Fireside Chats

fireside chat
For several years, the Honors College has organized a series of faculty-hosted dinners called "Fireside Chats" for new Honors freshmen. In addition to providing a venue for informal interaction between faculty and new Honors students, the Fireside Chats serve to welcome Honors students to MSU and promote their participation in our learning community.   

Discussion topics for Fireside Chats are at the discretion of the hosts. Many events are hosted in the homes of faculty members or at campus facilities. In some instances, hosts invite colleagues or upper-level students to share their experiences as well. 

Incoming Honors College freshmen may sign up for Fireside Chats during Fall Welcome in August. The events traditionally occur on Sunday afternoons and evenings.

For more information on Fireside Chats, please contact Dr. Bess German at

Important Notes for Fall 2016 Fireside Chats

  • Be sure that you are available to attend on the posted date and time before registering for a specific chat.
  • Each student may attend one chat.  We ask for your top 3 preferences in case all of the available spaces for your first choice have been filled.
  • Exact locations will be communicated to participants via email.  If the location is off-campus, an on-campus meeting place will be designated and participants will travel together to the chat site.  That is, transportation will be either in a college vehicle, the host's vehicle, by bus, or by foot, depending on proximity.  To request any additional accommodation to reach these venues, please contact Emily Pearson at

Please sign-up via this Google Form.   

What students said about the experience:

"I had a terrific time at my fireside chat!  The meal was fantastic and the conversation was very relaxed.  All in all, I would say that the fireside chat program is a great way to spend an evening!"

-Aaron O.B., Mathematics

"The fireside chat was very interesting and fun; there was a lot of great food there and the atmosphere was awesome. Talking to faculty outside of a school setting was very nice."

-Zachary B., Engineering 

“The fireside chat has been my favorite event of the year so far; a great night filled with fantastic food, wonderful hosts, and a relaxing way to share my interests with new friends.”

-Kelsey N., Psychology and Economics 

"Dinner was delicious, the faculty offered valuable information in regards to academics and campus life, and I met incredible Honors College colleagues that I will surely be lifelong friends with."

-Thomas M., Physiology and Pre-Med 

“I had a great time at my fireside chat with other Honors College freshman that share my interest in theatre, and two fantastic professors that were really interested in what we had to say and how our first year of college was going. I'm so glad I signed up!”

- Kassia S.General Management 

Fall 2016 Fireside Chats:

Interesting Ideas from a Vibrant Area of Mathematical Research

With Professors Bruce Sagan, Tsveta Sendova, and Mark Iwen

Saturday, September 17, 4:30-7:30pm

Combinatorics is the mathematical domain which deals with discrete structures.  It has seen recent explosive growth in part because of its applications to statistics, physics, and computer science.  Professor Sagan will present a wide range of combinatorial topics for discussion, including some unsolved problems in the area.  Your hosts, Professors Sendova and Iwen, will provide the venue and dinner.  There will also be musical entertainment.

The 21st Century American Family

With Associate Dean and Professor Melanie B. Jacobs

Sunday, September 18, 11am-1:30pm

You are invited to join Dean Jacobs at the MSU College of Law to discuss emerging norms of the 21st Century American Family.  The past fifty years have brought extraordinary changes to family law.  The United States Supreme Court has affirmed the fundamental right of marriage – including the rights of same sex couples to marry.  The Court has further affirmed rights of procreative liberty and abortion; refuted reliance on gender stereotypes in alimony determinations; recognized greater rights for nonmarital children; and also recognized that the Constitution protects intimate sexual conduct between consenting partners.  Despite this enormous progress, gender, income, class, and sexual orientation inequalities still persist.  Moreover, greater access to assisted reproductive technologies (ART) is changing the ways in which state courts and legislatures are defining the legal parent-child relationship. Dean Jacobs has been a member of the College of Law faculty for more than 14 years and also serves as the Associate Dean for Graduate and International Programs.  A former practicing family law attorney in Boston, Professor Jacobs has published nearly a dozen articles about the “new” American family in which she argues against class, sexual orientation, and gender barriers in parentage establishment.   She looks forward to talking with you about family law as well as a wide range of topics from law school to pets, travel, and pop culture.  She will also provide a tour of the law college building.

Challenges and Opportunities for Higher Education

With Drs. Dush Fernando and Yesim Askin

Thursday, September 22, 4-7pm

 Join your colleagues for a social evening to discuss the goals and aspirations of 21st century college graduates, challenges facing higher education and the role of technology in teaching and learning. This event will be hosted by Dr. Dush Fernando, Director of IT service Management at MSU and Dr. Yesim Askin, Director for Analytics and Data Solutions at MSU.

