The FLUNCH program has been part of Duke student life for years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, structured faculty meetings are about to look very different this semester.
In FLUNCH meetings, students used Duke-allocated money to order meals and talk with instructors, encouraging the enriching academic dialogue that is so central to Duke’s academic mission. In order to promote safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have temporarily transitioned to virtual “VLearn” meetings.
“Equity was also something that was very important to us… We wanted students to have access to it regardless of where they are physically,” said Șeun Bello Olámosù, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education.
Olámosù explained that several small focus groups met this summer and used surveys of faculty and students to reimagine what the FLUNCH program could look like during COVID-19.
“The more we talked to people, we realized that food is great when you are on campus, but actually over Zoom it does not work, and also we realized that dining points might not be feasible,” she said.
These virtual meetings will emulate the key components of the FLUNCH program: Participating students can meet with faculty members primarily through Zoom and discuss topics of interest. Students studying on and off campus can invite any faculty member to a VLearn meeting.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to learn more about their professors,” said first-year Jonah Pilnick, who recently participated in VLearn.
The permanent VLearn directory lists approximately 90 faculty members. This list is likely to continue growing as more professors offer their services.
“We wanted something that extends beyond the immediate circle of students. We wanted students to be able to read up about faculty. We wanted to present the scholarship in a way that is less threatening, in a way that is inviting for students to reach out to them and build relationships,” Olámosù said of the directory.
Through the meetings, students have an opportunity to find faculty with research that may be of interest to them or just to truly get to know their current professor.
“There is just so much value in getting to know faculty outside the classroom, which is what this is. Because it is also an opportunity for [students]—this is a secret for them—in this context, they can set the agenda. They can make it more conversational. If they are shy they can invite one or two people along so it doesn't have to just be them one on one,” Olámosù said.
Pilnick sees VLearn meetings as a way for students to “still get that experience” of forming valuable faculty connections, even though he thinks it’s “harder” to do so over Zoom and other virtual platforms. Even so, being able to participate in VLearn is “a really cool opportunity for students,” Pilnick emphasized. “I’m glad that we’re able to do that.”
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There is also an incentive to host VLearns: Student hosts and participating faculty members are eligible for a one-time unique commemorative gift courtesy of Duke Stores.
“One of the things we are very excited about is actually there is a memento; there is a little gift that both the student and the faculty will get,” Olámosù said. “We just need to see a screenshot of the conversation. At the end of the semester they are going to get their gift regardless of where they are.”
To host a VLearn, students should submit their requests at least three business days before the target meeting date and invite faculty members directly through email. A maximum of five student guests can attend each meeting, and students are able to participate in an unlimited number of VLearn meetings.
VLearn requests are open until Nov. 16 and are able to be held until Nov. 20.