This October, students in McCarthy Hall can forgo the O’Donovan Hall experience to eat with a professor at The Tombs.
Launched last February by Hall Director Lamar Dawson, the McCarthy Hall “Out to Lunch” program provides students with a unique opportunity to connect with professors outside the classroom.
Previously, resident assistants held faculty-student programs that included pizza dinners in common rooms with a professor, but according to Dawson, these initiatives were neither effective nor engaging.
“What I was finding was that [Resident Assistants] would invite professors to have a presentation on the floor, and yeah, there’d be free pizza, but no one would come. “
Dawson said he wanted to establish a new program that students would actually want to attend.
“So I was thinking, ‘What do students really like, and what can they learn at the same time?’” he said. “Students love The Tombs, and people love a free lunch, so what if we took our professors out to lunch to break down some of those barriers and just have a relaxed conversation?”
So far this semester, Dawson has organized six lunches, and roughly six to 10 students have attended each, along with an RA and a professor invited by the Office of Residence Life.
RAs organize the lunches, helping to break the ice between students and teachers. At the end of the meal, they also pay for the lunch using a portion of the floor funds collected at the beginning of the semester.
The group meets for an hour-long meal at The Tombs, and discussions have included the uprising in Syria, the Occupy movement and the presidential debates.
Assistant Dean of the School of Foreign Service and professor Elizabeth Arsenault led the discussion about Syria last February. She said she was impressed by student turnout and participation in the discussion.
“The students were tremendously engaged, drawing linkages between the
events in Syria and coursework that they had studied in their various
classes,” she said.
Other professors who have participated said they found that the program gives them a glimpse of student life outside the classroom.
“It is easy for both faculty and students to forget that faculty were once undergraduates,” assistant professor in the department of human science Maureen Basha, who led a discussion on the final presidential debate Monday, said. “These lunches help remind me of the student point of view and the joys and challenges of being an undergraduate.”
Dawson chooses preliminary topics for discussion and each professor revises the subject to suit his or her interests. The most popular discussions have been ones that relate to social issues.
“Students really crave being able to talk about what it means to be a Georgetown student,” Dawson said.
Brian Monahan (COL ’15), an RA in McCarthy, agreed.
“The conversation felt very organic and natural, and I think everyone benefited from discussing things that were mutually interesting for everyone at the table,” he said.
For many students, the lunches present an opportunity to befriend people in their dorm whom they would not normally meet.
“Sophomores tend to stop trying to meet people in their hall and building, so this is a nice way to get that started,” McCarthy resident Tania Ryseck (MSB ’15), said. “I met people in my building who I now can say hi to in the elevator, which is nice. It makes for a better community.”
In the future, as the program becomes more institutionalized, Dawson said he wants students to play a larger role in planning each lunch.
“I want to purchase preloaded gift cards to The Tombs, and students would be able to take initiative and invite one of their current professors to lunch — maybe one in whose class they’re struggling or just someone they want to get to know a little better.”