Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Students and faculty discuss academic climate over cocktails

Last Friday, March 8, the Student Government Association and Psi Upsilon fraternity teamed up to present “Conversations over Cocktails,” an informal cocktail party with students and professors. The event was designed to help facilitate teacher-student relationships outside the classroom. About eight professors from various disciplines attended the event, and the topic of conversation was centered around Trinity’s academic climate. Using the results of an academic survey sent out to the entire student body a few weeks ago, the SGA organizers printed a flyer of statistics and questions raised by the survey. Among topics explored were, “Are all majors at Trinity equally challenging, and should they be?” and “How do you feel about Trinity’s implementation of the Liberal Arts Curriculum?” The survey garnered 457 responses, which was more than the organizers had been expecting. They will continue to organize the data of the responses and hope to conduct the survey each year. Some statistics that stood out include that 41 percent of respondents disagree with the statement that all majors are equally challenging, and 52 percent of respondents reported feeling challenged by their courseload. Members of the Academic Affairs Committee, led by Alexa Mehraban ’13, Allison Cazalet ’14, and Erica Bertoli ’14, organized the Conversations over Cocktails event because they wanted students to feel more comfortable around professors in a social setting. “We felt that since so much attention has been given to the new social policy, we wanted to kind of explore the other side of that and talk about academic issues,” said Cazalet. The event also embraced the school’s goal of providing alcohol in mature, school-sponsored environments. Finger food and wine and beer provided by Chartwell’s were served at no cost to attendees, creating a pleasant atmosphere in the main level of the Psi U House. About 40 students filtered through the event, which was held in an open-house style from 4-6 P.M. Mehraban said they were initially worried about turnout, since only six professors had confirmed attendance at the beginning of the week. Friday’s snowstorm was also a concern in attendance, but in the end they were very pleased with the range of disciplines, opinions, and experiences presented by the faculty. While some questions were posed to direct conversation, small groups of students and faculty talked about a wide range of topics. Assistant Professor of History and International Studies Seth Markle talked candidly about his experience teaching a first-year seminar last fall and the surprising amount of hand-holding that the administration expected. Principal Lecturer at the Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric Irene Papoulis also conversed about the role a major plays in deciding on a future career – not much, she thinks, and stressed the importance of internships and other experiences. David Linden ’16 attended the event, and despite not yet knowing what he will major in, gained some important insights for his next few years at Trinity. He spoke with Professor of Fine Arts Alden Gordon about various study abroad opportunities, interesting courses to satisfy the arts requirement, and even architecture that they both find interesting. Other professors in attendance included Arthur Schneider (Economics), Edward Cabot (Public Policy), Brigitte Schulz (Political Science), Mark Silk (Religion), Johannes Evelein (Language and Culture Studies), Judge Smith (Public Policy and Law), and Jasmina Spasojevic (Economics). Some students were frustrated by the lack of representation of professors from the science and engineering departments, considered by many to be some of the more challenging majors. Joanna Wycech ’14, a biomedical engineering major, was discouraged from attending the event because she felt it would be counterproductive to discuss her academic challenges with humanities professors. However, the Academic Affairs Committee hopes that this event can set the precedent for more to follow, and students will feel more comfortable joining their professors for a casual drink and intellectual argument.

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