On the morning of Saturday January 22, 2011 over 60 graduate and professional students gathered at Durham’s historic Golden Belt. The Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) hosted its annual retreat at the Cotton Room. Some students even arrived by way of the new Bull City Connector, a fare-free bus line serving both the Duke and Durham communities.
The day began over coffee and biscuits and led into an introduction of GPSC, its executive board and progress made towards goals over the past fall semester. The opening remarks ended as GPSC President Daniel Griffin provided students with a brief overview of the University structure and budget across the many schools that are included in the graduate and professional student population.
Greg Hohn really broke the ice with the involved students by leading a collaboration and communication workshop that had all out of their seats performing for the group. Students were encouraged to find cues in others work and improvise their actions to different and at times goofy, situations. By the end all students had participated and were eager to translate what they learned to skills they could use as leaders across campus and into their lives beyond.
Once people felt comfortable with one another and new friends and connections had been made, the group broke out into discussion groups to tackle some of the biggest concerns of the student body, ranging from environmental sustainability at Duke to improved mental health services for students. Each group then had a representative report to the group to share its ideas. One group suggested adding an executive board position to GPSC that serves to consolidate and advertise available career development services to students. This position later went through several discussions in the General Assembly and has been created for next year’s executive board.
The business portion of the day ended with the keynote address by Dr. Jacqueline Looney, Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Associate Vice Provost. Dr. Looney spoke of the history of GPSC and the struggles it had overcome. The story was inspiring, and reminded students of what they can accomplish when they put their minds to it. Her ‘Perspective on Leadership’ left a lasting impression, especially on those students most actively involved in leadership roles on campus.
The retreat was rounded out with a networking social event over drinks. New friends bonded and old friends relaxed together. Not a single negative comment about giving up an entire weekend day was made. Many students felt progress had been made in the discussions on our goals and that they had personally gained skills useful for their roles as campus leaders and professional communication from the day’s workshop.
Submitted by Felicia Hawthorne, a 4th-year Ph.D. student in Genetics & Genomics and vice-president of GPSC.