Buffalo Native's Book Provides Inspiration

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March 14, 2013

 ‘Buffalo Unbound’ Influence Extends Beyond Required Reading

By Tara Erwin

A required reading assignment can turn a summer into a bummer, especially for newly-graduated high school students who are looking forward to a few months of R&R before hitting the books again as college freshmen in the fall. 

That’s why Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Brad Hollingshead and his team take the summer reading program at Medaille very seriously. By carefully choosing the books and crafting insightful companion questions designed to jumpstart the students’ study habits and critical thinking at a college level, the program must do a balancing act of stimulating the mind as well as offering a sense of fun.

Last fall’s selection for the freshman class fit the bill perfectly. “Buffalo Unbound: A Celebration” by Western New York native Laura Pedersen is a humorous, poignant and informative work that focuses on the Queen City’s rich history, diverse resources and somewhat infamous (and unfair) reputation.

A committee that includes faculty, staff and students selects the books each year. Dr. Hollingshead, who established the summer reading program in 2008, said “Buffalo Unbound” is the ideal combination of education and entertainment. 

“This book is really about exploring the story of a community,” he said. “It’s a narrative of how the author sees her hometown, challenging the negative stereotypes and shedding some light into how the city has contributed and continues to contribute to history, science and culture.”

“We were finding that even though the majority of Medaille’s students are from Western New York, they might not have necessarily known about the area’s history and background,” said Erika Hamann, a professor at Medaille in the Department of Humanities and chair of the committee that chose this year’s book. “It’s good for students to think about their community and where they came from.”

Students are given copies of the book when they register for fall classes. Although one of the goals of the summer reading program is to encourage independent study habits, it does not leave students in the dark. They meet with faculty for short sessions that establish expectations and provide online resources for further assistance. The website for this year’s summer reading program can be found at www.medaille.edu/summer-reading/2016.

In addition to a brief description and author biography, the website also has a series of questions the students were required to answer and turn in when they began at Medaille as freshmen. “Buffalo Unbound” was also required reading for faculty, who were encouraged to build the book and its premise into their classroom curriculum.

Hamann incorporated several assignments based on the history and exploratory nature of “Buffalo Unbound” by taking chapters and excerpts from the book and basing writing projects around them. One that students really connected with was when they chose a historical figure Pedersen wrote about and delved into more detail about his or her life story, contributions and lasting impact. 

“Father Baker, DeWitt Clinton, Charles Burchfield and Elbert Hubbard were all very popular choices to whom the students seemed to be the most drawn,” said Hamann.

The program’s high point was in October, when Pedersen came back to her hometown to give a presentation and Q&A session at Medaille’s newly-renovated events arena at the Kevin I. Sullivan Campus Center. About 500 people attended the event, which was free and open to the public. Pedersen took the opportunity to respond to recent national media reports that characterized Buffalo as a “dying city,” countering those claims with fascinating tidbits of information about the people and events that shaped the city’s history, as well as her hopes for its future. She also took the time to meet with each student and sign his or her copy of the book.

“The new Events Center offers a world of improvement, with better acoustics and more space so there was no echo and everyone was comfortable,” said Hollingshead, who went on to say that bringing in the summer reading program author is a highlight for students and faculty alike. “It’s always a memorable opportunity to meet and speak with an author of a book you’ve read.”

Hamann agrees that Pedersen’s visit made an impression on the students. “She was so graceful and down to earth, a real Buffalo gal,” Hamann said. “Even though she currently lives in New York City, it’s obvious Ms. Pedersen has a real love of Buffalo that came through during the presentation.”

The summer reading program segued into the freshman Community 101 project as well, where students again touched upon themes in the book to explore Western New York and the unique people and groups who call it home. Medaille student Nick Carrubba ’16 and his group chose to highlight Skating Athletes Bold at Heart (SABAH) for his Community 101. “It related to the book because the program originated here,” he said, “and ‘Buffalo Unbound’ provoked my interest to look further into the many benefits Buffalo has to offer as well as the numerous community-related activities.”

Carrubba admits that he wasn’t at first thrilled to hear that he already had a college assignment due when he started at Medaille, but says that as he started to read the book, he no longer thought of it as homework. “It was an opportunity to learn more about my hometown and prepare myself for college,” he said. Fitting in the reading while working 30-40 hours per week over the summer was a challenge, but he was able to devise a system where he scheduled his reading time around work with a goal of finishing a chapter a day. He was ultimately able to complete the book in under a month.

“I enjoyed learning more about Buffalo and was intrigued by all of the interesting facts and information the book had to offer,” Carrubba said, adding that the summer reading program was “a good way to obtain knowledge of my surrounding environment while getting a good educational refresher before September rolls around.”

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