While many student organizations focus on one selective topic, such as a particular interest group or cause, GeogGrads, more formally known as the Graduate Association of Research Geographers at UT, addresses the needs of its graduate students in the moment while building a foundation for future geographers to come. Membership for GeogGrads is open to all graduate students interested in geography, including those outside the geography department; all that is required is an interest in geography as a discipline. An executive board of officers works on the behalf of student members, but any member can put forward requests for events or topics for discussion.
In typical years, GeogGrads hosts events such as bowling, hiking, and social opportunities, as well as service opportunities for those wanting to work in the community. Things this year are a little different, but GeogGrads has shifted to providing those social connections in an online space instead. Friday nights serve as an informal social space in which members of the geography community can collaborate, socialize, and even practice their presentation skills in preparation for conferences.
A promotional event GeogGrads hosts every other year is a graduate and undergraduate symposium titled GeoSym. Students and faculty alike are invited to speak on the topic of their research in poster, paper, and lighting-style sessions. Additionally, an invited speaker will deliver a keynote address on the topic of the symposium. Due to concerns regarding COVID-19, GeoSym did not take place this year, but there are ongoing discussions within GeogGrads for hosting a virtual conference in the spring.
Perhaps the most important student-recruiting event GeogGrads does as an organization is Geography Awareness Week, in collaboration with the Tennessee Geographic Alliance in mid-November. Traditionally, members set up activities on the Burchfiel plaza and promote the field of geography and study abroad opportunities during class change. In addition, GeogGrads organizes an open house and invites students from all disciplines to learn about the field of geography and hear presentations from many of the department’s professors and staff.
A new development this year, led chiefly by GeogGrads Treasurer Yael Uziel, is the creation of a resource guide for graduate students in need. Information regarding food banks, temporary assistance, and care for one’s physical and mental health in this COVID-19 climate are all provided in one spot, and the document is ever-growing with new contributions from various sources. An average of 30% of students in Southern Appalachian colleges, both undergraduate and graduate, experience food insecurity, and rates of mental health in graduate students have been worsening for decades. The guide allows anyone in GeogGrads to access resources safely and anonymously without fear of stigma.
GeogGrads is a space for geography-interested graduate students to learn, work together, and have fun. The organization continuously grows and develops to help make the field of geography exciting and open for all. During COVID-19, GeogGrads has pivoted to be a safe online space. Members are working to aid new graduate students transitioning into the department during this time. GeogGrads all create a community, address needs, and promote the ever-important field of geography.