In the last six months, social distancing, wearing facial masks, and Zoom meetings have become our new normal. Through the significant changes that occurred when K-State quickly transitioned to online classes and remote operations in March, facilitating graduate student success has remained the mission of the Graduate School. This article highlights how the Graduate School and Graduate Student Council (GSC) have continued to support graduate students and provide an enriching experience as they pursue advanced degrees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To remain connected with graduate students during remote operations in the last several weeks of the spring semester and during the summer, the Graduate School and the GSC hosted weekly virtual brown bag and coffee hour chat sessions through Zoom. These sessions provided a space for graduate students to connect with Graduate School and GSC leadership to ask questions and receive guidance on how to continue their academic success and maintain their personal well-being.
Students also connected with and learned from each other. For example, in one GSC coffee hour, a graduate student gave a demonstration on how to use Microsoft Teams to support fellow students’ management of projects and tasks. In another session, GSC President, Hannah Shear, led participants through an exercise to reflect on their feelings toward the changes experienced as a result of the pandemic—what they liked, what they did not like, and what they were unsure about. This reflection showed students that others shared their feelings of sadness and frustration and helped them identify some positive aspects of the situation.
Graduate School and GSC leaders were disappointed that graduate students could not be recognized at the annual GSC Awards and Recognition Reception in April and felt it was important to acknowledge our graduate students’ achievements and the important contributions they make to teaching, research, and scholarship at K-State. With assistance from K-State’s Division of Communications and Marketing, we created 19 videos to recognize approximately 150 graduate students for awards and accomplishments within the past year.
In-person classes and other on-campus operations resumed in August with many new safety requirements in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. With restrictions on in-person events and gatherings, the Graduate School could not host our traditional orientation activities for new graduate students, at which we welcome over 300 new graduate students on the Manhattan campus. During the summer, we developed an online orientation course in Canvas for all graduate students. We anticipate this course will be an effective tool for providing critical information about Graduate School policies, requirements, and procedures and resources available to support graduate student academic success, professional development, and personal wellness. Students may access and use the course at a time and pace that works best for them and review information as often as needed.
The opportunity for new graduate students to connect with each other as well as with Graduate School administration and other team members is a valuable component of orientation that we did not want to lose as a result of requirements to limit in-person gatherings. In the first week of the fall semester, we hosted two virtual meet-and-greet sessions for new graduate students to ask questions and engage in discussion with the Graduate School dean, associate dean, and student success coordinator. We were pleased to have nearly 100 students participate across the two sessions. To stay connected with graduate students, we are hosting similar chat sessions, Grad Chats, with graduate students every two to three weeks.
During this unique fall semester, the GSC also continues to fulfill its mission to enhance the graduate student experience by offering professional development and engagement opportunities. The Council began the semester by welcoming graduate students on the Manhattan campus with a socially distanced ice cream social. Students who attended enjoyed being able to connect with others in-person, even if from a distance. The Professional Development Committee is hosting seven events this semester on topics such as non-academic job opportunities, improving productivity and managing time, building and contributing to inclusive and equitable work environments, and leadership in times of uncertainty. Three events were held in September with over 30 students participating in each. In October, the Research Forums Committee will host its first ever virtual Research and the State poster session.
The Graduate School looks forward to celebrating with spring, summer, and fall 2020 graduates at two commencement ceremonies on November 20th. The ceremonies may look a bit different this year in order to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, but we are pleased there will be an opportunity to formally recognize 2020 masters and doctoral graduates. We look forward to resuming all of our graduate student events and activities in-person. Until then, we will continue to support and connect with our students virtually and explore other innovative ways to provide excellent services, resources, and opportunities to enhance the K-State graduate student experience.