The family philosophy at K-State is well known to many students, faculty and staff. However, it may be seen as an unfamiliar concept to outsiders. That is, until they read “K-State: An Alphabet Journey Across Campus,” created by Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education, and Lotta Larson, associate professor of curriculum and instruction.
Mercer and Larson said they co-authored the children’s book (that was released in 2013) to emphasize the depth and experiences of the K-State family. It strives to evoke K-State memories of “adventures and academics, friends and family, and games and graduation,” as written in the preface.
“Our hope (is) people will take this and share it with the special people they call family,” Mercer said.
The thread of family is woven into each one of the 26 pages in the alphabet book.
“I think what’s really precious about the book is just that it truly sends that message of K-State family,” Larson said. “You look at the pictures, and you just realize how special K-State is.”
Passion and knowledge
The idea for the book began to take root three years ago when Mercer and her husband, a Big 12 football official, would travel to other colleges. While he was on the field prior to the games, she had the opportunity to explore campus – including their bookstores.
“I was struck time and time again at the displays in campus bookstores with books for children,” Mercer said.
With a shared interest in children’s literature, Larson and Mercer discussed the possibility of creating an alphabet book about K-State. The two possessed passion and knowledge, which they said inspired them to take on the project.
“We both love K-State so much,” Larson said. “We were thinking of ways to give back and help other people love K-State as much as we do.”
Giving back is a facet of the family dynamic, especially at K-State. For Larson and Mercer, they said it was important that the proceeds from the book go to scholarships for students in the college of education.
“I honestly think that that is part of why people have been so extremely helpful, because we made that clear from the very beginning – that the goal was not for us to make any money, but we just wanted a way to give back to the students,” Larson said, “I think people are really prone to helping out when you do that.”
Both Larson and Mercer have unique experiences at K-State, which include earning eight degrees collectively between them. During their time as undergraduates, graduate students, doctoral candidates and currently as an administrator and faculty member, they each said they developed a strong connection to K-State.
“We have so many things in which we take a great deal of pride,” Mercer said, “So many people come to K-State and really become immersed in our family culture.”
Many people took part in the creation and production of the alphabet book. Undergraduate students from Kappa Delta Pi education honor society and graduate students in the reading specialist program, both in the College of Education, contributed ideas for the book’s content. Colleagues of Larson and Mercer provided suggestions, as well as other various K-State students and faculty members.
“We started out by meeting with different groups of students, both graduate and undergraduate student groups,” Larson said. “We literally gave them the blank alphabet. We said fill it out (with) anything you’d associate with K-State.”
And so it began.
“We got so many different words and different ideas we would never have thought of,” Larson said.
The suggestions helped give Larson and Mercer direction for the book. Each page hosts a poem focused on each letter’s connection to K-State, which allows the book to cover the breadth of campus instead of just one attribute per page.
Staff at K-State’s university photography services; Fred Bradley, professor of special education and counseling; Mary Hammel, associate director of the Catalyst Technology, Media and Creative Services Center in the college of education; and Kevin Robel, owner of Robel Graphics in Manhattan, all assisted in the production.
“It’s been truly a collaborative effort,” Larson said.
Pictures were placed on the page with watermarked words set in the background. Twenty-six stanzas were composed in celebration of the university’s heritage. This came together to form Larson and Mercer’s vision – to share the layers of the K-State with family.
On the carefully crafted pages, couplets convey K-State’s unique traditions and commitment to excellence.
“It’s been rather successful,” Steve Levin, general manager of Varney’s Book Store, said.
He said the book is a popular item when people come to town for athletic events and other special events with their families.
There is a historical component that allows stories to be shared across generations, Larson said. It is not age-specific; the idea was for families to read and share it together.
Sharing the book with their own families made the whole project more meaningful for Larson and Mercer.
“It was a labor of love, but it was such a fun one,” Mercer said.
The books are available for $20 in Mercer’s office, located in Bluemont 006, as well as the K-State Campus Store in the K-State Student Union and Varney’s in Aggieville.
This article was written for an MC200 course through the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications.