Fall 2021 Interview with Mary Pat McMahon and Gary Bennett

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Mary Pat McMahon & Gary Bennett


New Student & Family Programs sat down with Vice Provost of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Gary Bennett at the beginning of the school year to ask them about the semester ahead and what students and families can anticipate. Read their interview below.


What are you personally most excited about this fall semester?

Mary Pat McMahon: Seeing the BC Plaza, Bryan Center, Abele quad bustling again. Students were around last year, but now we're back to a more typical routine and you can see random encounters and students having advising check-ins, outdoor meals, and planning meetings across the Plaza. I've had a chance to go to student performances and athletic competitions too. Those are terrific opportunities for community connection and celebration.

Gary Bennett: I’m excited to spend time with students in person! I’m ready to Flunch, have students join me in office hours, take walking meetings through the Gardens, join Duke Conversations, grab coffee in the Perk, and hopefully get stopped on Abele to hear all the amazing things our students are doing!


What is something your students should not miss out on this fall?

Mary Pat McMahon: We've rescheduled the Labor Day weekend Fall Gala to a "Mask-erade" on October 29th. I also hear that students are planning a Rocky Horror Picture show event that weekend. Duke Performances are back, and the Marching Band is doing Olivia Rodrigo's "Good for You."  We've missed the chance to come together over arts and performances, and I hope every student takes advantage of these. 

Gary Bennett: Take a long winding walk with a friend in the Gardens with no destination in mind. Give yourself a long hour to soak up the Nasher. Take a friend to a talk on a topic you care about. Join a friend for a talk on a topic you know nothing about. 


What is the University doing to support students during the continuation of COVID?

Gary Bennett: All that we can. Our teams are working very hard to provide guidance that balances our goals of having a vibrant residential experience, with the need to protect those who cannot be vaccinated. We’re doing our best, meeting each day, engaging experts, and yet we will make mistakes along the way. We are deeply grateful for our students’ partnership.  

Mary Pat McMahon: As Gary says, all that we can. We are trying this year to strike a balance between fostering ample opportunities for social engagement, fun for fun's sake, and reflective activities while keeping COVID at bay.  The same staff that was redeployed to pandemic response efforts last year are back in their typical student events and programmatic roles, and it's been restorative for us to return to this piece, too.


What can families expect to be different about the student experience this year compared to the 19-20 academic year?  

Gary Bennett: The biggest change will be the widespread availability of in-person coursework, as well as significantly more opportunities for students to engage with one another, their faculty, and staff.

Mary Pat McMahon: As Gary noted, the in-person academic experience looks a lot more like previous years again. I'm so appreciative and proud of our faculty and students for all they did last year, but the energy behind this return to typical academic pursuits is notable. Campus life offices are re-opening, and the mentoring and support relationships that went at least in part to Zoom last year are back up and running.


What's your favorite dining spot on campus?

Mary Pat McMahon: Ginger and Soy, particularly the spicy tuna poke bowl.

Gary Bennett: The Perk patio!