Cohort meetings are the essential experience that all Fellows share. We also host social events and larger-group Community Engagement Forums, but those are optional.
Most of the learning and connecting happens in cohort meetings, and they are where we build a shared language and culture.
Each Fellow is part of eight cohort meetings during the academic year. Cohorts are 8-10 people in size, and the meetings are two hours long. We have three meetings in the fall, three in the winter, and two in the spring.
Our principles and practices for facilitating cohort meetings include:
Hold the meetings off-campus, if possible.
An off-campus setting helps reduce perceived hierarchies among the participants, and evens out the efforts that people have to make to attend. It’s also a refreshing to be in a new space for everyone. Try to find meeting locations with abundant and free parking.
Provide coffee/tea and snacks.
This gesture of hospitality keeps folks alert and happy.
Learn and use names.
Facilitators should learn everyone’s name and greet them by name when they arrive.
Fellows and facilitators should introduce themselves by full name (first and last) at the beginning of each meeting.
Sit in a circle around a table, if possible.
Try not to position a facilitator at the front of the room, which may imply authority or privileged knowledge.
Share the air.
Arrange the meeting structure so that everyone has a chance to speak early on (beyond just name introductions).
This will help create a more balanced sharing of the airtime throughout the meeting.
Arrange the meeting structure to minimize long explanations or instructions by the facilitators.
Share handouts only if you will spend a substantial time with them in the meeting. We call our few handouts “party favors” to keep things light. Manage other group documents online.
Facilitators should participate in activities alongside other Fellows, when possible. If the Fellows are asked to share a story or challenge, the facilitators should share as well.
Reduce time stress.
Do your best to begin and end on time, acknowledging that people will sometimes arrive late or need to leave early.
Make space for informal connections.
Take a break in the middle which lasts long enough for people to stretch and to chat with other group members. Allow people to mingle before and after the meetings.
Many great connections are made in these in-between moments.
Be cheerful and grateful.
Facilitators should smile often, and let Fellows know their presence and efforts are appreciated.
When Travis was recruiting Whatcom Community College faculty for the first year of Fellows, he gave them the option to meet at WWU or in downtown Bellingham. All chose downtown. He asked one of them why they all seemed not to want to come to WWU. “The parking is horrendous!” she said. As a bike commuter and a new person to town, he didn’t realize this major issue. He then realized that all the Fellows meetings would need to take place downtown, not at WWU.
Deb Currier and Evan Mueller from the WWU Theater Department worked to develop a cultural heritage performance shaped by and involving community members.
"Being a member of the CE Fellows has been a terrific experience. The meetings have connected me with such a wide variety of creative, interesting, and hard-working people here in Bellingham that I would never have connected with otherwise. Our interactions have been helpful, fun, inspiring, and I truly look forward to our meetings."
- Evan Mueller