Graduate Student Council
Fostering academic discourse despite social distancing...
The Engineering Systems and Environment Graduate Student Council ensured that research dissemination in weekly seminars continued despite unprecedented disruptions this semester. For a diverse department, this also meant an opportunity to look inwards and recognize graduate student excellence while tinkering with the seminar formats.
Academic seminars are a long-standing form of research communication. However, recent opinions by academics point to the lack of diversity and inclusivity of speakers. Accordingly, ensuring coverage of a wide range of research tracks and practitioners was critical upon formation of the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment (ESE), which was created in 2018 as a union between the former departments of Systems and Information Engineering, and Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Thanks to student leadership, the department has been able to transition to equitably highlighting a broader range of research interests among the faculty, staff, and students. Formed in 2019, ESE’s Graduate Student Council, or ESE-GSC, organized a set of graduate student lightning talks to represent the wide range of research being pursued in the department. The student speakers highlighted a wide range of topics including water and climate engineering, novel healthcare practices, military operations, and futuristic transportation engineering. The speakers were nominated and selected by their peers, invited across the graduate student body, thus these events were truly “of, for, and by” graduate students.
These changes to the seminar formats have only been possible with faculty guidance. Department Chair, Professor Brian Smith remarked, “The ESE-GSC has created an outstanding seminar series that directly meets the needs and interests of our diverse graduate student body”. The Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Lisa Peterson concurs, “I am grateful to the leadership of the ESE Graduate Student Council for spearheading this effort, because it provides meaningful professional development experiences for our graduate students while also strengthening our community of scholars.”
Despite the unprecedented disruptions that occurred this semester due to COVID-19, ESE-GSC was quick to move online to continue offering engagement opportunities for the department’s students. Professor Smith with especially pleased with the success of the online transition, saying “prior to the move to online classes, I was so excited to witness the high level of engagement in the Friday seminars in Olsson Hall. While I was quite concerned as we moved online, it turned out that the continuation of the series via Zoom not only still met the seminar goals, it also played a key role in holding together our academic community during a period of social distancing."