On Monday, Aug. 17, the Office of the Provost held a virtual orientation for graduate and professional students. Hosted by Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies, the two-hour event was livestreamed on YouTube and included Zoom-based breakout sessions.
“At Pitt, it’s our goal to not only make your graduate experience as fulfilling and exceptional as possible but also to prepare you to make an impact on the world beyond the University,” Godley told participants. “Pitt’s core mission is to improve the world through knowledge, so we take seriously our charge to both help you gain that knowledge and to help you think about how to make a positive impact on the world.”
Godley was joined in welcoming students by Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students; Malena Hirsch, president of Graduate and Professional Student Government; Jay Darr, director of the University Counseling Center; John Williams, Henry L. Hillman Endowed Chair in Pediatric Immunology and director of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office; and Clyde Wilson Pickett, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
The event drew one of the largest turnouts ever for graduate and professional orientations, with 660 participants during the panel and more than 400 in the breakout sessions. Additionally, over 400 have already joined the “New Grad Student” group on the Pitt Commons networking platform.
A life-changing experience at Pitt
“Even though some of you may not be coming in person to campus this fall, you are a very important part of the strength and the identity of the University of Pittsburgh,” Godley said during opening remarks. “As graduate and professional students, you are a third of the students on our Pittsburgh campus, and so in both numbers and in your academic pursuits you are an essential part of our University community.”
“As a Pitt alumna myself, I can tell you I found my educational experience here to be life changing,” said Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd in a prepared video. “I earned my doctorate and two master’s degrees here at Pitt and I remember the hard work, deep friendships, and incredible teachers and mentors who touched my life along the way. We are committed to preparing you for lives of impact.”
Following Cudd’s remarks, Godley offered an overview of Flex@Pitt, the graduate studies team, Pitt Commons and links to find resources for graduate students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Godley, a professor in the School of Education, was one of the designers of the School of Education’s first online master’s program in English education.
“In my experience designing and teaching in an online program and from what I’ve heard from instructors and students, you quickly start seeing some of the affordances of online learning,” she said, noting that students can watch lectures more than once, think through ideas before posting them and doing activities on their own schedules.
Bonner offered students encouragement, noting that when similar sessions had been conducted in-person and he’d asked participants to raise their hand if they felt anxious about new chapters in their lives, many did.
“I just want to assure you—and I don’t think we can say this enough—that you have everything you need to be successful in your program,” he told participants. “Whether that’s a master’s degree, a doctoral degree, a professional degree, you’re here for a reason and you have what you need to be successful. You were chosen for your particular program because we believe you have all of the talent, the skills, the wherewithal to be successful.”
He also encouraged students to get involved in activities and organizations, if virtually: “You’ll begin to meet other people and I think that’s particularly important in this environment.”
Following an overview of available counseling services summarized by Darr, Pickett encouraged students to give thought to both their work as a whole and their unique perspectives and backgrounds.
“As we think about our work collectively and we think about our responsibilities to move communities forward, and specifically ours, we have to prioritize what inclusion in action really is,” he said. “It provides an opportunity for us to think about support for our students and how each of us brings unique perspective, each of us bring unique backgrounds, and we work collectively to think about how we get our students to experience a more invested and inclusive University of Pittsburgh.”
Resources for graduate and professional students
Many University-wide resources are available online, but here are a few more:
Pitt Commons is an online platform that can help you to establish networking and mentoring relationships with other Pitt students, faculty, staff, alumni and postdocs. New students can join the 2020 Incoming Graduate and Professional Student group to stay up to date with upcoming events, have discussions with their peers, ask questions and build their Pitt community through meaningful connections. Learn more about Pitt Commons and sign up to join the community.
The Wellness Resources Guide for Graduate and Professional Students and the associated Graduate Studies Resources website highlight a variety of resources aimed at keeping you healthy so that you can excel in your educational pursuits. Use this guide to navigate more than 50 Pitt offices and local agencies focused on diversity, supporting families, fitness, physical health, mental health, safety and building community.
The Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) represents all graduate and professional students. GPSG is looking for students to serve on a number of committees, including committees of the Board of Trustees, Provost Advisory, University Senate and the Counseling Center Task Forces. Students can email Vice President of Committees Morgan Pierce for more information. President Malena Hirsch affirms that committee service is a great way to get to know the Pitt community.