News Item

Lander faculty members, students share informal mealtime discussions

October 22, 2015

Educators are always looking for opportunities to reach students to help make their learning experiences more meaningful. Last year, Lander University faculty member Dr. Josie Ryan came up with the idea of inviting students to have dinner with her in Lander’s Dining Hall. Seven of her Lander faculty colleagues have followed her example in what she says has become an extremely successful method of communication outside the classroom.

Ryan, an associate professor of Mathematics, said as many as 20 students join her for Thursday evening meals, including some from her math classes and some from other majors. And since she introduced what she calls, “Dinner with Dr. Ryan,” she has also seen an increase in the number of students who meet with her during regular office hours.

Ryan said discussions cover an array of topics, such as advice related to their studies, extracurricular activities and matters unrelated to academics. “They talk about their boyfriends or girlfriends, tell jokes. They need a grown-up they can run things by or to just to hang out with an adult.” 

Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Mark Pilgrim and Mary Cromer, lecturer in Lander’s William Preston Turner School of Nursing, are among seven other faculty members who have followed Ryan’s lead and spend mealtimes with students.

Pilgrim has breakfast with several of his biology students and said he looks forward to it every week. “The conversation has varied widely from some off-the-wall biology topics to TV shows, personal family issues, career aspirations and more.” Pilgrim describes his breakfast sessions as “a worthy activity,” for students and for him, personally.

As many as 23 nursing students show up for each Friday’s “Coffee with Cromer.” She said the meetings remind her of the uncertainties she felt when she was in nursing school, and her empathy gives them encouragement.

According to Cromer, “The conversations include how students perceive their progress in the nursing program. I’ve learned where many of my students are from and things about their families.” She said they feel safe enough to tell her how they feel about her classes. There is also lightheartedness as they share stories and laughter.

Cromer believes the informal get-togethers help students understand that teachers are human, as she put it, and like her colleague Josie Ryan, she has also seen an increase in the number of students who come to see her during office hours.  

Other faculty members who share mealtimes with students are Sean Barnette, associate professor of English; Diana Delach, assistant professor of environmental chemistry; Meredith Uttley, professor of anthropology and gerontology and director of criminal justice management; Jason Lee, associate professor of biology; and Linda Carson, lecturer of sociology.

Josie Ryan and students at mealtime resize

 Dr. Josie Ryan, associate professor of mathematics at Lander University, gesturing at center, shares once-a-week mealtimes with students in the university’s Dining Hall. Ryan and seven of her faculty colleagues describe it an informal way to communicate with students about their studies and other topics.