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Meet, Greet and Eat connects students over virtual dinners

| Thursday, March 4, 2021

This February, the McDonald Center for Well-Being (McWell) and Campus Dining partnered to host virtual dinners through a program called Meet, Greet and Eat. The purpose of the four-dinner series was to give students the opportunity to meet new people while sharing a meal together.

Katrina Conrad, assistant director at McWell, co-planned the program and said the center’s well-being surveys this year revealed that staying socially connected is a top concern for students. 

As the entire world has been navigating new ways to connect in an era of physical distancing, those findings weren’t surprising but has made it all the more important for us to intentionally develop initiatives that help students build connectedness,” Conrad said. 

Junior Alina Peterson signed up for Meet, Greet and Eat after reading about it in [email protected] emails. She said she is always looking for new opportunities and experiences on campus to participate in. 

“Meeting new people and, you know, getting to talk to new people has definitely been dampened … since the start of COVID, and that was something I really enjoyed about being … at a college campus,” Peterson said.

Participants were split into small groups called “dinner tables” of about seven to 10 people.

Junior Luisana Gonzalez, another participant, said it was refreshing to see her small group be vulnerable with one another. Members of her group shared how they were lonely and how the pandemic has impacted their social lives and relationships.

“I think when discussing the reason why we were all doing it, I think it inherently became more vulnerable,” Gonzalez said. 

Meet, Greet and Eat was inspired by the Domer Family Dining project, which was a series of four in-person, family-style dinners that were eaten with new friends. 

Peterson said one difficulty of the program was technical difficulties with Zoom, which inhibited natural conversation flow. 

Despite challenges, Peterson said she appreciated meeting a diverse group of students at her table, including graduate students, whom she felt she had not had the opportunity to interact with before socially.

Gonzalez said there have been efforts to maintain a connection with small group members since the ending of the program. She has gone to dinner with a member of her small group and has plans with another. 

“It sounds sort of funny … but I think it’s really good to … talk with people over Zoom and meet new people,” Gonzalez said. “I think it’s good for you as a person.”

There are currently no plans for further Meet, Greet and Eat events. McWell and Campus Dining are measuring the program’s impact and gathering feedback from participants. It will potentially continue in the future, they said. 

Conrad said there are Virtual Dinner Party toolkits that are currently being developed. Friends would be able to download the kits to use as inspiration for their own virtual “family” dinners. 

Peterson said she misses pre-COVID times when sociability was easier, but she was pleasantly surprised by Meet, Greet and Eat.

“I thought it was just a really cute but easy thing to add to my week,” she said.

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