Students learn professors are people, too

Oct 12, 2012

Faculty and Students at FiresideAttention, students and faculty: The Office of Student Engagement invites you to a unique new event at the Fireside Café and Pub. They’ll pick up the tab.

Beginning this year, the office, under the direction of Andrea Wensowitch, kicked off the monthly series called Pitchers with Professors as a way to encourage out-of-class conversations between students and faculty members. Students over the age of 21 are invited to hang out with faculty members over a pitcher of beer in a relaxed, social environment. Those not yet 21 are invited to participate as well, and can quench their thirst with a non-alcoholic beverage.

“We had a desire for students to get to know their professors on a personal level and vice versa,” said Wensowitch. “We hope this will help facilitate those conversations.”

To date, Pitchers with Professors has been held twice during happy hours with about 20 people in attendance.

There’s another advantage to the program as well. A university-sanctioned event with proper role modeling can begin to change the face of what consuming alcohol responsibly on a college campus should look like, Wensowitch said.

“This program helps model appropriate social drinking behavior,” she said. “We want to utilize our pub as a social hub but also a place for learning. This is an intentional melding of the two groups to bring about a positive effect.”

A number of faculty members have responded very positively, showing their support by participating in the program early on, even gaining benefits to their classroom instruction. Political science professor Dr. Marc O’Reilly believes that getting to know his students in this environment allows him to be a more effective and relevant instructor, advisor and mentor.

“’Pitchers’ allows me to know students informally and therefore, more authentically,” O’Reilly said. “Talking to them in a relaxed environment, I learn their interests, opinions, joys and concerns.”

Wensowitch said she appreciates faculty involvement and support in the program. “The fact that professors value that opportunity, too, says a lot about our campus community.”

Discussion topics range widely from academic to news to family, and Wensowitch is on hand to monitor the tab. Senior psychology major Ben Kirk had “a great talk with people I would have never thought about discussing politics with” following the recent president debate.

“I like the Pitchers with Professors program because it’s a great way to get to know professors outside of the classroom and connect with students that may have similar interests,” Kirk said. “I come away feeling that my professors are people too and I feel far more comfortable about approaching them about anything.”

On a larger scale, Wensowitch believes the program is helping to engage the community – on its own “back porch”” – in a positive way. In some sense, the program carries on a long-standing tradition of student-faculty interaction outside of the classroom. Alumni from generations past often fondly remember time spent with favorite professors after the formal learning ended.

“My hope is that the program will continue to gain support,” Wensowitch said.

The next Pitchers with Professors event is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1.