Student-Led Global ‘Book Club’ Course Brings Fresh Perspectives Through Storytelling

For many years, Associate Professor Stephanie Danes Smith has incorporated a globally themed book into one of the Communication Studies courses she instructs. While the assignment — called the “book club” — was only a few weeks of the class, it always proved to be the most popular. No matter what book was read or the culture it was based on, students were engaged in reflection and could relate the stories to communication experiences in their own lives.  

“As professional communicators, we know that story is the most powerful and illuminating force in humanity, and stories really matter to our students too,” Smith said.  

Smith has also organized a Read-In event for the last three years, where she began to discover students’ passion for reading. This combination of experiences inspired her to create a semester-long course out of the "book club," and it launched for the first time this semester, Spring 2024. 

The class, Global Perspectives Book Club, has become a refreshing classroom experience for students; it’s structured as a student-led, seminar-style class, so the students have an important role in deciding the course content and discussions. In addition to expanding their reading library, they’re gaining exposure to new cultures and learning how to empathize with those they are reading about through a storytelling and communication lens.  

Students in class

Students chose three globally focused books to read, discuss and reflect, with "How to Be an American Housewife" by Margaret Dilloway being the first book students completed. Smith says students walked away reflecting on common themes like the hard path of immigration, cultural assimilation, the importance of family traditions, sacrifice and self-discovery.  

In addition to the three books, Smith wanted to provide students the opportunity to share their own favorite books with their peers, so she created a course element called the “All Nighter Book Club.” During these class sessions, students share books that have kept them up all night, bringing an element of fun to the classroom and allowing students to share their love of reading. 

Communication Studies student Aislinn Foran, ’25, says the course has opened her mind, making her more likely to pick global books up independently.  

She shared, “The All Nighter Book Club class sessions have been really fun…It’s great to share your favorite books and hear about others’ favorites as well.” 

Dr. Drummer-Ferrell


Additionally, students invited “guest readers” from the community to share books that have given them greater insight into different countries or cultures. One of the speakers Talea R. Drummer-Ferrell, Ph.D., Kent State University Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, facilitated an impactful conversation starting with her favorite books and pivoting to multiculturalism.  

Dr. Drummer-Ferrell encouraged students to explore their identities and advocated for identity-conscious leadership to express more empathy for others. 

Alex Thompson, ’24, a College of Communication and Information student, said she was inspired to take the course after attending last semester’s Read-In . Thompson’s experience in the course has enhanced her love of reading and provided her with new perspectives.  

“I’ve already set the intention to diversify the types of books that I read, but this class has really opened my eyes to how important it is to be a well-rounded reader,” she said. “In the future, I definitely think that my own personal library will be more inclusive because of this class.”  

POSTED: Friday, March 8, 2024 04:20 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 2024 03:37 PM
Marisa Santillo, '23, M.Ed. '25
TJ Laryea, '26