“Andover Together” Builds Student-Faculty Connections Through Conversation

At the beginning of the school year, many students play icebreakers and name games in their classes in the hopes of getting to know their peers better. Seniors last Saturday, however, were instead trying to get to know the faculty on campus during the Senior-faculty dinner, organized by the “Andover Together” initiative.

Rajesh Mundra, Associate Dean of Students and Residential Life, wrote the Abbot Grant proposal for “Andover Together.” The initiative contains four main events that compose the whole project: First, the Senior-faculty dinner, an open cluster lunch five times a year that will take place in Susie’s, evening community discussions on topics from Student Council and the Dean of Students office, and a student-initiated dinner with a faculty member. For the latter, eight students can ask a faculty member if they might host a dinner, and there will be funds available to the faculty member to do so.

Shyan Koul ’19 said, “I think that [the administration is] really trying to form connections between the Seniors and the faculty…  By having faculty connections, we can understand better why [faculty] make certain decisions. But then, we can also work towards the things that we want with them, so it doesn’t have to feel like it’s ‘us against them.’”  

Students like Brooke Sanders ’19 took the dinner as an opportunity to talk to new and familiar faculty members outside a classroom environment.

Sanders ’19 said, “Once I found out about [the dinner], I thought it was a really cool idea… because I feel like I don’t really talk to faculty and teachers outside of my classes. So [the dinner’s] a really good way to get to know a lot of really interesting people.”

“Andover Together” is aimed at bringing students closer together with the faculty and staff on campus. The student-faculty dinner last Saturday was the first of several events targeted at breaching that divide. According to Mundra, he was inspired to formally bring students and teachers together by what he has seen in his past years.

“I was motivated by seeing groups of people in the community come together last year and I thought that this does happen a lot informally, and there was possibility for it to happen even more so and maybe even in a more intentional way… in my experience in dorms, when we have events that bring different people together, sometimes we include staff also. It was just an informal way of having conversation,” said Mundra.

Sheena Hilton ’05, Instructor in Chemistry and Flagstaff Cluster Dean, said she was grateful for the opportunity that “Andover Together” gave her to kick off her year in a unique and rewarding way.

Hilton said, “I loved starting the year off with the Senior-faculty dinner…I met several Seniors for the first time and learned more about Seniors that I already knew. I am very thankful to Mr. Mundra and the Abbot Academy Fund for the ‘Andover Together’ Initiative.”

Hilton continued, “When prospective students and faculty and families ask me what I love most about Andover, my response is always, ‘the people’ However, I often get so busy that is is hard to find time to connect with students and colleagues. I look forward to future ‘Andover Together’ events — I think they are excellent opportunities for us to pause and build relationships with our Andover peers.”

Student Body Co-President Nick Demetroulakos ’19 expressed his hope that the “Andover Together” initiative will heighten the inclusion of student voices in faculty decisions, through both proximity and communication. He argued that while decisions made by the faculty are ultimately not up to the students, all parties would benefit from seeing eye-to-eye more often.

“The idea behind it is really that the more that students and faculty interact, the better they’ll understand each other and theoretically, the better faculty decision-making will be in regards to decisions that affect students,” said Demetroulakos.

Demetroulakos continued, “I think that any Andover student will agree that there are a lot of things that we can complain about, and while some of it may just be things that we can’t do anything about or things that the faculty really believe in, some of it may just be them not knowing what the best course of action is and just sort of trying something out. And so once there’s more back-and-forth, events and stuff, like the student-faculty dinner, for example, there can be a little more… being on the same page; seeing eye-to-eye, so to speak.”

Mundra stressed the importance of Andover students taking the opportunity given through these events to develop meaningful relationships with faculty members, and says he believes that these kinds of connections bring out the best in our community. He likens the process of forming links across campus to a loop that creates more and more positivity and empathy.

“These are small connections, and what I said at the Senior-faculty dinner was that the small connections lead to a better understanding, a higher level of empathy, a deeper trust, which then leads to more connections. So I see it as a loop. And again, a lot of this happens already and I thought, ‘let’s enhance what we’re doing,’ and so that was the inspiration, was the more we are connected to each other, the safer we feel, the healthier the community is, the more we can rely on each other, the more we can celebrate with each other,” said Mundra.

Demetroulakos is hopeful about the future of the “Andover Together” initiative. Going forward, he says he hopes that the momentum of events helps to facilitate productive policy talks and events, with increased participation from the student body.

“We can just keep that going and keep people interested in the events that we’re running and hopefully have some more dedicated policy events, or like ‘hey, let’s talk about this together,’  and not just a forum in the Freeman Room, but let’s sit down and let’s really talk about it,” said Demetroulakos.