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Dinner with 12

Breaking Bearcat bread one way to befriend strangers

Although a “Dinner with 12 Strangers” may sound a little like an Alfred Hitchcock film, that title is really a prelude to what essentially becomes “dinner with 12 friends.”

The annual UC Alumni Association-sponsored dinners enable anyone from alumni to administrators to host students for an evening of good food, conversation and Bearcat camaraderie. And 12 is just a rough target. The number doesn’t matter as much as the primary purpose, which is making connections.

The “Dinner with 12 Strangers” tradition began in Cincinnati four years ago with just two dinners and quickly grew to about a dozen meals held in February each of the last two years. The Student Alumni Council (SAC) coordinates all of the activities, and at least one council member attends each dinner.

Hosts can come from anywhere within the UC family. Last year, President Santa Ono and his wife, Wendy Yip, hosted a large contingent (way more than 12) of UC’s international student population. In other parts of town, board members and senior administrators opened up their homes, while graduate students hosted at nearby restaurants.

Dinner invitation lists often show some commonality among the guests — organized by college, involvement in student government or interest in the Alumni Association, for instance.

Meals can occur in private homes, at the host’s business or on campus. This year, one event was even held in Columbus, Ohio. Meals can be anything from homemade BBQ to catered feasts. The guest list is typically a mix of students, faculty, staff and alumni. No matter who attends, the common emphasis is simply to turn strangers into friends and, consequently, create valuable contacts within everyone’s UC network.

“Most participating students are surprised to realize how much they have in common not only with the other students but also with the alumni,” says SAC president Victoria Kuhlman. “Discussing their shared UC experiences helps the Bearcat family grow closer together and build relationships that we hope will last for years.”

Grania Frueh can attest to the possibilities that come from breaking Bearcat bread together. As a DAAP senior and a SAC member working on the event two years ago, Frueh enlisted alumni Jeff Klump and Rick Posey, both DAAP ’85, the principals at a prestigious Cincinnati firm, K4 Architecture, to host a dinner at their company. The conversation drifted to the marked growth of K4 and how the company needed to hire a graphic designer. Frueh proactively followed up days later to inquire about the design position.

“We interviewed several candidates and added Grania to the mix,” Posey says. “We ended up offering her the position, and she started at K4 right after her graduation. She has grown tremendously with K4 since that time, and we are fortunate to have her.”

This February, Rachel Jezior, a sophomore from North Royalton, Ohio, heard one of her dinner companions mention an acquaintance who is a Cincinnati-area FBI agent. Given Jezior’s interest in the law enforcement field, she sought out the contact, resulting in an introductory lunch together. Her adding a valuable career contact with someone who was not even at the dinner serves as a rewarding reminder of the value in creating your own opportunities to open new doors, as well as the potency of the Bearcat network.

“It’s a great experience stepping out of your comfort zone, no matter how intimidating it may seem,” Jezior says. “This encouraged me to partake in more activities independently so I can create more relationships like I did through ‘Dinner with 12 Strangers.’”

To volunteer for next year’s “Dinner with 12 Strangers,” email Briana.Coggins@uc.edu.