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High-level engagement

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Grad students' forum highlights research, community connection

The fruit of their labors was everywhere to be seen -- an impressive array of work reaching deeply into the sciences, the humanities and the arts.

Posters and oral sessions gave scores of students opportunity to share the details of their work at the seventh annual University of Delaware Graduate Students' Forum, a daylong event sponsored by the Graduate Student Government (GSG) and the University's Office of Graduate & Professional Education.

"But we are so much more than our research," said Caitlin Hutchison, who is pursuing a doctorate in art history and chairs the events committee for GSG. "I am not a monumental stone sculpture from the 9th century."

And that was the big idea behind the theme of this year's forum -- "Leaders of Engaged Citizenry" -- a call to take that work and the passion behind it into society at large.

It was the theme of the keynote delivered by Provost Domenico Grasso, who reminded students that they occupy a narrow slice of the population. Less than 10 percent of people in the United States have earned a graduate degree.

That privilege, he said, carries a responsibility to invest their deep knowledge wisely.

"As you work toward completing your studies and research here at UD, you also become part of our nation’s and this planet’s most treasured resources," he said. "As we are the beneficiaries of those who came before us, our progeny will reap the benefits of your accomplishments."

As you work toward completing your studies and research here at UD, you also become part of our nation’s and this planet’s most treasured resources

Domenico Grasso Provost

As you work toward completing your studies and research here at UD, you also become part of our nation’s and this planet’s most treasured resources

Domenico Grasso Provost

Grasso offered three bits of advice:

• "As this nation’s intellectually privileged, we must not become so narrow in our own disciplines that we lose site of the broader landscape. I encourage you, regardless of your discipline -- whether art history, chemical engineering or soil science -- to always stay engaged with the community around you, local, regional, national and global. Your talents and perspectives are sorely needed. Leadership happens at all levels."

• "Read broadly in and -- most important -- outside of your discipline. Never stop reading the classics."

• "Make sure that in all your career choices you consider balance." That is, a balance between making a living, enjoying the work and making a difference on the planet.

So what marks an engaged citizen? GSG leaders strolled through the dining room at Clayton Hall with a microphone after Grasso's keynote to ask their graduate-level colleagues that question and see what they were doing, if anything.

"It's communication," said Greg Reese, who is working toward an MBA at UD's Lerner College of Business and Economics. "It's breaking down invisible barriers, stepping forward, getting comfortable with one another."

Making engagement a priority "is necessary for professional development, too, otherwise you get stuck in your own small world," said Hiral Master, a doctoral student in the College of Health Sciences. "Especially being in the clinical field, it is necessary to engage with patients.... I think engineers have difficulty communicating. They are so smart, so talented. Coming from a healthcare profession -- we like to talk with people and express ourselves."

An engineering student sitting nearby, Stijn Koshari, who is working on his doctorate, said he and his fellow students can apply their expertise to all kinds of areas.

"Even if it has nothing to do with engineering, as a volunteer your expertise might bring something new. In the end, it is a real interdisciplinary idea to progress beyond typical boundaries. We are trying to improve people's lives in general."

Ryan DelPercio, working on a master's degree in plant and soil sciences, adds volunteer outreach work to his research at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, leading tours and answering visitors' questions, and also serves as a co-host for UD's "Rise and Science" radio show/podcast, which airs at 8:30 a.m., Tuesdays, on WVUD.

Involvement in GSG turned out to be a great kind of engagement, said Cesar Caro, a doctoral student in physics who served as president this year.

"I was reluctant to take on that role, but I'm really glad now that I did," he said. "I have encountered people I would never have encountered on a day-to-day basis. It offers much opportunity for advocacy and community building."

Several said engagement might also be broadened with the help of one of the University's newest familiar faces -- former Vice President Joe Biden, chairman of UD's new Biden Institute, a center for research and domestic policy. Mariana Di Giacomo, a doctoral student in preservation studies, suggested caffeinated "Joe With Joe" events.

The forum included dozens of presentations on multiple tracks, including economics, global health, physics and materials science, natural disasters, political contention, gender and society, artistic traditions, the environment, diverse teaching methods, emerging technology, historical objects, ethics, justice and neuroscience.

"The forum is one of the few annual opportunities that graduate students from across the University can get together on such a scale," Hutchison said. "It combines research, presentations and both social and professional networking -- what I see as the common interests of grad students -- all in one place."

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