Graduate School

Community Fellows Build Connections with Peers

Community Fellows
Community Fellows

Ten Community Fellows were chosen for the 2020-2021 academic year. Fellows have the opportunity to cultivate community as well as leadership, collaboration and problem-solving skills through developing and implementing initiatives that strengthen the Brown graduate student community. Selected fellows include: Rachel Mealy and Benjamin Easton (Health & Wellness), Sabina Stefan and Dmitrijs Celinskis (International Community), Mysia Anderson and N’Kosi Oates (Race and Political Action), Allison Peters, Laura Goldstein and Amira Gee (Disability Community), and Jordan Ecker (Student Veterans Community).

The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus created numerous and often daunting challenges across the Brown graduate community, particularly around issues of social isolation. Combating isolation was a key reason Ben Easton, a doctoral student in Hispanic Studies, decided to apply to Community Fellows.

“I believe that participating in an initiative aimed at community building among the graduate student body is an effective way to both maintain previous connections as well as create new ones, says Easton.”

Rachel Mealy and Easton have already implemented a program in which they invited a professional chef to conduct a tutorial online on how to make homemade pasta using simple ingredients. They plan to continue facilitating similar types of tutorials in the upcoming spring semester.

Dmitrijs Celinskis was drawn to the Community Fellows program through conversations with his friend and former Community Fellow, Adam Spierer ’20 PhD. Celinskis saw the program as “a great opportunity for contributing back to Brown's community, especially during the times of COVID-19 when maintaining the sense of community support and belonging is so much harder.” Celinskis reached out to fellow doctoral student in Biomedical Engineering, Sabina Stefan, and together they applied.

Stefan sees Community Fellows as, “a wonderful opportunity and responsibility. It's really important to me to contribute to my community and build positive and supportive workplace environments and relationships.” The pair, working on building international student community, have already hosted a “Morning Tea Social” event and launched a peer-to-peer mentorship program for international students who joined Brown in the 2020-2021 academic year.

The race and political action group with Mysia Anderson and N’Kosi Oates hosted a virtual town hall for graduate students of color last October that centered on the 2020 presidential cycle. They explain their thinking behind developing this program, “we identified a need to create a space for graduate students of color to discuss and process presidential nominations, political participation, and voter suppression in these precarious, unprecedented times.” Their program was consonant with why they applied to Community Fellows, “we applied with the intention to facilitate connections and foster meaningful conversations.”

Allison Peters, Laura Goldstein, and Amira Gee are eager to build community around disability justice and advocacy. Together, the three disability community Fellows hosted a panel on this topic in early February. To build on the success of the panel, they intend to develop a resource-sharing tool for disabled graduate students at Brown navigating academia, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

“We want to help share already-existing resources with the students who need them and give students an avenue to advocate for resources they would like to see provided by the university,” says Peters. Gee adds, “My hope is for our programming to encourage fellow graduate students who have disabilities and provide resources that empower them to be healthy while pursuing their education.”

An often-overlooked community on campus are graduate student veterans. Master’s student in Education, Jordan Ecker noticed this gap in community for this student population. “I pretty naturally gravitate toward military-affiliated communities given my own upbringing in an Army family.” As a community fellow, Jordan is working with Kimberly Millette, the Director of the Office of the Military Affiliated Students, on a variety of programming.

“The main thing I am hoping to do is highlight and celebrate the student veteran presence on our campus,” says Ecker. One program aiming to fulfill that goal is a self-guided military history walking tour of Brown and nearby spaces in downtown Providence.

Although the challenges of cultivating sustainable graduate student community this academic year are great, the newest cohort of Graduate Community Fellows are up to the task.

~Story written by Kirk Robinson