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New Graduate Student Orientation panel
A panel of UD graduate students offers their advice on adapting to University life at New Graduate Student Orientation for the spring 2024 semester. The panel featured (from left) Martin Vivero, a doctoral student in communication sciences and disorders; Priscila Barbosa, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering; and Deborah Oyeyemi, a graduate student in business analytics and information management.

Welcoming words of wisdom

Photos by Evan Krape

Graduate students start their UD journey with a day of discoveries

When Louisa Mburu arrived in the United States last month, the temperature back home in Kenya was nudging a balmy 81 degrees. Here in Newark, Delaware, it was quite literally freezing cold.

So, like any good student, she adapted and prevailed: First, she made an urgent shopping trip, snagging a warm wool cap and a coat. Then, as February shivered its way into existence, she bundled up and headed off to Trabant University Center, where Mburu and her warm-and-fuzzy cap joined about 150 fledgling Blue Hens for the University of Delaware’s spring New Graduate Student Orientation.

Like Mburu, the other students seeking graduate degrees were eager, excited and, yes, a little anxious about this unfamiliar place filled with so many new faces. Later, as the day unfolded, the mists of confusion began to clear, newfound friendships emerged, and the utter strangeness of the situation began to soften into something far more comforting.

“I’m from a small town back home, so I think I’m going to like it here,” said Mburu, who is seeking her master’s degree in bioinformatics and computational biology. Newark’s easygoing vibe suits her style, UD has just the program she seeks, and orientation day yielded crucial new knowledge: There are dozens of student clubs for forging new relationships; health resources are available around the clock; and UD’s faculty and staff are poised and ready to help. 

Away from campus, they were told, the state of Delaware holds its own attractions, from beaches to museums to tax-free shopping. 

“I built my career here and raised my family here,” Lou Rossi, dean of the Graduate College, told the students. “It’s a really great place. Delaware really is a small wonder.”

That sense of wonder could also apply to UD’s latest cohort of globetrotting graduate students: They converged on Newark from 17 countries, and in some cases from the other side of the globe. They aim to become tomorrow’s engineers and computer scientists, business leaders and English teachers.

Audience members had plenty of questions for the panel at New Graduate Student Orientation.
Audience members had plenty of questions for the panel at New Graduate Student Orientation.

They will be here for what will seem a very short time, but their legacy as Blue Hens will be felt around the world, and for the rest of their lives.

“We’re a place where great ideas mix and fertilize and grow, and you’re in the middle of it,” Rossi told the students. This spring, a great many of them hail from India, China and the U.S., though the group is infused with less commonplace locales, including Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Colombia.

To some of the students, UD’s campus must seem like its own sort of foreign land, but that will not last. To others, including Haley Carr of Connecticut, UD is almost a home to her — she has worked for the University since getting her undergraduate degree in 2022, and now will pursue her master’s in international business.

“I love Delaware,” she said. “I love the fact that there’s no tax. Main Street is just fantastic, and working at UD has been great. And my degree will set me up for international success. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to the program.”

Thanks to the diversity of these and other students, UD has become a place where many perspectives can join and grow together, Rossi said. Each semester, the student-led Graduate College diversity initiative holds events where those connections can be made, and student organizations offer further friendship and support.

Those are the extracurricular moments when it’s crucial to create new contacts and nurture them, the students were told. 

“Take yourself out of your comfort zone and try to improve yourself,” the students were told by doctoral student Priscila Barbosa of Brazil, one of the panel of graduate students who offered advice to the crowd. “There are many things that UD can help you with, not just inside your department, but also outside.”

They listened intently as the panelists offered more wisdom: Be sure to seek out mentors, but don’t assume that a single mentor is all you need, advised Deborah Oyeyemi, a master’s student in business analytics and information management who is originally from Nigeria. Seek out support from other students in graduate student organizations, but remember that you are the only person ultimately responsible for success.

“If you wait for anyone to drive you, you might not find anyone,” Oyeyemi said. “Make sure you drive yourself in everything you do.”

A personal “strategic plan” can help make progress manageable, said LaRuth McAfee, senior assistant dean of the Graduate College. At the same time, it’s crucial to schedule some “down time” and give yourself momentary escapes from the pressure. 

“Try to not push yourself too much, because you are here for the long run,” said Barbosa, a student in electrical and computer engineering. “It’s OK to take some time for yourself, to go out there and meet new people.”

For the next few years, the students were told, it might be best to turn down social media noise, and turn instead to familiar creative outlets. 

“I like to take time away to do some crochet, to learn the guitar. That gives me a little bit of space,” Barbosa said. “It’s important for your body and mind to have that break.”

Time-management strategies that worked as an undergraduate may no longer apply, warned Martin Vivero, a doctoral student from Chile studying communication sciences and disorders. Throughout the journey, have a clear understanding of what steps need to be taken to reach the future you envision.

“Try to figure out what you want to do, then think of all the knowledge and skills you need to become that person,” Vivero said. Resist the urge to decide there’s “no time” to take on extra challenges, he said. “Because if you are waiting to have time, you will be waiting forever.”

In the coming weeks, the graduate students are invited to attend two events put on by the Graduate College diversity initiative. Interested students can RSVP through the links below:

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