American educator Charles William Eliot believed books provide patient teachers, and accessible and wise counsel. Nebraska Business Honors Academy students benefit annually from both when University of Nebraska–Lincoln and community volunteers lead group discussions on selected books.
Referred to as book labs, this tradition helps develop students into more empathetic and understanding people. It also challenges them to think critically and communicate more effectively.
“This program takes a holistic approach in developing leadership within students. Our students already serve in leadership positions across campus and excel academically. These books and conversations help them further grow into the business leaders the world needs,” said Dr. Rebekah Neary-DeLaPorte, assistant director of the academy.
Started four years ago, each book lab brings together academy students to read a new book in the fall and then complete an activity related to the book in the spring. The books read so far include This I Believe, a collection of NPR essays; The Road to Character by David Brooks; The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates; and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
“Our book selection started broadly with This I Believe. It reaches everybody and has something everyone can take away from. As we evolved from there, we began to pick harder books around more challenging topics with the end goal of developing better community leaders and people post-graduation,” said Neary-DeLaPorte.
Forty facilitators, including faculty, staff, corporate partners and others across the university and community, help foster meaningful dialogue with the students around each book. Vicki Highstreet, associate director for recreation programming at Campus Recreation, served as a facilitator to help provide students a space for personal growth.
“As a facilitator, it’s always exciting when you see them come into the lab with half-baked thoughts, based on their own experiences or lack of experiences in an area, and walk out with a bit more confidence in how they view and can discuss a topic,” she said.
Senior Alex Sanchez, a finance major from Woodbury, Minnesota, participated in all four years of the book labs. He shared how reading and discussing How to Be an Antiracist, benefited him the most.
“How to Be an Antiracist allowed me to understand how to make change happen and how it starts with yourself,” he said. “The group discussions were very profound for my understanding of the text. Talking through these issues with people who had a different perspective than me allowed me to open my mind to other points of view on this serious issue.”
Beyond personal growth for the students, facilitator Laura Krafka, director of ventures at the Arbor Day Foundation, noted how students could apply what they learn from these conversations into their careers.
“Each student I met had the ability to lean in and listen, offer thoughtful responses, articulate thoughts and look for ways to challenge others to further conversation. These are all skills that are necessary in the workforce,” she said. “Bringing your unique perspective and asking questions of clarification or giving space for others to verbally process is also important. They showed skills of critical thinking, curiosity, inquisitiveness and willingness to be vulnerable.”
For Katelyn Bonham, senior actuarial science major from Lincoln, Nebraska, the book labs provided a new learning opportunity for her to gain different perspectives from her peers – something she values as she approaches graduation.
“The book labs helped me to not only face my own thoughts and beliefs but then also engage in discussion with others. In my career, I will be working with individuals from all different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. Being able to engage in constructive discussion with others and listening to what others have to say will be incredibly helpful in the workforce,” said Bonham.
To learn more about the Nebraska Business Honors Academy, visit: https://business.unl.edu/honors.