Developed by: Iowa State University


On their campuses, underrepresented and racially minoritized graduate students find themselves in environments where they are the only one or one of few students from marginalized backgrounds. Therefore, creating spaces that allow these students to be in community with others from marginalized backgrounds is important. At predominantly white institutions, many of the spaces that graduate students encounter have little racial diversity. After hearing from graduate students about their need to engage with those of similar racial identities, we created the Graduate College Community Chat series.

The Graduate College Community Chats are additional support for underrepresented graduate students at Iowa State. We wanted to provide a space for these students to create community and allow their voices to be heard. These sessions began in 2020 so that we could hear from students and understand how they navigate the semester in a virtual format. We wanted to know more about how they were adjusting to online learning and create spaces for graduate students to come together as a community to discuss several topics.

Although these sessions began in a virtual format, as the campus relaxed COVID-19 safety protocols, we met in person in various locations across campus. These were themed sessions, and each meeting had a specific focus. Conference Prep/Research Talks, CVs & Cover Letters and Grad Chat Study Night were a few of the topics. The conference prep/research talk allowed students to prepare for upcoming conferences or research presentations and allowed the opportunity to present research and receive feedback from peers. The Grad Chat Study Night offered a space for graduate students to study for exams or work on research papers for several hours, where food and drinks were provided.

Goals & Objectives

  1. Create a community for students to come together and discuss topics pertaining to graduate school
  2. Understand how students are navigating life as an underrepresented graduate student and adjusting while studying virtually
  3. Create a space where underrepresented graduate students can feel like their voices and concerns can be heard


  • Directors of Graduate Education and Departmental Graduate Support Staff
    • We reached out to these individuals to have them communicate with their graduate students about these events. They were asked to send out flyers and other information so that graduate students were aware these events were taking place
  • Black Graduate Students Association (BGSA) and Latina/o/x Graduate Students Association (LGSA)
    • Collaborating with these groups to increase the number of underrepresented graduate students attending the Graduate College Community Chats

Planning & Logistics

  • Collaborate with Graduate College Communications Specialist to create flyers to advertise the Community Chat sessions and post dates on the Graduate College website
  • Send flyers and email communications to all enrolled underrepresented graduate
  • Create surveys/polls to send to students to get an accurate count for number of participants • Work with facilities planning department to reserve rooms for in-person community chat sessions • Contact university catering and other local eateries to place food orders for sessions • Host community chat sessions for one hour at least once per month with underrepresented graduate students
  • Send surveys to participants for feedback on ways community chat sessions can be improved

A Pilot / Initial Rollout

The initial rollout involved discussions between Carmen Jones, Graduate Assistant and Thelma Harding, Coordinator of Graduate Recruitment and Retention, about the benefits of these sessions. From there, we worked with the marketing and communication specialist to create flyers to advertise the event. Emails were sent to every underrepresented graduate student that was enrolled to inform them on this new initiative. Each session, whether virtual or in-person, has had up to 25 participants in attendance since these sessions began and we have received positive feedback from those that have participated.

Full-Scale Solution

To determine if these sessions have been successful, it would help to ask participants to provide feedback on past community chat sessions and how it has benefited them as an underrepresented graduate student. It seems that conducting these sessions at least once per month is most effective.

Associated Costs

Of the three Community Chats that were held in person, the associated cost was only for catering. At an average of about 15 students per session, the approximate cost was $500 for all three.

Attribution Statement

For those that might adapt and adopt this program model, please provide attribution to ISU’s Graduate community chats program established in part with support from the National Science Foundation funded CIRTL AGEP Project.


Carmen Jones, or Thelma Harding,