A&S Program Participates in GradCATS Orientation for Grad Students

By Angela Garner and Facundo Luque

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 5, 2021) — A partnership among The Graduate SchoolInternational Center, the Center for English as a Second Language, and the Graduate Student Congress at the University of Kentucky produced a robust seven-week virtual program during Fall 2020 for international graduate students planning to begin their studies on campus in Spring 2021. 

The program, called GradCATS (Graduate Community and Academic Transition Series), introduced new graduate students to UK and the Lexington area, built a sense of community among incoming graduate students as well as continuing graduate students, and strengthened the preparedness of participants for the academic demands of their programs.

GradCATS is a direct result of opportunities illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the participants deferred their Fall 2020 admission to UK because of embassy closures and travel restrictions. Their transition to Lexington ran smoother because the program allowed them to be come familiar with the people, places and processes needed to begin their new lives.

Approximately 50 participants from around the world joined weekly meetings through Zoom and completed research tasks created to ease their academic and personal adjustments to life in Lexington and their graduate studies at UK. 

Meimalin Rivas, a doctoral student in Hispanic Studies from Venezuela, is a GradCATS participant.

“GradCATS helped me make the decision of living on campus. I felt safe when I learned that I could be picked up at the airport,” Rivas said. “GradCATS pre-orientation encouraged me to think that everything was going to be OK, and I felt supported by the university.” 

"The beauty of GradCATS isn't just about the valuable information passed across to international students,” said Chukwudalu Great Umenweke, a Nigerian doctoral student in chemistry. “It goes beyond just equipping international students with the right tips to get started with grad school, to absorb the culture shock as an international student, and starting off with the right mindset in a new environment.” 

The program is facilitated by Angela Garner, coordinator of International Graduate Student Initiatives and lecturer in the Center for English as a Second Language in the UK College of Arts and Sciences; and Karen Slaymaker, assistant director for International Student and Scholar Services.

Umenweke said what makes GradCATS a beautiful experience are the wonderful family and friends he has made, including faculty members and other international students, .

“This gave me the right feeling of being welcomed into the university, and they have become my 'go-tos' when I need a piece of information about anything,” he said. “GradCATS was indeed a memorable experience that cannot be erased.” 

Rivas and Umenweke are not alone in their experiences. In completion survey results for GradCATS, participants reported that they:

  • felt better prepared to use the academic and wellness resources at UK.
  • gained confidence in their ability to transition to their roles as graduate students at UK.
  • were more excited about living in Lexington and beginning their graduate studies.
  • felt increasingly prepared to successfully navigate the tasks associated with moving to Lexington.

GradCATS concluded Dec. 14, a day before the start of New Graduate Student Orientation. The schedule provided an uninterrupted opportunity for these students to keep learning about UK during the winter break and begin their studies at UK equipped with the resources they need to succeed in their Spring 2021 semester. 

Discussions are underway to build upon this type of pre-orientation program, making it an integral part of every international graduate student’s path to UK.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.