Getting To Know You: Faculty Take Time to Share Interests with Students By Lisa Mastny Sara Castro-Klar‚n is a busy woman. She teaches two graduate courses and two undergraduate courses a year as professor in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies--the standard Hopkins teaching load. Between her classes and her research, she doesn't have as much time as she would like to interact with her students, especially undergraduates, on a daily basis. But she is not discouraged. As she walks across campus, students studying English and civil engineering alike smile and greet her, whether or not they have ever taken a class with her. They don't know her as faculty. They remember her as the engaging woman who went with them to see Les Mis‚rables or to hear the chamber orchestra at the Kennedy Center, who shared her expertise during a fascinating tour of the Pre-Columbian Collection at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington D.C., or who ate lunch with them at the charming Bistro Fran‡ais in Georgetown. Dr. Castro-Klar‚n is a veteran of one of the most effective programs at Hopkins to get undergraduates and faculty to interact outside the classroom--the Faculty Student Interaction Program. Begun in 1986 after a concerned student suggested that the university do something to provide greater undergraduate access to faculty, FSI has since been highly successful in achieving its goal. The program, operated out of the Office of the Dean of Students and funded in part by both the Homewood deans and the Young Alumni Fund, coordinates anywhere from 10 to 20 small group events per semester. These range from the numerous outdoor events held in the fall to the more arts-oriented events in the spring. "In the past, FSI groups have gone bird-watching, horseback riding, canoeing and on the Old Rag Hike with Michael Beer, usually during first semester. One year we also organized trips up to Gettysburg with Bruce Marsh and to a museum in Philadelphia," said Patrice Mason, FSI program coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students. "Second semester tends to include more dining events--at a restaurant or, if we're lucky, the faculty members invite students to their homes. And then we always have plenty of theater and musical activities, at the Kennedy Center or the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra." Most of the events reflect the personal interests of the faculty participants, who either volunteer independently for the program or are approached individually by the 11-member FSI committee of undergraduates, who are often familiar with faculty activities. When senior Chris Drennan, an unofficial member of the committee, asked Dr. Castro-Klar‚n if she wouldn't mind doing a smaller version of her yearly class visit to the Pre-Columbian Collection at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., the Latin American scholar was eager to share her knowledge in a more intimate setting. She accompanied seven undergraduates on a recent Saturday trip to the exquisite collection, mansion and gardens in Georgetown, and then joined them for a quiet lunch at the Bistro Fran‡ais. "Going on a special tour with a small group of students who volunteered for the event is very different from leading a group of 40 students, where you are the faculty member in charge," Dr. Castro-Klar‚n said. "On Saturday, we had the collection to ourselves and could ask questions, linger and insert our own comments about the objects. Because it was such a small group, we all sat together at the same table for lunch. We talked about what we had seen, and even though I don't think anyone knew each other beforehand, everybody participated in the conversation." The FSI Program provides a unique learning situation outside the classroom for both faculty members and the students, Dr. Castro-Klar‚n said. "I take my teaching very seriously, and it is very important for me to have contact with students," she said. "But I don't always get a chance. This is an opportunity to share what we all know, because faculty learn from the students, too. For me it's a chance to learn where the students are coming from." FSI coordinator Patrice Mason attributes much of the success of the program to the small group size, generally no larger than eight students, which enables every student to interact with the faculty participant at the event. "It's not a field trip where the faculty is just the leader," Mason said. "We want students to get to know faculty who may teach in other departments, talk to them one-on-one and get to know them as people." Based on follow-up evaluations sent out after each event, over 95 percent of students who have participated in the past indicated that they do get a chance to interact personally with the faculty, Mason said. Many students also attend the events because they provide the rare opportunity to get off campus and to pursue their own interests in a more structured setting, she said. Kathryn Schad, a sophomore majoring in international studies with a concentration in Latin America, signed up for the Dumbarton Oaks event because it complemented her own academic interests. "I took a class in Latin American history and think it's really interesting, but I probably would never have gone to see the collection by myself," Schad said. "I signed up because the exhibit sounded neat, and the program is so prearranged and effortless. All you have to do is wake up. It's great!" Space is still available for many of the upcoming FSI events, including a concert at the BSO with Academic Advising's Ruth Aranow on April 7 and dinner at Spike and Charlie's restaurant with Chemical Engineering assistant professor Kathleen Stebe on April 8. For more information check the FSI e-mail at fsimail@jhunix or contact Patrice Mason at 516-8208.
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