Good to see an idea from Williams infiltrate the University of North Carolina:

Last year, graduate student and teaching assistant David Ticehurst had a few students from his Astronomy 101 class over for dinner.

Ticehurst went out and got barbecue, and he and his students discussed the stars until late in the evening.

He thought it was such a good idea that now he is trying to secure funding so professors and TAs can host similar events without taking money out of their own pockets.

Ticehurst, who spent his undergraduate years at Williams College, a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts, said his former school has a similar program that helped shape his undergraduate experience.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” he said. “It gives the students a chance to see the real world outside of the classroom.”

Ticehurst still needs funds for the program. Last year he sought $5,000 for the program from the Graduate and Professional Student Federation in addition to a matching contribution from the provost’s office.

“It’s like the University was just waiting for someone to come along with this idea,” he said. “They are always talking about developing a more intellectual climate, and that’s what this does.”

He said he is planning on designing a Web site where instructors can submit proposals and share stories about programs.

He also wants to make a presentation in front of the Faculty Council to get them excited about the program, which initially evolved out of class discussions.

Having the students over for barbecue was something Ticehurst, who is a certified barbecue judge, had talked about with his students all semester, he said.

When it came time to host a pilot event, he thought that would be the perfect time to try it.

Michael Johnston, a sophomore who was in Ticehurst’s astronomy lab, signed up to help Ticehurst after enjoying the first program.

“It was funny at first because you’re seeing all of these faces you’re used to seeing at 8 a.m. when nobody is awake,” Johnston said. “It was awkward at first, but we found enough to keep the conversation going.”

Johnston also said seeing the instructor outside of the classroom setting makes him or her more approachable.

It makes it seem like you have some sort of connection to this person that’s teaching you,” Johnston said. “Instead of just seeing this giant brain at the front, you see a little more of a person.”

I have no doubt that the evenings I spent drinking wine and chatting with professors till late at night were more valuable to me than a good many of my classes. I only regret that I did not do it more often.

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