Project Wake

Conversations on Character

Read a Project Wake book this winter and then discuss with a group of colleagues in the spring.Project Wake, a campus orientation tradition of engaging in group discussions of intellectual and social importance, is back for a second round, and you’re invited!  This coming spring semester, Project Wake is open to all students. You will have the opportunity to engage with a faculty or staff member and a group of their peers to discuss the theme of character through one of the interesting books below.

Choices of books are available from many different genres and disciplines so that you can select a literary work that is most interesting to you. These conversations have proven to be an exciting and meaningful way to meet new people and discuss issues that matter. If you have a concern with obtaining or purchasing a certain book, please contact the Office of Academic Advising. So… Pour some hot cocoa, grab a warm blanket, and enjoy a nice cozy read this winter break! We look forward to joining you in discussion!

Date and Time

Sunday, January 20, 2019

1:00pm – 2:30pm


Once registered, your discussion group leader will reach out with the meeting location.

    Books & Discussion Groups

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Michael Lamb)

    What does it mean to be human? What role does sympathy play in a good life? How can literature influence how we think about character, politics, philosophy, science, and law? These questions are at the heart of Frankenstein, which grapples with fundamental questions about virtue and equality, examines why we can become “monsters,” and highlights, with great intrigue and gripping detail, how character can be formed (or de-formed) by society. Far from its caricature as Hollywood horror, this classic novel will prompt searching reflection and conversation on character, and since this year marks its 200th anniversary, it’s a wonderful time to explore Mary Shelley’s masterpiece.

    Discussion Leader:  Michael Lamb

    I am University Scholar in Residence at Wake Forest and Fellow in the Office of Personal and Career Development. I teach courses in Politics and am helping to develop a new program in leadership and character. I am also a Faculty Fellow in Babcock and am teaching a new First-Year Seminar this fall on “Commencing Character: How Should We Live?” I love using literature to explore moral complexity and expand our moral imaginations, and Frankenstein is one of my favorites, so I hope you’ll join me!

  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Roz Tedford)

    “Knowledge is knowing Frankenstein is NOT the monster. Wisdom is knowing Frankenstein IS the monster.” This classic book (celebrating it’s 200th anniversary in 2018) has had a long life in popular culture but many have never read the original. It’s full of questions about the limits of science, love, revenge, otherness, and guilt. Despite its age, it is remarkably relevant today!

    Discussion Leader:  Roz Tedford, ZSR Library

    I am the Director for Research and Instruction at the ZSR Library. Born and raised on the campus (faculty brat) – I have a BA and MA from WFU (Psychology and English) and have worked here for more than two decades. I LOVE working with incoming WFU students as a faculty adviser and I thoroughly enjoy talking about great books with new students through Project Wake!

    NOTE: I am hoping to host this session in our Special Collections and Archives Reading Room where students can see early editions of the book!!

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

    The Night Circus is the story of a magical circus. Two young magicians have been trained since childhood by mercurial instructors to engage in a sort of duel, with the circus as the field of battle. Unbeknownst to them, this duel has dangerous consequences – for them, the other performers, and those closest to the circus. More than just a charming book, The Night Circus explores the theme of character in terms of collegiality, fairness, what we owe to other people, love, and more.

    Discussion Leader:  Betsy Chapman, Family Communication & Volunteer Management

    My name is Betsy Chapman (’92, MA ’94), and I am the Executive Director of Family Communication and Volunteer Management, author of the Daily Deac blog, and an academic adviser. My work on campus involves helping your parents and families feel engaged and informed about life at Wake Forest, and I also run our New Student Receptions program. I was an English-French double major at Wake and am currently pursuing a PhD in Higher Education.

  • Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown

    Daniel Brown (no, not Dan Brown…this is not another Da Vinci Code book!) writes with amazing detail about the 1936 U.S. men’s Olympic eight-oar rowing team. It’s a story of nine working-class boys who came from farming, logging, and shipping families to challenge programs built on power, privilege, and prestige. If the gripping narrative of rowing a boat wasn’t enough, the rise of Nazism at the 1936 games in Berlin also serves to frame the story. Come join us for this compelling read…you don’t even have to get on a rowing machine!

    Discussion Leader:  Matt Clifford, Office of the Dean of Students

    I am the Associate Dean of Students for Student Conduct. In that role, I work closely with students in their experience outside the classroom. I don’t think I have what it takes to row, but I love watching crew on the Olympics every four years. I loved this book and can’t wait to talk about it!

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy

    In Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, an unnamed father must protect his young son as they search for food and a safe place to call home in a post-apocalyptic world. An unknown disaster has destroyed the landscape, forcing the father and son to go on their journey with nothing more than a shopping cart and a gun with two bullets. Along the way, the son questions his father about whom amongst the living are the “good guys” and the “bad guys” —  and to which group do they belong — as they encounter highway robbers and strangers also desperate to survive.

    Discussion Leader:  Alex Abrams, Office of the Dean of the College

    I am the Communications Coordinator for the Office of the Dean of the College. Both haunting and heartbreaking, The Road (2007) has stuck with me since I read it soon after its release. This novel is like a biblical tale about the lengths a father will go to protect his son while trying to instill in him the need to remain moral in the most desperate situations. The Road is a fast read but not a feel-good story, even though Oprah added it to her Book Club.

  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

    How should we respond to failure? What can psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy teach us about the importance of resilience?  Angela Duckworth explores these questions and more in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. At 27-years-old, Duckworth left her lucrative consulting job to teach math and science in New York City public schools. She noticed that her most diligent students performed better than their naturally talented peers. Determined to understand this phenomenon, Duckworth pursued a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and has spent the last 15 years researching the relationship between grit, intelligence, and success. She finds that hard work and resilience are better predictors of success than natural intelligence. And grit, unlike IQ, is a capacity we can develop over time.

    Discussion Leader: Cameron Silverglate

    My name is Cameron Silverglate, and I am the Research Fellow in Leadership and Character.  I investigate leadership and character from various perspectives and apply my research to help develop new programs at Wake Forest. As an undergraduate at Wake (BA in Philosophy, ’17), I discovered a passion for practical philosophy a desire to let classroom ideas impact my lived life. As we read and discuss Grit, I hope we will be better equipped to embrace the various challenges college holds and learn how to grow our capacity for grit.

  • Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge by Booton Herndon

    The true story of Desmund Doss is even more gripping than told in the award winning film, Hacksaw Ridge. His courage and commitment to his deeply held values, even in the face of death, during WWII give us intense fodder for discussion of our own character. We will peel back the layers of his choice to be a conscientious objector who went into battle unarmed and ask ourselves how we might identify and hold to those few values that are so important to each of us. To what principles will we hold even at great personal cost? How might we be challenged in our everyday lives to live a principled, courageous life? We will also discuss the potential of viewing the film together at a later date.

    Discussion Leader:  Dr. Holly Brower, School of Business

    My name is Dr. Holly Brower, and I teach studies leadership, trust, and board decision making. I am an associate professor in the business school teaching organizational behavior, leadership and nonprofit leadership principles in undergraduate and MBA programs.

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    * This group will meet Sunday, January 27th

    Jane Austen uses the forms of romantic comedy and the courtship plot to explore questions of character. How can we recognize good character in others? Are manners and behavior a reliable index of a person’s character? Is the testimony of others a trustworthy source of information about someone’s character? Is it more important to assess the character of others or to cultivate our own?  Can we improve our character? How? We’ll discuss the novel’s answers to these questions and compare them with our own practices. We’ll talk about why and how a classic novel offers us relevant insights into these timeless questions.  

    Discussion Leader: Jessica Richard, English

    I’m an Associate Professor and the Chair of the English Department and a scholar of eighteenth-century fiction and Jane Austen.  I’ve loved reading her books since my teens, and I learn something new from them with every rereading and every discussion of them I have with students.

  • Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

    “Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farm girl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.” “Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war.” – from Goodreads

    Discussion Leader: Megan Rudock, Chemistry

    I work as a teaching faculty member in the Chemistry department, with a BS in Chemistry from University of Georgia and a PhD from Wake Forest School of Medicine. I joined the Chemistry faculty in 2011, teaching primarily College Chemistry I, Everyday Chemistry and Biochemistry. I also assume the role as a Lower-Division Academic Adviser and the Faculty Director of the Wake Forest Summer Immersion program in Biosciences and Engineering.

  • (FULL) The Character Gap: How Good Are We? by Christian Miller

    THIS GROUP IS NOW FULL.  Why is it that the majority of people in a study will give increasingly severe electric shocks to a test taker for each wrong answer, all the way up to the XXX lethal level? Why did no one stop to help Walter Vance on Black Friday when he collapsed to the ground in a Target store, and some people even stepped over his body? More generally, what is character, and why is good character important? How good or bad are most people today? And perhaps most importantly, what if anything can we do to try to become better people, both during the next four years at Wake Forest and during the rest of our lives? These are some of the questions that are central to The Character Gap, written by the group leader himself.

    Discussion Leader:  Dr. Christian Miller, Philosophy 

    Hello, I am Dr. Christian Miller and the A.C. Reid Professor of Philosophy. I have spent the last 10 years researching the topic of character, and was the director of The Character Project (, one of the largest research projects on character in the world. The Character Gap is my attempt to take this research and make it available to a broad audience.

  • The Mindful Twenty-Something: Life Skills to Handle Stress & Everything Else by Holly B. Rogers, MD

    As an entering student, you may feel like you are being pulled in a dozen different directions. With the daily busyness, constant change, and overwhelming thoughts and feelings, you may be particularly vulnerable to stress and its negative effects. Emerging adulthood, which occurs during the college years, is a developmental stage of life when you’re faced with important decisions about your major, relationships, values, sex, your career, and more. With so much going on, you need a guide to help you navigate the Wake Forest landscape with less stress and more ease. The practical tools you’ll learn in The Mindful Twenty-Something will help you cultivate the compassion and mindfulness skills you need to manage Wake Forest’s challenges from a calm, balanced center, regardless of what comes your way.

