Since 1998, the College of Liberal Arts Student Board has hosted “Food for Thought,” a program that allows curious or appreciative students to invite their professors, teaching assistants or advisers out to dinner on the board’s 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 she’d like to know more about and asks him or her to attend “Food for Thought.”
Chung asked Lisa Albrecht, one of her professors, to join her Thursday. At the dinner they discussed Chung’s future goals, her classes and her reflections on how Albrecht’s social justice course was going.
Albrecht shared the stories of some of her former students to encourage Chung to pursue her passion.
“It’s really rare to get this one-on-one time with your professor,” Albrecht said. “Unfortunately, it’s something that doesn’t happen enough.”
Albrecht knows all of her students’ names. To her it’s no big deal — just something that’s expected of her as an associate professor in the School of Social Work. But to several University of Minnesota students and parents, it’s something special.
She said parents have thanked her after graduation ceremonies for “knowing their kids’ names,” and she writes letters of recommendation for seniors who don’t feel like they know any of the professors in their majors well enough to ask them.
“That’s a really sad message about the University of Minnesota,” Albrecht said.
She said she joins a number of people who believe it shouldn’t be that way, and she wishes there were more events like “Food for Thought” 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 “Food for Thought” events — one at a casual dining spot and one at a “sit-down restaurant” — said Hannah Erickson, a chairwoman of the external affairs committee.
“That’s really our goal — to bridge the gap between students, faculty and administration,” she said. “This event really serves that purpose.”
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 instructor’s travels, background and experiences in the field.
“It was really great to see him more as a general person rather than a professor,” 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 — 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.
“Anyone can read from a textbook,” he said. “But it can be seen as secondary education to get to know your professor’s background and that he started out just like you.”
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