Graduate Students Get Official Welcome to GW

Ceremony introduces new post-baccalaureate Colonials to administrators, faculty and colleagues.

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New GW grad students get to know each other on Kogan Plaza. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
August 28, 2017

By Ruth Steinhardt

First-year George Washington University graduate students packed Lisner Auditorium Thursday afternoon for a ceremony and reception where administrators, faculty and fellow students welcomed them to Foggy Bottom.

“This event is significant for the graduate student community as it is the main event hosted by GW to welcome all graduate and doctoral students,” said Bridgette Behling, director of community support and leadership in the Center for Student Engagement. “Though many individual academic programs host welcome events and orientations specific to their program, this is the only university-wide event that welcomes students from all programs.”

At the welcome ceremony, George Washington President Thomas LeBlanc remembered his own entrance to graduate school four decades previous. Like his audience, he joked, “I was a new graduate student sitting in orientation, and I had no clue. Now, 40 years later, I’m the new president, I’m sitting in orientation—and I have no clue.”

The ceremony is one of several events planned in coming days to welcome graduate students to GW, including a Nationals game on Aug. 26, a happy hour for students over 21 on Sept. 1 and trips to the Newseum on Sept. 2 and 3. At the Thursday event, University Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Forrest Maltzman encouraged students to take advantage of the resources and expertise available to them—not just from faculty, but also from each other.

“The most important discoveries occurring are occurring at the intersection of different fields,” he said.

Several speakers emphasized the experiential diversity of the graduate population, which makes them well positioned to seize interdisciplinary opportunities. The majority of those present did not arrive directly from undergrad. Many were international students, with audience members volunteering home countries including China, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Russia and Sierra Leone. Many have years of professional, educational or military experience. Many have families.

Professional psychology doctoral student Rupa Kalahasthi earned her master’s degree in India before coming to GW last year. She is now the head of GW Desis and a student ambassador for the International Students Association.

Ms. Kalahasthi told the audience that the presence of so many international students makes GW unique.

“[GW students’] openness to different cultures makes me feel very much at home,” she said, exhorting her new colleagues to “be curious and ask questions.”

GW Alumni Association President Venessa Marie Perry, the first in her family to earn a graduate degree and the first person of color to serve as GWAA president, told students not to be afraid of their first day or of being a “first” in their family or community.

“The first can feel very different and uncomfortable, but you have begun an incredible journey,” she said.

The large number of graduate students at GW—more than 15,000, compared to about 11,000 undergraduates—gives post-baccalaureate students a “great opportunity to create community,” said Laurie Koehler, vice provost for enrollment management and retention. That community was already on display after the welcome ceremony, as students got to know each other over snacks and lemonade in Kogan Plaza.

Angelique Baehr graduated from Binghamton University in 2016 and took a year off before pursuing her master’s in anthropology at the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. She was chatting with Marguerita ten Houten, a Colorado College graduate now enrolled in the political science master’s degree program at CCAS.

Neither seemed particularly worried about the potential stress of graduate work.  “Honestly, I’m not that nervous,” Ms. Baehr said. “Mostly, I’m excited to be a student again.”

Ms. ten Houten, who has worked on 17 political campaigns since her college graduation in 2012, said no academic burden could outweigh the stress of campaign work.

“I’ll probably get more sleep,” she said, laughing.

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