The Dinner Plate Concept: Looking at Global Food Security

With Dr. Gretchen Neisler

Sunday, September 25, 4:30-7:30pm

Global food security is on the minds of many, including the United Nations.  Recently the UN has revised their Millennium Development Goals with a new time line and renamed them Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). One specific SDG is Zero Hunger by 2030. What are the UN’s objectives in attaining this ambitious goal and what are the barriers for its success? How can we face such extremism around food, where many countries find themselves without enough to subsist on while others throw away 40% of the food they purchase due to spoilage? We will also experience the cultural differences of food, sampling foods from specific regions of the globe, while we discuss how culture plays a major role in household decisions around nutrition and food. Please join our family for a lively discussion that will fill your brain and a creative menu that will fill your stomach and in the end, may you be inspired to engage in the global issues around being overfed and undernourished!

Available Resources and Opportunities to be Successful in the College of Engineering

With Dr. Neeraj Buch

Thursday, September 29, 4:30-6pm

Neeraj Buch is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies and is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering.  In this “fireside chat” you will have the opportunity to learn about one or more of the engineering majors, and about the resources available to you that can get you an early start on your success.

First Generation College Graduate and IT Leadership Journey

With Fred Sudler

Friday, September 30, 5-7pm

A conversation about my journey: lessons learned. Harnessing the transformational opportunity that college offers, I will share how my unique path fosters my personal revelation regarding competition, success, and an understanding of the value of giving back. 

Getting Our Hands Dirty: Studio & Field

With Professor Robert A. McCann and Dr. Elizabeth Brisco-McCann

Sunday, October 2, 4:45-8pm

Join Beth and Robert for a conversation informed by degree paths that escape the desk-bound academic environment.  Robert McCann is a nationally exhibiting artist who heads the first year Foundations program and teaches Painting in the Department of Art, Art History & Design.  He is also a former Berlin-based Fulbright scholar and current co-leader of the Visual Arts in Italy summer Study Abroad program.  Beth Brisco-McCann earned her PhD in Plant Breeding from State working with beans and bugs. She’s currently a Research Associate in Plant Pathology at MSU, focusing on diseases of vegetable crops.  Topics of discussion include making a life in the creative arenas, contending with things you can’t control, and what’s happening now in the field of art or literally in the field.  It’s a dinner party with philosophy, science, jokes, possibly tacos or a Thai chili pork roast, and a casual look-in at the home studio and garden.

Matters of Sex and Gender

With Drs. Cindy Jordan and Marc Breedlove

Sunday, October 9, 5:30-8:00pm

Sex differences in behavior are common in vertebrate species, including humans.  We’ve spent almost our entire adult lives trying to understand how sex differences in the structure of the nervous system arise in non-human species.  In those animals, like rats and mice, the rules are pretty simple, but we’re always asking whether they apply to humans.  The answer is, it’s complicated.  As a wife-and-husband team of neuroscientists who work closely together, we’re also acutely aware that society views men and women, especially men and women scientists, quite differently.  We would love to promise some answers, but can only guarantee more questions.  Come with your questions and curiosities and a willingness to engage in what we hope will be a fun and stimulating chat over food and drink.

Promoting Family Literacy:  Raising Ready Readers

With Drs. Patricia A. Edwards, Laura Tortorelli, and Margaret Crocco

Sunday, October 16, 4-7pm

Join Drs. Patricia A. Edwards, Laura S. Tortorelli and Margaret Smith Crocco for a discussion of promoting family literacy and raising ready readers. The research is clear: Children raised in homes that promote family literacy grow up to be better readers and do better in school than children raised in homes where literacy is not promoted. We know that promoting family literacy is important to future reading and school success, but does that mean parents should be prepared to read 100 books a week to their preschoolers? Of course not. While family literacy activities are often based in reading, there are lots of other ways families can conduct literacy activities at home through picture books, songs, poetry and storytelling. Family literacy is defined as home literacy activities that provide literacy skill-building opportunities for young children while enhancing literacy skill development in all members of the family. While researching family literacy you will often come across terms like, "literacy-rich homes," "family-focused reading" and the importance of building strong "home-school communication." All of these components are essential for promoting family literacy activities and raising ready readers. Dr. Patricia A. Edwards, a member of the Reading Hall Fame is a Professor of Language and Literacy in the Department of Teacher Education. A nationally and internationally recognized expert in parent involvement, home, school, community partnerships, multicultural literacy, early literacy, and family/intergenerational literacy, especially among poor and minority children. Dr. Laura Tortorelli is an Assistant Professor, Elementary Grades Reading in the Department of Teacher Education. Her research examines the context in which children develop into proficient readers and writers in the early elementary grades. Her current projects include creating statistical profiles of slow readers to support individualized fluency instruction and examining the associations between aspects of text complexity and reading rate. Dr. Margaret Crocco is a Professor/Chairperson in the Department of Teacher Education. Her research has focused on issues of diversity, both national and international, within a social studies education context. Most prominently, she has investigated how "women of the world" have been featured--or ignored-- in global studies and world history courses, state curriculum frameworks, and teacher preparation programs.

