Communication studies professor Dr. Ron Pyle follows the theory “education is a human relation connection.”
“(Whitworth) is a place that cares about relationships between faculty and students,” Pyle said.
In following with this foundation of interaction between students and faculty, Whitworth began the Dine With a Mind program in 2007. The program supports students to invite their professors to coffee or tea using a Mind & Hearth voucher available from the Hixson Union Building information desk. Communication studies professor Mike Ingram currently leads the program.
“The goal is to promote conversations about class ideas and concepts, conversations about vocations and future plans of students and contribute to strengthening relationships on campus,” Ingram said.
Senior psychology major Danielle Hand met with a professor in her freshman year using Dine with a Mind to get to know her professor and the pyschology program better.
“I think it’s a good reason to go out with professors, especially for freshmen or underclassmen who are more nervous about asking their professors to meet and talk,” Hand said.
Some students may worry about imposing on their professor’s time, but faculty generally enjoy being asked to meet with students.
“I treat it as an honor because it’s purely elective,” Pyle said about when students use the program. “Nobody has to do it. The student is expressing a desire to access me.”
Students participate in the program for a variety of reasons. Sophomore Kallee Hart used the program twice fall semester with the same professor but with different motivations.
“One was an assignment for first-year seminar and the other I wanted to talk to him about some questions I had about the Bible because he was my New Testament teacher,” Hart said.
Pyle has also noticed differing uses of the program.
“Some students want to talk specifically about the field of communication,” Pyle said. “Some students want to make a personal connection.”
Despite encouragement to interact with faculty, students rarely make use of the Dine With a Mind program.
“I just never had a professor I wanted to take to coffee or tea,” senior Tom Kang said.
Senior Natalie Sego once used the program to invite a professor on sabbatical to discuss graduate school plans.
“I thought it was great because we could get coffee without either of us paying for it,” Sego said. “It was convenient, and I would use it more but I already see a lot of my professors enough without it.”
At the time of publication, 203 vouchers had been used since September 2010. Pyle estimated he receives invitations from students two or three times each semester. Pyle occasionally reminds classes about the program’s availability but tries to avoid making individual students feel compelled to make use of the program.
“I want to support the program and facilitate human relationships on campus,” Pyle said. “This is part of the mission of Whitworth. This is what we should be doing.”
Ingram agrees that Whitworth faculty place importance on relationships with students.
“Some faculty deliberately left teaching posts at large institutions to come here and work with students on an individual basis,” Ingram said. “They have come here to know students as individual people and teach them holistically. It is a great thrill and honor for professors to be asked to coffee.”
When students take advantage of the program, it has a personal impact on Pyle.
“The Dine With a Mind program reminds me that the human element is the most essential to education,” Pyle said. “The program reminds me that I don’t just teach a content. I teach human beings.”