News Date: 
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Source: Georgia Magazine

Late-night dining, near round-the-clock bus service and high tech access to faculty are making UGA a campus that (almost) never sleeps

The smell of peppers sizzling in a vegetable omelet fills the air, tempting students standing in line while waiting for the cook at Snelling Dining Commons to create their late-night snacks. Nearby, steam rises off hot apple compote in the make-your-own waffle area. There’s everything from Pop Tarts to cereal to sit-down fare like bacon and eggs.

Instead of fueling up for the day ahead, students are stuffing their stomachs at 12:30 a.m. on a Thursday, preparing for or winding down from a night of cramming for their classes. In some areas, seats are hard to come by, filled with students wearing workout clothes, pajamas, skinny jeans and halter tops.

Walking into the after-hours hotspot, which is open nonstop from 7 a.m. Monday until 2:30 p.m. Friday, freshmen Jessie Eisenmann and Amelia Hancock are craving two things—snacks and socializing.

“If you meet people, you’ll stay for a long time,” says Eisenmann, from Aiken, S.C. “If you go by yourself, it’s usually to study. Most of the time, it’s to socialize.”

Cheese grits and Special K are just what Hancock needs after spending hours studying at the Student Learning Center, which this fall began operating 24 hours from Sunday until Friday. A steady stream of late night diners files off buses that unload in front of Snelling just after midnight. By 12:45 a.m., the line is out the door.

“It’s just sort of the only place that’s open this late,” says the Newnan native.

That’s exactly what UGA President Michael F. Adams desires—a campus environment where students have the opportunity to continue to learn, even in the wee hours of the morning.

“We are basically every day a city of 50,000 people,” he says. “Take a 50,000-person city in Georgia and tell me (it’s) completely asleep at night.”

But the physical signs of a 24/7 campus are just one aspect of the university’s burgeoning continuous learning environment. The interaction between faculty and students continues well after the lectures and labs end, with professors maintaining almost constant contact via e-mail and instant messaging. That, for some students, is the ultimate way to learn.

Snelling Dining Commons is a busy place after midnight on weekdays. photo by Paul Efland

Instant access

Whenever students in Kaye Sweetser’s public relations classes see her signed onto AOL instant messaging, they know it’s OK to ask her questions. Even if that means they’re virtually chatting at 2 a.m.

“I thought, ‘I’m sitting at home probably with my mind geared toward work,’” says Sweetser, an assistant professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “If they see me online, I’m there for them.”

Sweetser knows it’s not always convenient for students to meet with her during office hours. Some students only reach out via technology once during a semester. A handful have used IM several times, including Jeff Putnam, a senior from Duluth, Ga. He thinks it’s a great idea for professors to be accessible when students are “actually in the moment” of studying.

“It speaks volumes about how they care about their students. They’re willing to stay up and make sure you get the material,” Putnam says.

Carol Cotton, an instructor of health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health, was working late one night when a student e-mailed her. It was a straightforward question, so she shot back a reply, sometime between 1 and 2 a.m. The student immediately e-mailed her back, telling her, “Oh my gosh, I’m so surprised to get a response from you,” she recalls. “They’re very, very surprised when e-mails come back to them quickly in the middle of the night.”

While some students are late-night creatures, others prefer to get up early. Sometimes they find their professors are up, too. Jessica Van Parys, a fourth-year honors student from Suwanee, remembers studying at 4 or 5 a.m. for an economics test and receiving e-mails immediately from her professor. “I like it. I think that it shows that they care,” she says.

The night before a test, Marisa Pagnattaro, an associate professor of legal studies in the Terry College of Business, makes it a point to answer e-mails until she goes to bed. When she wakes up at 6 a.m., she’s back on her computer. Pagnattaro has never hesitated to send e-mails at all hours, saying it helps her stay on top of returning messages. Plus, she remembers what it was like when she was in college in the early ’80s.

“It was very intimidating to try to go to a professor’s office hours. I feel like I have a certain sense of knowing them from the e-mail,” she says. “It gives me a gauge of their engagement with the class, too.”

Some faculty may be concerned that students are intruding on their time or expect instant communication. Christine Todd, a professor of child and family development, sees how it has the potential to interrupt family life. At the start of the semester, professors often explain to their students when they typically check e-mail, or how quickly they respond.

“This system doesn’t give you any time off. You’re always on,” Todd says.

Even though she is nearing retirement, Todd has embraced interacting at odd hours, saying e-mail allows her to more easily establish relationships with students and gives her more time to respond, if needed. “They e-mail any hour of the day but they don’t expect me to respond immediately. But if I do, I think they’re appreciative of it.”

Night owls

At 1:30 a.m. in the Student Learning Center Jittery Joe’s is closed, so students head to vending machines for their caffeine fix.

Freshmen Meredith Page and Tressa Linzy have been camping out on the second floor for hours, studying for an anthropology test. Armed with a laptop, notes and textbooks, they aren’t sure where else they could have gone for their marathon study session. Definitely not their dorm, they say.

“I can focus here and not at all in my dorm,” says Page, from St. Mary’s, Ga., who lives in Russell Hall. “I would clean or talk to everybody on my hall.”

Most of the SLC’s 96 study rooms are filled at this hour. Students are sprawled out on couches and chairs and hunkered down at work stations and desks. If they speak, it’s in hushed tones. In the enclosed study rooms, groups of four and five gather, poring over homemade flash cards or working to solve mathematical problems.

Some aren’t sure when the night will end.

“I might be here another hour or two,” Eli Harris, a sophomore from Sandersville, Ga., says into his cell phone as he moves from one end of the SLC to another. For security reasons, the university limits access to only one end of the building after 2 a.m.

The reason for the late night? An accounting test. “It is packed right now,” says Kelley Fincher, Harris’ studymate.

If the SLC wasn’t available, the students figure they would be at a downtown Athens coffeehouse.

“Staying up until 2 or 3 to study isn’t that weird for me. I take advantage of stuff that’s open 24 hours,” says Fincher, a sophomore from Duluth.

Right now, there are no plans to open other buildings overnight. But Adams says the university is tracking student activity and will make adjustments as needed.

“If the students want food and study opportunities at 2 a.m. in the morning, we’re at least willing to try and see how they work, and that’s what we’re doing,” he says.

It’s a 24/7 world and the university administration and faculty are recognizing that students operate at all hours of the day.

“Whether it’s the SLC being open or the libraries being open later or the access through e-mails, they certainly have a 24/7 learning environment on the Internet,” says Cotton. “There’s no stopping that.” —Lori Johnston is a writer in Athens.

Get more

Info on late-night dining on campus at www.uga.edu/foodservice

Info on the SLC at www.slc.uga.edu