2020–2021 Common Read: Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms

Every year, St. Edward’s chooses a Common Theme that creates a conversation across campus and guides programming for the coming year. We also choose a book that elaborates on this theme. All first-year students read the book over the summer and discuss it in their classes in the fall. We're excited to announce that our incoming students will read Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, by mathematician Hannah Fry and our Common Theme is Digitizing Humanity. 

Common Read: Hello World

"This isn’t really a book about algorithms. It’s about humans. It’s about who we are, where we’re going, what’s important to us — and how that is changing with technology. I can’t promise it will give any answers, but I do hope it will change the way people see the world.”
                                                               Hannah Fry, New York Times

At St. Edward’s, one of our goals is to confront critical issues in society and seek justice and peace, per the institutional mission. We look forward to confronting this year's critical issue with you next fall in class, at events related to the theme, and through service. For example, watch Hannah Fry describe the ways that algorithms have hidden biases and extended social injustices behind a screen of objectivity.

Learn more about how the Common Theme is integrated into the first year experience.

Information on fall events TBA.

How to Read the Common Text

One of the most important things we hope to do as a university is create a love of learning in our students, and the first part of that happens with the Freshman Seminar common text, a book we ask you all to read over the summer. Our committee of faculty, staff, and students has chosen Hello World as this year’s common text. 

As you read the common text this summer, don't read as if it is a textbook. There's no need to memorize any facts. Instead, think about the issues Hello World raises. Make notes in the margins, mark passages that stand out to you, and write down questions you have. That way you will be well prepared to write about the book in class this fall and to participate in discussions. You will also have opportunities outside of classes to think about the book and the common theme by attending screenings of documentaries, hearing lectures by experts, and going on field trips.

Email alexb@stedwards.edu with any questions about the common text or Freshman Seminar. And again, welcome to St. Edward's.  

Alex Barron
Associate Professor, University Studies
Director of Freshman Seminar

Fall 2020 events

When: Thursday, Sept 17 @ 7:30 pm and Sunday, Sept 20 @ 2:00 pm

Where: Livestream Zoom links coming

Who: Mary Moody Northern Theatre

What: Gizmo by Anthony Clavoe Directed by Sierra Sterling ’20 - Livestream Play Reading

GIZMO was produced by Pennsylvania University Center Theatre and Penn State as a kind of mashup of Karel Čapek’s RUR (the play that gave us the term "robot") and Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE, and took off in its own directions from there. I was excited by the ways that the story of technologically created labor intersected with issues raised by the need for and the needs of an immigrant and/or enslaved labor force, and what it takes to be considered a full human being and a citizen. - Anthony Clarvoe

When: Opens Thursday, Oct 8, available any time after opening

Where: Link coming

Who: Dr. Lisa Holleran, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice

What: Virtual Puzzle

The criminal justice system uses algorithms to determine many factors that will impact an offender's life. In this puzzle, you will work through a series of stages in the criminal justice system with different case studies of offenders and see how the system impacts lives differently.

When: Tuesday, Oct 20 @ 5pm

Where: Livestream Zoom link coming

Who: Dr. David Thomason, Assistant Professor of Political Science

What: How Data Can Win (and Lose) the Presidential Election - presentation and Q&A

As the 2020 Presidential Election approaches, the data and information about predicting a winner is increasingly the focus of public attention. In this simulation, you will work in teams to both cooperate and compete in collecting and interpreting data for winning a presidential election.

When: Oct 26 - Nov 1, open for students at their own pace

Where: Zoom link coming

Who: Timothy Braun, Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing

What: A Strange Design: A Haunting Virtual Escape Room in the Age of Data, Justice, and COVID-19

Welcome to St. Edward’s, where ghosts and common reading themes lurk behind every corner. You will never escape the haunting ideas of “Hello World” in this Halloween based virtual escape room, unless you use observation, problem solving, and the never say “die” attitude that is synonymous with a Hilltopper. You will have the option to work in teams, or “lone wolf it” as you explore things that frighten, imaginary and real, and decide how to constructively confront them with our thoughts and imaginations to make our campus and our world a little less scary.

When: Wednesday, Nov 4 @ 1pm

Where: Livestream Zoom link coming

Who: Tony Chavez, IT Strategist and Director of User Services SEU

What: There is No Cloud, Just Someone Else’s Computer and Other Tales from an IT Guy - presentation and Q&A

In 2001 I was an SEU graduate with a BS in CS looking for a job in the wake of Sept 11th. I started my career in IT working at the help desk of a law firm in downtown Austin. A few years later I was hired as the first full-time systems administrator for SEU and over the next 15 years I got to build the SEU enterprise cloud infrastructure. I hope that by sharing some stories I can provide you with more context about how this technology works. This stuff is complicated, often way more than it needs to be, and to quote my Sr. Systems admin "all software is crap".

When: Wednesday, Nov 18 @ 5pm

Where: Livestream Zoom link coming

Who: Jena Heath, Associate Professor of Journalism & Digital Media

What: Algorithms and News – presentation and Q&A

We think we choose our news, but do we? Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, Automation — the three "As"—have made their way into newsrooms and our social media feeds, determining what we read, see, and hear and upending the notion of choice when it comes to how we take in news. That sports, weather, or stock report you're reading used to be written by a reporter and is likely now produced via AI. If we want to understand how journalism works now, we need to

2019-2020 Common Theme Events on Immigration

Spring 2020 Events: 

Professor Cynthia Orozco will discuss her new book Adela Sloss-Vento, Mexican American Civil Rights Activist and Texas Feminist. 
Wednesday, February 26 at 4pm in Jones Global Events center


"The first comprehensive biography of a formidable civil rights activist and feminist whose grassroots organizing in Texas made her an influential voice in the fight for equal rights for Mexican Americans." Co-sponsored by the Social Justice LLC and Freshman Seminar. 

