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August 10, 2021

Welcome New Grad Students; Orientation Takes a New Twist

By Bruce Gerson

Carnegie Mellon’s university-wide graduate student orientation program is taking a slightly new approach this year when it welcomes a record-high 4,500 new graduate students next week. And it’s not due to COVID-19.

Oh, there will be the important annual staples — albeit virtual — such as the official welcome from university leadership, day-in-the-life panel discussions with current master’s degree and doctoral students, and presentations from various campus resources, including the Office of Title IX Initiatives, the Office of Disability Resources and the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion.

But, beyond that is a growing suite of on-demand modules on Canvas, the educational online platform that many CMU courses employ, that will address timely topics and offer friendly reminders for new graduate students as the semester unfolds. Students will be notified when new programming is added.

Earlier this month, modules were posted to Canvas on diversity, equity and inclusion, sexual assault prevention, COVID safety and academic integrity. Over the next couple of weeks additions will include information from Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS), University Libraries, Community Health and Well-being and The Hub. Other programming and reminders about essential university resources will be added throughout the semester.  

“This year we’re taking more of a semester-long or life-cycle approach,” said Jen Gilbride-Brown, assistant vice provost for graduate and postdoctoral affairs. “We’re going to be more intentional about what needs to happen right away and what will be relevant at different points in time during the semester.

“We’re thinking more about time and place. People absorb information when it’s relevant to them. At the same time, we want to give them a broad enough overview so they can start well,” she said. 

“We’re going to be more intentional about what needs to happen right away and what will be relevant at different points in time during the semester.” — Jen Gilbride-Brown

Gilbride-Brown is part of the new Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, formerly known as the Office of Graduate Education. Joining her on the graduate student orientation team are Holly Hippensteel, associate vice president for community standards and diversity initiatives; Jamie Rossi, director of student academic success operations & strategy; and Desirée Chronick, administrative coordinator.

While the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs is the engine driving the university-wide graduate student orientation, it is partnering with the Office of the Provost, Student Affairs, the Graduate Student Assembly and many other administrative units, as well as colleges and schools to help provide a robust and seamless experience. During the afternoons of orientation week, students will be introduced to their department’s curriculum, policies, labs, funding and professional development activities.

“Graduate study is so granular it’s easy for orientation to be just about their graduate study,” Gilbride-Brown said. “But we know in order for a student to be successful they need to know and understand the way in which they’re personally, academically and professionally supported beyond their relationship with their department and academic advisor.

“We want to instill in new graduate students a sense of belonging and connection to the university, college and program,” she said.

Playing a big role in this year’s programming is Divyansh Kaushik, president of the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) and a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Language Technologies Institute. Kaushik will be participating in the university welcome event and the CMU resources panel discussion. He said he’ll be talking to students about the GSA and its advocacy for graduate students at CMU and around the world.

“The admission process is very, very rigorous. If you got here ...  you belong here.” — Divynash Kaushik

The GSA will be hosting an ice cream giveaway during orientation week and Kaushik is looking forward to the GSA’s fall formal later this semester and wine tasting event and ski trip next spring. He said their annual orientation BBQ will be held at a later date due to the Delta variant of COVID-19.

“We organize a lot of social events to connect with one another,” he said. “Over the last year we adapted to the virtual scene with monthly trivia nights, a coffee chat program and book club.”

Speaking from firsthand experience, Kaushik said there are two things he wants new graduate students to take away from orientation week.

“They should really pay attention to all the resources being offered to them, particularly the GSA, the Office of Title IX Initiatives, CaPS, the Office of Disability Resources and the Student Academic Success Center, which conducts amazing workshops for graduate students,” he said.

The second thing is to ignore the imposter syndrome.

“Academically, it’s easy to find yourself thinking you may not be as smart as your fellow students. But, that’s not the case. The admission process is very, very rigorous. If you got here, that’s because you belong here,” he said.

Learn more about the university-wide graduate student orientation.

Photo above courtesy JD Hopper