Penn's Take Your Professor to Lunch program makes faculty accessible to students

Students are able to speak with their professors about topics that normally would not come up in the classroom

· September 12, 2012, 11:25 pm

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Typically, students will look to the front of their classroom and find their professor lecturing — but for some, getting to know their professor has meant sitting across from them at a table while sipping coffee.

Through Penn’s “Take Your Professor to Lunch” program, students are able to have a one-on-one conversation with their professors while enjoying a meal on Penn’s dime.

The program began as a Student Committee on Undergraduate Education initiative — “SCUE Lunchroom” — but has since been turned over to the administration, who took over management.

Penn also operates a similar program called “Host Your Class for Lunch (or Dinner).” Through this, professors can arrange meals with larger groups of students.

SCUE’s initial goal in creating the program years ago was to impact student life by making the educational experience better, both inside and outside the classroom, explained Wharton senior and SCUE Chair Scott Dzialo.

Rob Nelson, executive director for Education and Academic Planning in the Provost’s Office, explained that the program is currently structured as a partnership between the New Student Orientation and Academic Initiatives and Business Services.

“It’s for instructors who want to do something off the beaten path,” Nelson said of the Host Your Class for Lunch (or Dinner) program. “Let’s say a French teacher wants to do a French-themed meal. They could do it.”

Since a student’s contact with a professor normally occurs in a strictly academic setting, the program presents opportunities for students to learn about their professors’ interest, both in and outside their field.

“You get a chance to meet some of the brightest minds in the world over a free meal and it humanizes your professor,” Dzialo said. “They get to know you, you get to know them and it allows for an enhanced class experience.”

Take Your Professor to Lunch is as much of a program for faculty as it is for students.

For example, economics professor Rebecca Stein utilizes the program regularly and includes a mention of it in her class syllabus. Because her classes are very large, she likes to meet with students on a one-on-one level and build a relationship with them.

“I really have discussed everything with students,” Stein said. “From what my research is about, why they chose Penn, their favorite movies, where they’ve gone to summer camp — it really depends on the dynamic and the group of students.”

Students cited similar advantages to the program, including being able to speak with their professors about topics that normally would not come up in the classroom.

College and Wharton sophomore Diliana Dimitrova, who participated in the Take Your Professor to Lunch program with Stein, said she “liked hearing her story, asking her questions and learning about why she decided to do what she does and the research she’s doing.”

In a similar vein, Engineering sophomore John Nappo wanted an additional opportunity to interact with his professor and talk about current events.

“I think it’s a phenomenal program. My professor made a point of telling us to take advantage of this program,” he said. “Penn does a good job of making teachers accessible to students.”

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