bread brings faculty and students together
working with the First Year Resource Center have organized
an ongoing series of dinners with faculty guests to help first-year
students feel more comfortable communicating with their professors.
about things over a good meal is a time-honored way of dealing
with many different situations. On Grounds, it's proving to help
first-year students break the ice with faculty. At a University
founded on the vision of a tightly knit Academical Village, where
the community has grown much larger than Jefferson's original
Intent, first-year students may feel intimidated.
response to student requests for help in approaching professors,
the First Year Resource Center started the Student-Faculty Dinner
Series in the spring of 1998, with support from the Office
of African-American Affairs, the Women's
Center, the Office
of the Dean of Students and the Center
for Alcohol and Substance Education.
times each fall and spring semester, three or four professors
and about 25 first-years sit down to dinner at the Observatory
Hill Dining Hall Community Room. Podiums and uncomfortable desk
chairs are exchanged for an elegant setting complete with tablecloths
spite of professors' sincere requests for office-hour visits
or after-class chats, students still may be nervous about taking
them up on the offer.
are saying 'Come to my office, please!' but it never crosses your
mind that they want to get to know you," said Megan Moynihan,
a fourth-year government major, who coordinates dinners with fellow
undergraduate volunteers Caroline Altman, Stephanie Mayer and
each dinner, organizers brainstorm faculty names and then send
invitations to those professors. Several groups help in soliciting
students resident advisers, USEM professors and Women's
Center staff, as well as First Year Resource Center student volunteers.
Both faculty and student interest in the program have been strong,
Moynihan said, noting she cannot recall having had to search for
semester, the student organizers changed the original format to
cater to students' specific academic and career interests. In
February, faculty and upperclass students from a particular school
were invited to dine with students interested in that field. The
Commerce and Medical
schools were the first to be featured, with a College
of Arts & Sciences dinner scheduled for April.
objective is to bring the two groups together in an environment
that is "informal and more friendly than the classroom,"
she said. Students and professors have a chance to mingle as everyone
is arriving. They are then seated at tables, usually with one
professor and six to 10 students. After the meal, faculty members
take questions from the larger group.
great about the dinner series is that it gives the professors
the opportunity to share with students some things that are going
on in their personal lives, and the first-years are able to get
to know them on a different level than in the classroom,"
instance, when assistant nursing professor Reba Childress attended
a dinner last semester, she told the students about a hike she
was going to participate in to raise money for AIDS, and some
students signed up to walk with her.
exposed the first-years to opportunities in Charlottesville that
they weren't aware of, and hopefully continued the personal
interaction of the dinner at another event," Moynihan added.
from faculty members shows they appreciated the opportunity to
interact with students.
opportunity to talk with a small group of first-years over dinner
was a refreshing change from our usual hectic pace of life,"
said Susan Burns, an assistant professor of civil engineering.
thought the seating arrangement at dinner created an excellent
conversational group," said Ellen Whitener, senior associate
dean in the McIntire School of Commerce. "I answered their
questions, not just about the Commerce School, but about opportunities
to go abroad and ways to make the most of their university experience
main thing I got out of the experience was the opportunity to
listen to what first-year students are thinking about. The dinners
certainly helped [me] understand some of the issues they face,"
said James Galloway, professor in the environmental
too, have gotten more out of the gatherings than they could have
anticipated. First-year student Jennifer Kim attended the Medical
School dinner and found herself surrounded not only by professors
and students, but also by practicing physicians and medical school
was an added bonus," she said. "I got some very good
hints that I wouldn't have thought of easily on my own, especially
since I had no real idea what I could be doing at this stage besides
taking classes and volunteering."
for the dinner series comes mainly from the FYRC, which receives
money from the Provost
Office, the Office
of the Vice President for Student Affairs and the Women's
Center. The program recently received a boost with added support
from the College of Arts & Sciences.
hope that, having shared the common experience of a meal, students
will feel more comfortable seeking out professors and that U.Va.'s
intellectual community will be strengthened in the process.