We Dream
Friday, February 28 at 6:30pm on Trustee Lawn


The Equity and Justice Council hosts a concert featuring Creative Jay who will be performing his album which focuses on being an Immigrant and a First Generation student. Students are invited to perform themselves at an open-mic session before the concert. Students can read a poem, perform a song or simply share some words.

Visiting Writer Series, co-sponsored with the Theater Arts Program: Jesús I. Valles
Monday, March 9, 7pm in Jones Global Events Center


Jesús I. Valles is a queer Mexican immigrant, educator, storyteller, and performer originally from Cd. Juarez, Mexico. Jesús won two B. Iden Payne Theatre awards for his solo-show (Un)Documents, which captures a portrait of family and identity on both sides of the Mexican-American border. They are a recipient of the 2018 Undocupoets Fellowship, a fellow of The Poetry Foundation and Crescendo Literary’s 2018 Poetry Incubator. Jesús holds a Master in Communication Studies from California State University, Long Beach and currently teaches social/emotional learning to high school students, focusing on those recently arrived to the U.S. 

Fall 2019 events

Sept 12 @ 12:00 in Mabee A: Citizenship 101
Lecture by David Thomason, Assistant Professor of Political Science
Who should be an American citizen and what should the concept of American citizenship encompass?  What does the United States Constitution have to say about citizenship? This discussion will investigate the legal, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of what it means to be an American citizen.

Sept 16 @ 6:00 in Carter: What Is Citizenship? A Panel Discussion
What does citizenship mean through the lens of different disciplines? Is citizenship the same thing to an artist and to a chemist for example? What about to a political scientist and a social worker? Come hear St. Ed's faculty from a variety of fields discuss how they understand citizenship.

September 24 @ 6pm in Carter Auditorium
Documentary: Documented 
In 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in an essay published in the New York Times Magazine. Documented chronicles his journey to America from the Philippines as a child; his journey through America as an immigration reform activist; and his journey inward as he re-connects with his mother, whom he hasn't seen in person in over 20 years.

Oct 2 @ 5:00 in Mabee A and B: Trivia Night
Test your knowledge of our Common Text—Dear America—and our Common Theme—Citizenship—in this trivia battle to the death. Win prizes and impress your friends.

October 10 @ 7pm in the Recreation & Convocation Center:
Speaker & Author Jose Antonio Vargas
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas will be speaking about his life as an undocumented immigrant, his work as an activist for immigrant rights, and his book Dear America. Book-signing to follow after the lecture.

Oct 31 @ 12:30 in Fleck 305: Reproducing Violence: Dehumanization & Incarceration of Immigrants Seeking Refuge in the US
Join us for a panel discussion exploring contemporary policies and practices that contribute to the dehumanization and incarceration of immigrants seeking protection in the United States.

Nov 6 @ 5:00 in Mabee Ballrooms: Careers in Advocacy/Reform
Are you interested in a career as an advocate? Come to this event hosted by the Office of Career & Professional Development

Nov 13 @ 12:30 in Fleck 305: FUSION discussion of Marisol
All students, faculty, and staff are welcome to come learn about the Mary Moody Northen Theatre’s upcoming production of Marisol by playwright José Rivera. Lunch will be provided. RSVP required.

Nov 14-24 in MMNT: Marisol
The Mary Moody Northen Theatre presents the Obie-award winning play by José Rivera. Marisol chronicles the journey of a young Latinx woman in an apocalyptic New York City.

Nov. 19 @ 7:00 in Fleck 305: Migration, Detention and Activism in Central Texas: Film Screening and Discussion with Attorney Barbara Hines
Screening of the short documentary The Least of These (2009) about the Hutto detention center followed by a discussion with former director of the UT Law School Immigration Clinic. Hines will talk about how immigration policy has changed and about opportunities for activism.

Nov 20 @ 6:00 in Carter: Screening of Children of Men
Screening of the critically-acclaimed film by Alfonso Cuarón set in a dystopian England where immigrants are rounded up and put in cages. The screening will be followed by discussion.

Past Common Themes

2019-2020: Immigration
Book: Dear America: Notes From an Undocumented Citizen
by Jose Antonio Vargas
Speaker: Jose Antonio Vargas

2018-2019: Identity
Book: Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah
Speaker: Eli Kimaro

2017- 2018: Immigrant Voices
Book: Detained & Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire
by Margaret Regan
Speaker: Erika Andiola

2016-2017: Food Justice
Book: Where Am I Eating?
by Kelsey Timmerman
​Speaker: Kelsey Timmerman
Trip: Costa Rica
Read about three freshmen who explored food justice in their communities.

2015-2016: Justice
Book: Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson
Speaker: Bryan Stevenson
Trip: 28 students and three faculty members  travelled to South Africa to explore justice, mercy and how these issues relate to race.

2014-2015: Hearts and Minds: Changing the Conversation about Mental Health
Book: Brain on Fire
by Susannah Cahalan
Speaker: Susannah Cahalan
Trip: London 

2013-2014: Expanding Human Rights
Book: Half the Sky
by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Speaker: Jackson Katz
Trip: Learn how three students built on their Common Theme trip to Bangladesh by continuing to stand up for human rights.

2012-2013: How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: Dystopias and Sustainability
Book: World War Z
by Max Brooks
Speaker: Max Brooks