Bobcat family comes together with cheer at undergraduate holiday dinner

December 01, 2023

Student holds plate full of food as professor serves her

The Quinnipiac family came together to celebrate the holiday season with a beloved tradition, the 39th annual Undergraduate Holiday Dinner, on the Mount Carmel Campus November 30.

More than 1,500 undergraduate students shared in camaraderie, fun activities and a special holiday meal served up by nearly 150 university faculty and staff.

“This is just part of the way we want to celebrate family experiences with our students,” said President Judy Olian. “We show that we care, we are approachable, we are real. I think the meaning of this night is that we’re family.”

“I think it’s really cool seeing all of the professional staff helping out,” said Mackenzie Orlov ’25. “It’s a different setting than you normally see them in, and I think it shows that kind of connection you build in college.”

Tom Ellett, chief experience officer, served behind one of the roast beef carving stations on the buffet line, where volunteers filled student dishes to the brim with a variety of tempting selections.

“This is my favorite job every year, because it makes people happy,” said Ellett. “It’s fun, and what makes it even more fun is to be able to do this with your colleagues.”

Zachary Iwatsuki ’24, said the dinner gives him a chance to sit down with friends and to talk with faculty he’s worked with through his undergraduate years.

“Tonight, I just saw one of my professors from my freshman year, and he still remembers me. It was great to see Tom and Judy and the administration there as well,” said Iwatsuki.

Assistant biology professor Caitlin Hanlon wore a head-to-toe turkey costume as she handed out cutlery on the buffet line. Hanlon, who volunteers for the dinner each year, said she was inspired this year by her cell physiology students, who spend nearly five hours with her in class and lab each Thursday.

“Right before break, they found out I was going to serve at the holiday dinner, and they said, ‘Wow, we’re going to see each other a lot that day!’  And I said, ‘We should do something special’ — and this is it,” said Hanlon.  

Students were also wowed by the holiday transformation of the Carl Hansen Student Center. Blue and white decorations and lights shimmered in the dining hall, and candy-cane themed gingerbread decorating stations led to the dessert buffet on the second level.

“I was impressed. I did not think it was going to look like this. It feels extra welcoming,” said Zacharay Palmer ’27.

Palmer and Luca Capone ’27, said the night was a good experience to share with their friends.

“It gets all the kids together and brings the whole Quinnipiac community together,” said Capone. “I had some really good food and sat with my friends.”

A favorite stop on the second level was a card-signing station, where the undergrads could personally pen a holiday message to be delivered to local veterans and senior citizens. Bobcats completed hundreds of cards throughout the night.

“I just wanted to wish them happy holidays and to share the holiday spirit,” said Rachael Allen ’27, of her card. “It was something simple to do, and I feel I should give back to them; especially the veterans who fought for our country.”  

Learning Commons academic coach Lauren Manginelli said the students didn’t need any encouragement to complete a card.

“It’s been really great to see,” Manginelli. “When the students come by and see we’re doing this, they really want to connect and engage with the community. We’ve be able to read some of the messages while sorting the cards, and they’ve been so thoughtful and heartwarming.”

Tracy Balzarano ’27, and Grace Hinton ’27, had fun decorating a gingerbread house and camping it up with some holiday props for a photo in an oversized Happy Holidays selfie frame.

“I think it’s really fun to be doing this at school, and we can hang out with new people. It’s a good way to make friends,” said Hinton.

The tradition of the undergraduate holiday dinner began in 1985, said dinner co-founder, Jill Martin, professor of legal studies.

“It was a success from day one,” said Martin. “It’s our way to let the students know that we care for them.”

Martin said the dinner has grown through the years and is only made possible by the volunteer efforts of many.

“We have a very dedicated committee with really wonderful people. And it also could not happen without all of the people we have volunteering. Everybody here wants to be part of the community and wants to do this for the students,” said Martin.

President Olian’s husband, Peter Liberti, said he enjoys helping out at the undergraduate holiday dinner each year.

“Quinnipiac is a very special place. It’s a very heartwarming feeling,” said Liberti.

Brandon Assi ’24, said attending the undergraduate holiday dinner through the years has become a special part of his Quinnipiac experience.

“It’s like a little taste of home,” said Assi. 

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