The Office of Graduate Diversity and Inclusion (OGDI), along with 42 University of Maryland diversity campus resource units, hosted a record number of over 300 new and returning graduate students at its 4th Annual Networking Reception, Dinner, and Resource Fair on September 3, 2019, in Colony Ballroom of Stamp Student Union.
“Higher education research and data show that networking opportunities are critical for the matriculation and retention of underrepresented graduate students. We hope this event creates ‘early alert’ practices for diverse graduate students to build communities of support to ensure success,” said Christopher Pérez (he/his/him), Director of The Office of Graduate Diversity and Inclusion and event director. “Diversity is not limited to race and ethnicity, and our intersectional lives of race, ethnicity, sexualities, disabilities, along with other identities, have an impact on our professional, academic, and personal growth. We intentionally invited a wide-range of diversity campus units to participate in the resource fair because the event also attracts LGBTQ+, first-generation, undocumented, international, low-income, and students with disabilities.”
This inclusive annual event is open to all new and returning graduate students. Its primary objective is to create opportunities for them to network, build communities, and learn about resources on campus that serve our diverse graduate student populations. It is held the first week of September as an “early alert” practice for graduate students to recharge, connect across academic disciplines, and learn about campus resources before students are in the throes of academic deadlines.
“The OGDI Networking Reception provides opportunities to connect with new people and discover campus resources before you get too busy with courses and one feels like there’s no time to attend events,” said Courtney Douglass (she/her/hers), second year doctoral student in Minority and Urban Education Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership (TLPL) in the College of Education and Society of McNair Fellow. “In both years I’ve attended the reception, I have met graduate students outside of my program who were warm, friendly, and funny. The reception and the connections that I’ve made with other students through these types of events help remind me that I’m not alone as a person of color on this campus.”
Blake Edwards-Clark (she/her/hers), a Doctoral Student in Minority and Urban Education Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership (TLPL) in the College of Education, and also a Society of McNair Fellow, said that the reception was still immensely informative in her second year of study.
“I appreciate that there was a variety of organizations and departments represented, which reminded me of all the resources our campus provides,” she said. “For example, I learned more about the available Study Abroad programs for graduate students, the Critical Race Initiative, and activities sponsored by Graduate Student Life for GradTerps. Additionally, I was able to network with other graduate students and share what I’ve learned with them as a second year doctoral student.”
A record number of 42 campus offices and graduate student groups participated; all can be found on the event website.
“We were really excited to be invited to serve as one of the campus organizations participating,” said Simone Nicole Durham (she/her/hers), a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology and organizer for the Critical Race Initiative (CRI). “It gave CRI an opportunity to connect and share what we do with a broader audience of graduate students. The event attracted many graduate students, and we got a lot of interest as a result of participating in the resource fair. Several new and returning graduate students signed up for our listserv at the table, and we were able to promote upcoming events. We look forward to working with OGDI in the future.”
The Graduate School Success Team (GSST) also participated this year, promoting its new “Graduate Pathways” initiative. The OGDI Networking Reception was part of GSST’s “Engage, Thrive, and Connect” Pathway.
Cori Carfagno (she/her/hers), Assistant Director for Engagement in Stamp Student Union and interim coordinator for Graduate Student Life said, “The annual networking event is an outstanding example of what can happen when multiple departments work together, show up after hours for students, and engage those students in discussions about what makes a difference in their lives. I am thrilled to represent Graduate Student Life at this event each year and meet a diverse group of students seeking resources and community.”
Units across campus always host engagement events in late August and early September, and the reception was just one of many in a family of engagement activities, including First Look Fair, Quelcome, OMSE Unity Welcome, and CommUMDiversity.
Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy (MICA) Program Manager and doctoral candidate in Higher Education in the College of Education, Yvette Lerma Jones (she/her/hers), said “the reception provided a great opportunity for departments to connect to graduate students during a busy time of the semester. As a doctoral candidate, I know getting involved is not always the priority, but learning about resources early in the semester plants the seed for future involvement.”
Informed by graduate student input, and bolstered by research and data illustrating the need for networking events for underrepresented graduate students, the reception is tailored to meet their specific needs. These diversity-focused partnerships with OGDI and The Graduate School help build a stronger campus culture and relationships that encourage graduate student readiness beyond a single offering.
“The event’s aim has always been to create opportunities to build relationships in a comfortable setting and help new and returning graduate students learn about campus resources that help them through their graduate school journey,” Pérez said. “Many new graduate students don’t know just how many units there are on campus that serve graduate students. We want to bring these resources together so students know early on where to go should they have concerns as they advance.”.
First-year Master of Science student in Information Systems at Robert H. Smith School of Business, and Graduate Student Government program representative for the Diversity and Inclusion Committee Jenil Kansara (he/his/him), said, “As an international graduate student, attending the OGDI Networking Reception helped me connect with other students who were going through a similar cultural transition, and networking with them was a great way to find out how to engage in various activities around the campus. I also got to know about many resources on the campus that I was unaware of before, such as UMD Counseling Center and Graduate Student Legal Aid, which can be significantly helpful to students navigating graduate school.”
The event featured keynote addresses and welcomes by Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Georgina Dodge (she/her/hers), and Associate Provost and Dean of The Graduate School Dr. Steve Fetter (he/him/his).
“Building relationships helps our graduate students be successful,” Fetter said. “The OGDI Networking Reception helps diverse graduate students learn from each other and build strong, collaborative relationships.”
Dr. Dodge addressed the importance of community building and preventing isolationism. She spoke about the importance of making intentional, personal connections without spreading oneself too thin, and leaning on peers and campus resources to help graduate students succeed. Dr. Dodge also noted that events like these are where you build your networks for the future. and cultivating relationships early will help you at later stages of your professional and faculty careers.
The University of Maryland is committed to fostering a supportive environment for all graduate students, regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, religion, language, sexual orientation, disability, or academic discipline. UMD recognizes that the unique and varied identities and experiences of our graduate students enrich the campus community as a whole. OGDI and The Graduate School hopes that events like these help foster community building, enrich diverse graduate student experience, and build networks of support.
Find a full slideshow of photos on the Graduate School's Flickr site.
(Photo credits: Christopher Pérez, Ceylon Mitchell, and Chris Ramirez)