Submitted on Monday, 4/29/2013, at 3:33 PM

By Emily Gold Boutilier

While studying abroad in England, Jeehae Kim Goddard ’13 took part in regular formal dinners with professors and fellow students. She enjoyed these dinners so much that she decided to bring the concept back to Amherst.

Thus were born the Select Dinners, sophisticated meals held this spring for Amherst students of legal drinking age. With orchestrated guest lists and seating charts, the Select Dinners aimed to spark discussion among students who were not already close friends, while allowing them to learn from professors and one another in a social setting.

The third of five meals in the series took place on March 29 in Alumni House. At 7 p.m., some 55 students found their seats at seven round tables decorated with gerbera daisies, wine glasses and more forks than many people would know what to do with. The men were dressed in jackets and ties, the women in dresses and heels.

Hansol Park ’13, saying she’d always wished for “opportunities like this outside the classroom,” introduced the guest speaker, Professor of Political Science Javier Corrales, who gave a 15-minute talk on U.S.-China relations. (“Don’t be nervous,” Corrales insisted. “The 21st century is going to be the American century.”)

The students got to know their tablemates as the waitstaff poured pinot grigio and served a first course of oysters and scallops. Later came an asparagus salad, fish with morels and more wine. At one table, the discussion moved effortlessly from Corrales’ research on Venezuela, to language study (one woman spoke five languages), to plans for the future. A pre-med student described her lifelong desire to be an ophthalmologist—to experience the satisfaction of helping people see.

As the evening wrapped up, Jeremy Roush, executive chef at Dining Services, gave brief remarks on the food and wine pairings. He said such meals allow his staff to shine.

The meal allowed students to shine, as well—to dress up, to make conversation, to practice dining etiquette and social drinking. “This is kind of taking us out of our comfort zone,” said Nicholas Koh ’14. “It adds some formality to the college experience.”