Ron Barrett

Patricia Gaspari-Bridges anticipates light-saber fights erupting in the grand reading room, nicknamed the “Treehouse,” of the new Lewis Library. Head of Princeton’s science and technology libraries, Gaspari-Bridges gestured at the long-limbed lamps, four to a table, whose rods of light can be manipulated to slash through the air.

This is no traditional library. Oak-carved panels are nonexistent, and dimly lit, dusty recesses cannot be found. When librarian Julie Arnheim abandoned the chemistry library in Gothic Frick Lab for her post at the new multi-science library, she was dubious about the swaths of vibrant colors and laminated plywood furniture. But the transition took her less than a week.  

Lewis Library, supported by a $60 million gift from Peter Lewis ’55 and designed by world-famous architect Frank Gehry, sprawls across 87,000 square feet — none of which are actually square. Walls protrude at angles, windows jut out in splinters of light, and huge metal sheets drape the exterior. Inside, tables twist and dip, and chairs proclaim such hues as chartreuse, carmine, and a color labeled Outrageous Orange.

Opening day found roaming students, not in search of classrooms, but simply exploring.“It feels like a jungle gym” was Michaela Glaeser ’11’s reaction. “I really want to climb!”

For many, describing the space was a challenge. “Confusing, but in a good way,” Jacob Hiller ’10 suggested. “The colors are awesome!” said an excited Patricia Chen ’11. “It’s like Christmas, but brighter. Any time I’m feeling down, I plan on coming here.”

Some students offered “quirky,” “kooky,” and “airy.” Others found the structure “eccentric” or “cave-like.” President Tilghman paused in consideration: “Soaring.” When she visits, Tilghman said, she enjoys standing on the ground floor, head turned up toward the windows and sky, taking in the expanses of tangerine, lime, and Prussian blue. “It’s a cacophony,” she said.  

Inside the library, Raaj Mehta ’10 stood in awe. “It makes me want to study!” Looking around, he spotted the long-rod reading lamps. It had taken only 24 hours for the head librarian’s prediction to come true. “Hey, look!” he exclaimed. “Light sabers!”  

By Melinda Baldwin GS

How do you handle a student who dominates class discussion and ignores what his classmates have to say? Can you deny a student’s request for an extension on her paper if she has just seen you grant one to another student? What if your adviser asks you to present your research on the same day midterm grades are due?

These tricky teaching situations were among the scenarios posed to 224 graduate students attending the McGraw Center’s orientation for AIs (assistants in instruction, also known as preceptors) before the start of classes last month. The two-day session was designed to familiarize graduate students with Princeton’s teaching practices, which aim, in the words of President Tilghman, to help undergraduates acquire “the art of civil discourse, the practice of respectfully disagreeing with one another without rancor.”

Ph.D. candidates teaching for the first time came to the orientation with a variety of worries and questions. Most had completed their undergraduate work at other universities, and many were uncertain of what Princeton students would expect.

One future preceptor was concerned that her students would argue about their grades, saying, “That just wasn’t done at my college; I’m not sure how to handle it.” Another wondered if he would project enough authority — should he wear a suit and tie? Others asked about Princeton’s Honor Code, resources for troubled or failing students, and how to encourage a quiet group to speak up.

Graduate students experienced in precepting were on hand to offer suggestions. Dustin Tingley, a fourth-year student in the politics department, led the orientation session for AIs in politics, sociology, and the Woodrow Wilson School. The best advice he could pass on, he said, is that students participate in precepts in different ways: In-class debates work for some, while others are more comfortable taking notes on a discussion and then reporting back to the group.

Emily Kutzer-Rice, a doctoral student in classics, said she was excited about precepting her Roman history class but worried about presenting her material in a way that would fulfill the “lofty” goals of the Princeton precept.  

The orientation session, she said, “helped to better define for me what the precept is intended to achieve, and how I might handle various challenges along the way.”