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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 11, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 2
Students and Faculty: Not Oil and Water

New program will support outside-the-classroom activities

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Outside the classroom, the rapport between undergraduates and faculty can often be awkward and limited. Like oil and water — or rows of boys and girls at a grammar school dance — they just don't mix.

In an effort to help break down barriers and forge stronger ties between the two groups, Homewood's Office of the Dean of Student Life this fall will launch a new program that seeks to provide students and faculty opportunities to interact in informal settings outside the classroom and more closely link faculty with the residential community.

This Faculty Associates program will officially launch next week, with a get-together for participating faculty and interested students at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 19 in the AMR Multipurpose Room.

Just prior to the open house, the Office of the Dean of Student Life will assign at least three participating faculty to each of the four freshman residential housing units: AMR 1, AMR 2, Buildings A and B, and Wolman House. The faculty will not reside in the facility but rather have an "association" with the building's residents and can choose to host the majority of their planned activities there. In addition, faculty pictures and brief bios will be posted on each building's bulletin boards. The bios will include descriptions of the faculty's academic area and interests, in addition to his or her hobbies and talents outside the classroom.

As part of the overall effort to bring faculty and students closer together, the university has also created a Faculty Fellow program. Amy Lynne Shelton, an assistant professor in the Krieger School's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences with a joint appointment in Neurosciences in the School of Medicine, will be the first Charles Commons Faculty Fellow and will reside, with her family, in the new upperclassman housing facility for the next two years.

Susan Boswell, dean of student life, said that both the Faculty Associates program and Faculty Fellow concept came out of talks with students who in recent years have expressed a strong desire to intermingle more with the faculty.

"The ultimate goal with these programs is to foster an environment where informal interaction is the norm instead of the exception," Boswell said. "Clearly, I think students are often intimidated in making that first step with faculty, but I think faculty are just as intimidated when it's outside of the classroom. A student might come up to them and say, 'So, what did you do on Saturday?' I think that sort of feels uncomfortable for the faculty member. I think the students and faculty are two groups that would love to interact, but they are not sure how. Part of what we are doing is fostering an environment where that first move is easy."

The Faculty Associates program will feature on- and off-campus activities limited only to the imaginations of the participants. Students in each of the residential housing units will identify activities that their "house" would like to host and forward that list to the faculty members, who can simply show up and enjoy the event. Faculty will also come up with their own ideas for activities, from anything as basic as a coffee and cookies discussion in the residence hall's lounge to a guided tour of a local museum. Boswell said that faculty might also choose to host a themed meal, lunch on campus, movie night, bike ride at a local park or a trip to a local attraction like the National Aquarium or an Orioles game.

Each event will be advertised within the residential community and will be open to all students who live there.

The budget, organization and logistics of the events will be handled by Office of the Dean of Student Life staff.

"We are there to assist and support the faculty and students in doing any sort of program they want to do," Boswell said. "Sometimes students might want to participate because of the event, sometimes because of the faculty member involved, but it doesn't matter. The idea is to get them together any way possible."

Additionally, Boswell said that the Faculty Associates program will allow faculty members the opportunity to expose students to their interests — academic and nonacademic — and possibly ignite student curiosity in new topics or a new major or minor. She hopes it will also increase the possibility of undergraduate research assistantships and improve the overall student-faculty exchange.

Matthew Roller, chair of the Department of Classics and one of the first faculty to sign up for the program, said that during his days as an undergraduate at Stanford, there were a variety of successful programs that connected faculty to residents.

"In some cases I think it was a great boon to students, though it can also be a bit awkward, and there's no way around that," Roller said. "But it's the kind of program that I know serves at least some students very well, and I think it's worth making available and supporting."

What activities does Roller have in mind? He said he's pondering a Roman feast.

"It's just a wild idea for the moment. I would need to dragoon the students in my Roman Dining course into being the chefs. Ingredients and quantities are a problem. So we'll see," he said. "Another idea for programming is to go to the Walters [Art Museum], much less off-the-wall."

To date, nearly a dozen faculty have signed up to participate, but the program can and will accept more. For more information about the Faculty Associates program and to participate, contact program coordinator Mindelyn Buford at


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