Men in College: Overcoming Stereotypes and Leading by Example

With Dr. Jim Lucas

Sunday, October 16, 4-7pm

Although men still have the advantage in many aspects of society, when it comes to College, they aren’t doing so well. Men are less likely to attend college, participate in specialized college programming, and graduate; they are also more likely to be a victim of a violent crime, skip class, not do their homework, consume too much alcohol, and face academic and/or disciplinary probation. Researchers attribute these social and academic issues to gender role conflict: the concept that young men live in a world with changing social norms, yet they are still taught and held to very traditional norms. This discrepancy creates conflict between how men are socialized to act and how they need to interact to be successful in today’s workplace. This chat will discuss the concept of male engagement and leadership in college, giving first-year students the opportunity to talk over dinner about some of the questions and challenges they face and get advice about being an effective leader and change agent. Your host this evening is Dr. Jim Lucas. Jim works with the first-year seminar abroad program, and leads 2 – 4 study abroad programs per year on the topic of sustainability. His research area focuses on male engagement in college, and he recently implemented a new study abroad program for fraternity men to explore masculinity and leadership.

Hacking the Election

With Dr. Richard Enbody & Wendy Larson

Tuesday, October 18, 6-8:30pm

Join Dr. Richard Enbody (MSU Computer Science & Engineering) and his wife, Wendy Larson (VP of an Environmental Engineering consulting firm) for dinner. We will discuss questions such as the following: How hard is it to hack an election?  (not very) Has it been done? (Yes, but not in the US, yet.) What are the vulnerabilities in the US election system? (many!)  You need not be a computer scientist to appreciate how this can be done.  For example, a collection of fake Twitter accounts has been successfully used in a smear campaign – “dirty tricks” using 21st century technology.

Women in Science and Engineering:  Strategies for a Successful Start

With Dr. Angela Wilson

Monday, October 24, 6:30-8:30 pm

Join Dr. Angela Wilson for a discussion about strategies for a successful start in college towards careers.  While the focus of the discussion will be targeted towards women in science and engineering, the discussion is open to students in any area.   The discussion will target identifying and maximizing your strengths, addressing any weaknesses, and early identification of opportunities.  As well, over dinner, we will have a positive discussion about the communication style and perspective differences between women and men, and how realization of them can aid in your success, from college to your career. Dr. Wilson is the John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and she presently serves as the Director (Head) of the Division of Chemistry at the U.S. National Science Foundation. In her role as the NSF Division Director for Chemistry, she is responsible for determining the overall direction of ~$245M of funding for chemistry research in the U.S.  Her primary research area is quantum chemistry/quantum mechanics, including the development of computational chemistry methods, and also does research in areas including drug discovery, protein modeling, environmental science, and materials science.

Using Your Talent to Fulfill Self

With Drs. Denise Maybank, Terrence Frazier, and Allyn Shaw

Tuesday, October 25, 7-9pm

Being able to understand your multiple identities—MSU Student, Honors College student, Major, Passions-- and how they intersect are incredibly important in knowing who you are. Join Drs. Maybank, Frazier and Shaw in a discussion on how to better understand and use your talents. Utilizing the DISC instrument is a tool to help you learn more about your strengths and where you draw your energies.  This will help you in your friendships, working environments and the classroom. Come for dinner at 150 Student Services Building to discuss the instrument, the results and how to be the best you. Dr. Maybank is the Vice President for Student Affairs and Services and Drs. Frazier and Shaw are the Assistant Vice Presidents for Student Affairs.  Both Drs. Maybank and Shaw are MSU alumni.

