The International Center, in collaboration with the Graduate School and College of Arts & Sciences, launched a seven-week program for international graduate students planning to begin their studies at UK in spring 2021. The Graduate Community and Academic Transition Series (GradCATS) program was designed to introduce new graduate students to UK and the surrounding area, build a sense of community among incoming graduate students as well as continuing graduate students, and better prepare 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. When these participants arrive in Lexington, their transition to Kentucky and UK will be smoother because of their familiarity with the places and processes needed to begin their new lives.
The GradCATS program was facilitated by Angela Garner, Coordinator of International Graduate Student Initiatives and Lecturer in the Center for English as a Second Language, and Karen Slaymaker, Assistant Director for International Student and Scholar Services. About 50 participants from around the world joined weekly meetings via Zoom and completed research tasks created to ease their academic and personal adjustments to life in Lexington and their graduate studies at UK.
“GradCATS helped me make the decision of living on campus. I felt safe when I learned that I could be picked up at the airportGradCATS,” said participant Meimalin Rivas, who is a doctoral student in hispanic studies from Venezuela. “Pre-orientation encouraged me to think that everything was going to be ok. I felt supported by the university, I have been here for 48 hours and I can tell how much the International Center cares for us.”
Another GradCATS participant, Chukwudalu Great Umenweke, a Nigerian doctoral student in chemistry explained that the beauty of GradCATS isn't just about the valuable information passed across to international students.
“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,” Umenweke said.
Also added that what made GradCATS a beautiful experience was the wonderful family and friends he 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,” Umenweke 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,
- were more confident 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, and
- felt better prepared to successfully navigate the tasks associated with moving to Lexington.
GradCATS concluded December 14, a day prior to the start of New Graduate Student Orientation, providing 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 also underway to build upon this type of pre-orientation program, making it an integral part of every international graduate student’s path to UK.