2016 Archives

SMU’s first generation of Faculty-in-Residence reflects on time among students, welcome replacements

May 20, 2016

DALLAS (SMU)For the students living in Cockrell-McIntosh Commons, the realization that professor Mark Fontenot was, in fact, a human being came with a plate of pancakes.

Residential Commons at SMUFour years ago, Sunday Morning Breakfasts started. . . I've really enjoyed getting to know all of them and look forward to continuing the tradition! 
(Photo and text from Mark Fontenot's Facebook Page; Fortenot at right in checkered shirt) 

“It was fall of 2012, the new class had just moved in and they asked why I woke up so early on the weekends, because I’m a crazy early-morning person. And I told them I go to breakfast on Sunday mornings,” Fontenot says. “And they said, ‘Oh we love breakfast. Can we come with you?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’”

Fontenot, clinical professor in Computer Science and Engineering, was convinced the students wouldn’t show up for the 7:30 a.m. breakfast. Would college students even be aware the world exists before 9 a.m.? But sure enough, they were waiting for him in the lobby the next Sunday morning.

“I was somewhat shocked and stunned, but it actually continued on,” says Fontenot, who has  enjoyed Sunday breakfasts with students on a nearly weekly basis ever since. “At one of those first breakfasts, I was talking to the students about life and things I still wanted to accomplish, and dreams and human fears we all have. You could really see the lightbulb go off that they didn’t even consider that faculty have dreams and aspirations and fears.”

One of the first victories of the fledgling Faculty-In-Residence program had just been won.

Launched in 2014, with a pilot program kicking off two years before that, the Faculty-In-Resident program, whose participating faculty members are affectionately known as “FIRs,” planted a faculty member in an apartment in each residence commons on campus. The stated goal was to, “emphasize a culture of mentorship, intellectual discourse and community.” Two years later that dream is well on its way, but it’s time for a second generation of FIRS to begin entering circulation. Fontenot and one of the other original FIRS, Music Therapy Chair Robert Krout, will hand their keys  this summer to Liljana Elverskog, Arabic lecturer,  and Alice Kendrick, professor of advertising.

“As a FIR, I wasn’t trying to be another professor in their residence hall,” says Krout, who spent his past two years living in Mary Hay Commons. “The relationship is a lot more informal, so it becomes a mentorship. Students seek us out to sound out ideas or ask for advice on Greek life or summer plans or moving forward in their careers and lives after the university. They feel it’s safe to talk with us.”

After passing words of advice like, “Bake cookies,” and, “Know who Justin Bieber is,” to the new FIRS, Fontenot and Krout can be sure their former wards are in excellent hands.

“I want to give the students as much of myself as I can,” Elverskog says. “My son goes to college, so I want to give back, because I want to think he’s being taken care of by someone else. I’m looking forward to it and can’t wait to start.”

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SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls approximately 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

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