Yale seniors share interests at Mellon Forums

While many students are unwinding from a long day of classes, on any given evening Yale seniors may be participating in an “open forum” to gain insight into the passions of their classmates.

The Mellon Forum is an event exclusively for seniors at Yale. For over 20 years, each residential college has held a weekly forum where seniors in the college enjoy fine wine, casual dining and a presentation of a research endeavor or the senior thesis of a classmate. Each week, a different student, sometimes two, presents his senior essay or summer research project. Seniors who have received Richter, Mellon or Bates awards are required to present to their classmates at these forums.

“It’s the most rewarding intellectual activity outside of the classroom,” said Eytan Halaban, an associate fellow and the Mellon Forum coordinator for Davenport College. “For 20 minutes, they must speak intelligently about their passion … you have a chance to show your friends that the admissions office did not make a mistake.”

Carolyne Davidson GRD ’09, a graduate affiliate and the Mellon Forum coordinator for Saybrook College, said the forum “gives seniors a chance to hear what their peers are working on.” After presentations, there is a question-and-answer session where comments can give presenters research ideas, Davidson said.

Some students said they found the forums a relaxed environment to hone their communication skills. Seniors typically use the experience as a dress rehearsal for upcoming interviews and more formal presentations.

“For the student, it is the most serious job interview without a job at stake,” Halaban said.

He also said the students take the presentations seriously and are typically well-prepared.

“I never cease to be amazed,” he said.

Last week, a Saybrook College senior was the first in the college this year to take advantage of a “dress rehearsal.” The forum featured Philip Levin ’06′s presentation on “The Beauty of Math.”

“Phil’s presentation was incredible,” said Beatrice Amaya, a senior in Saybrook College. “[Forums] are an opportunity for students to get together and to interact with themselves and their masters and deans. It has good food and good wine tasting, which also make the evening more enjoyable.”

For dinner, the colleges typically get catering from one of New Haven’s restaurants.

Though the food and presentations are essentials, many, such as Calhoun College Mellon Forum coordinator Justin Zaremby ’03 GRD ’09, find the forums to be excellent opportunities for fellowship.

“The Mellon [Forum] was a very important part of my senior year,” Zaremby said. “It helped rekindle friendships, and it created a wonderful community for the senior class. I’m honored to be able to run the Mellon Forums as a graduate affiliate.”

Funds for the wine tasting and the dinner come from the Mellon Foundation, which also sponsors the Mellon awards and other scholarship opportunities. Seniors that did not receive a Mellon, Richter or Bates award are not required to present at the forum, but “most seniors volunteer pretty keenly,” Davidson said.

“Mellon Forums offer a really great chance for seniors to come together and to share ideas and interests, [something] that they rarely get the chance to do,” she said.

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