The coffee shop is where everything happens on college campuses. I happen to love the atmosphere – I dig the music, I am a serious coffee-junky, I like sitting around for hours deep in pretentious conversation, and I am not intimidated by the heavily pierced, tattooed staff. Don’t be afraid, this is where it all happens.
Unfortunately for Starbucks, they have a bad rap with students. Starbucks is the symbol of “establishment,” the MAN, authority – buzz words that are a major turn-off for students. The mom and pop places are the best – and the atmosphere and coffee is usually better as well.
Set up your day
I try to plan a day or two in advance. I email everyone I plan on meeting and set up my day. I try to meet one student every 45 minutes. 45 minutes is a nice chunk of shmooze time – but not too long. The next student usually arrives while the first meeting is still underway – it creates a nice energy (and gives the impression that I am very popular).
Bring a laptop
No matter how well you plan, and no matter how organized you are, it is inevitable that someone will blow you off (being blown off is the number one occupational hazard for campus rabbis. Get used to it). Coffee shops are all wired for internet – go online and get back to work. I enjoy the coffee shop environment and oftentimes I won’t bother going to my office – I’ll work and drink coffee until my students show up, and work during breaks and after my last meeting is over.
Relax, some students are itching to go deep and you can discuss the mystical secrets of the universe with them, others just want to discuss the background music. Meetings in coffee shops happen to be a great opportunity to hype new programs, invite for Shabbos, meet new students – but this is all secondary – your primary goal is to develop your relationships.
Turn off your cell phone
You are probably a popular and busy guy and people want to talk to you all the time. This is great for your ego, but when you are meeting with students answering your phone is sending the wrong message. Turning it off tells your student “you are important, the people calling can wait.” I sometimes leave my phone on, but the only calls I answer are from my wife – this also sends a powerful message.
Learn to love coffee shops. I have taught classes to relatively large groups of students, had very meaningful conversations, interviewed new students, and I find them to be very warm, friendly and comfortable work environments.