Heller Center reading clusters promote independent study

The Heller Center for Arts & Humanities overlooks the panorama of Colorado Springs. Located across from Trader Joe’s and down North Campus Heights, it is slightly more remote than the Ent Center and lesser known.

Among the UCCS activities hosted at the Heller Center is a relatively new program that allows students to form reading clusters and independently pursue a chosen topic of interest.

Stephen Carter, an assistant professor who teaches Critical Theory and 20th Century American Literature, has been involved with the Heller Center Faculty Advisory Board for about four years. “The reading clusters have taken shape in the past two years,” said Carter. “We conceived of the idea a couple years ago, and then it took most of last year to work it up into a real thing.”

Carter said that this is the first year that the reading clusters will be an opportunity for students after a tentative and inconclusive attempt last spring.

“We didn’t have any applications during the trial run, unfortunately,” he said. “That was partly because I don’t think there was enough advertising. I find when I talk to students about the reading clusters, their first question is, ‘What is the Heller Center?’”

Dr. Carter is an assistant English professor at UCCS. (Alex Morgan|The Scribe)

Carter described the Heller Center as an interdisciplinary research and teaching center among the humanities and arts departments. The center caters to both UCCS and the wider Colorado Springs community.

The reading clusters’ purpose is to approach educational reading from a slightly different angle. “What the reading clusters provide is a kind of space that is both scholarly and intellectual, but isn’t beholden to the same walking-through-the-routine of one’s education,” said Carter. “It provides a space of reading things that you enjoy, with people that you enjoy reading them with.”

Carter said that the types of materials students might choose to focus on in a reading cluster can be lengthy books, series of graphic novels or works of genre fiction. However, he maintained that there should be an academic nature in clusters’ discussions of the works.

“One of the things you do in the application is make the case for why you want to do this reading,” Carter said. “If it’s reading that you’re probably going to do on your own, outside of school, it might not be the best use of the reading clusters. It could be, in theory, but we’d have to see.”

A way of deciding on a topic or theme for a reading cluster is by reaching out to a faculty member. “The reading clusters are student-driven, so whatever you want to read about, you might approach a faculty member who has an interest in that area,” said Carter.

While it is required to have a faculty sponsor, sponsors are not necessarily expected to take on extra work to run reading clusters, but rather they serve as guidance and reference points for students. To form a reading cluster, a minimum of three students per group must submit proof of a faculty member’s endorsement as well as an unofficial transcript, book list and brief rationale to support the chosen topic(s).

If accepted, the group will be contacted by the end of the spring semester and will begin reading in the fall, during which time they will receive a $100 stipend for purchasing books and/or refreshments. Each reading cluster will meet at least four times over the course of the academic year. For more information, see the application at https://www.uccs.edu/heller/reading-clusters. The deadline to submit is April 2.