Grad students kick-start their own Welcome Week

The weeklong event aims to help graduate students feel more comfortable on campus.

Grad students kick-start their own Welcome Week

Blair Emerson

When this year’s incoming University of Minnesota graduate students come to campus, they’ll be greeted with local craft beer from Indeed Brewing Company and a free concert at Northrop Auditorium.

The Council of Graduate Students created the University’s first Welcome Week for graduate students with weeklong events ranging from a tour of Indeed’s brewery to tailgating at the first Gophers football game of the season. All of this is in hopes of making the students feel more comfortable on campus — a part of graduate education that some students say is important but often overlooked.

“There’s this assumption that graduate students may not be interested in [a Welcome Week], said Roberto de Freitas, COGS’ vice president of internal relations. “But as someone new to the community, it’s always [important] to make them feel welcome.”

Though the week focuses on new students, all graduate and professional students are allowed to attend the events. A free Haley Bonar and John Mark Nelson concert at Northrop on Aug. 29 will also be open to all students, including undergraduates, said COGS President Andrew McNally.

The Welcome Week will kick off Aug. 24 and run through Aug. 30, around the same time the University hosts a week of events for its first-year undergraduate students.

During that week, freshmen attend workshops and explore campus to help them adjust to University life. COGS is
hoping their Welcome Week will do the same for graduate students, who de Freitas said don’t have many opportunities to interact with students outside their programs.

“When they come in, [students] can have a feeling of isolation,” de Freitas said, “but this is an opportunity for some interaction with people outside of your department.”

Doctoral student Joe Witek, who came to the University last year, said he’s struggled to step outside of his department to interact with other students.

He said having a Welcome Week as an option last year would have helped him socialize with a broader group of students and become more familiar with the University’s environment.

Although he’s not new to the University anymore, Witek said he plans to attend COGS’ planned activities, noting that the kickball tournament and brewery tour are fun events specially geared toward graduate students.

“The brewery tour is a great thing that graduate students are going to love because all graduate students love to drink,” he said.

Making graduate students feel more comfortable on campus has been a focus for the University recently. Last year, the Graduate School restarted an orientation for graduate students after cutting the program in 2011.

Though some colleges and programs offer their own form of orientation, the Graduate School wanted to create a larger orientation to ensure that all graduate students are aware of the University’s resources available to them, said Char Voight, assistant to the Graduate School’s vice provost and dean.

She said last year’s orientation was a “trial and error” process and this year they added various workshops to help graduate students prepare for their time at the University, including classes about grants and financial decision-making and adviser relationships.

Although the Graduate School did not offer COGS any funding for their Welcome Week, some administrators support it and say it complements their orientation.

“I think that the notion of extending the same welcome and cohort-building opportunity for graduate students that we often do for undergraduate students is a great idea,” Voight said.

Though this fall marks the first time University graduate students will have a Welcome Week, some graduate schools around the country already have them.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a Welcome Week, which two graduate students created in 2006.

Kathi Matthews-Risley, director of communications for Madison’s Graduate School, said the Welcome Week is popular among the graduate community, noting that more than 450 students attended it last year.

“We just see a lot of benefit to doing it,” she said. “We’re a large campus … so there’s a lot of information out there and we’re trying to give them a better transition.”