To hear, “I want to put in a request for a pingpong table” from the president of my Ag Ambassadors student club took me a bit by surprise. “A what?” I asked.
He confirmed that I had heard correctly — a pingpong table. Why would we want a pingpong table?
He convinced me by explaining that having a pingpong table in a little-used corner of our large shop area would give students an opportunity to get to know each other, build camaraderie, and, most importantly, give those students who drive a long distance to take classes something to do between class periods.
After all, he pointed out, “You can’t study all day.”
One of the biggest drawbacks of a commuter college is the perceived lack of student life. With a lack of residence halls, many students may feel that they are not getting the “real college experience.”
In addition, students who are enrolled in specialized programs, such as agriculture and industrial technology that don’t meet on the main campus, can quickly feel isolated from campus life.
We have several students who drive from over an hour away to take a class in the afternoon and then one in the evening; they sometimes have four or five hours between classes.
Nearly all of the students use part of this downtime to study and finish homework. But after all, you can’t study all day.
For just under $300, I have never seen such a tool for building student relationships. Every day that we have classes, it is used. Before class and after class, it is used. Sometimes students who don’t even have a class in our building that day stop by to play a few games.
There are always groups of students that develop friendships and relationships outside of class. But since the arrival of the pingpong table, I have seen students who never stayed after class before now stay afterward and play pingpong.
A few of these students literally never talked to anyone except for when I forced them to work on group projects in class. Now they are not only friendly around the pingpong table, but they have become more participatory in class.
We have an adjunct instructor who always stays after his class and plays a few games with students. He is a very busy professional and yet finds a little time each week to interact with his students in a pingpong game; they enjoy his classes even more because they know he genuinely cares about them.
The students now have a tournament board set up and are working though the brackets. I’m not sure what reward the eventual victor will receive, but from where I sit every day, I see a whole room full of winners who have been able to develop friendships that will help them with future careers and, hopefully, teach them to appreciate those around them.
In the future, there will be on-site housing for students in Columbus and, although there has been a delay, it will be a huge benefit to students as well as a draw for students from farther away. If I might make a suggestion to those who are developing these apartments: leave some space for a pingpong table.
Matthew John is chairman of the agriculture program at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus.