Mancur Olson Scholars Reading Groups

Explore new ideas through peer discussion.



The Mancur Olson Scholars program brings together diverse students to study an important topic of our time. By sharing their own views and hearing the perspectives of their peers, scholars experience the value of free expression and develop scholarly skills. 

Each reading group focuses on a central topic with books pre-selected by the faculty facilitator. The small group size (usually about 10 students) allows scholars to build relationships, speak freely, and examine the issues in-depth. 

Reading groups enhance the university experience by helping students explore important ideas, engage in civil discussion, and develop new skills. 

Scholars are invited to think critically and engage in robust discussion of ideas. Civil disagreement with one another and the text is not only accepted, but actively encouraged. All students who complete the reading group receive a scholarship. In addition, students are given opportunities to network with guest speakers and attend exclusive events. 


To be eligible for the Mancur Olson Scholars program, a student must meet all of the following:

  • NDSU student
  • Open to all majors and minors
  • Minimum 3.0 GPA

*Additional requirements may be needed for upper-level reading groups. 


Students who are selected must meet the following expectations:

  • Scholars must attend all scheduled reading group meetings.
  • Scholars must read the assigned texts before each meeting and come prepared to participate in group discussions.
  • Scholars must be willing to explore new ideas and join rigorous debate without engaging in personal attacks. 
  • Scholars must treat the reading group moderator and all other scholars with respect and civility.
Selection Process

Students are selected through a competitive application process. Applicants are evaluated on their written and oral responses from the online application and an in-person interview. Successful scholars come with an inquisitive mind, an interesting perspective, and a willingness to engage in civil dialogue about potentially controversial issues. 

Upcoming Reading Groups

A Conflict of Visions: Engaging Political Disagreement

Scholars will engage opposing political views as we examine why we disagree and how to disagree better: "The purpose of argument should not be victory, but progress." Each participant will receive a $500 scholarship.

Dystopian and Utopian Novels

Scholars will explore dystopian and utopian societies through the lens of popular novels. We will examine how literature reveals our human desires and fears as we seek to better understand what leads humanity to flourish (utopia) and suffer (dystopian). Each participant will receive a $500 scholarship. 

Current Reading Groups

The Great Debate: Marxism vs. The Market

Scholars will explore the great debate between the competing economic systems of socialism and free market capitalism. We will discuss the merits and criticisms of each system and their path forward in America in 2020. 

Society vs. the Environment?

Scholars will explore how human societies around the world interact with their environments and examine the conditions necessary to maintain the delicate balance between using the environment for immediate benefits and preserving it for future use. 


The Mancur Olson Scholars program launched in fall 2017. Since then, more than 60 scholars have participated in reading groups.

Fall 2019 Scholars

Driving and Sustaining Change in Life and Business

ReadThe Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg; Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Explore: How entrepreneurship relates to social life and value creation.

Student quotes

Back row: Dr. James Caton, Riley Giauque, Derek Phelps, Michael Straus, Emmy Smith, Eve Hanson, Nadia Mitchell
Front row: Siddhant Khemani, Lindsey Prestholdt, Matthew Friedmann

Entrepreneurship and Human Action

ReadHomer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics by Joshua Hall; Human Action: A Treatise on Economics by Ludwig von Mises; Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Explore: Entrepreneurship through the lens of economics - from 20th century philosophy to the popular sitcom The Simpsons.

Student quotes

Back row: Noah Carlson, Jordan Thielman, Cory Brodeur, Colby Warzecha
Front row: Dr. James Caton, Corbin Clark, James Slagle, Shay Radhakrishnan, Chrystian Ulrich, Elysia Taniguchi, Khadeeja Mahmood

Spring 2019 Scholars

Regulating Food and Vice

ReadThe Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate by Jayson Lusk; Regulating Vice: Misguided Prohibitions and Realistic Controls by Jim Leitzel

Explore: How food and vices are regulated and the effectiveness of these regulations at achieving their goals.

Student quotes: "I am learning a lot that I wouldn't have learned in class."

"This has been such an enriching experience for my education."

"It's definitely a fun opportunity to talk about issues - and hey, it's scholarship money too!"

Back row: Dr. Jayson Lusk (author), Dr. Raymond March, Reed Petersen, Calvin Benson, Colby Warzecha, Jordan Thielman
Front row: Turner Gunderson, Matthew Friedman, Kole Nichols, Praj Warang, Jasmin Kaempfer, Dr. Jeremy Jackson
Not pictured: Gwen Scheresky


ReadHumanomics: Moral Sentiments and the Wealth of Nations for the Twenty-First Century by Bart Wilson and Vernon Smith

Explore: How Adam Smith's model of sociality can re-humanize twenty-first century economics.

Upper division reading group: This reading group was open to students with previous reading group experience or advanced knowledge of economics. In addition to reading group meetings, participants planned to join students from more than four campuses for a weekend colloquium hosted by Creighton University in Omaha, NE. Due to weather conditions, the students were unable to attend.

Pictured: Kole Nichols, Dr. Jeremy Jackson, Menah Khodair, Calvin Benson

Fall 2018 Scholars

Evolution in Entrepreneurship

Read: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford; Understanding the Process of Economic Change by Douglass C. North

Explore: A new and inspiring approach to solving the most pressing problems in our lives.

Student quotes: "I think the most important thing I've learned so far is that entrepreneurship is forever changing."

"This is a great way of exploring a topic."

"I feel like I'm learning so much from them. It's really cool!"

Back row: Jordan Thielman, April Berntson, Allison Lelivelt
Middle row: Alexa Pemble, Kole Nichols, Mijwok Ajang, Menah Khodair, Allison Giesler, Jasmin Kaempfer
Front row: Dr. James Caton, Michael Straus
Not pictured: Calvin Benson, Gwen Scheresky

Spring 2018 Scholars

The Failure of Foreign Aid

Read: The White Man's Burden by William Easterly

Explore: Why the West's efforts to aid the rest of the world have done so much ill and so little good

Student quotes: "My favorite part has been the people: you learn from them, make friends, and hear different perspectives."

"It's a great way to become a more well-rounded individual."

"It helped me share my opinion... We're leading the conversations so it's really student-focused."

Back row: Michael Straus, Jasmin Kaempfer, Nils Hagen, John Horton, Gwen Scheresky, Calvin Benson
Front row: Casondra Rutschke, Mark Simonson, Guo Chen, Dr. James Caton
Not pictured: Nicholas Becker

Fall 2017 Scholars

Entrepreneurship and Social Order

Read: Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm by Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein; Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson 

Explore: Topics related to economics, philosophy, sociology and entrepreneurship

Student quotes: "It's a good opportunity for students to push themselves out of their comfort zone and just learn something new and do something different."

"It's interesting to see the diversity within the group."

"I highly recommend the reading group to all students."

Back row: William Schaefer, Jared Rudolph, Daniel Justesen, Guo Chen, Dr. James Caton
Front row: Austin Jordahl, Mark Simonson, John Horton, Jose Manuel Espinosa Gonzalez



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