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Yolanda Treviño
University Graduate School

Erika Lee
University Graduate School

Last modified: Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Emissaries for Graduate Student Diversity help new IU graduate students find their way

Sept. 15, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Starting graduate school can be an unsettling experience, combining long hours of often solitary work with the challenge of finding one's place on a new campus and in a new city.

That's why the Indiana University Graduate School in Bloomington created the Emissaries for Graduate Student Diversity program, in which veteran graduate students provide advice, encouragement and mentoring to newcomers.

Started as a pilot project in 2007, the Emissaries program expanded last year to science, mathematics and technology programs and has now grown to include all graduate-level disciplines, with a focus on doctoral students. Emissaries answer questions from prospective students by e-mail, serve on discussion panels and offer tips and information.

"We wanted to create a program that is run by graduate students, for graduate students -- to talk about what life is like for graduate students at Indiana University Bloomington," said Yolanda Treviño, assistant dean of the University Graduate School and an originator of the idea.

The program grew out of IU's participation in the Midwest Crossroads Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, a National Science Foundation-funded initiative to increase the number of underrepresented minority graduate students and faculty in the "STEM" disciplines, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

It's also a way for the campus to personalize the process of reaching out to new students. While colleges and universities devote extensive resources to new undergraduates, the recruitment and orientation of graduate students is often left to academic departments, which can use help from groups such as the Emissaries.

"We see this group, and the dedication of these people, as really central to the recruiting process," said Maxine Watson, associate dean of the University Graduate School.

The IU Web page for the program -- -- includes profiles of eight Emissaries, each with an "ask me a question" e-mail link; a student-written blog titled Graduate Student Life at IU; and a half dozen self-guided walking tours of campus, designed by graduate students, with themes such as "Family Fun" and "Campus Treasures."

Nikole Miller, a doctoral student in the Department of Linguistics, was an Emissary in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Having grown up in Georgia and earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama, she said her biggest challenge at IU was adjusting to the Midwestern winters.

"I think the main concern that people have is, 'If I go to graduate school, can I have a life besides being a graduate student?'" Miller said. Her answer: You can, but it takes focusing on time management and giving yourself permission to take time off to relax or go to a movie.

Lewis Jones

Lewis Jones

Current Emissary Carlos Zednik, a doctoral student in cognitive science who grew up in Vienna, Austria, said some graduate students have concerns about what there will be to do in Indiana. He assures them that Bloomington has good restaurants, cultural amenities and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Zednik also fields questions about the common graduate-student concern of managing long-distance relationships. His wife works in Chicago, forcing weekend trips to spend time together.

Lewis Jones, an Emissary who is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology, also is married and has a 4-year-old son. He lives in Indianapolis and commutes daily to Bloomington to take and teach classes. Not surprisingly, he said learning to manage time was his biggest adjustment in graduate school.

"It's not hard to do," he said. "It's just a matter of saying you want to do it."

Jones, who benefited from the McNair Scholars Program as an undergraduate at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said being an Emissary is, for him, "an opportunity to give back."

"Any student can come and talk to us, and they will get a better view of what campus life is like for all graduate students," he said.

For more on the Emissaries, see