From Lectures to Lunch:
Gets Profs and Students Talking
by Vincent Reda
Meghan and Brian, undergraduate students in Reed Hoyt's lecture course in basic music theory, mentioned seeing him at a piano concert they attended the previous week. A musical discussion ensued.
Shifting gears a few minutes later, Hoyt gently teased Brian about his becoming a recent TV "star," interviewed on a local channel.
"Yeah," Brian laughed, "I didn't realize they were going to put me on camera."
The conversation gravitated to faculty-student interaction, Meghan explaining where faculty had lived on campus. Brian asked where Hoyt now lived — Colonie, it turned out.
"Have you gone to the Cheesecake Factory?" asked Brian.
"Yes — pretty good," said Hoyt. Eateries became Topic A. Hoyt extolled the delights of old downtown Albany, including the Miss Albany Diner. Meghan praised the bistros of Lark Street, including a Thai restaurant. Hoyt said he has been going all the way to Williamstown for such cuisine, so he would try it.
No, not your typical classroom fare, but a classroom this was not. It was luncheon at the Indian Quad cafeteria for Hoyt and a few students as part of the Food for Thought Program, initiated this semester through the Division for Student Success, the Student Association (SA), and University Auxiliary Service (UAS).
"The program purposely focuses on large Lecture Center classes, where it can be more difficult for faculty members to get to know their students," said Beth Conrad, senior staff assistant in Student Activities. She said that professors first meet with up to five students in their class at a student dining hall and next at the Patroon Room, a spot more frequented by faculty and staff.
"Is this your first time dining at Indian Quad?" Brian asked Hoyt.
The professor laughed. "This is the first time I've been on Indian Quad," he answered.
Similarly, students Chris and Carol from David Strait's "Introduction to Human Evolution" class said they were new to the Patroon Room when they accompanied him in the second part of their dining experience with Strait.
"So, it's like they give you real silverware here," commented Chris on the table setting.
Added Adam, a third classmate, "yes, and somebody actually serves you drinks."
Strait noted that the quad dining experience a few days before had centered on the students' feelings about their current classes and Strait's travels and cultural experiences as a paleontologist in Africa and the Middle East. At the Patroon Room, talk included the respect all had for public universities, then drifted to how Strait had gotten into Harvard. "Did a relative of yours go there?" asked Carol.
No, Strait had actually managed it without
connections. He did, however, beguile his
interviewer at the Harvard Club in New York City by
demonstrating his knack for producing "animal
SA President Nick Chiuchiolo said that the Association last year "made it a priority to increase student-faculty interaction outside the classroom, because that can be just as important as dealings inside the classroom."
While a SurveyMonkey.com assessment will soon be distributed to all participants for feedback on the program, Chiuchiolo and Conrad agree that comments to date have been positive. "Students do enjoy talking with their professors in a more casual environment," said Chiuchiolo.