’s a story of nine working-class boys who came from farming, logging, and shipping families to challenge programs built on power, privilege, and prestige. If the gripping narrative of rowing a boat wasn’t enough, the rise of Nazism at the 1936 games in Berlin also serves to frame the story. Come join us for this compelling read…you don’t even have to get on a rowing machine!

    Discussion Leader:  Matt Clifford, Office of the Dean of Students

    I am the Associate Dean of Students for Student Conduct. In that role, I work closely with students in their experience outside the classroom. I don’t think I have what it takes to row, but I love watching crew on the Olympics every four years. I loved this book and can’t wait to talk about it!

  • (FULL) The Character Gap: How Good Are We? by Christian Miller


    Why is it that the majority of people in a study will give increasingly severe electric shocks to a test taker for each wrong answer, all the way up to the XXX lethal level? Why did no one stop to help Walter Vance on Black Friday when he collapsed to the ground in a Target store, and some people even stepped over his body? More generally, what is character, and why is good character important? How good or bad are most people today? And perhaps most importantly, what if anything can we do to try to become better people, both during the next four years at Wake Forest and during the rest of our lives? These are some of the questions that are central to The Character Gap, written by the group leader himself.

    Discussion Leader:  Dr. Christian Miller, Philosophy 

    Hello, I am Dr. Christian Miller and the A.C. Reid Professor of Philosophy. He has spent the last 10 years researching the topic of character, and was the director of The Character Project (, one of the largest research projects on character in the world. The Character Gap is his attempt to take this research and make it available to a broad audience.

  • (FULL) Turtles All The Way Down by John Green


    Did you read “The Fault in our Stars” or “Paper Towns” in high school? Are you a John Green fan? Like all Green’s books, his latest work “Turtles All The Way Down” uses wit and compassion to cast light on serious topics, in this case, the multiple anxiety disorders of our protagonist, Aza. That would be enough for most authors, but Green also addresses issues of class, privilege and character with the disappearance of the billionaire Russell Pickett and the close examination of Pickett’s life.

    Discussion Leaders:  Hu Womack and Mary Dalton, ZSR Library & Communication

    I’m Hu Womack, an Instruction and Outreach Librarian in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University and “Double Deac”. I graduated from Wake Forest University in 1990 with a BA in English and Studio Art. I received my MBA from Wake Forest in 2000 and completed my MLIS degree at UNC-Greensboro in 2008. I’m also a huge John Green fan and can’t wait to talk about this book and the author!

    Hello, my name is Mary M. Dalton, and I’m a professor in the Department of Communication where she teaches courses in critical media studies.

  • Antigone by Sophocles

    Written by Sophocles (441 B.C. E.), this ancient and influential play presents a young woman’s willingness to confront tyranny by choosing diligent adherence to the moral law, even when her actions constitute a capital offense. We so assume our political and cultural climate is unique to our times: Antigone reveals the ancient and enduring presence of conscience and the power of its free exercise in individual words and action. Think Emma Gonzalez.

    Discussion Leader:  Ann Bliss, School of Business

    My name is Ann Bliss (J.D. University of San Diego, 1975), Visiting Professor of the Practice at the Wake Forest School of Business. I teach “The Legal Environment of Business,” drawing from my years on both sides of the bench. I am a contributing author to “The Food Activist Handbook” (Berlow, Alice Jane; 2015.) and to a forthcoming Routledge Publication textbook on Law and Policy.

  • A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

    Our lives are full of exciting opportunities, possibilities and challenges. However, we will also experience setbacks, challenges, disappointments, and sadness- these are truths that hold for all of us. How can we live our lives successfully in light of the challenges that life provides; in other words, how can we develop the best attitude towards our lives? I think that the Stoic philosophers (who lived in the 3rd century AD in the Greek and Roman worlds) have some unique lessons to offer us on how we can live well, and I hope that you will agree with me.

    Discussion Leader:  Eranda Jayawickreme, Psychology

    I’m an assistant professor in the psychology department, and my work has focused on whether we can make use of our challenging life experiences to live better lives and build better character.

  • (FULL) The Road by Cormac McCarthy


    In Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, an unnamed father must protect his young son as they search for food and a safe place to call home in a post-apocalyptic world. An unknown disaster has destroyed the landscape, forcing the father and son to go on their journey with nothing more than a shopping cart and a gun with two bullets. Along the way, the son questions his father about whom amongst the living are the “good guys” and the “bad guys” —  and to which group do they belong — as they encounter highway robbers and strangers also desperate to survive.

