More Than a Party
Social fellows help students find fun—and each other—throughout their graduate school journey
When graduates share the most treasured memories of their time at the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (Harvard Griffin GSAS), they often gush about twirling at the Winter Ball in the Lehman Hall space where they dined as nervous G1s or fresh-faced master’s students. Some talk excitedly about busting into the Lindy Hop at the Spring Swing or the rare chance to get out of the lab and onto the dance floor under Lehman’s chandeliers.
These signature events, which allow students to dress up in evening gowns and dinner jackets, are the work of the social fellows of the Student Center at Harvard Griffin GSAS. And although they certainly know how to throw a good party, the fellows say their real job is bringing together students dispersed across the School’s nearly sixty different graduate programs.
“We have to be proactive about fostering community,” says first-year social fellow Maya Jackson, a PhD student in biological and biomedical sciences. “Our events are a great opportunity to unwind and connect with students from other fields with whom you otherwise might not have crossed paths.”
A Marathon, Not a Sprint
Among the most collaborative of their Student Center colleagues, the social fellows host events —including music, culture, athletics, and food—with Harvard offices like the Academic Resource Center and with student groups. Jackson says she aims to create community for students at all points of their graduate school journey. “We want to be inclusive and make everyone feel welcome—from new incoming students to those who have already been a part of our community for years,” she adds.
Applying her experience as a former social coordinator for the Graduate Residence Halls Council at Harvard Griffin GSAS, Jackson recently partnered with the Harvard Griffin GSAS Photo Society and Harvard Griffin GSAS Student-Parents Group to host the annual fall family photo shoot. She plans to run several more events for students with children in the months ahead and hopes to create more programming for those from diverse life circumstances.
Social Fellow Walter Shen, a PhD student in earth and planetary sciences who recently hosted a neurodiversity roundtable in association with the Academic Resource Center, says he wants to help students “break out of their shells” and feel at home at Harvard. “It’s just so easy to become consumed by research and never do anything outside of the lab,” he says. “Creating spaces free of judgment allows students to build connections outside of their academic work, which is an invaluable part of our overall health and well-being.”
Social Fellow Calvin Hu, a PhD chemistry candidate, decided to become a fellow after attending a calligraphy event for the Lunar New Year. He likes to bring people together over good food and says the best way to make it through graduate school is in good company. Hu says that the events organized by the social fellows help students keep their Harvard Griffin GSAS experience in perspective. “Graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “Our lives are just getting started.”
Our events are a great opportunity to unwind and connect with students from other fields with whom you otherwise might not have crossed paths.
—Social Fellow Maya Jackson
Third-year Social Fellow Kiwi Florido has a passion for events that celebrate and support the multicultural student population, especially those that nurture the minority Filipino-American community at the University. A PhD candidate in biological sciences in public health, Florido helps lead small and large social events at Harvard’s Cambridge, Longwood, and Allston campuses and is particularly excited to help new students form networks within the University community. Her focus this year is not only on marquee events like the Winter Ball and Spring Swing but also on low-key, cozy opportunities for her fellow introverts, such as the upcoming game night, jazz café in collaboration with the jazz fellows at the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub, and paint night, in which students are invited to express their emotions on canvas at the Café Gato Rojo.
“When the social fellows and I organize big events,” Florido says, “we think about every single detail, from the number of tickets to be sold to the fancy decorations on the walls of Lehman Hall to dietary restrictions for catering, including making sure we have enough water so our attendees leave hydrated and healthy from our large events.”
For small events, Florido thinks about the diverse population at Harvard Griffin GSAS. “I love to share with the greater community activities such as game night that are more appropriate for smaller settings. I also make sure that through our feedback forms on Engage, I listen to our students and try to find ways where I can execute events based on their suggestions.”
Florido enjoys helping her fellow students find like-minded friends across departments and see Harvard as a place where they can both have fun and study. She’s proud of the progress made in strengthening and diversifying the Harvard Griffin GSAS community in recent years and wants to share it with the School’s graduates as well.
“I invite Harvard Griffin GSAS alumni to come and experience what we offer students today,” she says. “I think they’d appreciate the way the Student Center has grown and evolved over the past few decades as well as the wide array of inclusive events we now offer to the greater community.”
The Student Center social fellows say they can help students—whether they come from a few hundred or a few thousand miles away—find fun and connection during their time at Harvard. They encourage their cohorts to keep their eyes on Engage, the weekly SCOOP newsletter, and the Center’s social media accounts for details on the 2023 Winter Ball and the 2024 Spring Swing, and to stay up to date on upcoming events by joining the social fellows’ Engage organization. (Hit the blue “join” button to receive messages about programming.)
Interested in becoming a fellow? Look out for the Engage article announcing applications in early 2024. Questions? Email email@example.com.