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My Dinner With Lee: Students Have President’s Ear at Mealtime Events

About a dozen students were invited to dinner at President Pelton’s home Thursday, September 20, where they could ask him questions and talk about their experiences at Emerson. Photo/Derek Palmer

As an international student, Ann Zhang ’20 had questions about how the search for a permanent director of international student affairs was going, and she wanted to hear it directly from President Lee Pelton.

Fortunately, she was having dinner with the president at his place last week.

Zhang was one of about a dozen Emerson students who were invited to dine with Pelton at the president’s residence on Thursday, September 20, the first in a series of dinners and open houses Pelton has planned for this academic year. The ambiance was intimate and informal, the menu was Italian, and the purpose was to forge connections between students, Pelton, and each other.

“It was a wonderful way for me to meet and connect with students,” Pelton said. “There were honest and robust discussions about a variety of issues that impact student life. It provided me with a deeper understanding of how students experience Emerson, and I hope it provided students with a deeper understanding of how the College is seeking to address those issues and provide them with the best education that we can.

“I look forward to many more dinners,” he said.

Zhang, a Visual and Media Art major and Student Government Association commissioner, said she thought gathering a group of students over a shared meal was a great way to give and get feedback.

“I feel like this group dinner in a not-that-formal setting does bring a lot of things to the table, and the president was very patient and answered every question,” Zhang said.

Geoff Gray ’19, a Marketing Communication major and basketball captain, had been to the president’s house in the spring, as a representative from his team, but on Thursday he felt like he was able to get to know both his fellow students and Pelton on a whole new level.

As a student athlete, Gray said he doesn’t often get the chance to hear from students involved in other organizations around campus. And while he’s said hello to Pelton on the Common, having his ear at dinner is a whole different experience.

“It was cool to get a conversation with the president of the school … and to kind of get to know him on a personal level,” he said.

Pelton went around the table and asked each student individual questions, then engaged them in conversation one-on-one afterward, Gray said. He and the president began talking about basketball and the Boston Celtics (both are fans), and ended up speaking candidly about “big picture” issues facing Emerson and students.

The president talked about how Emerson’s endowment, at just under $150 million, is small compared to many schools of comparable size, how that poses challenges to his goals of increasing financial aid, and his long-range plans for meeting those goals.

Gray said he appreciated the president’s candor and willingness to listen to students.

“[H]e’s … hearing students and taking time out of his day to see what we want,” Gray said. “At Emerson they put a lot of power in students and I like that.”

Throughout the year, there will be many opportunities for students to talk face to face with the president, including a “Lunch with Lee” on Tuesday, October 2, at 12:30 p.m. RSVP for this very limited event on Eventbrite. 





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