When Ian Lapp first arrived as dean of Babson’s Undergraduate School in 2016, he had an idea.
That idea: to gather a small group of first-year international students together in an informal setting as a chance to connect with one another and the dean, and to make them feel at home.
It worked well. But, one night, half of the group of 10 students canceled due to illness or conflicting commitments. So Dean Lapp pulled five U.S. students from another event to fill the empty spaces. And, over a dinner of Indian food, the event came alive. “It was humming,” said Dean Lapp. “What was good conversation became great conversation! It included a student from India explaining all the food that was served. The mix leveraged one of Babson’s greatest strengths: the diversity of its student body.”
That became the start of Dinner with the Dean two years ago.
Today, Dinner with the Dean is a carefully curated weekly gathering of first-year students from all over the world (this fall alone, student attendees have represented 17 countries), all walks of life, and all sorts of interests. A small group of eight (which changes each week) gathers on Mondays in Dean Lapp’s office to break bread and connect with one another.
“We aim to create an interesting table each week,” he said. “We’re inviting students from Boston and Bangkok, from Los Angeles and London, Mexico City and Mumbai. Students that received scholarships, students that are athletes and artists. So, it’s not just random.”
Thoughtful curation of the students around the table leads to spirited conversation among students who may not have otherwise crossed paths. And, that’s the whole point.
“On a typical night with eight students, it’s rare that any know more than two other people in the room,” said Lapp. “Sometimes, there are students who live a floor away from one another in a residence hall and haven’t met. A lot of friendships and professional collaborations emerge from these dinners.”
Facilitating connections is part of Dean Lapp’s goal every day at Babson.
“The difference between Babson and other schools is that here, professors know your name,” said Lapp. “And, you can actually have dinner with a small group of students and the dean.”
With that in mind, he redesigned his office in Hollister Hall to be more suited for events like Dinner with the Dean. A high-top table seats nine—“no different from a family dinner table”—and there’s plenty of space along the window to host the buffet of food each week.
He captures moments from every dinner and other campus events on his Instagram account. Now, at nearly 1,300 followers, his account has earned praise from students and parents alike. “Parents tell me it provides a window into the world of Babson and their students,” said Dean Lapp. “And, students take pride in it. They’ve commented, ‘I made it!’ when they see themselves in a photo.”
Come Thanksgiving, he’ll no doubt share a photo from another signature event: A Very Babson Thanksgiving. Students on or near campus on Tuesday, November 20, are invited to join Dean Lapp for a Thanksgiving feast in the Grille Room at Roger’s Pub. It’s Dinner with the Dean on a grander scale (100 or so students)—the perfect celebration for a holiday centered around family, connecting, and breaking bread.
When he stops to think about it, the power of food to bring people together has been part of Dean Lapp’s Babson story since the beginning. He fondly recalls his first day at Babson starting at 7:30 a.m. with Chi Omega sorority’s ChiHop, a pancake breakfast, and ending at 10 p.m. with the AMAN show, where they served naan. “What better way to bring students together and foster connections and community than with food and spirited conversation?”
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