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Find Your Center: Graduate School is a Team Sport

Athletics fellows help students build community through exercise and wellness

Gino Domel says his role as a Student Center athletics fellow is to help fight the loneliness of graduate school one game at a time. “A lot of students have expressed to us how isolating school can be,” he explains. “Athletics are a way for them to meet each other. I have made a lot of good friends just by attending Student Center events and by playing in intramural sports here at Harvard.”

Together with athletics fellows Mara Casebeer and Paul Secchia, Domel’s goal is to cultivate the sense of connection that the experience of shared passion and friendly competition can provide. In so doing, the fellows also enable Harvard Griffin GSAS students to get off campus and take advantage of all that the Boston area has to offer. 

The fellows organize kayaking trips on the Charles River, indoor rock-climbing excursions at Somerville’s Brooklyn Boulders, hikes in Norfolk County, and bike and bus rides to the beaches of the North Shore. They also run events that keep students connected to the global world of sports, including watch parties for the Superbowl, international soccer tournaments, and the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. They even manage fantasy leagues, organizing traditional American football drafts as well as very serious brackets for ABC’s hit show, “The Bachelorette.”

A robotics engineering PhD candidate, Domel says various activities like group hikes and rides not only fight isolation but also improve students’ mental and emotional well-being. “Many students have expressed that having the opportunity to exercise, even when on their own, greatly helps with the mental health challenges they face,” he adds.

Biophysics PhD student Casebeer’s journey to becoming a Student Center athletics fellow started when she attended some of last year’s events and was so inspired that she decided to get involved. She particularly enjoys hosting holistic events for her peers like Deep Stretch Study Break for World Mental Health Day earlier this month. (Casebeer encourages students to join her on October 17 for the Bike Tune-Up, Registration, and Donuts event.)

Athletics fellow Paul Secchia, who studies speech and hearing bioscience, hopes to inspire students to try something new this year. “We want our programming to give people as many opportunities to be active and find new interests and friends as possible,” he says. “I want to not only encourage people to take part in sports and events that they already love, but to also try ones they aren't familiar with.” 

Casebeer, Domel, and Secchia all look forward to creating spaces for students who have encountered barriers in the past to participate in athletics and sports, encouraging them to reach out with ideas and suggestions. “We are open to input from anyone in the community so make sure to let us know if there's something you'd like to see,” Secchia says. 

In the days ahead, the Student Center athletics fellows will announce the schedule of a new intramural sports league for all of Harvard's graduate and professional schools with more events to come. They encourage Harvard Griffin GSAS students to follow them by joining their Engage organization,  check events on the Engage calendar, and look out for posts on the Center’s social media accounts (FacebookInstagram, and Twitter). Most of all, they hope their fellow students will simply come out and connect. “Whether you're playing on a team, watching a game with others, or going on a run or bike trip with some company,” Secchia says, “you'll meet a lot of new people every time.”

Want to learn more about Student Center fellows’ programming? Interested in becoming one yourself? Make sure to check out Engage.

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