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FAST food, fast friends

New faculty-student program takes off

When students talk about catching FAST Food these days, they may not be setting a date at the local burger franchise. FAST (Faculty and Students Together) Food is actually a popular Dartmouth program, encouraging informal exchanges between undergraduates and their professors. And books, not cheap toys, come with the service.


Professor and Chair of Environmental Studies Andy Frieland talks with students at the Dartmouth Bookstore (photo by Charles Rountree '05)

"Students come to Dartmouth expecting to interact with faculty outside the classroom," said Linda Kennedy, Director of Student Activities and FAST Food inventor. "And the faculty is very willing. We've been looking for new ways to have it happen."

The seeds of the FAST Food program were planted a few years back when President James Wright and Dean of the College James Larimore were looking for more ways for students and faculty to meet in social settings.

"Jim Larimore encouraged me  to try some playful, experimental things," Kennedy recalled. "We tried a few one-shot events open to everyone-a big 'Bio Barbeque,' outside the biology labs and a 'Calculus Tea' in Collis Common Ground, for example."

Later, she developed the Take a Professor to Lunch program, which allows 15 students each week to take one of their professors to lunch at the Hanover Inn, free of charge, and FAST Talk Book and Author Luncheons, which are organized around books by Dartmouth faculty authors.

"Students come to Dartmouth expecting to interact with faculty outside the classroom, and the faculty is very willing."

- Linda Kennedy

Kennedy's latest FAST idea-the FAST Food Mini Book Clubs-is also gaining ground. The clubs meet twice at the Dartmouth Bookstore. At the first meeting, students receive a free book (courtesy of Kennedy's office and the bookstore) and a faculty member introduces it. The second meeting, held several weeks later, is an open-ended discussion of the book, over coffee provided by the Bookstore Café.

Gerd Gemünden, Professor of German and Comparative Literature and Chair of the German Studies Department, was the first faculty member Kennedy approached. I didn't want to choose a work of fiction ("I teach fiction all the time," Gemünden says). A "huge soccer fan" who also teaches globalization issues, Gemünden suggested a nonfiction book he had picked up recently himself: How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by journalist Franklin Foer. Appropriately, the session attracted students from all over the world.

"The FAST Food format worked really well to meet to share an interest and passion, without feeling the need to evaluate the student's performance," said Gemünden. "For a teacher who loves teaching, not having to worry about testing, about judging, is beautiful. And my sense is that it was the same for the students."

Working with a student co-host, Sebastian Restrepo '07, Associate Professor of Government David Kang chose a current fiction bestseller, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, for another, over-subscribed FAST Food session. Here, the session was less about literature than what makes a "good read."

"This is a great opportunity to hear what faculty are doing, in an informal way," said Kang. "For student reading, one FAST Food session isn't a life-changing thing. But it's like sports or music. You do a bit, then a little bit more, and then it's 'O.K., I'm going take this up.'"

Last November, Professor of Philosophy and Hardy Professor of Legal Studies Walter Sinnott-Armstrong hosted a Book and Author Luncheon discussing God: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist, a book he had co-authored.

"My experience with the FAST series was wonderful," said Sinnott-Armstrong. "The discussion was lively and heated at times but student reactions were positive. We kept talking for almost an hour after lunch. The success of the series shows how much Dartmouth students genuinely love learning."

Amy Do '07, who plans to major in economics and psychology, has taken four of her professors to lunch through the FAST program. "It's a great way to bond with professors and learn all sorts of things from them, all while enjoying a wonderful meal," she said.

Why has the FAST program been such a popular success? "Students get to know professors on a more personal level," suggested Larimore, "learning about who they are as people and as possible mentors, role models and friends. Faculty get to know students as the bright, engaging and involved people they are-full of questions and ideas and energy. So, taken together, the FAST Food programs help maintain and strengthen one of Dartmouth's great traditions-close student-faculty relationships."

By PETER WALSH  

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08