You've probably heard of speed dating, but have you heard of speed networking? Last Friday, the WRAC graduate student organization WRAP (Writing, Rhetoric & Praxis) held its first professional development event of the year: Speed Networking Meet and Greet. About thirty WRAC faculty and MA and PhD students attended for two hours of quick conversations on research interests, projects, collaborations, and experiences.
This event is a continual professional development opportunity that dates back to 2013 when then-WRAP Events Chair Becca Hayes organized and worked with Professional Development Chair Esther Milu and the Professional Development Committee members Laura Gonzales and Victor Del Hierro. The success of the first event couldn't be ignored, and in 2014, WRAP was awarded the Outstanding Innovative Program Award at the Student Life Leadership Awards Ceremony at Michigan State University for it. Since 2013, WRAP hosts this event every semester.
This year, WRAP Professional Development Chair Tania de Sostoa-McCue aimed "to continue to create connections between faculty and students" so that students and teachers "can learn about different research interests and projects, hopefully broadening students' horizons. Faculty also enjoy the event because it is a dedicated time to reach out to students." With the busyness of WRAC faculty and grad students, many times teachers and students don't get enough opportunities to chat extensively or even just meet each other. As Tania remarks, "students sometimes have a difficult time making connections with faculty who they don't have class with." Reflecting on the event, first-year PhD student Ja'La Wourman remarks, "The most productive part of the event was talking with faculty who I hadn't had a chance to talk with and learning how their projects might intersect with my research interests." Likewise, Assistant Professor Dawn Opel comments, "In my second year here in WRAC, I haven't had the opportunity to meet many of the graduate students yet, so I am thrilled to have a meeting where I can meet all of them all at once, and learn how I might collaborate with them on both my projects and theirs!" Second-year PhD student Howard Fooksman also enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect with faculty: "I got a chance to speak to faculty who I haven't seen in awhile. Although I've been in the program for three years, there's faculty who I don't get to interact with regularly. And it's always great to hear what new research they're doing."
The event wasn't just for fresh faces in WRAC. It also included some folks who have been in the department for awhile, such as Dr. Julie Lindquist, Dr. Bump Halbritter, WRAC Chair Dr. Malea Powell, and Associate Dean of Graduate Education and Professor Bill Hart-Davidson, and Dr. Joyce Meier. Second-year MA student Garrett Colón appreciated this: "The event is great because it has a blend of faculty who have been here for over a decade and those who are brand new to WRAC." Garrett thinks "the diversity of faculty was generative because it offers a sense of what people are doing here and provides opportunities for new grad students to think about directions their work might take. I think it's great, especially for first-year MA and PhD, because then they can begin to figure what they might be able to do in working with this new community and with their own individual research."
The one-on-one quick six minute conversations included not merely learning about people's research interests, but potential collaborations between faculty and students. Assistant Director of the First-Year Writing Program Dr. Joyce Meier remarks that she got "new ideas for collaboration. I also found out about conferences that the students and I are going to and it'll be great to connect again there." Dr. Meier also enjoyed learning about the dynamic group of students WRAC has.
Because there were more students than faculty at the event, sometimes conversations weren't one-on-one, but a small group of three or four. Ja'La found this particularly generative because "the conversations more engaging and it was nice to hear from other grad students. Listening to grad students work through their ideas actually encouraged and allowed me to work through the beginnings of ideas." While some students may have the same research interests, they also learn different ways of approaching and thinking about those interests, as Ja'La also notes: "it's really good to hear another perspective on a similar area of interest of mine. Learning from people who are taking a different angle and approach to their research was really refreshing."
Congratulations to Tania and the rest of the WRAP Officers on a successful event! Keep an eye out for more WRAP professional development events!
Written by Phil Bratta, Photos by Lauren Utykanski