Instructor conferences reinforce learning, fun competition

Instructor Meredith Sonnefeldt talks to Lauren Balser at Colectivo Coffee. Photo by Emmet Jamieson

Instructor Meredith Sonnefeldt goes to Colectivo Coffee at 9 a.m. Saturdays. She doesn’t go for coffee or a meal. She goes to talk to the 11 members of her instructor group.

“I focus on the academics, but I also want to be a listener and a friendly face who makes conversation,” Sonnefeldt said. “I ask about things they’re passionate about, things they want to do when they go home or other plans they have for the summer.”

Each Saturday of the program, cherubs meet with their assigned instructor to talk about their work, their time at the program and questions they may have.

Each instructor conducts conferences differently. Sonnefeldt said she starts by asking students about recent assignments and then pointing out what they could have done better. She then talks to them about the week’s events and other topics they want to discuss.

“It isn’t all about the academics,” Sonnefeldt said. “Shifting it over to other conversations unrelated to the program helps me bond with the student.”

Instructor Joe Grimm said he blends conversation and academics and holds his conferences in different places to help cherubs learn their way around Evanston.

Grimm said he also asks cherubs what they learned during the week and what they want to learn in the week ahead. He added that he likes cherubs to ask questions, too.

Instructor Ava Greenwell said she mainly discusses academics with her students, and she does some edits during her conferences to reinforce her students’ skills. She also said answering cherubs’ questions is important to her conferences.

“Students often get feedback and may have a question, and they may feel uncomfortable asking the instructor or finding the right time or place,” Greenwell said. “One of the main reasons we have these conferences is so students can ask questions in a non-threatening environment.”

Ishani Chettri of Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, said she enjoys asking Sonnefeldt, who graduated from Medill this year, about the future.

“If you ask her questions about college, she’ll answer truthfully,” she said. “She doesn’t just say, ‘Oh, it was the best time of my life.’ She’ll say what she thought about Northwestern and why she decided to go here.”

Kate Hennessey of Dover, Massachusetts, said she likes how Greenwell gives her positive feedback before elaborating on how she can improve. She also said Greenwell helped her cut the fat from her writing.

Jeffrey Harberg of Dallas said he loves Grimm’s optimism and ability to connect with him. He added that the meetings help him understand his mistakes.

“Edits are just words on paper, but when you’re meeting with an instructor, you can put into perspective what those words are trying to say,” Harberg said.

Grimm said he hopes his conferences give cherubs a safe space where they can feel comfortable with themselves and their journalistic abilities.

Sonnefeldt added that conferences ensure every cherub gets the instruction they need.

“Without the individual meetings, people might slip through the cracks,” she said. “The program goes by so fast. It’s nice to check in every week.”