University of Delaware
Provost Domenico Grasso hosted an informal tea for students in April.

Building connections

Opening doors of Hullihen through forums, gatherings and social media

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5:59 p.m., May 14, 2015--A spot of tea is highly regarded for its health and medicinal properties, offering benefits as a stress reliever -- and also for its social capacity to bring people together. That was the aim during a series of informal teas at the University of Delaware, sponsored by the provost’s office and held throughout April and May. 

A total of nearly 200 people participated in small, intimate gatherings for faculty, students and staff, which kicked off with a faculty tea on April 7. The final tea of the semester was held this week. 

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The tea gatherings were offered as opportunities for members of the campus community to decompress and network, while meeting and engaging with the provost, members of the provost office’s staff and each other. 

“The students and faculty in attendance were are all friendly and genuinely interested in connecting with one another and building relationships. I had some great conversations that felt natural and memorable,” said sophomore Marielle Kraft, an elementary teacher education major with a middle school English concentration. “Plus, the tea assortment was wonderful, too!”

“The teas were fun, no-stress opportunities to laugh, learn and get to know each other,” said Provost Domenico Grasso. “Simultaneously, we strengthen our commitment to excellence by cultivating inclusive, open and trusting relationships. That’s the big-picture goal.”

The provost first announced the teas at a town hall, during which he underscored his belief in working collaboratively with students, faculty and staff to support the University’s success.

“I connected with other passionate students, influential faculty members and Provost Grasso in a casual and welcoming setting. The farther I spread my wings across this campus and engage in events such as this one, the more I can deepen my UD experience and make a lasting impact, both at the University and in my life,” Kraft said.

Getting to know provost office and staff

The series of teas was bookended by a March 11 town hall — focused on the serious subjects of the strategic plan, Title IX, and diversity and inclusion — and an offbeat and quirky new video starring the provost, students, administrators and provost office staff. The video was released via the University’s social media channels.

Together, the meetings and social media outreach are part of an ongoing, long-term effort to further open the doors of Hullihen Hall to the campus community and promote greater transparency from the office of the provost and its staff. 

“Respectful conversation is a catalyst for understanding,” explained Vice Provost for Diversity Carol Henderson, “and we should take full advantage of opportunities to share, learn and build connections with one another, especially outside of the office and the classroom.”

Cristina Archer, associate professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, noted how she still feels new to the University of Delaware, despite being here a few years, and it can be a struggle for new arrivals to meet people and “understand who does what at UD.” However, she said, “Events like the tea with the provost help exactly with those two challenges.”

“Face-to-face interaction is a key ingredient for building trust,” added Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Matt Kinservik, who attended the town halls, took part in some of the teas and also made a cameo appearance in the video as part of the provost’s office staff. 

“When you extend a hand, when people actually get to know who you are and hear what you have to say, it makes working together much easier,” he said.

Article by Jawanza Ali Keita

Photos by Ambre Alexander Payne and Wenbo Fan

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