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Ryan Piurek
Director, University Communications

Last modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New social media community asks for IU stories in eight words or less

'Super-short' story contest inspired by visionary global literacy program

Oct. 27, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's "Spirit of IU" social media community for IU friends, alumni and students has launched a new contest: Stories from IU.

The challenge? Contest participants have to tell their "IU story" in 8 words or less. They also have to capture the imaginations of IU alumni judges Nancy Uslan, founder of a visionary global literacy program, and her husband, Michael Uslan, executive producer of the Batman movies.

Michael and Nancy Uslan

Michael and Nancy Uslan

The inspiration for the super-short story contest contest is a collaborative learning program called Books & Beyond, in which students from IU Bloomington's Global Village Living-Learning Center, an undergraduate residence that caters to students with international interests, share stories with young students in New Jersey and Rwanda, and help them learn to write and read. The program started in an effort to provide Rwandan schoolchildren with books, in the aftermath of genocide.

Nancy Uslan is the driving force behind the Books & Beyond Project, in which an average of 45 IU students participate each year. Michael Uslan has been the executive producer of all the Batman movies and many other movie and TV productions, including Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? Michael also designed and developed the first accredited college course on comic books while a student at IU.

Starting Oct. 1, anyone with a connection to or interest in IU will have the chance to share their IU story, in 8 words or less, at

The Uslan's 8-word IU story? "Fell in love with IU and each other."

The interactive Spirit of IU site seeks to capture IU alumni accomplishments and interests, through picture-sharing groups, such as "IUAA Members," "IU Babies" and "IU Travelers," status posts and contests.

"The spirit of IU is exemplified by the Books & Beyond program, and we wanted to recognize that spirit by inviting Nancy and Michael Uslan to judge our 'Stories from IU' contest," said IU Alumni Association Executive Director JT. Forbes.

"I couldn't be happier that IU is helping us bring attention to Books & Beyond," said Nancy Uslan. "My vision was to bring literacy and critical thinking skills to Rwandan children through a creative collaboration between students at Indiana University and TEAM Schools in Newark, N.J. Students in the U.S. write and illustrate children's stories, which are published in a book that is used as a teaching tool for Rwandan children. This process provides a landscape of opportunities for all who are giving and receiving. Nothing is more rewarding than to see the students at work here in the U.S. and to look into the eyes of the grateful Rwandan children when we arrive with their books."

As part of the Books & Beyond program, Newark's TEAM Schools, IU Global Village and students from Kabwende Primary School in Rwanda write and illustrate stories. The stories, with such themes as hopes and dreams, are then published into an anthology and distributed to the 2,000 students at Kabwende Primary School. Each summer, participating IU students travel to Rwanda to deliver the books and observe, first hand, how they are changing lives. The project fosters literacy, critical thinking skills and a global approach to education.

The concept of Spirit of IU derives from "The Spirit of Indiana," a traditional rite once performed at IU's Freshman Convocation.

"Herman B Wells referred to the 'spirit of IU' drawing him in to a place of unparalleled creativity," said Valerie Peña, associate vice president and chief of staff for the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations. "Like so many, he felt a deep love for IU. Spirit of IU is our way of making it easier for people to express their love for this university, to connect, to share memories and create new ones through alumni communities."

"The Spirit of IU game is a great way for alumni to engage with the university, and we created it to help alumni and friends to make connections that we hope will enrich their lives," Forbes said.

The IU Alumni Association is dedicated to serving the university and its diverse alumni, students and friends. As one of the nation's largest alumni organizations, serving more than 540,000 graduates worldwide, the IUAA provides many programs and services to its members, nonmember alumni and the university. For more information, visit or call 800-824-3044.