    Discussion Leader:  Alex Abrams, Office of the Dean of the College

    I am the Communications Coordinator for the Office of the Dean of the College. Both haunting and heartbreaking, The Road (2007) has stuck with me since I read it soon after its release. This novel is like a biblical tale about the lengths a father will go to protect his son while trying to instill in him the need to remain moral in the most desperate situations. The Road is a fast read but not a feel-good story, even though Oprah added it to her Book Club.

  • Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes

    This Pulitzer Prize winning play, a family drama concerned with questions about our obligations to other people, asks us to consider that admirable character can be found in unexpected places. The dramatis personae in Water by the Spoonful includes recovering drug addicts who connect in an online support group. We meet individuals with character flaws that have resulted in major life failures. Is it possible for such people to be redeemed?

    Discussion Leader:  J.K. Curry, Theatre and Dance 

    I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and I love talking about great plays. This fall, I will be directing the WFU Theatre production of the new play The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe.

  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

    College is the time and place where you make the memories and stories you’ll tell for the rest of your life, but consider also that you’ll be part of someone else’s stories, too. Will they be the same story? In which are you the hero, in which the villain? The Sense of an Ending begins at the end of High School, as its first-person narrator recalls going off to college, forming a tight bond with friends for life, finding love, losing love, and settling into a mediocre if safe life. Only late in life does he learn that the role he’s played in other people’s lives has been anything but safe, and his life is filled with regret. This is a novel about encountering uncertainty late in life, about realizing—as you should now, incoming freshman!—that the things that seem to be happening may not really be what’s happening, and that the story you think you are a part of may have implications and consequences you can hardly imagine. As Sophocles tells us, let no person consider himself happy until the day he dies, when the story of a life, including your college days, finally becomes clear.

    Discussion Leader: Dean Franco, English and Humanities Institute

    My name is Dean Franco (I am not a “Dean” of anything), and I am a Professor of English and Director of the Humanities Institute. I’ve written three books on race and literature, and I teach courses on Jewish, African American, and Chicano writers.

  • The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

    Leslie Jamison’s collection of essays explores the nature and limits of empathy. What does it mean to empathize? Can we imagine another’s pain, suffering, or even experience? Recounting her own experiences as a medical actor as well as her own health travails, Jamison asks us to examine our own practices of empathy as well to explore when empathy (might) cease to be helpful and even reinforce the suffering it intends to mitigate.

    Discussion Leader: Erin Branch, English

    I am an Associate Teaching Professor in the English department; I also direct the Writing Program. In recent years I’ve been studying rhetorics of health and medicine and thinking about the limits of language when it comes to describing our bodily experiences (e.g., pain). I found this book engaging and thought-provoking when it comes to thinking about how far we can (or should) try to enter into or imagine another’s lived experience.

  • (FULL) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


    Jane Austen uses the forms of romantic comedy and the courtship plot to explore questions of character. How can we recognize good character in others? Are manners and behavior a reliable index of a person’s character? Is the testimony of others a trustworthy source of information about someone’s character? Is it more important to assess the character of others or to cultivate our own?  Can we improve our character? How? We’ll discuss the novel’s answers to these questions and compare them with our own practices. We’ll talk about why and how a classic novel offers us relevant insights into these timeless questions.  

    Discussion Leader: Jessica Richard, English

    I’m an Associate Professor and the Chair of the English Department and a scholar of eighteenth-century fiction and Jane Austen.  I’ve loved reading her books since my teens, and I learn something new from them with every rereading and every discussion of them I have with students.

  • The Mindful Twenty-Something: Life Skills to Handle Stress & Everything Else by Holly B. Rogers, MD

    As an entering student, you may feel like you are being pulled in a dozen different directions. With the daily busyness, constant change, and overwhelming thoughts and feelings, you may be particularly vulnerable to stress and its negative effects. Emerging adulthood, which occurs during the college years, is a developmental stage of life when you’re faced with important decisions about your major, relationships, values, sex, your career, and more. With so much going on, you need a guide to help you navigate the Wake Forest landscape with less stress and more ease. The practical tools you’ll learn in The Mindful Twenty-Something will help you cultivate the compassion and mindfulness skills you need to manage Wake Forest’s challenges from a calm, balanced center, regardless of what comes your way.

    Discussion Leader: Tim Auman, WFU Chaplain

    I am the University Chaplain and the Director of the MindfulWake initiative. The combination of engaging writing, layperson’s terms, practical steps, and digestible science makes this book a treat for any Wake Forest student.

  • Creation, An Appeal to Save Life on Earth by E.O. Wilson (won the Pulitzer Prize for NonFiction)

    Few American authors write with more grace, insight and credibility regarding the natural world than E.O Wilson, a native of south Alabama, a professor emeritus at Harvard University, the so-called father of sociobiology and perhaps our generation’s Darwin. While he has specialized in the study of ants, identifying hundreds of individual species from his own world research, he possesses an unrivaled sense of how all the pieces of the natural world and all its many ecosystems fit together, provide life-giving services to all living things, including humans, and how we humans are dramatically disrupting nature’s balance. In Creation, at just 168 pages, Wilson “proposes an historic partnership between scientists and religious leaders to preserve the Earth’s rapidly vanishing biodiversity. Our Earth, the Creation itself, is in desperate need, Wilson writes. And it is only by working together that we can hope to salvage and protect the vast multitude of life forms that continue to flourish on our planet despite the wanton destruction wrought by human hands.”

    Discussion Leader: Justin Catanoso, English

    I am a professor of journalism who specializes in global environmental reporting, especially climate change, for, the leading environmental news organization internationally. I have covered the last four United Nations climate summit, including the historic agreement in Paris in 2015, and co-teach a summer program in tropical ecology and science writing in the Peruvian Amazonian cloud and rain forests. I also covered the release in Rome of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment called Laudato Si, and write frequently about the intersection between faith and climate change. My writing is archived here:

  • Great Tide Rising: Toward Clarity & Moral Courage in a Time of Climate Change, by Kathleen Dean Moore

    In Great Tide Rising, Kathleen Dean Moore tries to intercede in the ever more calamitous and increasingly out-of-control collision between carbon and climate. She rightfully notes that, for all its tremendous instrumental value, science and technology have yet to change the apocalyptic course upon which we have set ourselves. Science alone, she argues, cannot convince policy makers and the common consumer—that is, all of us—to change our behaviors. If we are to avert incalculable suffering among all the planet’s life forms in the decades to come, dramatic, comprehensive, lifestyle changing action must begin immediately. Our inability to act, she claims, is a moral failure, and only once we recognize that climate action is moral action will we begin to change course as individuals, as societies, and as a global community.

    Discussion Leader: Eric Stottlemyer, English

    I am a professor in the Writing Program, the Director of the Environmental Program, and an Associate Dean of the College, and I thoroughly enjoy working with university students, whether studying writing, the environment, or general academics. I would love to discuss this book with you!

  • (FULL) Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


    On the cusp of moving from high school into college and the world beyond, how do you come to terms with your family relationships? When do we decide to make a life of honor and character? How does your family’s history—and perhaps your family’s secrets—influence who you are? How does your character come through when we have tough choices to make? And what happens when those decisions affect everyone around us?

    Celeste Ng’s 2017 award-winning novel, Little Fires Everywhere, explores these questions through what happens when two very different families—one rich, one poor—meet, love, and hate in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb. As friendships and relationships blossom, so do multiple versions of The Truth. Teenage Pearl and her mother Mia become intertwined in the lives of the wealthy Richardson family, forcing everyone to navigate twisting ideas about how to keep secrets, how to best chase their dreams (or decide to abandon them), and how to figure out what it means to be a good person. Throughout the novel, their characters are tested and transformed, raising questions about how all-too-human realities–tensions of race, class, the rocky and uncertain journey of just growing up–may shape the people we’re on our way to becoming.

    Discussion Leaders: Laura Giovanelli and Mary Good, Anthropology and English 

    Hello, I am Dr. Mary Good, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology. I am a Cultural Anthropologist whose research interests include youth, morality, and digital media. As a former English-Anthropology double major, I have a lifelong love of reading and believe novels can reveal a lot about the values people hold in everyday life. When I first read Little Fires Everywhere, I was especially fascinated by the way it captures the simultaneous comforts and conflicts of high school friendships, sibling rivalries, and parent-child relationships.

    Hello, I am Professor Laura Giovanelli, an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Writing Program and Department of English and an Assistant Dean of the College. In my writing classes, which are primarily first-year courses themed around issues of identity, I’m engaged by young undergraduates’ thoughtful, critical explorations of their evolving and complex experiences and backgrounds. As a writer myself, I particularly admire Ng’s ability to paint characters who are neither wholly good nor bad, but rather, more realistic and rich portrayals of authentic and complex humans as they grow up and older.

