Dining with the Deans: A Faculty Engagement Dinner Series

Dinner with Dean Braden

On Tuesday, February 19, 2019, Living and Learning Initiatives hosted the first installment of their “Dining with the Deans” Series featuring Dean Jeff Braden from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. To demystify the role of chief academic officers on campus, the origin of this program was to offer a high-impact opportunity for students from living-learning villages to have a small group, intimate dinner with the dean of an academic college. By meeting a dean in a low-stakes, relaxed setting like a small group dinner, students are able to better understand this critical academic role on campus and how deans can play a major role in supporting their collegiate goals.

Dining with Dean Braden began with Village students arriving and checking in for the event. 11 students from 7 different Villages attended the program. With students arriving before the Dean, students had time to mix and mingle while getting food and getting settled. Once Dean Braden arrived, the program continued with introductions of all participants, the event host Dr. Anna L. Patton, and Dean Braden. In order to establish a shared context for the evening, Dr. Patton asked the students some prompting questions about the role of academic deans on campus. This discussion allowed the students to share what they already knew about the responsibilities of a dean as well as set up Dean Braden to make some key remarks to the group. Dean Braden used his time first to clarify his role with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences as an advocate for undergraduate education, a scholar in pursuit of new knowledge, an educator with a passion for psychology, and a person with hobbies and interests. This time personalized Dean Braden to us in the room and created a sense of comfort among participants.

With an open rapport established, the evening concluded with an unstructured question and answer session between the students and Dean Braden. This portion of the program included highly impactful conversations about the values of humanities in a digital world, the intertwined relationship between hard and social sciences, as well as the importance of planning while not getting too attached to any one specific plan. For example, one student asked how to respond to those criticizing them for pursuing a ‘useless’ degree like philosophy, and Dean Braden provided the feedback that all knowledge is connected and that physical sciences need the social sciences to work together because, ultimately, the only science that will never become obsolete is social science. After Dean Braden’s remarks, the participants presented Dean Braden with thank you recognition for his presence over the evening. The event concluded with the group talking about college engagement opportunities then taking a few group photos. After the event, students stayed behind for nearly 30 minutes to rave about their experience with the Dean. In fact, one assessment response said, “only Dean Braden can speak from now on (just kidding)…However, objectively it was a fantastic experience and good exposure to a part of the college that I quite honestly didn’t think I had access to.”

The positive and lasting effects of this program were both immediately apparent as well as supported by the post-event assessment. First, an immediate positive effect is the infectious rapport Dean Braden cultivated with each student attendee. By the end of the night, the Dean not only knew each student by name but also remember their courses of study. Due to Dean Braden’s passion for student engagement, the attendees began asking on-site how they could get more deeply involved with the college before dinner even ended! Through this mutual connection, students were able to learn about serving as a College Ambassador, applying for internships with the College, or participating in undergraduate research. In addition to the day-of impacts, assessment data has also shown the lasting effects of the event. Speaking to the role of having a relationship with the Dean meant for one student, they responded, “I think it gives students someone to turn to…It also gives you access to a voice with an immense amount of experience.” Repeated in multiple answers, assessment demonstrates the opportunity to interact with a Dean on a personal level deeply motivates and encourages students to succeed and persist academically knowing they have someone in their corner.

The next installment of the series will feature Dean Louis Martin-Vega from the College of Engineering on April 1, 2019. Please be on the lookout from your Village Directors for more information on this event!