Department of Chemistry Launches New Program to Foster an Inclusive Climate for Graduate Students

August 13, 2019
UChicago Diversity and Inclusion Initiative

This article was originally published in the UChicago Diversity & Inclusion Update
The Department of Chemistry is piloting a new summer Lunch and Learn program designed to help incoming graduate students better acclimate to the University. Open to all incoming and current graduate students, the eight-week program began in July and consists of twice-weekly sessions on rotating chemistry topics. The goals of the program are to prepare students for first-year coursework, support students who are switching areas of chemistry or delving into interdisciplinary research, and help students build a broad foundation in the practical skills critical for excellence in graduate school. Students have the option of attending all sessions or dropping in on certain sessions that appeal to them. So far, from 10 to 20 students have attended each session.

"Ultimately, we want to help make the transition to graduate school more seamless for our students," said Sarah King, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry, who helped create the program. "We want to set the precedent for everyone to feel empowered to ask questions and be successful here, and also help people feel a deeper connection to the department right from the start."

Along with King, the program was created by other faculty and staff in the department, including John Anderson, Vera Dragisich, and Britni Ratliff. Graduate students William Carpenter, Jeffrey Dewey, McKenna Goetz, Elizabeth Kelley, and Christopher Melnychuk also helped launch the program. More than 20 volunteers have assisted by leading sessions, coordinating logistics, and organizing several social activities to allow students to connect with each other outside the classroom. Funding was provided by the department, and King hopes to secure additional funding to help expand the program in the future.

"Success in graduate school isn't just about how hard you work or how smart you are. A big part of it is believing in yourself and knowing that you can be successful," King said. "This program helps students form important connections and foster deeper learning at the beginning of their graduate school experience."

Facilitators will measure success of the initiative by analyzing a number of surveys with program participants and the broader graduate student population within the department. The goal of the program is to ensure that students who participate will demonstrate higher levels of community integration, academic resilience, and topic knowledge.

The Department of Chemistry plans to offer the Lunch and Learn program again next summer. King hopes that it will serve as a model for other departments in the Physical Sciences Division that may wish to create similar programs for incoming students.