University selects 2012 common reading book: “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”

Recent findings from Case Western Reserve University—including breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s disease research and the development of a polymer that fixes scratches in a flash—showcase the innovation of members of the university community. With the selection of this year’s common reading book and the fall convocation speaker, university leaders hope to inspire even more ingenuity in incoming students.

The 2012 common reading book will be the New York Times bestseller The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba. All new students will receive a copy of the book and are encouraged to read it and participate in group discussions during the opening of school activities.

In addition, Kamkwamba, a 24-year-old Dartmouth University junior, will speak at Case Western Reserve’s fall convocation Aug. 29. He is the first college student to be named convocation speaker.

“Kamkwamba captures the intelligence, creativity, drive and perseverance that characterize the Case Western Reserve University student,” said Rick Bischoff, vice president of enrollment management at Case Western Reserve. “We hope his story will inspire and engage our new students as they start their college careers.”

The bestselling book, co-written with Bryan Mealer, tells Kamkwamba’s story, starting with his childhood in a village in Malawi, Africa, where he helped farm and dealt with the region’s worst famine in 50 years. At the same time, he attended school, until he was forced to quit when his parents couldn’t afford the yearly $80 tuition.

After dropping out, he spent time at the community library, where he learned about science and used the newfound knowledge to help fuel his dreams of bringing electricity and light to his village.

His quest started with a pedal-powered wheel that generates light. But before long, Kamkwamba craved more for his village, and he set out to construct a windmill.

Not surprisingly, Kamkwamba’s story is one filled with adversity, from financial obstacles to public mockery—not to mention the fact that he had to teach himself physics.

But Kamkwamba’s book relates more than just his personal journey; he also tells of the plight of Malawai, where AIDS and poverty are pervasive, and his vision for a new Africa, filled with leaders and innovation.

“All things are made possible,” he writes, “when your dreams are powered by your heart.”

Kamkwamba, a 2007 TED Global Fellow and a student in the inaugural class of the Pan-African Leadership Academy in South Africa, has addressed audiences at the 2008 World Economic Forum, at TED conferences and at schools and universities around the world.