Originally from South Korea, GSAS student Jesse Han fell in love with jazz and dance when he went to college at the University of Virginia. Before long, he started to take part in Lindy Hop competitions up and down the East Coast. A PhD student in astrophysics who studies “galactic fossils” to reconstruct the history of the Milky Way, Han has brought his passion for music and dance to the position of arts fellow at the GSAS Student Center. He spoke recently with GSAS Communications about his work as a student leader, the community of fellows of which he is a part, and why you should always have a “scene leader” at a big dance.
GSAS Communications: Harvard PhD programs put substantial demands on the time and energy of students. Why did you decide to take on the responsibilities of a GSAS Student Center fellow?
Jesse Han: I was already organizing dances to bring people together and have a place to dance myself. As a fellow, I can do that for a more targeted community, with more outlets and more resources to make it happen. So, it made a lot of sense for me because it wasn’t extra time that I had to add on to my schedule. The $6,000 stipend for the academic year just made it more attractive.
GSAS Communications: Were the application and orientation processes cumbersome?
Jesse Han: Not at all. I think it might have been in January that I applied. It didn't take too long to hear back from the GSAS Student Center. Then we had a week-long training session in early August where we learned what resources were available to us and what our objectives were as a collective. There were plenary sessions with speakers from various leadership positions at Harvard talking about their roles and how they could be a resource to student fellows. The rest of the day was spent with other fellows brainstorming about programs and talking about how to incorporate diversity, inclusion, and equity into everything we do.
[Being a GSAS Student Center fellow] made a lot of sense for me because it wasn’t extra time that I had to add on to my schedule. The $6,000 stipend for the academic year just made it more attractive.
GSAS Communications: What did you want to accomplish when you started in your new role last September?
Jesse Han: I wanted to integrate dance back into campus life and integrate the Harvard community a little more into the local dance and music scenes. With that in mind, I did some networking around town over the summer to see what was going on, which musicians were good, and so on. When fall came around, I was ready to get people dancing.
GSAS Communication: What kind of programming have you created?
Jesse Han: We started with the Fireside Dance Lesson Series. Every Wednesday, we teach swing dancing in the Fireside Room at Lehman Hall. I intentionally limited the number to a smaller group of people—15 to 20 versus 50 or 60—because people are still nervous about COVID. It went really well. Everyone’s eager to come back and do in-person things again.
The lessons built to a magical event that I and the GSAS Student Center wellness fellows put on in late October. We held the Stringlight Social Swing Dance in Science Center Plaza. It was a beautiful, warm evening. We had a big tent with an amazing live band. The event brought together GSAS students, undergraduates, and even faculty. I also brought in some experienced local dancers to help shape the scene because it's hard to have a successful dance with all beginners. It was delightful. We’re actually talking about doing something like it every month.
GSAS Communications: Did you have a lot of experience organizing big events like this before you became the arts fellow?
Jesse Han: I had emceed for big dance events but for the Stringlight Social I got a lot of support from Harvard Common Spaces. I learned how to contact and work with them during the student fellows training in the summer. And of course, the initial budget came from the GSAS Student Center.
I will say that it’s important to have a “scene leader” at an event like this: someone who makes sure everyone is safe and happy and that nothing’s wrong; someone who knows enough about the dance to make it enjoyable for everyone; someone who’s conscious of the critical ratio between beginners and experienced dancers; someone who can generally hype things up. I was both the organizer and scene leader for the Stringlight dance but it’s good to keep those two roles separate.
GSAS Communications: What kind of help do you get from other GSAS Student Center fellows? How did they work with you on the dance, for instance?
Jesse Han: This event definitely would have been a lot harder without the help of Shivam Raval, a wellness fellow, and Sanket Jayant Purandare, an outings fellow. I knew I wanted to hold the dance, but I was a little worried about the amount of work. And the other fellows and I were just sitting outside of Lehman Hall one evening chatting about events. And they said, “Oh my gosh, we should do this!” and I was like “Oh my gosh, you're right!” It’s those sorts of collaborations that make things happen.
GSAS Communications: Has being a Center fellow helped you to reconnect with others amid the ongoing pandemic?
Jesse Han: Oh, absolutely yes. My office is away from the Yard at the Harvard Observatory, so having to go to Lehman Hall for the fellows meetings and was a very good motivator to connect with people. And I'm constantly thinking about how we bring GSAS students together, how we integrate with the rest of the Harvard community, the greater Boston community, and so on. Being a Center fellow has enabled me to resume the connections that were lost the last year and a half.
Being a Center fellow has enabled me to resume the connections that were lost the last year and a half.
GSAS Communications: It sounds like a pretty supportive community.
Jesse Han: It is. We meet every other week on Tuesday mornings at Lehman Hall. Breakfast and coffee are served. There's a program but there's also sort of mingling. I like those meetings because you get to check in with other fellows and what they're up to and let that inspire your own programming. I think we all love building community but we also want to be part of a community. Being a fellow allows you to do both.
Interested in being a GSAS Student Center Fellow? Learn more about the job on Engage. Prospective student fellows must apply by January 31. And be sure to check out all upcoming events for GSAS students!