Islander Graduate Students Grow with GROW

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Nestled on the second floor of the Mary & Jeff Bell Library, Graduate Resource and Opportunity Workplace, better known as GROW, facilitates the unique needs of graduate students. The space is a comprehensive resource at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi that illustrates commitment to service excellence for more than 2,200 currently enrolled graduate students. Under the umbrella of the College of Graduate Studies, led by Dr. Karen McCaleb, Interim Dean, GROW aims to support academic success and degree completion of graduate students as well as provide a welcoming space for graduate students from across disciplines to gather and work.

“Graduate students are a distinctive niche with varying needs. We work to assist students as they transition to graduate school as well as during each step towards degree completion,” said Dr. Marvarene Oliver, professor and Interim Associate Dean. “The support that comes from behind the doors of GROW stems from our commitment to graduate studies and our own love of academia; we get it and we are here for you.”

GROW is easily identified by its decorated doors, which feature two students draped in ceremonial robes and cords, signifying the transition to the next phase of a student’s academic career. GROW aids in academic and professional development by hosting various professional and academic workshops, networking activities, student support events, and community service opportunities. Programming this semester includes dissertation/thesis bootcamps, publication workshops, grant-writing seminars, an alumni career panel, opportunities for professional headshots, and tips on managing public speaking anxiety.

“Continuing an education past a bachelor’s degree is a pivotal decision and a big commitment. We are dedicated to helping students in any way possible,” said Oliver, who noted that interdisciplinary faculty support is what makes the level of programming offered possible.  

GROW is accessible to enrolled graduate students by a quick swipe of a SandDollar$ ID card. The quiet workspace houses a multifunction copier, computers with double monitors and professional statistical software, as well as adjustable tables for any graduate student to use; it also has presentation equipment such as a projector, screens, and whiteboards for workshops and other events. In addition, GROW also has a small study room which students can reserve for group projects. During a well-deserved break, students can help themselves to free fresh coffee, popcorn on Fridays, and conversation with peers and GROW staff in the lobby area.  

Agnes Luo is an Islander doctoral student graduate assistant at GROW who takes the lead in organizing the overall workload in GROW as well as gathering and analyzing data about its use and programming. Luo, a native of China who is completing her Ph.D. in Counselor Education, says a place like GROW provides a sense of home for her as an international graduate student.  

“In grad school, people often only come to campus for school and leave right away after class,” said Luo. “Many international students are lonely and do not know how to make friends with their classmates. When they come to GROW, they gain a sense of belonging and end up staying here to complete their coursework.”

Charis Clark, another of GROW’s graduate assistants, is halfway through her master’s degree in counseling. One of her main tasks includes keeping graduate students updated on GROW events via social media accounts, and she enjoys planning GROW events of each semester. One of her favorite aspects about working with GROW is meeting graduate students from across disciplines who utilize the space. 

“One of the hardest things about being a new Texas resident and graduate student was actually connecting with other students, because a lot of us have jobs and families – it’s a totally different life stage than undergrad,” said Clark. “I came for the free coffee and printing, but I stayed for the camaraderie I found in sharing late-night study sessions with people from all over the world and from every program who I never would have otherwise met. GROW was so important and useful to me when I first enrolled, and it’s incredibly fulfilling to have a part in making it even better.”

Since opening its doors in 2016, GROW has observed an increasing variety of users, including students from all five academic colleges. Luo noted that from early August 2016 to late June 2017, there were about 2,247 card swipes – about 204 per month. From early August 2017 to early July 2018, that number increased to 12,151 swipes – about 1,123 swipes per month. Luo explained that the door swipes represent the number of times students enter the GROW suite and that some students come in several times a day. The GROW suite is open to students during Bell Library hours and provides videos of much of its programming on the GROW YouTube channel, which allows online graduate students to take advantage of offerings.