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‘Breaking Bread’ Encourages Interaction and Learning

After his Oct. 18 lecture, Dean Larry Livingston talks with Xiaodan Zheng, a freshman music performance major from New York City.

When cafe life thrives, talk is a shared limberness of the mind that improves appetite for conversation.
–Vivian Gornick, essayist (b. 1935)

USC professors have one more reason to socialize with their students over lunch or dinner – the Academic Culture Initiative will pick up the bill.

The newly launched “Breaking Bread With Your Students” program is part of a university campaign to encourage intellectual thought and discussion outside the classroom.

“A good meal is the perfect way to bring people together for interesting, intellectual conversation,” said Mark Kann, chair of the political science department and director of the Academic Culture Initiative.

Tenured or tenured-track faculty will be reimbursed up to $75 for taking students out to dinner once or inviting them to their homes for a meal. They can also eat for free with their students at EVK Cafeteria up to three times a year. Student Affairs has several programs that encourage students to invite faculty to eat a free meal, but this is one of the first that encourages faculty to take the initiative, Kann said.

“We know professors often have the desire to meet and mingle with students,” Kann said. “This is one way to encourage and enable faculty to sit down to eat with students and explore topics of mutual interest.”

Sociology professor Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo is excited about the “Breaking Bread” program but said there is just one problem. “I don’t know how I’m going to choose which students to invite over for dinner: I can’t feed more than 13 of my graduate students on $75. But I’m very happy they’re starting this, and I hope eventually there will be more funding to host all of my students.”

Hondagneu-Sotelo needn’t worry, said Kann. “If there’s enough demand, and our money lasts,” he said, “we can increase the number of opportunities.”

In addition to the “Breaking Bread” program, the Academic Culture Initiative has set up a special fund to support faculty-inspired projects that increase interaction and learning independent of coursework.

The “Learning Has No Boundaries” program is expected to fund projects up to $1,000, but higher amounts will be considered. Preference will be given to proposals that encourage activities over time rather than single events. Although no application is required, a one-page description of the project along with a budget request should be submitted.

The Academic Culture Initiative was launched in September after students and faculty said they wanted livelier intellectual interaction on campus. For nearly two years, a committee met and identified several possible campus improvements.

Funded by Provost Lloyd Armstrong Jr., the initiative’s first program kicked off in September with a monthly series of lunchtime seminars on art, music and literature.

Larry Livingston, dean of the Thornton School of Music, was the featured speaker on Oct. 18. He led a lively discussion on classical music, and after the event, students shared their thoughts over refreshments. Classics professor Thomas Habinek will discuss great literature at next month’s seminar.

In addition to programs and seminars, the Academic Culture Initiative will work for some structural changes that make “a more conversational atmosphere,” Kann said. Plans range from outdoor patios and indoor coffeehouses to new lounges in the Leavey and Doheny libraries that will encourage casual interaction between students and faculty.

‘Breaking Bread’ Encourages Interaction and Learning

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