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Program builds relationships outside the classroom

The “Take a Student to Lunch” program gives students a chance to connect with faculty and staff while enjoying a free lunch or coffee together.  

The "Take a Student to Lunch" program is now used nearly 800 times each semester.

Authentic teacher-student relationships are an important facet of Elon University. Small class sizes and engaged faculty members help create these relationships in the classrooms, but it doesn’t stop there.

The “Take a Student to Lunch” program, now in its ninth year, encourages faculty and staff to meet with students outside the classroom in a less structured setting. All three dining halls along with Irazu Coffee , Acorn Coffee and Varsity Sports Grill support the program by offering users a free meal, coffee or snack.

Faculty and staff members may invite up to five students (either individually or together)during a semester and use the time to discuss classroom assignments, collaborate on research projects or simply build stronger relationships.

Scott Kelly, coordinator of Love School of Business centers and instructor in marketing, says he takes advantage of the program to “get specific feedback on how to improve class, understand the career paths of students and provide guidance, and to better grasp the technology that students use.”

His meetings with students have even influenced the topics he chooses to discuss in class. “One student told me at lunch, ‘I really want an A. Just tell me what I need in order to get it.’ This led to a classroom discussion about how professionals must deal with some ambiguity and not become robots who simply follow directions,” Kelly says.

For other professors, the “Take a Student to Lunch” program offers them a chance to connect with individual students and help them succeed in the classroom. Maureen Allen, instructor in computing sciences, has used the program ever since she began working at Elon more than eight years ago.

“I have found out so many wonderful details about each of my students,” she says. After sitting down over an informal lunch with a student who often submitted assignments late, Allen learned the student was working four jobs and taking a full course load.

“I was able to assist her with her scheduling issues and discuss how she could complete assignments in advance, ” Allen says. “Her grade went from a D to a B by simply meeting for lunch.”

Since it began in 2005, the program has grown significantly. This past semester, 312 different faculty and staff members used the program to get together with 525 different students, says Evan Heiser, assistant to the vice president for student life and dean of students.

The numbers have doubled since the program’s first year. Heiser attributes the program’s success to the opportunity it offers faculty and staff to connect with their students in a unique way. Although professors see their students every week in class, the “Take a Student to Lunch” program goes beyond the daily interactions that happen in a formal classroom setting.

“When you add food to a meeting, good things happen,” Kelly says.

The program recently expanded available locations to include even more dining options for faculty and staff to choose from. The program is now used nearly 800 times each semester.

Heiser says that he expects the program to continue to grow as both students and teachers benefit from it and encourage others to participate. He says that as more students look to be engaged outside of the classroom, teacher-student relationships that go beyond the traditional classroom setting become even more essential.

“[The program] is just one example of how faculty and staff are committed to engaging with students outside of the classroom,” Heiser says. “Conversations often lead to developing personal relationships, helping students connect on a deeper level with their faculty and staff mentors.”

As someone who recruits and admits students, Associate Director of Admissions Ashley Pearson uses the “Take a Student to Lunch” program often to reconnect with students she recruits once they are enrolled.

“It’s nice to be able to still stay in touch and witness their transition to Elon, especially during their freshman year,” she says. “For some students, they do have a difficult time and because I’m someone they’ve known since before starting at Elon, I like to keep up that connection and help them with the adjustment.”

Students echo faculty and staff members in their enthusiasm for the program. “By taking your relationship out of the classroom or professional environment, it makes you feel more comfortable in approaching [a faculty or staff member] for help and advice,” says Alex Melnick ’14. “I wish I would have use the program more during my earlier years at Elon.”

To use the program, tell the cashier you are using the “Take a Student to Lunch” program and present your Phoenix Card to be swiped. All food and beverage items will be charged to the “Take a Student to Lunch” program account.

Natalie Brubaker,
2/17/2014 3:15 PM