Students and professors share dinner and discussion

by Karlee Weinmann

Over sandwiches and soft drinks, students and professors spent Thursday night getting better acquainted.

The College of Liberal Arts Student Board sponsored the year’s first Food for Thought Banquet at Potbelly Sandwich Works in Dinkytown.

CLA Student Board president Christopher Pomarico said professor-student dinners have typically been held at least once per semester over the last three or four years, as funds allow.

“We discovered that a lot of students were feeling disconnected from their professors,” he said.

History senior Anja Kroll had attended the event before, and this time brought history department teaching assistant Nick Martin.

“It definitely makes the school seem smaller and your classes less intimidating,” Kroll said. “It makes teachers seem more like regular people.”

The CLA Student Board’s external committee, comprised of about 15 members, was responsible for organizing the event.

CLA students, individually or in small groups, signed up to bring the professor of their choosing to the event free of charge.

Pomarico said there were two fully booked dinner sessions from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. and 6 p.m. until 7 p.m. to accommodate all who wished to participate.

Twenty-two groups, each comprised of up to five individuals, signed up. Approximately 70 people in total benefited from the free meal.

“The only people we turned away were very large groups,” Pomarico said. “We had an entire class that wanted to bring their teacher, and we just can’t accommodate that.”

Global studies senior Mary Guenette and French senior Margot Wagner invited professor of African history Victoria Coifman to dinner, though it was not for a meet-and-greet meal.

The two traveled to Senegal for a research trip where Coifman was the faculty adviser, and saw the banquet as an opportunity to keep in touch, but Coifman said such events can also be conducive to positive in-class experiences.

“These kinds of things lead to a lot of increased creativity and testing of new ideas in the classroom,” Coifman said. “It makes everyone feel a whole lot happier.”

Similarly, psychology professor Mark Stellmack, who dined with genetics and physiology senior TuAnh Le, said closer relationships between students and educators can impact teaching methods.

“It gives you opportunities for different ways to present materials, because you get to know what people’s interests are,” he said. “It’s a really good idea.”

Travis Reiners, CLA Student Board external committee co-chair, said as a transfer student he hadn’t experienced a sense of community encouraging deeper student-teacher connection at other institutions.

“People live close to the ‘U,’ side by side with professors and teaching assistants alike,” he said. “These factors allow this event to fill itself.”

Aside from student-professor mingling, the event is held to help draw attention to the CLA Student Board.

Pomarico said the best way to generate student interest is by providing food, and that an earlier Food For Thought Banquet sparked his involvement in the group.

“A big part of it is getting our name out there, not just for personal advertising, but so the students know we exist to help them,” he said.