Beyond the Hill

Emory University professor amps up office hours through running

Courtesy of Patrick Cafferty

A group of students and Emory University are among those who participate in the "active" office hours of Patrick Cafferty, a professor of biology.

An Emory University professor changed the way his students think about office hours by hosting “active office hours” — three- to four-mile runs with students every week.

Patrick Cafferty, a lecturer of biology at Emory, started his active office hours this August. Taking his students through local neighborhoods and parks, Cafferty promotes good conversation and equalizing camaraderie during their runs, he said.

“We don’t need any fancy titles,” Cafferty said, “All that matters is that we’re going to engage in something and have a good time doing that. It gets past the awkwardness that can arise when you’re sitting around in a little office staring at each other.”

The professor said getting to know students is the best part of active office hours. Cafferty recently learned one of the students partaking in active office hours did so to train for the physical fitness test for the military. He said he never would have learned that if it weren’t for the active office hours.

Maiya Smith, a senior dual anthropology and human biology major at Emory, said she enjoys bonding with Cafferty and other students.

“I love how there’s so many people I’ve met through office hours,” Smith said. “I’ve gotten to know Dr. Cafferty a lot better, I’ve gotten to know my peers a lot better and I love being able to become friends with the peers that I meet and being able to see them on campus and being able to say hi to them.”

Even though these office hours are active, they’re still office hours. Though the runners’ conversations vary from topics in biology to favorite TV shows, Smith said she brings a screenshot of questions she has for Cafferty and asks them during their runs. Smith is currently taking his course in human physiology.

Active office hours are held every Tuesday and anybody is welcome to attend, Cafferty said, adding that the group is typically around 10 people. That consists of current students, former students and even alumni who still live in the area. He said he has invited colleagues but none have yet shown up.

Cafferty hosts four hours of office hours per week, one of those hours being active. He also takes appointments from students.

The professor has been a runner since high school, and has run marathons and triathlons in the past, even competing in six Ironman Triathlons. He added that he previously organized a running club for students and trained for triathlons, but with a 1-year-old child he’s reduced his running time with students down to an hour a week.

Staying active on campus is difficult, especially with all the studying students have to do, Smith said. Smith ran cross country in high school and used to run marathons, but stopped when she got to college.

Since participating in active office hours, Smith said she’s been more physically active this semester than any other semester in college. She plans to run a half marathon in the spring.

Luke Roberts, a junior in Cafferty’s human physiology class, has lost 20 pounds since taking up active office hours. Roberts ran throughout summer 2016 to lose weight. Over the summer, he lost 30 pounds.

“It was very tough for me to lose the first 10, but after that it really gave me a confidence boost to keep on going,” Roberts said.

Roberts has attended every active office hours session since its inception in August. Roberts said running in a group setting helps with confidence and not stopping or slowing down too much during the workout.

A friend of Roberts’ has also attended every active office hours session, and the pair struggled together in the beginning, Roberts said. The two have seen tremendous improvement in their running because they continued to workout throughout the semester.

Cafferty has not seen any copycats of his active office hours yet, but he said he encourages people to contact him if they would like to start a similar program at their college or university.


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