Student groups utilize CLA’s ‘Food for Thought’

The program allows students to get to know their professors better.

Amanda Bankston

Since 1998, the College of Liberal Arts Student Board has hosted âÄúFood for Thought,âÄù a program that allows curious or appreciative students to invite their professors, teaching assistants or advisers out to dinner on the boardâÄôs tab.

About 40 pairs of students and faculty have taken advantage of the program this school year, including Heidi Chung, who has participated at least once per semester for the past two and a half years.

Each semester, the individualized studies junior chooses a professor sheâÄôd like to know more about and asks him or her to attend âÄúFood for Thought.âÄù

Chung asked Lisa Albrecht, one of her professors, to join her Thursday. At the dinner they discussed ChungâÄôs future goals, her classes and her reflections on how AlbrechtâÄôs social justice course was going.

Albrecht shared the stories of some of her former students to encourage Chung to pursue her passion.

âÄúItâÄôs really rare to get this one-on-one time with your professor,âÄù Albrecht said. âÄúUnfortunately, itâÄôs something that doesnâÄôt happen enough.âÄù

Albrecht knows all of her studentsâÄô names. To her itâÄôs no big deal âÄî just something thatâÄôs expected of her as an associate professor in the School of Social Work. But to several University of Minnesota students and parents, itâÄôs something special.

She said parents have thanked her after graduation ceremonies for âÄúknowing their kidsâÄô names,âÄù and she writes letters of recommendation for seniors who donâÄôt feel like they know any of the professors in their majors well enough to ask them.

âÄúThatâÄôs a really sad message about the University of Minnesota,âÄù Albrecht said.

She said she joins a number of people who believe it shouldnâÄôt be that way, and she wishes there were more events like âÄúFood for ThoughtâÄù to connect students and faculty at the University.

This semester, the Office of Undergraduate Education started a similar program that allows students to take their professors to lunch at a participating University Dining Services location.

Every semester, the CLA Student Board hosts two âÄúFood for ThoughtâÄù events âÄî one at a casual dining spot and one at a âÄúsit-down restaurantâÄù âÄî said Hannah Erickson, a chairwoman of the external affairs committee.

âÄúThatâÄôs really our goal âÄî to bridge the gap between students, faculty and administration,âÄù she said. âÄúThis event really serves that purpose.âÄù

Across the restaurant, eight students joined strategic communications professor David Therkelsen for dinner.

The students had nothing but nice things to say after the dinner, where they said they learned about their instructorâÄôs travels, background and experiences in the field.

âÄúIt was really great to see him more as a general person rather than a professor,âÄù said Ellen Berce, a public relations senior.

The group of upperclassmen agreed and said they all wished they had participated in the program sooner.

At the end of the night, most participants left with boxes of leftovers âÄî each had a $15 limit for an entrée and beverage.

But Michael Olson said they also left with a type of education students seldom get in a classroom setting.

âÄúAnyone can read from a textbook,âÄù he said. âÄúBut it can be seen as secondary education to get to know your professorâÄôs background and that he started out just like you.âÄù