Students will have new creative avenues to explore this fall with the 2009 Discussion Book selection of Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder.

This year’s Campus Conversations, a compilation of student works, will be an online publication exploring issues central to Mountains Beyond Mountains. Faculty are invited to create course assignments that relate to public health, health disparities, social systems and disease, public policy, poverty, philanthropic outreach, Haiti, the Caribbean, sacrifice, one person making a difference and other relevant topics. Student work can take multiple forms, including but not limited to essays, artwork, videos, creative writing, journals, photographs and reports. Faculty can nominate and students can submit work this fall for inclusion in the spring 2010 online Campus Conversations.

“This change gives our students the opportunity to showcase a variety of work that highlights the main themes of the book: access to health care and what it means to be a citizen of a global society,” says Rosie O’Beirne, program coordinator for the Center for Urban Affairs and member of the Discussion Book committee. “Not only are today’s students creatively harnessing digital technology to express themselves, but they also communicate and live in an online world. With the publication online it’s very likely that the work will have a greater outreach among our students and the broader community.”

The opportunity to feature multimedia work already has sparked creativity in the Ethnographic Filmmaking class. Students recently finished producing short documentary films that highlight the complexities of the health-care system, a prevalent theme of the text.

“This type of student work hopefully will contribute to the dialogue sparked by this year’s book,” O’Beirne says.

Finding a calling
At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains is Paul Farmer, a doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist and the recipient of a MacArthur genius grant. In medical school Farmer found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most.

The book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer blasts through convention to get results.

Mountains Beyond Mountains travels from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.”

“At its core the book is about finding your passion in life,” O’Beirne says. “And really, that’s part of the challenge of the college experience — figuring out what you’re good at and what you want to do with your life.

“Farmer’s inspiring story reveals how individual determination and passion can indeed result in societal change — the ability for one person to make a difference in the world,” she says. “I think this will resonate with our incoming students who are part of a generation that is very engaged in volunteering in their communities and increasingly see themselves as citizens of a larger, global society.”

Call for submission details
The UAB Discussion Book is the focus for events throughout the academic year. Developed as part of UAB’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), the UAB Discussion Book project promotes civic involvement, respectful dialogue about often-controversial issues and more knowledgeable participation in a global society.

Faculty can nominate and students can submit work for the online journal from August through December. The work must be produced during the calendar year 2009. A more detailed call on format for submission will be provided later this summer. In the meantime, faculty are encouraged to make their students aware of the online publication so they can save copies of their work for submission.

David Walton, a colleague who works with Farmer on his Partners in Health initiative, will be speaking to new students Monday, Aug. 17.

Visit for more on the text and events for the coming academic year.