Faculty/Student Interaction

By Susan Hagstrom
Spring, 2003

Some faculty feel that they hold office hours religiously every week and no one shows up (except for the occasional student inquiring about the midterm exam). They ask for questions at the end of class and the room goes silent. The bell rings and a stampede of students gallops out the classroom door. The faculty member is ready and willing to interact with students but frustrated at the seeming lack of interest.

This all-too-familiar dilemma was addressed at the February 20th Letters & Science Colloquium on Undergraduate Education. Invited by the Deans of the College and by the Associated Students of the University of California, four student and faculty panelists spoke about the struggles and successes of Faculty/Student Interaction. Moderator and L&S Associate Dean Rich Rhodes asked speakers to address faculty student interaction both in and outside of the classroom.

"I was not one who went to office hours when I was a student at Cal,” admitted Associate Professor of History of Art Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby. "The idea of 500 students in a class takes my breath away. Yet I know from experience that faculty can help students feel seen." Lia Kraemer, a third-year undergraduate majoring in psychology, added, "One of my professors put a microphone in the middle of the classroom. This encouraged students and let them know that the professor really wanted to hear from them."

Political Science major Jason Mehta suggested that L&S faculty adopt a practice of Haas professors and select five to ten "Undergraduate Classroom Representatives" from among their students. Class Reps are responsible for soliciting and relaying information and student opinions to the professor throughout the semester. In Jason's experience, these students really make a difference in the classroom and are able to develop much closer relationships with the professor. Laura Stoker, Associate Professor of Political Science, sits out on Dwinelle Plaza after class. "This informal setting is where I find out what my students really think."

Both Stoker and Grimaldo Grigsby strongly advocate faculty and student participation in the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP). "This is where I really get to know students personally," said Grimaldo Grigsby. She also suggested that students initiate brown bag lunch/discussion groups with their professors. Advice to faculty was plentiful: keep your office door open. Call on students. Convert your office hours into small discussion groups where students can come and go. Ask staff in your department to help you organize small group discussions or brown bags. Enlist your students' help in initiating more intimate interactions. Audience engagement and interest was high throughout the discussion. "Professors also get intimidated," noted one audience member. "We appreciate feedback from students. We are human beings too, trying to do the best we can."

The L & S colloquia, which take place once or twice each semester, provide opportunities to learn about and discuss the overarching issues affecting undergraduate education at U C Berkeley. For more information on upcoming or past programs, contact Alix Schwartz at alix@uclink4.berkeley.edu or (510) 642-8378.

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