A dinner with 12 strangers
“Congratulations!” read the e-mail freshman Antonia Cadwell found in her inbox last Friday afternoon. “You have been selected …”
The somewhat daunting-sounding message, Cadwell said, was from Dean of Students Brian Carlisle. But she wasn’t the only recipient.
In addition to Cadwell, eleven others — three students, four faculty members and four staff members — received the same news: That they had been selected as guests for the first ever UW-Eau Claire Dinner with 12 Strangers.
Not quite a Golden Ticket inside a Wonka candy bar, but exciting nonetheless.
“I can’t wait to see how this turns out,” Carlisle said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive reaction to the idea so far.”
The premise for the event was simple: Assemble (at random) four students, four staff members and four faculty members for a casual dinner at Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Beth Hellwig’s home.
Submissions were open online last week, Carlisle said, and received an astounding response rate of almost 400 people interested.
The responses were so high, in fact, that another dinner was created (also taking place tonight) at associate dean of students Jodi Thesing-Ritter’s home.
To accommodate, twelve more students, staff and faculty were randomly selected and notified.
“The response rate was so incredible,” Carlisle said. “It’s great that so many people are interested in such a unique opportunity.”
Once at the house, Carlisle said the guests can expect to dine, mingle and ultimately — as the slogan for the event states — “Come as twelve strangers, (and) leave as twelve friends.”
Not that guests should be intimidated, though.
Carlisle said the event is meant to be casual; a “jeans and t-shirt” kind of night.
“This dinner will hopefully serve as starting point for more traditions on campus,” Hellwig said. “Statistics have shown that students are more successful if they feel close to the school’s faculty. For retention’s sake, then, this is a great idea on many levels.”
Hellwig said the idea was taken from other universities across the country that have been practicing the same tradition of promoting a stronger relationship between students and staff for years — a practice, she says, she would like to see implemented more at Eau Claire.
“I’d really like it to build a sense of community,” she said.
Senior and selected guest Meghan McKinnon said she applied as a way to meet more people on campus.
“Being able to mingle and make connections with people who make the decisions on campus is going to be a lot of fun,” she said.
Jacqueline Lee, sophomore Biology major, said she’s anticipating a solid networking experience.
“It might be a bit awkward at first,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m really hoping for some good laughs and good food.”
And good food they can expect, said Carlisle, who’s cooking for the evening.
“Who doesn’t like food? Really?” he said. “I’ve always seen food as a way to bring people together.”
With such high-anticipation for tonight’s dinners, Carlisle said students can expect to see more next year. Already, he’s received requests of four faculty members to host for next semester.
Ultimately, he said he hopes people will leave with connections to departments usually unfamiliar to them.
“If you’re an English major, how often do you get to sit down with a nuclear physicist? Or get picked up from your house by an Art History professor for dinner?” Carlisle said. “I really want this to create an ultimate Blugold experience, and hopefully, start a tradition of building staff-student relationships across campus.”