Eric Lander - Tea with teachers

A new initiative on campus is bringing professors and students together over tea.

Kollin Wasserlein | MindHandHeart Initiative
December 22, 2017

Everyone knows that the Student Center is a community space students use to eat and study. What happens on the fourth floor may come as a surprise to many in the MIT community: A semiprofessional film studio is home to Tea With Teachers, a project founded to make MIT professors more approachable to students.

Sina Booeshagi '17 co-founded Tea With Teachers to address a discomfort he felt when approaching professors. "I felt that myself and other students faced confidence or language barriers that made it difficult to approach professors and get to know them," says Booeshagi. A casual conversation over tea, he thought, would help others to see just how approachable these professors are.

The Tea with Teachers team applied to the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund, a grant program sponsored by MIT Medical and the Office of the Chancellor for advancing mental health, well-being, and community at MIT, in order to start a YouTube series profiling MIT professors. MindHandHeart enthusiastically supported Tea with Teachers' innovative model of fostering connectedness on campus.

Along with co-founders senior Tchelet Segev, junior Nicholas Curtis, and sophomore Melissa Cao, Booeshagi was able to move forward with the series and served as its first host. He was well-suited to the role. "I enjoy getting to know people, talking about current events, and simply relaxing over a cup of tea," he says. "It therefore felt pretty natural to do the same with MIT professors."

Professors who appear on "Tea with Teachers" field a number of questions designed to provide a glimpse into their lives outside of the classroom, such as what their guilty pleasures are, what pranks they've pulled, and what superstitions they believe in. At the end of each episode, professors are asked if they have any wisdom to impart to MIT students.

To date, the channel has amassed over 16,000 views in the course of seven months, featuring the likes of MIT Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, Walter M. May and A. Hazel May Professor Alexander Slocum, Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz, and Institute Professor Robert Langer. Its second season, featuring new host sophomore Talia Khan, debuted on Nov. 21 with an interview with associate professor of physics Pablo Jarillo-Herrero.

"Tea with Teachers has been an amazing experience," Kahn says. "I have really appreciated the opportunity to engage in so many meaningful conversations, and I am thankful to be a part of an initiative that helps bridge the gap between students and professors. I am excited to see how Tea with Teachers will grow and evolve in the future."

The professors seem to love the idea as well. After being interviewed in early November, professor of biology Eric Lander reflected: "I loved the chance to sit down and have tea with Tea with Teachers. What a great program to help students connect with teachers!"

After the successful launch of Tea With Teachers, the group doesn't plan on letting up. One can hardly walk down a hallway at MIT without seeing a poster advertising the project, or open their mailbox without receiving an email touting the most recent episode. Their first season is available on the Tea With Teachers YouTube channel, and new videos are released every Tuesday at 10 p.m.