Lunch with the Deans


Hassan Javed

Second-Year Class Dean Amy Stearns talks with Zula Stenger, ‘25, outside Brooks Dining Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 14, during her public office hours.

Starting on Monday, Feb. 6, several Allegheny College deans began tabling on a rotating schedule in the lobby of the Henderson Campus Center during lunch hour, noon to 1 p.m.
The dean tabling will continue daily on weekdays until at least the end of the semester and will alternate between five deans — First-Year Class Dean Niki Fjeldal, Second-Year Class Dean Amy Stearns, Third- and Fourth-Year Class Dean Jonathon May, Dean for Student Life Trae Yeckley and Dean for the Student Experience Ian Binnington.
“There are other deans too but for now we are starting with this group,” Binnington said. “Perhaps in the future, we can expand this project to involve more deans and administrative members.”
Binnington said that this initiative has long been on his mind.
“I was actually inspired by President Cole and his open student hours,” Binnington said. “It worked really well for him and presented him as a transparent figure … hopefully, students can start to become comfortable with approaching deans for their queries.”
Although the tabling is yet to have an established name, Binnington described it as “public office hours.”
Dean tabling will be alternating between the Campus Center and Brooks Dining Hall every week.
“McKinley’s and Brooks are the two most obvious favorite lunch spots for everyone on campus … both spots get a lot of traffic,” Binnington said. “So, it made sense for us to show our faces right as you walk in. We hope that that motivates students to interact with us.”
The first week of tabling was positive, according to Binnington.
“Despite things being a bit slow, I think it was a good week because students started recognizing our presence,” Binnington said. “Also, from my perspective,
I wasn’t trying to get involved in other people’s business but just observing students walk past and hearing their conversations as they go helped to keep me in the loop of how the general feeling is.”
Students should not feel discouraged to approach any of the deans despite their needs, according to Binnington.
“Just because you’re a first-year doesn’t mean you can’t talk to Dean May when it’s his turn to be tabling,” Binnington said. “The reason why we’re there isn’t to cater to extremely specific needs but just to make sure everything is fine, answer your questions or point you in the direction of someone who can answer your questions and needs.”
Michael Abraham, ’24, was disappointed when he expected to see May tabling at Brooks on Monday, Feb. 13, but was instead met with Dean for Student Success Erin O’Daye-Frye.
“I was hoping to ask Dean May about the junior seminar and managing time during junior year,” Abraham said.
O’Daye-Frye was filling in for May who was ill that morning.
“I’m not part of the rotation but when we all met to discuss the tabling, it was established that I would come in when someone could not,” O’Daye-Frye said. “These things are bound to happen. Not everyone can be where they need to be every single time.”
Zula Stenger, ’25, had better luck when she approached Stearns who was tabling at Brooks on Tuesday, Feb. 14.
“I wanted to discuss summer internships, funding for it and where I want to be heading into junior year,” Stenger said. “Dean Stearns was very helpful in pointing me in the right direction … it was also very easy to interact with her as she was sitting right by the steps going down into the dining hall.”
Stearns said that tabling is a good way to speed up the communication process between students and deans.
“In the last two weeks, I’ve seen a lot of students that I’ve had email contact with or I recognize as someone who has reached out to me,” Stearns said. “Not everyone can meet when my schedule allows but almost everyone has time to go to lunch and my table being one of the first things you see when you walk in makes it much easier for students to communicate with me.”
Only in its second week, dean tabling is a new initiative that Binnington hopes to evaluate and improve over time.
“We will be meeting collectively to review how the tabling is going and hopefully, in the future, we can add more elements to it that will attract students,” Binnington said. “One of the biggest things we are already thinking about is including other people, such as President Cole, in the initiative.”