Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 20, 1995

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

     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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