Every incoming Colgate class participates in the tradition of a shared summer read.

Summer Reading Book Discussions

Among the Maples: Our Ecological Sense of Place

July 29, 2021  
1:00 p.m.–2:15 p.m.

Discussion Leader: John Pumilio, director of sustainability

Maple trees are an important part of our Central New York identity. In this interactive discussion, I hope to highlight Dr. Kimmerer's key points on the relevance of living in Maple Nation and how our Central New York identity is intertwined (in part) with maple trees. We will also discuss the ecosystem services that maple trees provide and what repercussions we might experience if maples were to disappear due to a changing climate.

Planting, Picking and Braiding: the Politics of Place and Belonging with Corn, Beans, Squash, Strawberries and Plantain

July 30, 2021  
3:00 p.m.–4:15 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Margaretha Haughwout, assistant professor of art and art history

Let's discuss some of the wounding settler colonialism has wrought, and wrestle with some of the possibilities Dr. Kimmerer sees for recuperation, through three essays: The Gift of Strawberries, Three Sisters, and In the Footsteps of Nanabozho: Becoming Indigenous to Place.

“Becoming Indigenous” to Colgate

July 30, 2021  
4:00 p.m.–5:15 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Ferdinand von Muench, lecturer in university studies

As we are about to begin four years together as new immigrants to the Colgate campus, the Village of Hamilton, and the ancestral lands of the Oneida Indian Nation, this is a good moment to pause and consider how Braiding Sweetgrass might serve as an ilbal—an instrument of sight/insight (p. 344-5)— for us, and how it might help us question and change some of our standard operating procedures in life and learning. Please re-read the “Preface“ (p. ix-x) and the chapters “In the Footsteps of Nanabozho: Becoming Indigenous to Place“ (p. 205-215), “Witness to the Rain“ (p. 293-300), and “People of Corn, People of Light“ (p. 341- 347), and take some notes on passages that you find especially inspiring and/or challenging so we can visit them together in our conversation.

From the Big Bang to the Skywoman Falling

August 3, 2021  
7:00 p.m.–8:15 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Jeff Bary, associate professor of physics and astronomy

Creation stories from cultures around the world reflect a culture's central values. In this book discussion, we'll discuss the "Skywoman Falling" and "People of Corn, People of Light" essays and analyze these narratives in relation to the Big Bang Theory. Throughout the collection of essays, Kimmerer presents a fascinating insight to Indigenous people's view of and relationship to nature and the cosmos. Do these insights affirm the ways in which you view your place within nature? In what ways do these three different perspectives differ and how might these differences be reflected in cultures and communities that developed them?

Language as Gift and Responsibility

August 5, 2021  
10:00 a.m.–11:15 a.m.

Discussion Leader: Jenn Lutman, director of the writing and speaking center

"We may not have wings or leaves, but we humans do have words" (347). Braiding Sweetgrass invites us to reflect on how we use our gift of language to learn and know, as well as engage in relationships of reciprocity. This session will explore these themes of language and reciprocity, with special focus on the essays ""Asters and Goldenrod," "Learning the Grammar of Animacy," "Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass," and "People of Corn, People of Light."

Indigenous Wisdom and Happiness

August 6, 2021  
1:00 p.m.–2:15 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Peter Klepeis, professor of geography

Braiding Sweetgrass not only raises questions about sustainability, ways to protect ecosystem services, and “living as if your children’s future mattered”, it also addresses how to live a good life. Kimmerer explores ways to achieve contentment, reject despair, and develop an ecology of sprit. Among the essays we’ll discuss are “A Mother’s Work”, “Allegiance to Gratitude”, “The Sound of Silverbells”, “Sitting in a Circle”, and “The Sacred and the Superfund”.

Indigenous Wisdom and Happiness

August 6, 2021  
6:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Esther Rosbrook, director of the ALANA Cultural Center

Braiding Sweetgrass dialogue invites participants to reflect on their meaningful roles in the global ecosystems. The discussion encourages us to understand the interactions between humans and their environment and finally, develop strategies to protect our ecosystems. Additionally, the session will explore participants' takeaways relating to the concept of Skywoman.

Discussion Topic TBA

August 10, 2021  
11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Pamela Gramlich, assistant director, sustainability and environmental studies program coordinator

Discussion Topic TBA

August 11, 2021  
12:00 p.m.–1:00 p.m.

Discussion Leader: Jeremy Wattles, director of the COVE

Please register using your colgate.edu email account.

This is the first opportunity for new students to engage with the practice of the liberal arts — students engaging in dialogue with faculty and staff members on questions that transcend disciplinary interests and that require independent analysis. Through these conversations, which incorporate multiple perspectives, students synthesize a coherent understanding of human experience. The shared summer read also provides a foundation for a variety of related events throughout your first year at Colgate.