    Discussion Leader: Tim Auman, WFU Chaplain

    I am the University Chaplain and the Director of the MindfulWake initiative. The combination of engaging writing, layperson’s terms, practical steps, and digestible science makes this book a treat for any Wake Forest student.

  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

    How do we make meaning in our life and work? The book is a memoir of the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi. After a decade of medical school training to become a neurosurgeon, Dr. Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. As a testament to his character and compassion, he sought to become a medical provider to those in need. He also desired to be a caring father and husband. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’”

    Discussion Leader:  Brian Calhoun, Education

    I am a professor in the Department of Education and a faculty fellow in Johnson Residence Hall. I am highly invested in helping students examine and explore the guiding principle of our University, Pro Humanitate. As members of the Wake Forest University community, we are committed as citizens of the world to see humankind grow and flourish.

  • Loving Day by Mat Johnson

    A haunted mansion. A secret daughter. Racial ambiguity.

    What does a novel about a father living with a ghost (maybe) and suddenly meeting a daughter he didn’t know about have to teach us about character? How do our families make us who we are and who we might become? Loving Day raises all of these questions in a funny, smart way. Come join the conversation!

    Discussion Leader: Dr. Erica Still, English

    I love a good story, and I’m excited for you as you begin the next chapter of your own life. As a professor in the English Department, I teach first-year writing, introductory literature, and upper-level African American literature courses. I’m always interested in thinking and talking about what makes for a great story, whether on the page or in the “real” world, so I hope you’ll join me in exploring ideas about character (and love and identity and race and so much more) through this wonderful, funny, smart book. 

  • (FULL) Talking to Our Selves: Reflection, Ignorance, and Agency by John M. Doris

    THIS GROUP IS NOW FULL.  Think this whole “conversations about character” thing is kinda questionable? Well, you’re right: philosopher John Doris has proven (in his book “Lack of Character”) that character isn’t real, or at least has almost nothing to do with what we actually do — it’s situational and environmental factors that determine our behavior.

    But don’t feel depressed: Doris has a sequel out now. Take off your blinders and learn how our lives still matter in a word governed by the unconscious,

    Discussion Leaders: Professors Emily Austin, Philosophy and  T. H. M. Gellar-Goad, Classical Languages.

    I’m Emily Austin, a philosophy professor specializing in Ancient Greek philosophy. My social environment and my feeble brain often work powerfully against my desires to be a better person, and I think that’s basically true for all of us. So I would like some practical strategies for navigating this messy world. Let’s see whether Doris has anything to offer.

    Hello, my name is T. H. M. Gellar-Goad, an Assistant Professor of Classical Languages at Wake Forest University. I specialize in Latin poetry, especially the funny stuff: Roman comedy, Roman erotic elegy, Roman satire, and — if you believe me — the allegedly philosophical poet Lucretius. I’m the kind of guy who swims against the intellectual current, and that’s what I found enticing about Talking to Our Selves.

  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

    This book chart’s Hope Jahren’s path from being a pre-med college student to being a research scientist and Professor in the field of geobiology. It deals with the challenges and expectations of being a woman in a science, but also describes the way the experience was compounded by mental health problems. It describes a beautiful working relationship between her lab partner Bill that reminded me that the narrative of being a man in science is also not singular. There are ways Hope Jahren is an inspiration and leader, but she is not without flaw, and I anticipate her memoir will present a great opportunity to discuss the ways we can be good students and scientists.

    Discussion Leader: Amanda Jones, Chemistry

    I teach and do research in Organic Chemistry. I invite you to join me reading this wonderful memoir.

  • Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes

    This Pulitzer Prize winning play, a family drama concerned with questions about our obligations to other people, asks us to consider that admirable character can be found in unexpected places. The dramatis personae in Water by the Spoonful includes recovering drug addicts who connect in an online support group. We meet individuals with character flaws that have resulted in major life failures. Is it possible for such people to be redeemed?

    Discussion Leader:  J.K. Curry, Theatre and Dance 

    I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance, and I love talking about great plays. This fall, I directed the WFU Theatre production of the new play The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe.

  • The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life by Michael Puett

    This is a book based on a popular course taught by a Harvard philosophy professor. The book explores the ancient Chinese philosophers’ ideas on how to lead a good life.

    Discussion Leader: Miaohua Jiang, Mathematics and Statistics

    I am a professor of mathematics. I graduated from Wuhan University in 1982 with a BS degree, East China Normal University in 1989 with a MS degree, and The Pennsylvania State University with a PhD degree, all in mathematics. I joined Wake Forest Faculty in 1998 and currently serve as a faculty co-head marshal and a member of the Honor and Ethics Council. I enjoy reading books on how human minds work and  how people make decisions. I am also one of the academic advisers for the Mathematical Economics Major.