    Professors Good and Giovanelli love thinking and talking about the ways our ages and experiences as readers may influence what we read and what we take away from it; the more we read about identity, the more questions we have about how it shapes our lives. We’re excited to discuss Little Fires Everywhere with a group of curious first-year students from different places, experiences, and backgrounds.

  • Lack of Character: Personality & Moral Behavior by John Doris

    What if the “Conversations on Character” everyone else has signed up for are an illusion? What if “character” doesn’t really exist? Lack of Character challenges fundamental assumptions about character dating back to Aristotle. The author draws on experimental research to argue that people often grossly overestimate the behavioral impact of character and grossly underestimate the behavioral impact of situations. Circumstance often has extraordinary influence on what people do, whatever sort of character they may appear to have.

    Discussion Leader: Professor T. H. M. Gellar-Goad, Classical Languages

    Hello, my name is T. H. M. Gellar-Goad, an Assistant Professor of Classical Languages at Wake Forest University. I specialize in Latin poetry, especially the funny stuff: Roman comedy, Roman erotic elegy, Roman satire, and — if you believe me — the allegedly philosophical poet Lucretius. I’m the kind of guy who swims against the intellectual current, and that’s what I found enticing about Lack of Character.

  • (FULL) Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance


    Hillbilly Elegy is an autobiographical account of J.D. Vance, who “grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town” in a family and community where few people went on to attend college. In fact, he “almost failed out of high school” before eventually joining the Marine Corps, graduating from college, and earning a law degree at Yale. This book has many threads and themes, but it is of particular interest for stimulating a conversation on character because the author grapples with how to account for why he — and others — are successful at overcoming obstacles in life. Is it due to good fortune? Individual talent and perseverance? The care and influence of family members and mentors?  

    Discussion Leader: John Dinan, Politics and International Affairs

    I am a professor of politics and international affairs and teach courses focusing on American politics and elections.

  • (FULL) Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis


    I love these Project Wake book discussions. In my mind, they are about encouraging new students to think in new and different ways. Moneyball fits this bill perfectly – it examines the strategy of Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A’s in 2002.  Beane exhibited the courage of conviction over-and-over in following his unique, evidence-driven analysis of the game. He might not have always exhibited high character in the conventional sense, but he provided many examples of the value of an honest examination of the facts, and using that as your guide. We’ll talk about his approach, and we’ll try to explore opportunities to carry it into other endeavors.

    Discussion Leader: Al Rives (with special guest, Coach Tom Walter), Chemistry

    I am teaching faculty in the Chemistry department – have been for 15 years. I am just a fair-weather baseball fan (though I do follow Wake baseball closely, for reasons that may come up  in our discussion), but I enjoy thinking and talking about novel tactics in sport, exploiting simple physics mostly. Coach Walter has been the Baseball coach since 2009, and has had impressive successes, including taking the eventual national champs, U of Florida, to extra-innings twice in last year’s NCAA Super Regionals. He’ll bring not only a knowledge of baseball but an uncommon understanding of character.

  • Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

    In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek emphasizes that leadership ability, as opposed to managerial skill, is needed to effectively guide an organization through a time of crisis. He discusses the central importance of character in the making of an effective leader. More specifically, he addresses those character traits that are essential elements in the constitution of strong leaders. One thing I like about this book is that, based upon years of personal experience as a both a leader and a follower, Simon Sinek’s leadership lessons ring true. A good leader is able to establish a climate of safety that extends to all members of the organization she or he leads. This ability is predicated on trustworthiness and a selfless concern for the welfare of others. Leadership should be awarded to those who possess character – not just strength, intelligence, or achievement. Integrity matters. Although the lessons are applied to everyday leadership positions, each lesson is illustrated vividly through descriptions of the heroic actions of modern day military leaders. The author also makes good use of comparisons of weak leaders and strong leaders to illustrate the salient role character plays in the functioning of effective leaders.

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Mark Scholl, Counseling

    I am an Associate Professor in the Counseling Department, and I have been in this position at Wake Forest for four and a half years. I have taught at a variety of community colleges and universities in New York and North Carolina for over three decades. I’ve even taught a couple of counseling courses at West Point Military Academy. I created and currently lead a local community program designed to help ex-offenders find gainful employment. At Wake Forest I teach Master’s level courses such as “Career Development and Counseling” and a first-year undergraduate seminar titled “Quantum Change: Understanding the Personal Transformation Phenomenon”. 

  • Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

    Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography offers his witty reflection on his rise from runaway apprentice to statesman. Written for his son, it pushes us to ask ourselves how we can be useful to others — and how to be useful to ourselves. It’s a self-help book, a personal history, and a reflection on morals and politics. Franklin’s humble tone and insistence on cooperation coexists with his craftiness, foibles, and ambition. Fun, crafty, and a little bit scandalous, this little book shows you colonial America like you’ve never before seen it, and it just might change your life.

    Discussion Leader: Jake Ruddiman, History

    I am a historian of the American Revolution and an Associate Professor in the History Department. I’ve been working with Wake students since 2010 and have loved just about every minute of it. My work explores how people in the past understood their lives and their world; my teaching strives to bring students into that investigation.

  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

    Hidden Figures powerfully tells the story of African-American women who worked in the space program in the middle of the 20th century. The book opens our eyes to the starkly different experiences and opportunities people have had based on superficial characteristics such as race and gender. Importantly, the book also eloquently relays what people denied opportunities, respect, and even basic humanity have accomplished despite these injustices. We will look at the qualities of character that made this possible. Through this story we can also reflect on the qualities of character that open our eyes to and help us challenge injustice in the world today. There are so many real-life lessons from this story for students embarking on the college journey, lessons relevant regardless of race, gender, income, or other background!  

    Discussion Leader: Christy Buchanan, Psychology, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Advising

    I am a professor of Psychology and the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Advising. I am a developmental psychologist who studies adolescent and young adult development. I was inspired and humbled by the story of these women and enjoyed learning so much that I didn’t know about this time in American history. If you have seen the movie, you’ll know how powerful the Hidden Figures story is … and you’ll learn even more from the book!

  • Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

    At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat. In medical school, he found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.

    Discussion Leader:  Abbie Wrights, Health & Exercise Science

    I am a faculty in the Health and Exercise Science (HES) Department.

    I received my MS in HES from WFU in 2008 and have been privileged to serve in the department since then. I first read “Mountains Beyond Mountains” while I was on an airplane to Haiti and look forward to some meaningful discussion surrounding the book!  

  • (FULL) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi


    How do we make meaning in our life and work? The book is a memoir of the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi. After a decade of medical school training to become a neurosurgeon, Dr. Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. As a testament to his character and compassion, he sought to become a medical provider to those in need. He also desired to be a caring father and husband. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’”

    Discussion Leader:  Brian Calhoun, Education

    I am a professor in the Department of Education and a faculty fellow in Johnson Residence Hall. I am highly invested in helping students examine and explore the guiding principle of our University, Pro Humanitate. As members of the Wake Forest University community, we are committed as citizens of the world to see humankind grow and flourish.

  • Philosophy in the Bedroom, by Marquis de Sade

    At once unapologetically vulgar, obscene, and sexually explicit and deeply philosophical, aesthetic, and political, the Marquis de Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom (1795) remains a foundational study in character as seen from the dark side. Is education liberating or constraining? In what ways are happiness and civility related to violence and domination? And how are the “private” concerns of gender and sexuality matters of “public” debate over democracy, freedom, and the pursuit of pleasure? These are among the many burning questions animating Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom. Fair warning: this reading group is not for the faint of heart. But for those students who welcome challenging, even inflammatory content, one and all are welcome.

    Discussion Leader:  Omaar Hena, English

    I am Dr. Omaar Hena. As a professor in the Department of English, I teach courses on world literature, British literature, and modern and contemporary poetry. After graduating from Wake Forest with a BA in English, I pursued an MA in Irish Literature at University College Dublin and then a PhD in Literature from University of Virginia. Across my teaching and research, I encourage students to see the many ways in which literature, culture, and art engage forms of inequality and, in the process, challenge us to imagine ways of creating a more equal world.

  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

    This young adult novel features “Rashad and Quinn–one black, one white, both American–” as they grapple with the personal impact of racial profiling and police brutality in their community. The book opens with Rashad in a local convenience store purchasing a bag of chips. Soon, Rashad is recovering in a hospital room after being accused of a robbery he did not commit and being savagely beaten by the arresting police officer. Quinn, Rashad’s high school classmate and a witness to this violent act, is faced with a decision that may put his own future plans in jeopardy and will ultimately determine how he and others view his character and integrity.

