Dinner with 12 Strangers hits record high

Lilia Hargis

Four years ago, it took days to fill up spots for the Northwestern Alumni Association’s annual event, Dinner with 12 Strangers. This year, it took hours.

About 225 NU students participated in the dinners held Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights this weekend in the homes of alumni across the city. Almost 200 additional students were on the wait list for the event as of last week, Career Services Alumni Relations Coordinator Lauren Herpe said.

Dinner with 12 Strangers is an event developed by the alumni group and the Northwestern Class Alliance to give NU students, faculty, staff and alumni the opportunity to meet and connect in an informal setting, Herpe said. Each year, NAA invites Chicago-area alumni to host dinners in their homes for eight to 15 guests, including students and at least one faculty member.

“This year we had a huge response from students,” Herpe said. “We have always gotten great feedback … the free meal is nice, getting off campus is fun, and you get to meet people you might not have met otherwise.”

Alumnus David Flores, Weinberg ’86, hosted his second dinner for 10 students and two faculty members. He said the event was worthwhile because it brought the NU community members face-to-face.

“Now more than ever, the word community gets used a lot,” Flores, said. “(NU) is a community that exists on many levels, and it is nice to engage with a group of people over a home-cooked meal rather than on the Internet.”

NCA president Andrea Rosenkranz said from the student perspective, the primary draw of the dinners is the opportunity to connect with faculty in different fields, alumni and other students.

“It is a really great way to meet new people since a computer generates who you are eating dinner with,” the Weinberg junior said.

This year, 26 dinners were held throughout the Chicago area, the highest number ever, Herpe said. The number of students that can attend dinners depends on how many alumni volunteer to host, as the dinners are paid for entirely by the hosting alumni.

Though NAA organizes various networking events for students, Herpe said Dinner with 12 Strangers is more “social and fun” and “not marketed as a networking event.”

SESP senior Scott Topal, an NCA member, has attended Dinner with 12 Strangers since his freshman year. He said he has stayed in touch “to varying degrees” with the people he met at the dinners. He said to some extent, the possibility of networking with faculty and alumni is what has made the dinners so popular with students.

“Students, myself included, have come to understand the alumni network,” Topal said. “The connection (between students and alumni) has grown in my time here and students understand the benefit.”

Alumna Alexandra Heestand, Weinberg ’96, co-hosted a “multi-generational” dinner this year with her father, an NU alumnus who graduated in 1966. She said the relationship between NU students and alumni is important because it gives students a window into the real world.

“Particularly for the driven students that go to school at NU, it is often hard to see the forest through the trees,” Heestand said. “It is good for them to see the different opportunities and life paths that are out there.”

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