Fall 2018 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Department of Geography Coffee Hour, weekly socializing and a lecture on Friday afternoons. Although the methods have modernized, Coffee Hour remains true to its purpose, which Peirce Lewis and Wilbur Zelinksy described in a 1987 article in the Professional Geographer as “creating and preserving a sense of intellectual and social community within the department.”
Professors Emeritus of Geography, Ronald Abler and John Adams, established Coffee Hour at Penn State in the fall of 1968, based on their previous experiences at University of Minnesota.
“We were both imbued with the coffee hour experience and thought it would be good for the department,” Abler said. “It was clear to us that coffee hours were a major factor in the centrality and prestige of the University of Minnesota geography program, and we thought that the department here would benefit as well.”
Adams explained why it worked, “The fact that we regularly invited colleagues from across the campus to tell us what they were researching and writing about flattered them and enhanced our reputation as a vigorously inquiring department.”
Variety is of central importance in the weekly offerings. “Even then, much less than now, it was easy for faculty members to become stove-piped in their own disciplines and sub-specialties,” Abler said. “And it was fun to learn something new every week and at the end of the week.”
What’s new with Coffee Hour? The lecture takes place in room 112 Walker Building, a 134-seat auditorium. Once a semester, students are the speakers—often their first opportunity to give a research talk. The lecture is webcast, so it can be accessed by online students and alumni.
“The ‘Coffee Hour To Go’ endowment supports the webcast and also allows us to invite international scholars,” said Cynthia Brewer, head of the department.
What’s the same? As reported in the Lewis and Zelinsky article, a lot it seems.
“Thus, in the Geography Department at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon means the smell of coffee, a hum of anticipation and knowledge that the seminar room is open for snacking and general conversation before the speaker is introduced at 4:00 p.m.”
Reference: Lewis, Peirce and Wilbur Zelinsky. 1987. “The Coffee Hour at Penn State.” Professional Geographer 39, no.1: 75-79. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0033-0124.1987.00075.x