When alumna Ann Kowal Smith, founder of Books@Work, was looking for faculty members to facilitate book discussions at Swagelok in Solon, Ohio, the first thing she did was look to her alma mater. That contact led her to Peter Whiting, director of the SAGES program. The result? Three SAGES faculty members, Barbara Burgess-Van Aken, Paul Jaussen and Lisa Nielsen, each facilitated a month-long series of weekly discussions of literary works with 14 Swagelok employees.
Books@Work pairs colleges and companies to bring rigorous professor-led literature seminars to front-line workers. The goal is to build confidence, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity in the workplace. Established in 2011, Smith’s rapidly expanding organization has instituted programs at five companies (in partnership with six colleges) throughout the United States and aims to serve 100,000 readers a year over the next decade.
“SAGES faculty are perfect for this program,” said Whiting, “because facilitating discussions is what they do in their seminars on a daily basis.” Because of the faculty involvement, Books@Work is more scholarly than a book club but less demanding than a college course. For their initial venture at Swagelok, Burgess-Van Aken chose Shakespeare’s Othello, Jaussen selected two short stories by Herman Melville, and Nielsen opted for Fatema Mernissi’s Scheherezade.
Asked how they felt about the program, all three faculty members had enthusiastic responses. “When one of the participants told me that Shakespeare had improved a lot since high school,” said Burgess-Van Aken, “I knew we had reached them!” Apparently she is right, because Swagelok has brought the Books@Work program back for a second engagement this fall.