common read, common intellectual experience, learning community, first-year experience, health sciences


First-year seminars and learning communities (LC) have been used to help increase retention, provide continuity, and support students as they transition to the university setting. Another high impact educational practice—common intellectual experiences (CIE)—includes student activities centered on a theme to help facilitate learning, increase involvement, and provide continuity; one such example is a common read. A group of interdisciplinary faculty created a health sciences specific learning community to help increase cultural awareness and understanding. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was used as a CIE to meet course objectives in all LC classes and provide a background to health sciences and caring professions. Data were collected from students (n=14) by using an instructor-developed instrument that evaluated student knowledge of stem cell research, medical advances due to stem cell research, ethics in medical research, the African-American experience (1930s-1960s), and socioeconomic disparities in America. Results indicated statistical significance for the three content areas emphasized throughout the course. Further, results suggest that in LCs in which the students have similar academic and career goals, use of a common intellectual experience can enhance critical thinking and deep learning.