October 12, 2005

'Dining Discussions' Offer Faculty Facetime

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How would you like to discuss parasite references in Shakespeare with a Cornell professor over your morning bowl of Cheerios or suppertime Mongo? You might be surprised that this opportunity is just a dining hall’s walk away.

For ten years now Campus Life has been providing students a chance to chat with their professors about interesting topics over brunch, lunch or dinner in one of the all-you-can-eat dining halls.

According to Leslie Sadler, assistant director for faculty and special programs, 20 professors participate in Dining Discussions, and there has not been much faculty turnover.

“One of the best things going [on at Cornell] is the [Dining Discussions]: faculty fellow. It’s terrific, like dinner and a course,” said Prof. Carl Hopkins, neurobiology and behavior, the head of the BIO G 101: Biological Sciences Lecture course this semester.

Sadler added, “The [student-professor] bonding is still over an intellectual topic but more relaxed. The feedback from faculty who participate in this program is that it helps them become better teachers, because they are more in touch with what is going on with their students.”

It is also an opportunity for students to discuss topics of interest that are not necessarily being covered during the regular class period.

“I told my students I wouldn’t spend anytime during the class [BIO G 101] period discussing Intelligent Design,” and if they’d like an opportunity to discuss it, they could come to the dinner, said Hopkins.

Sadler said the most interesting thing is figuring out a topic for discussion that matches a professor’s field.

“One of the funniest conversations I had was with a parasite expert from the Vet school about planning a meal over a discussion of parasites. But since he was connected to the Schwartz Center and into theater, he decided to do his discussion about parasite references in Shakespeare.”

Even subjects like computer science and mathematics can generate interesting discussions. Prof. Graeme Bailey, computer science, was a guest of Prof. Paul Hyams, medieval studies, and they were able to generate a discussion about “what is information? Is there an information theory? And how does one find content in information using math or CS?” according to Bailey.

Cornell is full of professors with rich interests and knowledge about subjects specified or spanning disciplines. And what better way to discover another of Cornell’s amazing opportunities is there than over a jelly doughnut and a parasitic take on Shakespeare?

Archived article by Laura Harder
Sun Staff Writer