Meet Guangzhou. Guangzhou Chen is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. For the past two years, Guangzhou has been a graduate student employee at Global Education & Training.
During GET's summer school programs in 2020, Guangzhou worked with Rob Marinelli (Assistant Director), Meng Liu (Program Coordinator), and Nanjie Yu (PhD student, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and GET graduate student employee) to arrange co-curricular program sessions for GET's undergraduate summer school students. Guangzhou explains why the GET team incorporated these sessions into our summer school programs and the value these sessions have for our students.
How do these co-curricular sessions enhance the GET undergraduate summer school experience?
The purpose of the co-curricular sessions is to provide the students with some useful information, in addition to their coursework. We want to enrich their learning experience, so that's the major purpose for us to provide these sessions. This year, we did not have on-site coursework at Illinois. All courses were held online.
We want to provide our students with authentic experiences, so that was our intention for holding the co-curricular sessions. Part of the sessions served that purpose: we gave the students an introduction to the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), or we invited some alumni to talk about their entrepreneurship experiences. These sessions can help students get a better understanding of the University of Illinois, the ECE department, learning within the ECE department, and also job opportunities in the field.
What topics were addressed?
In total, we had six sessions:
- The first session was an introduction to the ECE department. We invited three professors, including the head of the ECE department, and the other two professors were faculty members. They gave a general introduction to the department, and they also talked about the cutting edge research in the field.
- The second session was about the recent projects that the ECE Ph.D. students are doing.
- The third session was talking about graduate school applications, like how engineering students apply to graduate school in the U.S.
- The fourth session was about writing a personal statement. Some students want to apply to graduate school in the U.S., so we worked with the University of Illinois Writers Workshop.
- The fifth session was about interacting with engineering alumni. We invited two successful alumni from the Grainger College of Engineering, and they were talking about their entrepreneurship experiences.
- The sixth session was about how to achieve success in graduate school as an engineering student.
How were these topics selected?
There are two ways to answer this question. First, me, Meng, Rob, and Nanjie met this summer and asked, "What do students want to learn?" We brainstormed which topics were worthwhile. We were thinking, maybe we need to introduce information about graduate school applications, as that is very important for them. Definitely, they needed to know how to write a personal statement. I am also a Chinese student myself, and I know how tricky it is when you have no idea about the process and how to structure your personal statement.
The other side is from the student perspective. We asked them to fill out a questionnaire to know what percentage of students want to study in the U.S. after their undergraduate coursework. Also, we asked them: "What topics do you want to know during these co-curricular sessions?" Some students said that they wanted to know how to be successful in graduate school in the U.S., which is why we held a session on this topic.
Who conducted these sessions?
It takes a global village to run these sessions! We got support from the ECE Alumni Office, the Shanghai Office, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Advancement. This year, I moderated three sessions, Nanjie moderated two sessions, and Meng moderated one session. Nanjie, who was the graduate assistant for the Optics program, helped us recruit five student panelists for two sessions.
What was the format?
We had a diverse format! First, we invited the speakers to give either a presentation or a brief introduction to the topic, and then for some sessions, we had only one speaker. Other sessions, we had two or three speakers, like panelists, so we ran a panel discussion format. Each panelist talked about one topic for like ten minutes, and then we opened up the sessions to questions and answers (Q&A).
We also had several formats within the Q&A. Students raised questions in the Q&A box in the webinar setting. At the same time, Chinese students are a little bit shy, so we really encouraged them to speak up. For each session, we gave like two or three opportunities to raise their hands, and this way, they had the opportunity to talk with the panelists directly. These panelists are the ‘big potatoes’ in their field - like, they’re either distinguished professors or very successful alumni.
What types of follow-up questions did students have?
They asked a wide range of questions. Before the sessions, we also had the students fill out a questionnaire, to see what questions they were most interested in.
They asked how to achieve work-life balance in graduate school. Panelists talked about how, in graduate school, you do not have a lot of spare time to pursue your hobbies. Some students were curious about what graduate school looked like. They asked how to adjust to the new environment when they would come to the U.S. - in terms of the language barrier or culture shock; how to establish a good relationship with their advisor and colleagues. A lot of students also asked about the graduate application procedures, as more than 30 percent of the students had intentions to study in the U.S. later on.
Any memorable moments from a co-curricular session?
One panelist's words really caught my attention. A student asked, "Can you share some experiences from when you've gone through difficulties in graduate school or starting your own business?"
The CEO of a company responded, "Welcome the failure."
You’re bound to meet difficulties, that is normal. You cannot achieve success without meeting failure. I think that is well-taken advice.