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2020 Fall/Winter Highlights of Hope

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RESEARCH Graduate School

RESEARCH Graduate School doubles down on student support and global impact amid pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic posed a novel challenge to Van Andel Institute Graduate School this year: How could VAI continue to provide students with rigorous, problem-based coursework and extensive laboratory experience, while largely working from home? Connecting and communicating The Institute’s faculty don’t simply lecture at their classes and leave the rest up to the students; rather, they strive to engage with students directly. To combat the challenges created by engaging via virtual platforms, Graduate School faculty and staff connected with students in several virtual town halls, providing space to discuss concerns, challenges and resources to help the students transition to remote learning. “Our students are adapting to at-home work environments that aren’t necessarily conducive to rigorous learning,” said Dr. John Vasquez, director of assessment and professional development. “There are many more distractions at home, and each student faces their own unique set of disruptions. The same is true for our faculty, and many have had to adapt to these less than ideal conditions.” The support of peers and colleagues helped Graduate School students and faculty alike rise to the challenge and adapt to everchanging circumstances. Surveys were sent periodically to check in on students, identify new stressors and pinpoint where faculty and staff could help. “I’ve realized how much my graduate school experience is enriched by my peers. This support would take the form of unplanned discussions over lunch and in the elevator, for example,” said Nadia Dehghani, a second-year graduate student in Dr. Rita Guerreiro’s lab. “VAI has worked hard to find simple yet creative ways to maintain this important component of student life for those of us that are here now and the cohorts that will join in the future.” DR. JOHN VASQUEZ “A number of students were asked by Spectrum Health if any would be interested in working on a COVID-19 literature review. A lot of the students are still engaged in this process — reading material and providing feedback on which scientific articles may benefit the physicians treating patients.” — Dr. John Vasquez 6 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

Continuing to provide support The Graduate School hosted its annual Stress Management Week in a completely virtual format, thanks to the hard work of Allison Roman, director of student support services; resources covered topics such as self-care routines, meditation, journaling and processing grief. Graduate School Dean Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg reserved open office time on Zoom each week for students to drop in with individual or general questions. Relevant questions (and responses) were also shared online so other students could benefit from the information. The support continued outside the classroom and Institute. “A number of students were asked by Spectrum Health if any would be interested in working on a COVID-19 literature review,” Vasquez said. “A lot of the students are still engaged in this process — reading material and providing feedback on which scientific articles may benefit the physicians treating patients. There’s emotional and mental wear in this, but our students are resilient, innovative and making great use of the scientist-leader skills we’ve helped them develop to contribute to the greater community.” Reimagining normal Earlier in the year, the Graduate School expected eight students would complete degrees in 2020; it is now likely, though, that four will postpone degree completion until at least 2021. Seven new students joined the Graduate School in August, and it’s uncertain at this point what challenges future cohorts will face. One thing, though, is clear: “Even with all of the unknowns, our students continue to rise to the challenge,” said Christy Mayo, director of enrollment and records. “I get to see every single week how they continue to support one another and to adapt. I’m proud of their dedication to not only their work and their education, but to each other.” LOOKING AHEAD The Graduate School will soon make the move to a nearby building on VAI’s campus to accommodate larger incoming cohorts. “We’re expecting Graduate School cohorts will double in size in the coming years, so it was time to dedicate more space for our students,” said Graduate School Dean Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg. The new building will include dedicated classroom and study spaces, social areas, faculty and staff offices, and more. DR. STEVEN J. TRIEZENBERG VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 7

Publications by Year

Event Programs and Materials

2020 Graduate School Commencement Program
2020 Convocation: New Graduate Student Bios