No Impact Man Provides High-Impact Experience
By Kristen Manieri
Photo by Judy Watson Tracy
Summer-reading assignment connects first-year students to a cause in their first week on campus.
Although last year’s classes didn’t begin until August 23, incoming students dusted off their thinking caps over the summer for that dreaded first assignment: summer reading.
This year’s selected book was not only big on title—No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process—it was big on values central to Rollins’ mission. Written by Colin Beavan, the book chronicles one man’s attempt to eliminate his and his family’s personal impact on the environment for one year.
Students were pleasantly surprised to find the book fascinating. But after arriving on campus for orientation, they were in for a new twist on the usual follow-up discussions: No Impact Man spawned a weeklong flurry of environmental-related events and activities that brought the conceptual messages of Beavan’s book into the students’ real-world experience.
Their first week on campus, dubbed “No Impact Week,” began with a screening of the No Impact Man documentary (complete with organic popcorn) and an appearance by Beavan, who, in addition to captivating students with his story, paddled a canoe around Lake Virginia with some of them, removing trash from the water. Other activities included planting gardens at the student-run Mowbray Sustainability House, touring Winter Park on bicycles, volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank, and cleaning up Cocoa Beach.
To complement the program, Rollins Explorations, the College’s program for first-year students, sponsored an essay contest, encouraging incoming scholars to consider the issues the book raised. Three winners received Rollins Rice Family Bookstore gift certificates as well as the opportunity to have dinner with Beavan during his campus visit. One of them, Annamarie Carlson ’14, was “blown away” by Beavan’s mission to make a difference, one day at a time. “The experience was one of a kind,” she said. “It was truly eye opening and made me rethink many of the ways in which I currently live my life.”
Beyond a much-needed reminder that we’re all global citizens responsible for caring for the planet, perhaps the most important message Beavan gave students was one of hope. “The question isn’t whether or not I make a difference. The question is whether I want to be the type of person who tries.”