Out to lunch

Student Success Center program brings faculty and students to the table

Students and professors talk all the time, but how does it happen outside office hours, outside class? And when they do talk, what do they talk about? Do they stick to the syllabus or see where the conversation takes them?

Out to Lunch, a longstanding program run by the Student Success Center in partnership with Carolina Dining Services, was started as a way to improve interaction outside the classroom by encouraging students to invite their instructors to a meal and then talk about — well, that’s up to them.

“There are so many different conversations they could have,” says Liz Carmon, coordinator of marketing and communications at the Student Success Center and director of the program. “They can talk about research, they can talk about extracurricular activities, they could ask about the professor’s own college experience.”

And the experience pays off.

“Students have reported being more comfortable approaching their professors after they’ve done this,” Carmon says. “They use the program again sometimes, or it becomes something they routinely do — not necessarily through our program, but they become more comfortable saying to a professor, ‘Hey, can we grab a coffee?’”

Last fall, the program was used by more than 250 students, though Carmon says it’s natural for the numbers to drop off in the spring. “In the fall semester, it’s more heavily used because a lot of University 101 classes require students to do this or they offer extra credit,” she explains. 

Whatever the circumstances, whichever semester, participating students fill out a consultation worksheet at the Student Success Center in Thomas Cooper Library and then sit down with a Success Center consultant for a casual 10-15 minute conversation.

“That’s basically a way for us to know that they are taking it seriously, and for the student to start thinking about why they are doing this and what they hope to accomplish,” Carmon explains.

While conversation comes easily for many students, others find asking their instructor out to lunch intimidating.

For those students, going through with the lunch and knowing what to say once they get there can range from awkward to anxiety-inducing — and that’s particularly true for students who participate as part of a U101 course assignment.

“Sometimes if it’s for a class assignment they say, ‘I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do,’” Carmon says. “So we talk about what their questions might look like, how to ask open-ended questions instead of just ‘yes’/’no’ type questions. We have them write down different talking points.”

Once everything has been squared away, students receive a prepaid Carolina Card to pay for their instructor’s lunch (students foot the bill for their own meal). The Student Success Center then emails the instructor a heads-up and information about the program.

“This is also just about having conversations,” says Carmon. “Students need to be able to have these one-on-one conversations when they go on job interviews, or when they’re networking. We’re just trying to get their feet wet.”

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