When Senior Vice Provost for Strategic Communications and Professor of Media Studies and Production Betsy Leebron Tutelman realized that her undergraduate internship seminar’s monthly meetings were not engaging her students at the same level as they did when they were in-person, she looked to her colleagues for advice. Inspired by a faculty event hosted by Associate Dean Jennifer Ibrahim at the College of Public Health, she was struck by the idea for a virtual coffeehouse — a relaxing online space that was aesthetically pleasing and conducive to conversation, both casual and professional.
She set to work and enlisted the help Patrick Hennessy, graphic designer and web manager for the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Strategic Communications, to design two realistic-looking coffeeshop Zoom backgrounds so students could all feel as if they were in the same, laid-back physical setting.
“Betsy explained to me her goal was to create a more relaxed environment for students to create connections outside the standard class format, so I chose scenes that were comfortable and inviting,” Hennessy says. “Meeting virtually can become a bit monotonous so having a custom background shared amongst the group was one way just to add some interest and break up the standard run of meetings.
Leebron Tutelman’s vision also included a musical element, and so she looked to her ProfessionOWL mentee and jazz musician Jake Kelberman, BYR ‘15, to create a Spotify playlist to use for the coffeeshop.
“I tried to make the playlist as inclusive of Temple-specific and Philadelphia-specific music as I could,” he says. “My primary background is as a jazz musician so the playlist is pretty jazz-heavy, but Philadelphia has such a huge and amazing legacy of jazz music, and Temple is continuing that in a lot of ways.” His references to Temple’s jazz history includes, in part, John Coltrane’s Offering: Live at Temple University, a recorded 1966 performance in Temple’s own Mitten Hall.
With some Temple branding from Hennessy and help from Klein students Nicole Rafiee and Kayleigh Beato, the coffeeshop was ready for its debut.
“The idea is that with this background, I think it makes them feel more comfortable and relaxed,” Leebron Tutelman says. “It’s not my office at home.”
Though just one student attended the first session as a test run, Leebron Tutelman says they talked for 45 minutes. Now, she runs an informal weekly event for her students. The format still involves a few students dropping in at a time for smaller, more intimate conversations with Professor Leebron Tutelman and each other; but sometimes, a student or alumni guest speaker even stops by.
“I’m a visual person. I wanted, visually, to have meetings with people and be involved in ways that felt warm and engaging,” Leebron Tutelman says. “Students like it so much, it makes them feel comfortable, they don’t want to leave.”