The Scroll: Cornbread and Calculus

She’s a first-year student and sits in the front row of my COJO 100 Public Speaking class, and one day she just couldn’t contain herself.

As I sketched the tenets of emotional contagion theory on the chalkboard and extolled the usefulness of good theory in all contexts, I heard the giggling. It rapidly evolved into almost full laughter. “Please do share what’s funny,” I encouraged her, even though, gosh darn it, I was thinking the lecture was quite interesting; what could be so humorous?

Carol Bruess

Carol Bruess

“We’d all love to know,” I uttered, even though I was both curious and afraid of the response. Did I have something stuck to my pants? Was my zipper down? Was there a sign on my back? Nope. Nope. And no, thank goodness.

“I was just thinking what it would be like to be one of your kids!” She giggled even more heartily.


This student was confident that at my family dinner table, I surely offer a non-stop stream of tips to my teens on excellent communication skills, theories of rhetorical and interpersonal savvy, and the importance of audience analysis.

“Why don’t you find out for yourself?” I said. “I’m officially inviting you all over for dinner.”

Blank stares from the class, and a mumble, from somewhere in the back row: “At your house?”

“Yep, at my house.”

Perfect, I thought. My paired course faculty partner, Dr. Jeff McLean of the Mathematics Department, and I had been looking for an opportunity to host our out-of-class social event.

Almost all of the 13 students in my section of COJO 100 also are taking Calculus (MATH 113). As a paired course, only first-semester, first-year students can enroll, and the goal is to have all students in both courses. Designed to build a tighter community of learners during the first few months at their new university, the paired model provides students a stronger sense of connection, a heightened sense of social and academic support, and sometimes even the experience that – gulp – professors are “real people” too … with kitchens, kids and maybe even a dog that barks at students strolling up the front steps.

And so, we began to plan the menu for the little feast.

Jeff, a master chef, prepared the main course of hearty fall chili and handcrafted cornbread. (The kind they make where he grew up in the South, not the sweet stuff that northerners like.) I, being a rather decent baker and party-maker, prepared grandmother-in-law’s secret recipe of double-chocolate caramel brownies, set delightful tables in my dining and living room, filled fancy (not really) glasses with ice water, lit a dozen or so candles and built a large blaze in the fireplace. It was appropriate ambiance on a chilly fall evening … especially one where we warmly welcomed our students into our lives, if just a little.

The aroma of homemade food prepared by their two professors greeted students to the Bruess’ home last Tuesday evening. And, hopefully, each student then left with new-found knowledge that faculty don’t actually (at least not every night) talk to their dinner companions about the latest and greatest communication theories, nor lecture on the coolest calculus theorems, while they dine.

After-dinner entertainment? Of course! The men’s basketball team provided it. We strolled right down the street to cheer the Tommies to an exciting win over UW-River Falls.

It was a fun night – no studying required – in this paired course.