Catawba News Service
"I wasn't sure how many people would show up for "Take Your Parents to Class" on Friday [September 25th]," says Cyndi Allison Wittum, a Catawba College Communication Arts Instructor. "It's hard to compete with football games and ice cream socials when you're offering a class lecture."
Wittum and several other professors prepared class lectures so that parents and family members participating in Catawba's Family Weekend activities, Sept. 25-27, could have a chance to sample educational offerings at the college. "Take Your Parents to Class" programs ranged from "Biology and the Microscope" with Drs. Constance Lowery and Steve Coggin to "The Academic Does the Andy Griffith Show" with Dr. Gary Freeze.
"Hot Off the Grill: Connecting through Social Media" was the topic of Wittum's afternoon class for students and families. She incorporated information from her New Media and Blogging class offered last year, her Public Speaking courses, and her interests in social media used to promote and market her online web sites — Yes You Can Grill and Yes You Can Cook.
"The preparation was the major commitment," says Wittum. "I wanted to have visuals and some cooking samples to go along with the topics I was discussing. That meant I was up late the night prior baking a Cheerwine Cake and then set the alarm early to have time for the Peanut Butter Fudge to set and the Barbecue Beans to cook long enough to be flavored well."
Wittum also wanted to spotlight students in her classroom, since most of her courses include a presentational aspect. She invited Brandon Coble of Yadkinville, N.C., to discuss social media and to talk about a trip his New Media class took to Pinehurst to see Chris Hughes, the co-founder of Facebook. Amanda Sowards of Harrisburg, N.C., shared her blog which supports overseas missions and was instrumental in saving a church in Nicaragua which was struggling financially. Amanda also discussed the new edition of The Pioneer student newspaper which goes online next week and gave class participants a sneak preview. Amanda is the New Media and Social Marketing Director for the student newspaper.
"The student speakers were absolutely fabulous," says Wittum. "I was sitting there thinking that being a teacher really does pay off. I saw how our two Communication majors had grown over the last couple of years, and I was so proud I could hardly contain myself. Brandon and Amanda represented the department and college as young professionals and as our future leaders. They were quite impressive."
Following the student guest speakers, Wittum spoke to the group, which included over 30 audience members, about getting involved early with new media and about starting to write online before it was the "cool" thing to do. "I'm a dinosaur in net years," she explained. "There were very few platforms for writers a decade ago. You had to be technically advanced to add to the discussion on the information superhighway. Very few writers made the leap initially."
One of Wittum's first online magazine jobs involved writing on barbecue. "I hadn't really thought about writing about food and cooking, but I love to grill, so it seemed a good fit. That job led to more projects related to outdoor cooking and also Southern cuisine."
Over the last several years, Wittum has opened her own online barbecue blog, grill web site, and was recruited to test outdoor cookers and write the yearly grill guide for Consumers Digest. She also put together the North Carolina travel barbecue article for hotel books for the Research Triangle Park area of the state due out next month.
"Grilling and writing about outdoor cooking is a great hobby," says Wittum. "I get to check out all the new barbecue grills and gadgets, and I get to cook outdoors. My sons love that, and the students are always interested in such an unusual sideline."
Wittum wanted to include some grills in her presentation, but most grills are too large to easily haul to campus. She opted to bring two tailgate grills. The CADAC is a collapsible gas grill with interchangeable cooking toppers. It's perfect for tailgaters and campers. The Cobb looks like a small spaceship and will cook a full chicken with eight pieces of charcoal. It was designed in Africa for areas with no electricity and initially was fueled with corncobs — hence the name Cobb.
Following the class lecture, students, family members, and Ketner School of Business and Communication Dean Bryan Applefield checked out the grills, chatted and enjoyed food samples. The peanut butter fudge was the top pick which didn't surprise Wittum, since her sons love that fudge recipe and always pout when she makes it for school classes or pot luck dinners and the pan comes home clean.
"One time I arrived at a dinner and noticed a little dint all the way around the outside edge of the fudge," says Wittum. "After some research, I discovered that my youngest son had run his finger around the very edge of the pan to get a little preview. Now, I make the boys a pan of fudge if I don't have leftovers. That eliminates problems like fingerprints in the fudge."
Wittum said the "Take Your Parents to Class" session was a lot of fun and that the feedback was excellent. It was a lot of work, she admits, but says the students were super supportive which made a huge difference.
"My students were right there every second. They pitched in with unloading the truck, checking the chicken on the grill, taking photos, serving the samples, and even for clean up," says Wittum. "I'm sure the parents and family members had a chance to see what Catawba classes are all about — innovation and teamwork. I was glad to have a chance to let everyone know about all the interesting projects we have going on in Communication Arts and what great students we have here at Catawba College."
PHOTOS: Family Weekend 2009
"Family Mail" - Remarks by Dr. Barry Sang (PDF)