Alumni host students for the sixth year of Dinner with 12 Strangers

Sammy Caiola

This weekend, 225 Northwestern students neglected the conventional wisdom of their childhoods and walked into the homes of strangers, where they were welcomed with a meal and an evening of conversation.

For the sixth year in a row, 26 Chicago-area and Evanston alumni hosted students for Dinner with 12 Strangers. Each alum held a dinner for eight to 10 students and one or two faculty members.

Dinner with 12 Strangers is co-sponsored by the Northwestern Alumni Association and the Northwestern Class Alliance.

“It’s one of the more unique experiences alumni can offer,” said Brendan Lovasik, vice president of NCA. “The point is that it’s 12 people that you wouldn’t have met through your daily routine. It should be a random assortment.”

Students registered for the event online in late September, filling 225 spots in two hours. 278 additional students were placed on the waiting list. A total of 49 alumni hosted or co-hosted a dinner, and 45 NU faculty and staff attended the event.

These numbers are consistent with last year, when 226 students attended 26 dinners, according to Lauren Herpe, Assistant Director of Career Services for NAA.

Most alumni host the event in their own homes, but those who live far away or in small apartments sometimes host a meal at a Chicago or Evanston restaurant. Some feel that dinner in a home creates a more personal atmosphere.

“In a restaurant it’s sometimes noisy,” said Carolyn Krulee, an alumnae volunteer who has hosted a dinner for the past six years at her home in Evanston. ” When I’m eating, I want hear what the people at the other end of the table are saying. There’s more intimacy in the home, and that’s nice.”

Getting 12 strangers to converse through an entire meal might seem daunting, but alumnae volunteer Holly Sunshine said that when she hosts dinner, a round of basic introductions usually “gets the ball rolling.”

Sunshine and Krulee both said that a copy of the Syllabus yearbook from their graduating year is usually brought out and passed around. When Sunshine graduated in 1971, NU was just phasing out “women’s hours,” a dormitory curfew for girls, and co-ed visitation was new.

“It is a pleasure and a joy to meet students at NU,” Sunshine said. “They are amazing in their involvement, their intelligence and their interests. We get to see how things are now as opposed to when we were in school. It’s fun to relive our youth as well.”

Though a main goal of the event is to encourage connections between students, faculty and alumni, the NCA and NAA do not organize any real follow-up events. A memo containing the names and e-mails of attendees is sent out, and further contact is left up to the participants.

Often, students do keep in touch with other students they dined with, or the alumni who hosted them. Sunshine said she hosted a Malaysian student who could not go home for Thanksgiving three years ago, and has had him over for the holiday every year since.

While not all hosts form lasting bonds with their guests, the dinners help students, alumni and faculty recognize a few more familiar faces on campus.

“For alums, interacting with students is the greatest way to reaffirm your tie to the university,” Sunshine said.

[email protected]n.edu