Settling into a new campus can be challenging for students, especially those far from home like many graduate students. NC State crop and soil sciences master’s student Lily Kile arrived from Penn State to start her graduate program in 2020 just as COVID forced the country and NC State’s campus to shutter doors. Despite best efforts at online meetings and socially distanced events, the lack of personal interaction and professional development cut deep.
“It was a hard time for everyone, and starting a research program was extremely difficult. We all lost time that has been slow to recapture,” Kile said. “We tried to make the best of Zoom, but nothing can simulate face-to-face interaction.”
To overcome isolation, many students leaned heavily on student groups, including graduate student associations for relationships. These formal and informal networks continue to provide a welcome outlet to students hungry for connection.
Finding Family with GSAs
For graduate students who usually live off campus, the need for community is real. Graduate student associations (GSAs) in the departments of Crop and Soil Sciences and Horticultural Sciences are filling that need by building student bonds through social events.
“The purpose of our graduate student associations is two-fold,” said Horticultural Sciences GSA president Luke Owen. “First is to represent graduate students’ needs. The second is to foster community among students and faculty. We want to be family for each other.”
With the momentum of growing participation, GSA events are sprouting regularly and providing deeper meaning.
“We started Lunch and Learn events,” Owen said. “The series is a combination of speakers and informal conversations about challenges graduate students face in their research or personal lives.”
The group recently hosted NC State CALS counselor Luke Strawn for a discussion about depression and stress management.
It’s Game On For Good Times
The two departments’ GSA groups recently combined efforts for a joint crop and soil sciences and horticulture bingo night with professor Bob Patterson and Isaac Lewis. Horticulture faculty donated a dazzling assortment of ornamental plants for prizes and tThe event drew over 50 participants including other faculty. It was so popular that the event may become perennial.
Collaborating with other GSA groups for larger events seems a natural extension.
“Both of our groups work intimately with plants and we take many of the same classes. We’re almost already a family,” Owen said. “So, why not host events together to make them even better?”
Horticulture’s GSA recently hosted another annual favorite event – their annual chili cookoff. It’s a no-cost, high-pride department event that pits the top-secret recipes of students against faculty and staff in chili and/or cornbread categories.
“Some people even name their entries,” Owen laughed. “We loved sampling the Jedi Chili and Chili Chili Bang Bang.” In the end, the long-reigning Isaac Lewis extended his gustatory domination as the fan favorite.
From weekly coffee breaks to an upcoming Christmas breakfast, the crop and soil sciences GSA’s social calendar is filling.
“The crop and soil sciences GSA has a ton of exciting events planned for the next year!” Kile said. “ We expect that our successes will grow as we continue to build a deeper community with each other. I hope every graduate student in the department will participate. Everyone is welcome and wanted.”
The influx of social events and increasing participation are providing a level of comfort for graduate students still unsteady in their campus roots.
“It’s fun to say hi to friends around campus now,” Kile said. “It’s easier to initiate friendship and even to work together in the classroom. These events give us things to look forward to and really help keep our spirits high.”
Owen agreed. “It helps all of us to have a sense of community — trust is established so that we can face the challenges, the ups and downs of graduate school. I feel more confident because we have that family atmosphere. These are friends I’ll connect with throughout my future career.”
Can You See Yourself in Crop and Soil Sciences?
If you are looking for an academic path that provides real-world impact in a small group environment, consider crop and soil sciences. Our students interact with expert professors and enjoy collaborative communities every day.
Discover more about student degree pathways including deep dives into our soil science and turfgrass programs. Then sign up for an undergraduate’s guided email tour of our Crop & Soil Sciences Department.
Connecting students with people and careers that solve global challenges is just part of how we are growing the future.