Community associates foster community amongst graduate students

Feb. 21, 2017, 12:25 a.m.

Graduate community associates (CAs) tackle the unique challenges of building community among graduate students living on campus. Much like resident assistants (RAs) for undergraduate students, CAs live in community halls and are resources to fellow students. They, however, work with a more decentralized and self-sufficient residential community.

“Sometimes reaching out to the community is challenging because some students don’t come to the events,” explained current CA Gabriela Badica, a third-year Ph.D. student in Iberian and Latin American cultures.

Graduate students come from a wide array of backgrounds, and not everyone has the time to connect or even network. Some students are single, some are married and some have children or plan to have children during their time at Stanford. Connecting the diverse population can be difficult, but many CAs find the process worthwhile nonetheless.

“Being a CA is rewarding because you get to see people connect and get to know each other,” said Vinaya Polamreddi, a second-year master’s student in computer science. “You meet new people and make new friends, and it’s great.”

There are currently 150 CAs serving the graduate community. While they too come from different walks of life, they share one common trait.

“CAs are interested in giving back to the community,” explained assistant dean of graduate students, Angela Esquivel. “They [are] empathic and care about other graduate students.”

Like many undergraduate RAs, Badica was inspired to become a CA due to her experience during her first year at Stanford. She said that her CAs helped her with the difficult transition by being warm and welcoming in her early days.

“If I can help new students like my CAs did with me, it would be an effective use of my free time at Stanford,” Badica said.

In addition to meeting new people and helping residents form bonds, CAs are required to organize community-wide events every quarter.

“Planning events can be frustrating,” Polamreddi said. “It can be very hard to create an atmosphere for mingling.”

For current CA Alissa Cooperman, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in civil engineering, creating events that appeal to the diverse graduate community is easier said than done — but, when it works, it pays off.

“This past summer, I went hiking with the graduate community,” said Cooperman. She and 12 other graduate students went hiking in Edgewood and later participated in a lunch with nearly 40 other graduate students.

“It was like a double event so if someone didn’t want to do the hike, they could come to lunch. It worked and everyone was happy, and it was just magical,” Cooperman said.

Not all CA-led events require extensive planning. Polmareddi reflected that even small gestures can help to bring people together.

“We put up signs in the elevator where people could write their New Year’s Resolution,” Polamreddi recalled. “People showed vulnerability and humor, and [that] builds a sense of community.”

Badica urged students to apply to be CAs if they enjoy the task of introducing fellow graduate students to the Stanford community.

“You get to meet different people and help residents — especially new ones — figure out life at Stanford,” Badica said.

The online application for CA will remain open until Feb. 23.


Contact Aparna Verma at averma2 ‘at’

A wild soul with a love for prose, adventure and the sea. Doesn't quite know how to swim, but we'll get there someday.

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