This week marks the end Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week (GPSAW) across the country. Although I am biased, graduate and professional students are a significant part of the campus ecosystem. Graduate students serve as instructors, administrators (a 20 hr. a week Grad Assistant is just a ½ employee in my book), innovate thought, and add a more mature dynamic on our campuses.
Taking time to celebrate, thank, acknowledge, and pamper grad students is something all campuses should have done this week. But what happens after this week? Do we go back to forgetting them and focusing on undergraduates again? I hope not. Here are 4 suggestions you can implement on your campus to make sure graduate students are appreciated and heard beyond the free donuts, massages, and swag that comes with GPSAW.
1) Ensure your campus executive leaders are mentioning graduate students in their campus addresses and plans. Ever hear a campus president or VP give a state of the whatever address or talk to the media about all the great initiatives and hear nothing mentioned about graduate students? Get with the speechwriters or the executive officer themselves and remind them to address the great accomplishments of graduate students on campus as well as initiatives that are rolled out to specifically help them.
2) Ensure graduate students and graduate student leaders have a voice. We all get asked to find students to sit on a panel, advisory group, job interview board, or to appear in campus media. Make sure to include graduate students to this list as quite often we default to undergraduates. If your campus does not have some form of graduate student government then consider forming one or at the very least a group of graduate students who meet on a consistent basis (even quarterly) to ensure their voices are heard.
3) Alter and Create Programs for a Graduate Student Audience. “Oh we have a program like that but it’s designed for undergraduates. I guess graduate students can come to it if they want.” Sadly, I have heard that a time or two in my career. There are definitely times when students at all levels can benefit from a program at the same time. That being said, some programs (leadership programs are a good example) should often be altered for the graduate student audience. Leadership in an organization of PhD students or managing a research team is different than some of the issues an undergraduate might face. Even when the material is the same, being in the room with other graduate and professional students often improves the tone and nature of the learning environment. If you want to take it a step further, then create programs and initiatives just for graduate students. They have unique needs like any other population and sometimes only a unique program can help.
4) Free donuts, massages, and swag…. think of this beyond just GPSAW. Use “free stuff” as a way to bring students together and build community. Graduate and professional students want to meet other graduate and professional students who are in different departments. Free stuff (especially food) is the perfect vehicle for this on a base level.
Have any more suggestions on how to involve graduate and professional students all year round? Leave them in the comment box below.
Paul Artale is a Manager for Graduate Student Engagement at the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan. He is also a PhD Candidate in the Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education program at Michigan State University. A student affairs professional for over 15 years, Paul is dedicated to helping students (graduate and undergraduate) achieve their best through his workshops, trainings, and motivational keynotes. More about Paul can be found at www.paulartale.com