America After Obama:  Talking Politics and Philosophy, and the 2016 Election

With Professor Steve Kautz, Professor Arthur Melzer, and Shikha Dalmia

Sunday, October 30, 4:45-8pm

Wide-ranging conversation about politics and political philosophy with three spectators of the political scene.  And dinner. Hosts: Arthur Melzer.  Department of Political Science; research in political philosophy, especially the political thought of Rousseau and Aristotle.  Harvard PhD.  Co-director of the Symposium on Science, Reason, & Modern Democracy, a center that sponsors a lecture series and international conference every year on a topic of general interest (last year: inequality – next year: immigration).  Interests include: music, politics, dogs. Shikha Dalmia.  Journalist, columnist, and policy analyst for Reason Foundation.  Originally from India and a former MSU graduate student; Professor Melzer’s wife.  Interests include: politics, Indian culture, music, cooking, dogs. Steve Kautz.  Department of Political Science and Associate Dean of the College of Social Science; works on modern political philosophy and American political thought, including the political thought and statesmanship of Lincoln.  MSU undergraduate and University of Chicago PhD.  Co-Director of the Symposium on Science, Reason & Modern Democracy.  Interests include: politics, sports, theater, Vegas. Topics: the 2016 election, immigration, the war on terror, drug legalization, inequality in America, the role of the Supreme Court in American politics.

Becoming a Teacher and Teaching:  What Does It Take?

With Dr. Carrie Symons and Ms. Megan Luchenbill

Sunday, November 6, 4:45-7:30pm

*Note:  Daylight Savings – Set clocks back one hour*

Please join us for dinner and conversation about the teaching profession and the field of education more broadly. Because we have all been through an education system of one kind or another, our experience as learners serves as common ground for discussing what inspires learning and what diminishes the inspiration to learn. We will also discuss the roles teachers have played in your learning throughout the years and what it takes to be a teacher. Teaching is a noble profession; it enables you to make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of others. To teach well, you have to have deep content knowledge, and you also need to understand how to facilitate learning for a classroom of diverse learners. Teaching requires specialized knowledge that is best developed through a rigorous, high quality preparation program that provides many opportunities to practice teaching before entering the field. And it just so happens that MSU has one of the very best Colleges of Education in the country. If you are interested in learning more about MSU’s teacher preparation program, reflecting upon your own learning journey, and spending time with like-minded peers, we think you will really enjoy this gathering. We look forward to meeting you and welcoming you to MSU!

Dr. Symons is a faculty member in the College of Education. Prior to teaching at MSU, she was an elementary classroom teacher for six years in Colorado and four years in California. During those 10 years of teaching at the elementary level, she was also a lead singer in a band and a yoga teacher. Her research and teaching focuses on the development of teachers’ practices that support the growth of literacy and language for all students, especially for students who are learning English as an additional language. Ms. Luchenbill is a 2015 graduate from MSU’s College of Education. She is a lover of all things poetry, dreams of one day seeing Hamilton: An American Musical live onstage, and continues to support the Spartan Marching Band as a proud alum at Spartan Football games.

Strategies for Scaling Up Social Innovation

With Drs. R. Sam Larson and Jim Dearing

Sunday, November 13, 5:30-8pm

Over the  last decade, the desire to “scale up” evidence-based social innovations – including principles, practices, approaches and programs — has become an urgent priory for practitioners, funders and policy makers. As Robert Ross, the President and CEO of the California Endowment, writes, “The greatest impediment to solving… problems is not a lack of innovation. Rather, it is our inability to scale up solutions that we know work.”  This inability is related to our limited understanding of how to spread effective innovations.  Join your hosts for a discussion about how collaborations facilitate social innovation scale-up.  They will discuss their research on three different scale-up strategies - branching, franchising and network.  The group will discuss the conditions and circumstances that may favor one strategy over another and the benefits and costs of each strategy.  Students interested in the nonprofit sector or public policy will leave with new ideas that could influence their course of study. Yours hosts for this evening are Dr. Jim Dearing and Dr. Sam Larson.  Jim is the Chair of the Department of Communication and a scholar of diffusion theory.  Sam is an Assistant Dean in the College of Education and her research focuses on organizational strategy.  They both love to cook and entertain and the Fireside Chat will be held in their home in East Lansing.

Potatoes, Biotechnology and Feeding People around the World

With Dr. David Douches

Sunday, November 20, 4:30-7:30pm

Join Professor Dave Douches, potato geneticist, who teaches plant biotechnology and has bred improved potato varieties for Michigan and other potato regions around the world, for a discussion about potatoes, GM crops, the challenges of creating better potatoes for US and developing countries.  Potato is poised to make advances in the 21st century with new gene editing methods.  Dr. Douches will provide background on potato, provide a lab tour and the GM debate that will create discussion about the advances in the technology and where the technology is most appropriate for the crop and environment.  The Fireside chat will take place at the Molecular Plant Sciences Building conference room adjacent to Dr. Douches’ lab and provide a pizza dinner.