Ursinus Magazine

CIE at 20

CIE at 20

Over the last two decades, Ursinus students have shared a Common Intellectual Experience, known simply to generations of Bears as CIE. The flagship academic program—in which students read Plato, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Frederick Douglass, Allison Bechdel and Ta-Nehisi Coates, among a host of other texts—has gained national recognition among higher education experts and other institutions.

It challenges first-year students to thoughtfully examine these historical and modern works through discussions now framed by the Ursinus Quest: Open Questions Open Minds core curriculum.

In celebration of 20 years of CIE, some Ursinus faculty shared their favorite CIE texts with Ursinus Magazine.

Professor of English and associate dean

Favorite CIE Text: Sappho: A New Translation

Sappho’s poems “capture essential human emotions (love, attraction, disappointment), experiences (friendship, celebrations, loss, mourning), and all the senses. You can feel these poems, not simply read and hear them. They’re enigmas and puzzles that present questions without answers. They beg us to enter the poet’s world.”


Professor of biology

Favorite CIE Text:  Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved

“In the book, Levi talks about his time spent in a concentration camp during World War II. The text challenged students to see beyond black and white. Levi’s writing helped students confront the difficult gray zone in between the heroes and the villains. To grapple with this area of uncertainty is especially important in a world where we like to place people and events into categories.”

fun home NATHAN REIN
Associate professor of religious studies, codirector of the Ursinus Institute for Student Success and associate dean

Favorite CIE Text:  Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

“I’ve probably read [Fun Home] start to finish six or seven times, and every time I find something new. At the same time, the basic story is so simple: a young person growing up, discovering new and scary truths about her family, and loving them anyway.”


Associate professor of education and assistant dean

Favorite CIE Text: Euripides’ Medea

“I read [Medea] as a first-year student in college in a class similar to CIE, so it has nostalgic resonance for me. Even more, though, I love the complexity of the reader’s simultaneous contempt for and empathy with Medea’s actions. One can’t simply celebrate or vilify her, and I think this text challenges students to recognize the multifaceted nature of human life and human decisions … I love watching the students argue about Medea and take sides with or against her.”

Professor of theater

Favorite CIE Text: The Epic of Gilgamesh

“The Sumerians invented writing and Gilgamesh is the first known story ever written. Although it is from 5,000 years ago, the story still resonates today: Gilgamesh goes through a journey to discover what it means to be human. I was so inspired by this text that I wrote a stage version of The Epic of Gilgamesh and directed an original production of it in the fall of 2007 for Ursinus College Theater. It remains one of my favorite Ursinus theater projects.”

Professor of politics

Favorite CIE Text:  Plato’s Euthyphro

“Students meet the strange, exasperating and inspiring character named Socrates, a man who spent his whole life engaged in an inquiry that focused on the most important matters we pursue in CIE. The decisive moment in the drama occurs when Socrates asks Euthyphro, frustrated by Socrates’ incessant questioning, whether they should ‘just accept what others say’ or ‘ought we to consider what the speaker says?’ In this understated way, Socrates poses for his young interlocutor a monumental choice. At its best, CIE brings each of our students to stand with Euthyphro at this same crossroads.”

wordsworth JON VOLKMER 
Professor of English 

Favorite CIE Text: William Wordsworth

“I love teaching the sonnet known by its first line, ‘The world is too much with us.’ Why and how is the world ‘too much with us’? The second line gives the answer, ‘Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.’ In a magnificently condensed single line, Wordsworth sums up the problem of our existence, even more true now than it was when he wrote it in 1807.”

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