The Daily Gamecock

‘Dinner Dialogues’ connect students, faculty

Program allows professors to host meals at home, get better acquainted with students

You know your professor has a doctorate from MIT. You know about his research and his 15 years of teaching experience. But do you know the name of his dog?

In the Dinner Dialogues program, funded by Parents Annual Fund, undergraduate students get the opportunity to go to a professor’s house for a meal. The meal not only serves as a great opportunity for students to get to know their professors on a more informal and personal level, but also to become more comfortable with each other.

“You don’t see this at many universities. And people think USC is so big to begin with, so it really scales down the size and helps you get to know your professor on a one-on-one basis,” read one student’s evaluation.

Any professor on campus can choose to participate in the Dinner Dialogues program. He or she must fill out a form prior to the day of the meal, pay the up-front costs and host the students at his or her home. The Parents Annual Fund then reimburses the professor for the costs associated with the meal, for up to $10 per student.

This program has become increasingly popular among professors since it began four years ago. In the 2009-10 school year, 69 professors hosted dinners at their homes. This past fall alone, 44 professors hosted a meal.
Dinner Dialogues have taken place in all different classes, from University 101, to Social Work, to Physics, with class sizes ranging from five to over 160 students.

“The goal of Dinner Dialogues is to increase interaction between faculty members and their students outside the classroom,” said Director of Parents Programs Melissa Gentry. “It makes students feel more comfortable with the professor because of interactions with them in a more comfortable environment. You know about your accounting professor in the classroom, but if you know more about your professor as a person and have met his dog, you will feel more comfortable and ask more questions in class.”

Beyond interactions between students and their professor, the program helps students get to know each other better. For this reason, professors are encouraged to hold their meal early in the semester.

Dr. Lara Lomicka Anderson hosted her French 209 and 210 class for an authentic French breakfast. She went to a college with approximately 2,100 students for her undergraduate work and said that students had the chance to go to professors’ homes frequently. Believing that interaction was important and beneficial, she began inviting students to her home for a French breakfast even before the Dinner Dialogues program began. Since then, Lomicka has hosted a breakfast for her French class every spring.

Third-year music education student Briana Leaman is in Anderson’s French class and attended the breakfast.

“Most classes you just go, sit and leave. This [breakfast] helps you interact with the other students. You make a lot of different connections,” she said.

These connections are especially important in this particular French class. They have been in contact with students from a French engineering school near Paris and will visit France over spring break.