Growing up, Patrick Depret-Guillaume (Col ’17) was always drawn to the idea of archaeology. But a career in it? No way. Not possible. Not for him at least. “It always seemed like the kind of thing that other people do,” he says.
Nevertheless, after just a year at UVA, he decided to take associate professor of anthropology Adria LaViolette’s Intro to Archaeology class. “She seemed really interesting and approachable,” says Depret-Guillaume. “So I asked if there was anything research-related that I could help her with. And she invited me out to lunch using some of the Mead fund.”
Launched in 2012, Mead Money is a special program set up through the Mead Endowment that provides each faculty member with enough money—$24 this year—to pay for them to take a student out to eat. “There’s no doubt that breaking bread, having a meal together, creates a bond,” says Tom Darbyshire (Arch ’82), the endowment’s chairman.
The nearly $2 million endowment is named for former UVA professor Ernest “Boots” Mead, who before his death in 2014 was known for his close student bonds. Mead Money is just one part of the multipronged endowment. Each year it gives as much as $3,000 apiece to approximately 12 professors chosen to lead small group projects aimed at bringing students and teachers closer together. It calls them “dream ideas.” Among others funded last year, media studies assistant professor Andre Cavalcante used “dream idea” money to host four dinners with half a dozen students, where they discussed issues relating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
When the endowment was formed 15 years ago, the tight relationships embodied by Professor Mead were not a staple at UVA, according to Darbyshire. “At that time, the notion of student-faculty engagement was not being talked about at the University,” he says. “We were worried that the University was growing rapidly. There was a lot of pressure on the faculty to publish or perish. And that doesn’t necessarily incentivize them to spend more time with students.”
Darbyshire says the Mead Money program grows each year. Last year, vouchers were sent to more than 1,000 UVA faculty, and about 300 of them redeemed them. “So that’s 300 lunches that might otherwise not have happened,” Darbyshire says.
LaViolette says she’s used her Mead Money nearly every year since the program’s inception. The lunches aren’t necessarily an extension of the classroom setting, she explains, but rather an opportunity to dig deeper and develop a connection that usually extends beyond the student’s four undergraduate years. “My conversations always end up being about opening the door for my helping them if they want to speak about graduate school,” LaViolette says.
Mead Money is not for everyone, however, Darbyshire says. If a student, for example, has to work to pay for his or her tuition and doesn’t have the time to go to lunch with a professor, the fund provides little help. Further, some faculty members say it’s usually the gregarious and outgoing students who get chosen by professors for lunches, not the quiet or more introverted ones.
It’s been two years since LaViolette took Depret-Guillaume to lunch, and now he’s getting ready to graduate with a history-archaeology double major. What’s more is that he’s developed a relationship with LaViolette that’s gone beyond the student-professor interaction, traveling into the realm of employee-mentee, and perhaps most importantly, friend. “It’s mushroomed into a really wonderful relationship and it’s all because of Mead Money,” Depret-Guillaume says.