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Tables of Content event brings together ETSU experts, engaged public

Max Hrenda • Apr 12, 2014 at 8:02 AM

Some people celebrate the end of the work week by talking over dinner with a friend or loved one.

This weekend, some faculty and staff members at East Tennessee State University chose to celebrate in a more communal fashion than usual.

On Friday, the staff of ETSU’s Charles C. Sherrod Library hosted Tables of Content, an event that allowed members of the public to sit down and talk with some of the school’s faculty and staff over dinner in the library’s Active Learning Lounge.

Dean of Libraries Pat Van Zandt said the event was held, in part, to showcase the lounge — which opened its doors April 8 — but also to allow members of the public to discuss areas of the faculty and staff members’ expertise.

“Mostly we wanted to showcase the interests and research of our faculty and staff,” Van Zandt said. “We have 15 faculty and staff (members) talking about different topics. There are 15 tables, and eight people to a table.”

Of those 120 total seats, all were filled. ETSU Football Head Coach Carl Torbush, who served as one of the event’s table hosts, said he was pleasantly surprised at the event’s attendance.

“I am absolutely shocked at how many people are here,” Torbush said during the event. “It’s a great, great turnout for just a wide range of different topics and different interests.”

One person at the event said the high turnout may have been the result of providing attendees with a choice as far as where to sit and what to talk about. According to Leslie Adebonojo, Sherrod’s outreach librarian, each potential guest was provided with a program outlining which faculty and staff members would be attending and what they would be discussing.

“Almost everyone got their first choice,” Adebonojo said. “So the tables they picked, they’re passionate about. They’re really interested in that topic, and they’re able to sit at a table with someone who is passionate as well.”

Topics at the event ranged from events and studies that were localized to ETSU or Tennessee to others that concentrated on widespread global or cultural concerns. Brittany Ezell, head coach of the ETSU women’s basketball team, spoke about the process of recruiting and cultivating student-athletes at ETSU, and how those student-athletes can serve as positive examples for academics, as well.

“If you look at graduation rates, our graduation rate here for the athletes is 78 percent,” Ezell said. “The graduation rate for the university, as a whole, is 44. We’re doing something right, and that’s a tribute to our academic success.”

While Ezell discussed the career of the college athlete at ETSU, Torbush said he would present his goals for the revitalized football program, but he would also allow his table’s guests to dictate the course of the conversation.

“I’m going to talk about what they want to talk about, basically,” Torbush said. “I’m going to talk about my beliefs as a head football coach, the academics, the athletics, the social part, the spiritual part, what I’m going to demand of my players, what they can and can’t do and how we’re going to try and build the program. They can ask any questions they want to ask.”

While topics at some tables maintained a local focus, other speakers, like Keith Johnson, who chairs the university’s engineering, surveying and digital media department, chose to focus on more universal topics.

“I want to look at the bigger picture,” Johnson said. “I’ll be discussing different technologies that have had a huge impact on society, from the ... launch of Sputnik to what we’ve done regarding engineering and engineering technology.”

Johnson added that his discussion on technology and society would include breakthroughs in the fields of science, medicine and the military, as well as a cultural response to social media and the Internet.

“We just celebrated 25 years of access to the Internet for the common user,” Johnson said. “We’re going to talk about the negatives, as well as some of the impacts, from the standpoint of Facebook, Twitter, and those kinds of things.”

Regardless of the subject matter, each table was full, and conversation abounded. For Adebonojo, that was the surest sign of the event’s success.

“Everyone is engaged at their table and in their conversations,” Adebonojo said. “That’s what makes this a really great event. It’s wonderful.”

Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda

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