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Students can take their professors to lunch at the University Club.

Credit: Gordon Ho

While Penn's Take Your Professor to Lunch program has seen an increase in participation in the last year, many freshmen feel the program could be better adapted to new students on campus. 

Take Your Professor to Lunch allows students to invite professors, teaching assistants, or mentors to lunch or dinner at the University Club or one of Penn's dining halls up to five times a semester. The program, run through the Office of New Student Orientation and Academic Initiatives and the University Club, allows each student to invite one professor and up to two other students as guests, while professors can also host larger groups through the "Host Your Class" program. 

Take Your Professor to Lunch was expanded in 2018 to allow both undergraduates and graduate students to participate and to let students initiate up to five lunches a semester instead of one. This led to a large increase in the number of students participating — Director of NSO and Academic Initiatives David Fox said the program saw a fivefold to sevenfold increase last year compared to the numbers of previous years. But freshmen still say Penn could improve the program by increasing advertising and allowing larger groups to participate. 

Wharton freshman Derek Nhieu, who is the Class Board 2023 president, said he heard about the program at New Student Orientation but has not yet participated. However, he has had lunch with two of his professors on his own. 

“As freshmen, sometimes people forget that it’s an option to take your professor out to lunch, or get to know your professor in any other way," Nhieu said. "For me personally, I don’t know too many other people who are taking advantage of the program. A lot of my freshman friends don’t really know its a thing, or maybe they’re shy or nervous, but I feel like it could be publicized more and taken advantage of more." 

When asked in an email if freshmen are making good use of the program, Penn Business Services Director of Communications and External Relations Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote, "I do not believe we track by class year." Fox said currently, the program is marketed through emails to students and communication with schools, academic centers, residential advisors, house deans, and faculty house staff. 

Some students also said they wished Take Your Professor To Lunch allowed larger groups, as this would make students feel more comfortable signing up. College freshman Emma Mistele, who took Physics professor Joshua Klein to lunch with three classmates, said she had to reach out to the University Club to get special permission to go with a group of four students instead of three. 

“Taking the professor to lunch as a group made it a lot easier, and I wouldn’t want do it alone,” Mistele said. “They should definitely make groups bigger; the scenario in which you would want to take your professor out, you would want to do it in a group."

Engineering freshman William Li said he plans to invite Materials Science and Engineering professor Eric Stach, who teaches his Introduction to Engineering Class, to lunch at the University Club along with several other classmates. Li said the program is "not as popular as it should be" and that having groups could encourage more students to sign up. 

“One thing that I thought was a little daunting was asking teachers individually," he said. "I think having a group of friends sign up with times with teachers is a bigger motivator, because you feel more comfortable." 

Fox said while there are no current plans to change the group size policy, freshmen should talk to their RAs and GAs about the program and reach out to administrators in the Office of NSO and Academic Initiatives for specific questions. 

“I recognize that freshman year is overwhelming and maybe it isn’t the first thing [freshmen] think about,” he said. “I hope that maybe by the time they are into spring semester, they’ll give it a try.”