Food events satiate students’ appetite for connection
By Wanda McNealy ’17
Erika Aronson was hungry. She was running from work to school and forgot to bring a snack with her to class. As she was walking to class alone, Aronson, 20, noticed a sign in the Penguin Union Building (PUB) that said “Peer Mentor event upstairs. Free food and games!” The first-year student was intrigued. She looked up at the next floor to see students holding plates and selecting food. Her stomach directed her legs forward, and up she went.
“Hi, I’m Angela. I am a Student Success Peer Mentor. What’s your name?” A woman welcomed Aronson with an outstretched hand when she walked in.
“Oh hi, I’m Erika. This is my first event here at Clark,” Aronson said as she accepted the handshake.
“Well grab a plate and dig in! We have lots of games you’re welcome to over at the tables when you’ve gotten food,” Angela Williams said smiling.
What was your favorite place to eat at Clark? Tell us how you connected with others over a slice or hot beverage on Facebook.
Once she had a full plate, she headed over to look at the games.
“My kids love this one,” said Williams, 35, who is in her second year at Clark, as she picked up a game. “I am a student and a mother.”
Aronson’s shoulders relaxed as she talked with Williams about being new to Clark.
“I felt awkward going to an event before I met Angela,” Aronson later confessed. “I had planned on just going upstairs to get food before my next class but I stayed because I met her. Angela seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say and what I was doing at Clark.”
Peer Mentors, like many other groups at Clark, host many events throughout the year with free snacks and drinks. Their program focuses on connecting students to the Clark community and helping them reach their academic goals.
Aronson felt her confidence grow after that first event and was inspired to attend more.
“Now I attend as many events as I can,” she said. “The Associated Students of Clark College (ASCC) had a social with Mexican food once; that was great.”
Food connects people
While the Cuisine and Professional Baking and Pastry Arts programs were undergoing changes in the last couple of years and Clark’s dining facility is being been remodeled, there are three food trucks offering a variety of simple cuisine near the Andersen Fountain on Clark’s main campus. Students, faculty and staff are often found there grabbing a quick lunch or snack, but many students prefer to bring their own food to eat on campus.
“When I come from work at Jamba Juice, I bring an Acai Bowl with me to school because it is packed with energy and is a healthy option,” Rachel Walters, 23, said. “I’ve never gone to the food carts because I try to stick to my healthy snacks.”
Stephen Danielson age 19, a first-year student, agrees. “I usually have a long day with school so I pack a few things to get me through like a Vitamin Water and a banana but I try to wait to eat until I get to work at WinCo.”
For those students who don’t have time to pack a snack, there is at least one event per week on campus that provides free food to students. From free movie nights with pizza, to free popcorn on Tuesdays in the PUB, there are several ways to get fed while connecting with the Clark community and other students on campus. For instance, the first Monday of every month, Clark College’s Counseling and Health Center hosts a self-care tea group with tea, cookies and a calming environment for students to decompress.
Since their meeting, Aronson and Angela have attended multiple events together and have enjoyed the food.
“Having Angela at my first event made me feel much more comfortable, like I wasn’t alone,” Aronson said. “I went for the pizza but can say I came out with a friend.”
Aronson and other students will soon have another place to gather to share a meal, study and talk about their day. Two modern kitchens, four food kiosks, outlet bakery, indoor lounge, outdoor patio, restaurant and newly revamped curriculums are the result of four years of planning. Thanks to a $4 million gift from The Tod and Maxine McClaskey Family Foundation, Clark is on its way to transforming its existing facility into a town square that will be a gathering place for students and the Clark community. The Tod and Maxine McClaskey Culinary Institute will be served up this fall. The restaurant is expected to open in 2018.
Wanda McNealy ’17 is a former news editor for Clark’s student newspaper The Independent. She’s a recent broadcast journalism graduate. She has also published articles in The Columbian. She is currently working on writing and composing her first musical.