Amherst's biggest, best mistake



The program, introduced in the fall of 2000 was at first available only to freshmen, the class of 2004. TYPO began when Associate Dean of the Faculty Bob Hilborn asked the former Dean of New Students Frank Couvares to explore “ways we could increase informal interaction between faculty and students,” Couvares said. “We talked about having dinners in dorms or in Lewis-Sebring. Then I think I suggested that we do it in local restaurants, the logic being that ‘eating out’ is more of a special event than eating on campus,” he said.

Part of the appeal of running the program at restaurants was that students had to take the initiative. “It would be something we knew the students wanted and weren’t just attending out of a sense of duty,” Couvares said. “We also thought it would appeal to faculty more if they believed it was student-initiated-and course-related-and not another well-intentioned College-sponsored event,” he said.

Heather Wojtowicz, the administrative assistant to the dean of new students, is responsible for the administrative aspect behind the program. “[I am in charge of] getting people the purchase orders that they need and keeping track of how much money is spent, how many outings occur and who is going,” she explained. Essentially, Wojtowicz makes TYPO run smoothly. “[In the programs first two years,] 400 students have taken advantage of TYPO,” Wojtowicz said. Through an initiative started by the Association of Amherst Students, this year the TYPO program has expanded to be available to all students for the first time.

Students and professors alike agree that TYPO is a wonderful program. Dean of New Students Gregory Call praised the program. “I think the TYPO program provides students and faculty with a wonderful opportunity to interact outside of class. Professors consider it a real compliment to be asked out for dinner or lunch by their students,” he said. “Inviting their professor out for a meal is a great way for students to initiate an informal conversation outside of class. TYPO works well at Amherst because it encourages the dialogue between students and faculty that everyone seeks.”

Southern comfort: a case study

Southern comfort: a case study

Dreyfuss Chemistry Fellow Carey Southern is one of the many members of the College’s faculty who have been taken out under the TYPO program. Three of the students in her Chemistry 11 class approached her about TYPO. “I’m new here, and I had actually never heard of the program. It sounded like a great idea, something I would certainly enjoy doing,” she said.

Southern and her three students, Katie Fitzgerald ’06, Carolyn Koulouris ’06 and Min Wang ’06 had dinner at Amherst Chinese Restaurant. “[It was] pretty informal,” Southern said. “We talked about [the students’] lives here. There are a whole lot of things I did not know about Amherst and being a student here. We talked about their living situations and where they’re from. It certainly wasn’t discussing problems from class. It was very comfortable.”

Fitzgerald agreed. “We talked a lot about how she is having a similar experience that we are having right now. She came to the school only a little before the first-years. It was definitely nice to have a common experience with a professor and to know that we might be having the same feelings of uncertainty about being in a new place,” she said.

Koulouris thought the most valuable part of participating was learning more about her professor as an individual. “It was interesting to learn about our professor’s history and not just see them as this figure in the front of the class,” she said. “Even though I already knew my professors were interesting and complex people, it’s a lot better when you get to know them on a more informal, personal level.”

Wang was equally as enthusiastic. “We discussed everything from Professor Southern’s career to post undergrad options to road trips. It was a friendly atmosphere,” she explained. “I think that we all got to know our professor better and each other as well. We thought taking Professor Southern out would be fun, and it was,” she added.

Getting to know the students was equally as important to Southern as it was to the students. “Since I teach a lab course, there are three hours when I’m with my students, so I knew some about them already, but TYPO is certainly a less formal circumstance where you can talk to them,” she said. “I felt comfortable right away. It was not at all difficult to carry on a conversation,” she added.

Feasts fit for professors

Feasts fit for professors

Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science Austin Sarat agreed. “It was very informal, very easy,” he said. “We talked about a wide range of subjects, from who these students are, where they come from, how and why they chose Amherst, what they think of the College, what their experiences have been,” he added. They also discussed Sarat’s scholarship and what research he has been doing.

Sarat noted a number of advantages of TYPO. “It gives students who might not otherwise find the occasion to come to office hours or to get to know a faculty member in a more informal way an opportunity to do so. There is safety in numbers, so students who might not as individuals feel comfortable initiating conversation or some kind of exchange have the comfort of other colleagues to help them do that,” he explained.

“It’s a great program because it is not in the office, and therefore, it does not have to be about grades or work or assignments. It does provide an opportunity for students and faculty to interact in a whole variety of ways that I think otherwise would not be as easy,” he added.

Assistant Professor of English Burlin Barr agrees. “The program is a good one,” he said after a dinner Monday with five of his students. “It’s nice to meet with students in groups and outside of the classroom.” Barr cautioned, though, that students should not forgo classroom discussion and office hours visits in favor of TYPO. “Classes, of course, are the principle venue for establishing such connections. But it is a good thing to encourage ways to enrich those connections. I, for one, would be more than pleased if several students visited my office hours collectively in order to pursue issues that have come up in class. I don’t think TYPO should substitute for that kind of intellectual exchange. But if it helps to enrich or facilitate connections in the classroom or in office hours then it is potentially a very beneficial program,” he said.

“The atmosphere was basically casual and I enjoyed meeting with the students. There may have been a few mild moments of social awkwardness, but nothing prolonged and nothing more than most of us experience in group social settings,” Barr added. “It was a good dinner, a nice conversation and I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet with these five students.”

Professors benefit from TYPO just as students do. “I had a terrific time at dinner with these three students. They are quite clearly bright, engaged students and I think that without this opportunity I wouldn’t have gotten to know them. I benefited from that,” Sarat said.

Couvares said that he is also pleased with the results of the program. “[TYPO] appears to have worked out just as we’d hoped.”