The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: How Common Read Connects with the Classroom

HeLAThe Office of Academic Affairs at Queensborough Community College presented a series of Common Read events surrounding The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a non-fiction book by Rebecca Skloot. The book features a poor African-American tobacco farmer whose cells, taken without her knowledge or consent in 1951, became one of the most important tools in medicine.

The purpose of the Common Read is to promote integrative learning across the curriculum by engaging faculty and students in discussions of the text and through related lectures and other activities.

“The Common Read is an opportunity for both faculty and students to spread their wings.  With administrative support and resources they have access to increased social and academic engagement that enhances student learning both in and outside of the classroom,” said coordinator Susan Madera, Academic Specialist for High Impact Practices.

Guest speakers included Dr. Abraham Aragones from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who spoke on “Immigrant Health and Cancer Disparities.”

Many faculty members incorporated Service Learning into their classes as part of this initiative.  For example, students in Biology Life Sciences studied the medical terminology to complement their work in class and shared the information with students in the CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP), who also studied the book. Deepening students’ knowledge of course material for the purposes of helping others is the heart of service-learning pedagogy as an effective high impact practice.

In March, the culminating event celebrated all faculty and students who incorporated Service Learning into their Common Read class with special Certificates of Recognition.  The event included a book-related “Jeopardy” game designed and hosted by engineering technology instructor Jeffrey L. Schwartz.