In addition, your responses to the summer read will provide a way to introduce yourself to your faculty adviser (your First-Year Seminar instructor) and administrative dean so that they can get to know you better.


The cover of Braiding Sweetgrass.

The 2021 Summer Reading Selection

The Summer Reading Selection Committee composed of faculty, staff, and student representatives from all four Residential Commons stewarded the selection of the text. 

Braiding Sweetgrass
By Robin Kimmerer

Podcast Introduction

A podcast-style audio introduction featuring a discussion with Jenn Lutman, Director of the Writing and Speaking Center, and John Pumilio, Director of the Office of Sustainability. We encourage you to listen to this introduction prior to reading Braiding Sweetgrass.


Accessing Your Copy

Follow the instructions below to access your digital copy.

If you would prefer to opt out of receiving a digital copy and instead receive a physical copy by mail, follow the instructions under "Request a physical copy."

You will automatically receive an access code from Vitalsource to your digital copy of Braiding Sweetgrass. Follow the instructions in the email to access your digital copy. You may also follow these instructions:

  1. Sign into Bookshelf Online (https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com) using your email address and password. If you do not have a Bookshelf account, click Create a VitalSource account and follow the prompts to create a Bookshelf account.
  2. Once you are logged into Bookshelf, click Redeem Codes at the bottom right of the page. 
    Redeem Codes button
  3. Copy and paste the redemption code you received in your email and click Redeem.
    Screenshot of website: Redeem code, followed by submission box, link for "Add multiple codes", buttons for "Cancel" and "Redeem"
  4. Your Bookshelf library will update with your new book. Updating your library may take a few minutes.
    Note: You can manually update your app by clicking the following  icon and selecting Update Library:
    Icon of triangle with ruler
  5. Tap on the book cover to read it.

Request a Physical Copy

  1. Click the link provided in the email from VitalSource providing your digital copy code (the link will begin with https://portal.verba) to access your personal Student Portal.
  2. Click the Opt Out button.
  3. Confirm your reason for opting out and click Confirm.
  4. Your opt out decision will be processed and you will lose access to the digital book.

Summer Assignments

The deadline for completing the assignments is Monday, August 9.

The first part of your assignment asks you to introduce yourself to your FSEM instructor and your administrative dean. One of the rewards of teaching an FSEM course is the opportunity to share in the excitement and anticipation that incoming students bring to the classroom. FSEM instructors take great pleasure in learning about the brilliant and accomplished incoming students. So please be thoughtful in your responses to the four prompts below and make this some of your best writing. It’s your chance to make a good first impression with a mentor who may remain part of your life long after you graduate.

  • Write a paragraph describing the two or three things (i.e., activities, people, places, animals, worthy causes, books, etc.) you currently care most about and why.
  • Describe an experience either inside or outside the classroom that illustrates your intellectual growth over the last four years (e.g., becoming a better problem solver or a more effective writer).
  • In what ways do you hope to build on these experiences over the next four years?
  • Describe which aspect of college life you are looking forward to the most.

The second part of your assignment is to read Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, a collection of essays by author, professor, and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer and write a 750-1000 word essay.

We encourage you to listen to a podcast-style audio introduction featuring a discussion with Jenn Lutman and John Pumilio, Director of the Office of Sustainability prior to reading Braiding Sweetgrass.

We ask that you write a response to the following prompt:

Write a 750- to 1000-word essay in which you “braid” your own thinking and one or more of your life experiences with your understanding of one or more of the most important themes in Braiding Sweetgrass. Such themes may include, but are by no means limited to the following bulleted list. We also list a few of our favorite essays in which the author addresses these themes.

Taking only what you need

  • Allegiance to Gratitude
  • The Honorable Harvest
  • The Sacred and the Superfund


The ways in which you and others define their relationship with the natural world

  • Skywoman Falling
  • Old-Growth Children
  • Astors and Goldenrod


Nature’s gifts, gratitude, and acts of reciprocity

  • The Gift of Strawberries
  • Maple Nation: A Citizenship Guide
  • People of Corn, People of Light


The importance of the language we use when naming non-humans, the importance of language to culture, and its impact on the way we view and interact with the natural world

  • Learning the Grammar of Animacy
  • In the Footsteps of Nanabozho: Becoming Indigenous to Place
  • Mishkos Kenowagwen: The Teaching of Grass


As you craft your essay, use first-person (“I”) to draw connections to your own life, but also be sure to include direct quotations and analysis of key ideas from essays that spoke to you most strongly. First and foremost, enjoy this assignment and don’t stress about it. Push yourself to be thoughtful and creative in your essay, but know that it does not have to be perfect.

Log in with your Colgate username and password. If you have trouble logging in, please contact ITS (itshelp@colgate.edu; 315-228-7111). If you have other logistical questions, please contact Ms. Kelly Snyder (ksnyder@colgate.edu; 315-228-7807).