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Graduate students bring research to Alumni Weekend

A dancing cockroach. The price of juice. Quantum dots. Fairness and bias.

All of these and more will take stage on the University Center Lawn during Lehigh’s Alumni Weekend. On Saturday, May 21, graduate students from each of Lehigh’s four colleges will participate in the Graduate Research and Development (GRaD) Experience, showcasing graduate research at the university through hands-on activities for visitors of all ages.

“[The GRaD Experience] demonstrates that graduate students desire to be fully integrated into the traditions and fabric of Lehigh and are proud and happy to participate in the closing Sesquicentennial events,” says Kathleen Hutnik, associate dean for graduate student life. “It provides a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to showcase their fascinating research to alumni.”

The GRaD Experience borrows from the successful concept of the Department of Biological Sciences’ annual BioFair, at which graduate students use engaging activities to share high-level research concepts with students at Broughal Middle School. Organized and run entirely by graduate students, the GRaD Experience will operate in the same way, but with a wider variety of research topics.

In addition to promoting graduate research and helping to teach children and their parents something new, the GRaD Experience serves as good practice for graduate students, who are required to condense their research into a clear, one- to two-minute explanation. This presents graduate students with “the challenge of communicating very complex work to a lay audience, a critically important skill on the job market [and] in writing grant proposals,” says Hutnik.

"We expect our graduate students, especially at the doctoral level, to take on questions to which literally no one knows the answer, or even whether an answer is obtainable,” says Alan Snyder, vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies. “Graduate students construct and work in worlds that seem—indeed are—esoteric. That doesn't mean their worlds are inaccessible. We celebrate our graduate students' abilities to explain their work, to make their worlds accessible to visitors, and to connect what they do to things that people care about or in which people naturally find cause for wonder.”

An interactive activity, a small giveaway and time for questions will follow the explanation at each of eight individual stations, which feature graduate research in disciplines such as engineering, math, English and biology. Participants will receive a passport to be stamped at each of the eight stations, and those who collect all eight stamps will receive a t-shirt.

“Our students devised the GRaD Experience as a chance for others to visit their worlds for a short time,” says Snyder. “The Experience will give visitors a sense of the kinds of work graduate students do and of their roles, along with faculty, all students and staff, in keeping Lehigh intellectually vibrant.”

“It’s going to be really eclectic,” says Joe Brague, a graduate student in neuroscience and co-organizer of the GRaD Experience. “I love the diversity of this event. It really is going to showcase Lehigh in a good light, and I’m very excited about it.”

The Lehigh GRaD Experience runs on Saturday, May 21, from 12:15 to 2 p.m. on the University Center Lawn.

Photo by Christa Neu

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Graduate student assists middle schoolers at Lehigh University's annual BioFair.

The GRaD Experience follows the format of the Department of Biological Sciences’ annual BioFair at Broughal Middle School, pictured here. 

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