by Guest Blogger Malcolm Bonner
Years ago, as Director of The University of Pennsylvania McNair Scholars Program, I invited Dr. Mary Heiberger from Penn’s Counseling Department to make a presentation to our McNair scholars. Dr. Heiberger opened with a unique and engaging introductory exercise thatI continue to employ on the first day of class. (Dr. Mary Heiberger departed this life in November 2003.)
After students have settled in and you have taken roll, assign (or have students choose) partners. Students should be prepared with pens and notebooks. Show instructions on the Smart Board or blackboard:
Please interview your partner in order to glean information which will allow you to introduce your partner as the Keynote Speaker at a (relevant) National Conference Ten Years from Now.
I have found it useful to make it clear that the activity is an interview process; much of the richness is lost if students scribble their own information and push it across the desk at their partners and say “read this.” Some of the information will be factual; a good deal will be flights of optimistic fancy. I usually do a brief demonstration with a student, which could proceed thusly:
“Good Afternoon. Welcome to the 2025 National Conference for Family Professionals in sunny Orlando, Florida. I am honored to introduce our Keynote Speaker for this evening, Dr. Bill Blank. Dr. Blank earned his BA at Lincoln University in 2017, went on to earn his Master of Human Services Degree at Lincoln in 2019, and earned a Doctor of Human Services degree at William and Mary in 2022. Dr. Blank has established Family First, a network of counseling services and family therapy centers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is the author of Love is the Answer (2024), which was on the New York Times Bestseller List for 67 consecutive weeks. He was named Time Magazine Man of the Year, and has been prominently mentioned as a candidate for a Cabinet post in the administration of President Elton Brand. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Bill Blank.”
Following the demonstration, the student returns to interview and be interviewed by a partner. Once each pair has completed interviews, I call the class to order and the first pair of presenters to the front of the class. I have found it important to emphasize that each student is to be given “our most courteous, most rapt, and completely undivided attention” while speaking. I remind students that it is not crucial to have introductions written perfectly; since the future remains unknown, presenters can ad lib and have fun. Some students will be more relaxed and confident than others. It is probably better to permit the occasional stumble, and allow the process to flow as it will. Inevitably, one or two pairs of presenters will generate raucous laughter and much applause.
What has been consistently gratifying has been watching the beaming faces and proud postures of students as wonderful statements are made about their achievements – real and projected. The interviews and introductions help students to learn about one another, and set a positive and energetic tone for the class.