    Discussion Leader:  Dr. Alan Brown, Education

    I teach in the Department of Education where my courses focus primarily on English and literacy education. One of the courses I teach at Wake Forest is EDU 231: Adolescent Literature, which explores commonly censored adolescent and young adult novels. Apart from my primary concern about the important social topics addressed within this book, including issues such as racial profiling and police brutality that mirror recent national events, my interest All American Boys is also the result of my work with sports and literacy, as the high school basketball team plays a critical role in the tensions within the school in the aftermath of the attack. The collision between academics and athletics is similar to topics my students and I discuss in another class, EDU 101: Issues and Trends in Education, as my section highlights the intersection of sport, education, and society while critically examining the impact of sports culture on K-12 schools.

    Co-Discussion Leader: Captain Penn

    Captain William Penn is the Commander of District 1 in Winston-Salem North Carolina. District 1 is the Northwest Region of the city which includes Wake Forest University. He commands more than 100 police officers, which include patrol officers, investigators, street crime units and the downtown bike patrol officers. He is responsible for the day to day activities in this area as well as special projects in this district.
  • Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

    It’s 1665 and the Great Plague has broken out in London. 160 miles away, a single bolt of cloth from London arrives in the tiny village of Eyam, and with it comes the plague. As the disease begins to claim lives in Eyam, the village rector makes the decision to quarantine the village, effectively sentencing its residents to death from the plague in order to save the surrounding area from infection. Told from the perspective of 18-year-old Anna Frith and based on historical accounts of the real-life “plague village” of Eyam, Geraldine Brooks’s novel Year of Wonders asks us to reflect on our own response to times of crisis and on the ways in which we care for and show empathy for others.

    Discussion Leaders: Kathy Shields & Megan Mulder, ZSR Library

    My name is Kathy Shields, and I am the Research and Instruction Librarian for History and Social Science at the ZSR Library. I work closely with students and faculty in the departments of History, Psychology, and Latin American Studies and teach LIB 210: Social Science Research Sources & Strategies

  • The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong

    Karen Armstrong is a prominent scholar of comparative religion. Before her success in that field, she was a nun for 7 years, a “failed” English doctoral student, and an English teacher plagued by an undiagnosed mental illness (epilepsy). The Spiral Staircase is her memoir of the challenging times that followed her exit from the convent

    Discussion Leader: Amanda Jones, Chemistry

    This may seem like an odd choice for a book from a Chemistry professor. I teach and do research in Organic Chemistry, and I am not particularly devout, but this book resonated with me. First, I loved Karen Armstrong’s descriptions of her evolving passion for reading and learning, as it was through my own passion for reading and learning that I ultimately fell in love with Organic Chemistry (the fun we can have in lab is definitely a bonus!). Second, this book is an amazing tale of one woman’s triumph over her fears and almost debilitating lack of self-confidence. Her struggles to feel worthy of love and success felt familiar and universal. Third, I was inspired by her simple call to us all to be more kind and to follow “The Golden Rule.”

    I invite you to join me reading this wonderful memoir of Karen Armstrong’s spiraling course through her life and the “character” that was required for her to survive and thrive. I invite you to join me in thinking about the many opportunities ahead of you to explore and learn and relieve yourself of the pressure that you must have everything settled and decided. Finally, I invite you into this conversation to think about what challenges you may face, and what you can do to become your best, most successful self.

  • (FULL) The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson


    Is our society ultimately controlled and defined by its “maddest edges”? This journalistic investigation delves into the role mental illness plays in the way our world works, from prisons to the board room.  Ronson’s focus is psychopathy — a condition marked by poor impulse control, a lack of empathy for others, and a talent for manipulation. Why is psychopathy such a controversial, complicated diagnosis — it is not, for example, included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) — and why are we as a culture so fascinated by psychopaths themselves?  In particular, Ronson explores why psychopathy is so prevalent among people in positions of power. Do we, as Americans, actually glorify certain characteristics associated with psychopathy? And is that evidence of a disorder at the broader cultural level?  In this way, The Psychopath Test will open up a discussion of “character” as a subjective, culturally-defined set of qualities.

    Discussion Leader: Molly Knight, German and Russian

    I am an assistant teaching professor in the German and Russian Department. I teach all levels of German language, as well as literature and film courses. My interests focus on contemporary German culture, but I also teach an FYS on psychopathy in worldwide literature and film. The word “psychopathy,” as it so happens, comes from the German!

  • Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

    What are you willing (or not willing) to give up to keep your dreams alive? This book tells the story of Jende and Neni, immigrants from Cameroon, who work tirelessly to achieve and maintain permanent legal status in the U.S.  For Neni, “America was synonymous with happiness,” and for a time, Jende thought so too. Learn from their journey and that of connected Americans, as they confront complex and difficult tests of character during the Great Recession when, for many, the American Dream seemed to slip away.

    Discussion Leader: Rowena Rowie Kirby-Straker, Communication

    I am an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Communication and enjoy interacting with students who take Public Speaking and Listening courses, and those who serve in or visit the Wake Speaks speaking center. Some of the experiences of the characters in Behold the Dreamers are very familiar to me, and some may be familiar to you. We all struggle to keep our dreams alive, and in doing so we build, polish, and learn about our character.

    Co-Leader: Mikayla Thomas

    Hi, I’m Mikayla, and I am a rising junior and Sociology major who enjoys advocating for marginalized groups.

    Mikayla Thomas and I are excited about meeting you to discuss dreams and character building. Join us!

  • Loving Day by Mat Johnson

    Sometimes our lives get turned completely upside down and we’re left to figure out how to deal with the fallout. That’s often when our character—who we are beyond the surface—is tested and revealed. In this novel about a biracial man who unexpectedly encounters his daughter (who is being raised to believe she is white) while dealing with his inherited (and haunted?) mansion in the middle of an African American neighborhood in Philadelphia, we get to witness what happens and how people respond when the going gets…strange, let’s say. One reviewer called the novel a “hilarious and touching new novel about family, identity and what it means to truly love other people . . . The disasters make us who we are, and the results can sometimes be amazing…” (NPR). Stories like this one give us a chance to imagine what it takes to do the right thing, to be people that we’re proud of, and to live with integrity in a crazy, mixed-up world. Let’s imagine those things together.

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Erica Still, English

    I love a good story, and I’m excited for you as you begin the next chapter of your own life. As a professor in the English Department, I teach first-year writing, introductory literature, and upper-level African American literature courses. I’m always interested in thinking and talking about what makes for a great story, whether on the page or in the “real” world, so I hope you’ll join me in exploring ideas about character (and love and identity and race and so much more) through this wonderful, funny, smart book. P.S. I’m also a Faculty Fellow in Babcock Residence Hall, so if that’s where you’re going to be living next year, this would be a great chance to us to meet each other (and even if Babcock isn’t going to be your home, you’re still welcome to join the group, of course)!

  • The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster by Jonathan Katz

    The Big Truck that Went By is a first-hand, award-winning account of international disaster relief in Haiti following the 2012 earthquake. I love this book, and students in my courses have thoroughly enjoyed this novel-like story. While discussing how so many well-meaning people with so much money failed to deliver, we learn about overcoming challenges, dealing with difference, and leadership and skills needed for success in our lives whether we seek to change the world in business, nonprofit, or government sectors. We will share real-life examples of characters who, with grit and gratitude, rise.

    Discussion Leader: Barbara Lentz, Law School

    I teach courses in the College and Law School about nonprofits, entrepreneurship, art law, contracts and writing; all of my academic work includes leadership, learning to bridge cultural gaps, and solving problems. I also work with nonprofits and social enterprises locally and nationally. I am starting my sixth year as a Faculty Fellow, teach in the Global Village, and will offer two FYS courses this year: Art, the Artist and the Law; and Doing Well by Doing Good: Nonprofit & Social Enterprise.  Our discussion group will be meeting on Sunday, August 26 at Reynolda House Museum of American Art, my favorite place at Wake Forest.

  • The Road to Character by David Brooks

    New York Times’ columnist David Brooks “begins by asking the interesting question of whether the individual wants to be remembered as his/her “Resume” or “Eulogy”. Do we lead our lives fueled by a desire to establish a resume of success or to be remembered by others in a eulogy. He presents this approach by referring to Adam 1 (Resume of significance) and Adam 2 (Eulogy of a life well spent). Mr. Brooks understands that we human beings are complicated animals and that we are all fallible and subject to the lesser instincts of life. But he also understands that we have the ability to understand ourselves – to look inward and recognize those weaknesses – to become part of a greater good than the self. He chooses as multiple topics of conversation, a number of significant individuals in our history and he analyzes how these very different people dealt with themselves. We all, everyone of us, need to understand that heroism comes in many forms and one need not be – cannot be – without flaw. The trick is to understand oneself and view our roles as parts of the jigsaw of life where we can all play a part. “Character” means knowing ourselves and remaining loyal to our nobler aspirations despite those flaws. – Amazon Customer Review

    Discussion Leader: Miaohua Jiang, Mathematics and Statistics

    I am a professor of mathematics. I graduated from Wuhan University in 1982 with a BS degree, East China Normal University in 1989 with a MS degree, and The Pennsylvania State University with a PhD degree, all in mathematics. I joined Wake Forest Faculty in 1998 and currently serve as a faculty co-head marshal and a member of the Honor and Ethics Council. I enjoy reading books on how human minds work and  how people make decisions. I am also one of the academic advisers for the Mathematical Economics Major.

  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

    From Amazon:  This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

    Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

    Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

    Discussion Leader: Megan Rudock, Chemistry

    I work as a teaching faculty member in the Chemistry department, with a BS in Chemistry from University of Georgia and a PhD from Wake Forest School of Medicine. I joined the Chemistry faculty in 2011, teaching primarily College Chemistry I, Everyday Chemistry and Biochemistry. I also assume the role as a Lower-Division Academic Adviser and the Faculty Director of the Wake Forest Summer Immersion program in Biosciences and Engineering.

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

    “Knowledge is knowing Frankenstein is not the monster. Wisdom is knowing Frankenstein IS the monster.” Everything about this book is fascinating – from the story behind its writing, to the moral complexities the book explores, to the ways it has become part of our popular culture – the book is full of surprises and food for thought. What are the limits of science? Should there be limits to science? What is the moral responsibility of the scientist for the results of their experiments? It gets to the fundamental forces behind human existence: creation, learning, love, sex, exploration, rejection, revenge – the book has it all. Beyond just being a good story well told, it raises great questions about life, love, science, and most importantly – character. When the monster is often more human than the human, you know we will have lots to talk about!

    Discussion Leader:  Roz Tedford, ZSR Library

    I am the Director for Research and Instruction at the ZSR Library. Born and raised on the campus (faculty brat) – I have a BA and MA from WFU (Psychology and English) and have worked here for more than two decades. I LOVE working with incoming WFU students as a faculty adviser and I thoroughly enjoy talking about great books with new students through Project Wake!

    NOTE: I am hoping to host this session in our Special Collections and Archives Reading Room where students can see early editions of the book!!

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

    What does it mean to be human? What role does sympathy play in a good life? How can literature influence how we think about character, politics, philosophy, science, and law? These questions are at the heart of Frankenstein, which grapples with fundamental questions about virtue and equality, examines why we can become “monsters,” and highlights, with great intrigue and gripping detail, how character can be formed (or de-formed) by society. Far from its caricature as Hollywood horror, this classic novel will prompt searching reflection and conversation on character, and since this year marks its 200th anniversary, it’s a wonderful time to explore Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.

    Discussion Leader:  Michael Lamb

    I am University Scholar in Residence at Wake Forest and Fellow in the Office of Personal and Career Development. I teach courses in Politics and am helping to develop a new program in leadership and character. I am also a Faculty Fellow in Babcock and am teaching a new First-Year Seminar this fall on “Commencing Character: How Should We Live?” I love using literature to explore moral complexity and expand our moral imaginations, and Frankenstein is one of my favorites, so I hope you’ll join me!

  • (FULL) Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth


    How should we respond to failure? What can psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy teach us about the importance of resilience?  Angela Duckworth explores these questions and more in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. At 27-years-old, Duckworth left her lucrative consulting job to teach math and science in New York City public schools. She noticed that her most diligent students performed better than their naturally talented peers. Determined to understand this phenomenon, Duckworth pursued a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and has spent the last 15 years researching the relationship between grit, intelligence, and success. She finds that hard work and resilience are better predictors of success than natural intelligence. And grit, unlike IQ, is a capacity we can develop over time.

    Discussion Leader: Cameron Silverglate

    My name is Cameron Silverglate, and I am the Research Fellow in Leadership and Character.  I investigate leadership and character from various perspectives and apply my research to help develop new programs at Wake Forest. As an undergraduate at Wake (BA in Philosophy, ’17), I discovered a passion for practical philosophy a desire to let classroom ideas impact my lived life. As we read and discuss Grit, I hope we will be better equipped to embrace the various challenges college holds and learn how to grow our capacity for grit.