Spartners Potluck Draws Many Families
Without the support of family and friends, the graduate school journey can be a challenge. Finding a time to celebrate these relationships, and offering platforms to connect these partners, are things the Graduate School’s Office of the Graduate Diversity and Inclusion (OGDI) takes seriously.
Its Spartners program, with Associate Provost and Dean of The Graduate School Steve Fetter, recently hosted a highly attended potluck on McKeldin Mall. Almost 90 people attended the event from a variety of nationalities who brought foods from their home countries. The event drew attendance from networks cultivated in partnership with the International Students & Scholar Services (ISSS), TerpsVets, Graduate Student Government (GSG), Graduate Student Life (GSL), Students with Kids, Teaching & Learning Transformation Center (TLTC), and Stamp Student Union’s Engagement Office.
"The event was a great way to connect with grad students and their families. I had a number of wonderful conversations with people in attendance. I also got to unexpectedly meet an incoming student veteran who I had been in contact with over email. It was fortuitous, too, because we were having our new student veteran orientation that next weekend, and as part of it we have an optional adventure orientation where new student veterans can go rafting and kayaking. This particular student wasn't sure about going, as she had an interest but didn't have the experience with rafting and kayaking she thought she needed. I was able to tell her that it is beginner focused, and is really about getting out there and meeting other student veterans. She ended up coming to our orientation and going on the rafting trip, along with her husband. So, for many reasons, I am certainly glad I went to the Spartners Event," said David M. Reese, Coordinator of Veteran Student Life.
“Spartners is one of the rare opportunities on the campus when I can engage with my entire family - my husband and two sons - in my graduate school environment. My family has made major sacrifices on my behalf so I can pursue my PhD. When we attend Spartners' events, my family is made to feel completely welcome and part of the GradTerp family. It is a win-win for me and them as we get to enjoy events together,” remarks Danielle Melvin Koonce, a doctoral student in Sociology, and co-founder of GradTerp Moms.
"ISSS enjoyed joining the Spartners group at their annual potluck. It was great to meet students, spouses and children, many of which were international students. It was great to make connections and help connect returning students to new students. Making time and space for the graduate community to connect is a great mission of the Spartners program, and it was rewarding to see it action. ISSS looks forward to our continued partnership with OGDI," observes Jody Heckman-Bose, Associate Director at ISSS.
Spartners started as part of the 2015 Graduate Student Orientation, and followed up in 2016 with its first potluck. The program was intended to help spouses and partners of doctoral students understand the doctoral process. Since then, the Spartners community has grown, evolved, and become more inclusive. Now, in its fourth year of programming, all families, children, extended families, friends, single graduate students, and master’s students are invited to enrichment activities that build community and support - guest campus speakers that discuss all aspects of graduate student life, and panels that share graduate student experiences.
One recent extension of Spartners has been the start of GradTerp Moms. The group was created in May 2019 when Erika Aparaka, a PhD student in the College of Education, and Danielle Melvin Koonce came together at an OGDI networking and community-building event. “I encountered several challenges trying to juggle marriage, parenting, and graduate school. Unfortunately, I could not identify resources specific to my challenges via UMD's online resources or graduate programs. It was only after meeting other ‘GradTerp’ moms through random events that I realized many of the problems I faced, they faced. It has motivated me to establish an organization that specifically centers on graduate parents. We are still working out the details of the group, and look forward to sharing more information in the coming weeks,” says Melvin Koonce.
Year-long activities can be expected from OGDI including a networking night, partnerships with ISSS and GSL, the recent Spartners Orientation, and other enrichment sessions throughout the year. Director of OGDI, Christopher Pérez, said, “the Spartners Community has grown in phenomenal ways over the last four years, and I anticipate even further growth as more campus partners share resources and help build the Spartners community for GradTerps. We, in The Graduate School and Office of Graduate Diversity and Inclusion, are proud to have been able to initiate this much needed programming, but it’s really the leadership and participation of our graduate students, and their spouses and partners, that deserve the most recognition for sustaining and building these communities of support. OGDI will continue to create Spartners activities throughout the year, but a major focus new this year will be partnering with units across campus that have spouse and partner activities and supporting new initiatives like GradTerp Moms.”
More information about the Spartners program can be found here.
Photos from the event can also be seen on the Graduate School's Flickr site.
(Photo credits: Chris Ramirez, OGDI Graduate Assistant)