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A message from Dean DePauw about fall 2020

photo of Dean DePauw wearing a black jacket, standing in front of shrubs in Arlington VA
January 31, 2020 - Karen DePauw, Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education (Photo by Erin Williams/Virginia Tech)

To the Graduate Community,

As Virginia Tech prepares to reopen its campuses and moves out of essential operation status, I want to share information specifically focused on the concerns and needs of our graduate students. Graduate students are very important to the university community and many contribute to its education and research missions as Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs), Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs), and Graduate Assistants. Many faculty and staff are committed to graduate education and your efforts are very much appreciated.

At the Graduate School, we are committed to providing and supporting an inclusive, welcoming community for all graduate students and their families, faculty members, and staff members who support graduate education. We recognize that building community is an ongoing process and we will continue to explore and offer innovative ways to be in community with colleagues, and to listen actively to the concerns of our community.

The past several months have been stressful for all of us as the university shifted from in-person to online instruction and operations to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We recognize that the virus is still here, and we need to minimize transmission opportunities. The health and safety of all members of our graduate community health and safety remain our primary concern. To that end, we ask that you follow the protocols shared in the university’s statement about wearing face coverings or masks in public and shared spaces, observing physical distancing, and washing your hands frequently. But we also want you to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally as well as physically. Keeping each other healthy is going to depend on all of us behaving responsibly. We are all members of the graduate and university communities.

Graduate students, we recognize that the graduate experience is different from that of undergraduates on the Blacksburg campus, but the spirit of community remains. We strive to provide an inclusive, welcoming committee for all of our students, and we follow the university’s Principles of Community. We share your belief that progress toward your degree is very important and we will work with you toward that end. Your rights and choices will be respected regarding courses and assistantships. For new students, we are modifying our orientation program to provide information and tips for success in a virtual format.

Many of you have already experienced online and hybrid courses and have worked as GTAs and GRAs in that environment. You will be involved in discussions about the courses associated with your assistantships. Every effort will be made to provide you with the training and material resources you need to protect your health and that of your students, and to fulfill your teaching responsibilities effectively. For those of you who will be new GTAs, we are modifying our GTA workshop to provide information and guidance virtually so you are well equipped to begin your assignments. The Academy for Graduate Teaching Assistant Excellence also is offering support, suggestions, and best practices for successful and inclusive instruction to GTAs as we prepare for the fall semester.

Graduate program directors, faculty members and staff members who focus on graduate education, we support your efforts and are here to answer questions and provide assistance. We will hold a meeting at 10:30 a.m. on June 18 for graduate program directors and coordinators to answer questions, hear concerns and suggestions and share updates. We also want to hear your ideas for making the graduate experience memorable and successful for students, and for building and supporting our inclusive graduate community across our campuses.

As we move toward the start of the Fall semester, we also recognize that the details associated with reopening will differ depending on the location of our campuses, and perhaps even the degree programs in which our students are enrolled. We will provide information for each campus as we receive it.

We know you have questions. We will share information about accessing those sessions in the near future. As I said earlier, we believe in community and know that we must actively listen and learn as we continue building community and welcoming our new and returning graduate students across all of our campuses.  

I will hold regular Zoom sessions for graduate students to share concerns, ask questions, and provide thoughts and suggestions, and help us grow a strong, inclusive and diverse community. We also will reach out to graduate faculty members and staff as the summer unfolds and plans become more definite. Stay tuned.