Faculty-student lunch program is set to develop relationships

Seth Woerhle

Sometimes the University can seem like a large, impersonal place, but a friendly lunch with a professor might shrink the campus to a manageable size.

At least that’s what the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost hopes its “Take Your Professor to Lunch” program accomplishes. It allows three to seven undergraduate students to set up a lunch date with a professor at a University Dining Services eatery while the University picks up the tab – up to $6 per person.

“(The program) helps students to get to know faculty members and faculty members get to know students in a different environment on an informal basis,” said Laura Koch, associate vice provost. “So far, we have had very positive feedback. A lot of the same students come the next time it’s done.”

Koch said the only complaint she’s heard is concern that school funds shouldn’t be used for lunches, but she says the program’s minimal budget and the relationships it develops make the program well worth the cost.

The professor-student lunch debuted as a pilot program during the spring semester of 2001 and has been full-fledged since the 2001-02 school year, with an operating budget between $3,000 and $3,500.

Koch said approximately 200 students participated in the program last spring. She said the numbers exceeded expectations, but the office hopes to involve more students in the future.

Sarah Hestad, a biosystems and agricultural engineering senior who participated in the program with a sociology professor, said she’s been in classes where she’s never spoken a word to the professor.

“When you go into a professor’s office hours, it seems like you need to have a specific topic you want to bring up to them, but I felt like having lunch gave us a way to talk without having a specific agenda,” Hestad said.

“Before, I never knew how to approach professors and be like, ‘I’d like to get to know you and have a relationship with you,’ without it seeming really strange,” she added.

But students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a lunch. Physics professor Marvin Marshak said he gets something out of the program as well.

“I try to know something about the students in my classes, about where they’re from, where they’re going and their concerns about various issues,” said Marshak, who announces his availability for the program during the first class of each semester.

Marshak said he’s on his second lunch and already has six lunch appointments for the semester.

Instead of lunch, agronomy and plant genetics professor Steve Simmons had ice cream with students in his environment and world food course. He said the meeting helped him understand his students’ perspectives.

“I learned a lot about who they were, and what I was particularly interested in was connecting with them in the course,” Simmons said. “It definitely changed how I related to those students. I was more comfortable with them and they were more comfortable with me.”

Seth Woehrle welcomes comments at [email protected]