The Charger Blog

'Gather & Grow' Program Offers Inclusive Opportunities for Chargers to Learn and Connect

Developed by a graduate student from India, a new biweekly program unites students for pertinent discussions that create a sense of community and opportunities for Chargers to build important skills together.

April 26, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Anita Sebabi leads a discussion
Anita Sebabi leads a discussion with students as part of a recent Gather & Grow session.

As an international student from India, Ruth Kameswara Rao '23 MPH has been committed to ensuring a supportive community for her fellow Chargers. In particular, she wanted to help foster a sense of belonging while helping her classmates – in particular, her fellow international students – understand and appreciate the importance of skill development.

That commitment inspired Rao to become a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) student ambassador. As part of her role, she has been collaborating with the University's Career Development Center to offer a new program called Gather & Grow. Offered every other Friday, the program is a way for students to build their skills and learn from each other.

"Students from countries such as India, Nigeria, and Nepal often give a lot of importance to grades and not skills," explained Rao. "I wanted us to be able to discuss the importance of skills, especially when interviewing, and help everyone to learn what employers are looking for."

'It takes effort and intentionality'

Rao recently took part in an engaging and open discussion about global and cultural awareness as part of a Gather & Grow session. It brought together domestic and international students from around the world for a dialogue that fostered a sense of connection among Chargers.

As part of the conversation, undergraduate and graduate students shared their own experiences and how they've practiced becoming more globally and culturally aware. Kiana White '23 discussed how what she has learned in her business management classes has benefited her. She told her fellow Chargers about a particularly meaningful class discussion about not only being mindful of the golden rule – treating others as you want to be treated – but of the platinum rule – treating others as they want to be treated. She's been able to apply what she's learned as a Resident Assistant in Bethel Hall.

"We're taught to be aware and competent, and to understand the needs of the residents," she said. "Often, we come in with unconscious biases, and it's important to move past them. It takes effort and intentionality to do so."

'It's important to me'

As part of the discussion, students also shared what surprised and challenged them as they developed their cultural awareness. For many whose cultures are more formal, it was difficult to get used to calling people by their first names, instead of using a title.

The discussion, led by Anita Sebabi, employer relations manager, diversity recruiting for the Career Development Center, emphasized the importance of global and cultural awareness in the workplace as well. Sebabi not only wanted students to find common ground through the discussion, she also wanted them to recognize how much their skills will benefit future employers. Her goal is to make sure students of all cultures and backgrounds feel valued as they begin their careers.

"We want students to feel included, seen, and represented in the workplace," she said. "That also impacts a person's job performance. I have this conversation with employers. The University has a rich culture with students from around the world, and we want to ask what companies will offer to them. It's important to me."

Ruth Kameswara Rao '23 MPH fellow Chargers discuss
Ruth Kameswara Rao '23 MPH (front, center) and her fellow Chargers discuss global and cultural awareness.
Community and connections

After showing a video about global competency in action, Sebabi led a discussion about incorporating knowledge and skills to help students navigate challenges, step out of their comfort zone, and learn how to market themselves. She urged them to highlight their skills to potential employers, helping them to recognize some of the desirable skills that international students, in particular, have likely developed.

"If you speak multiple languages, that's valuable," she said. "If you study in another country, that shows flexibility and resilience. Those are important skills. You always bring something to the table. Always. Don't be afraid to use them."

This semester, the Gather & Grow series has also included discussions about teamwork, leadership, and communication. It will continue during the Fall 2023 semester as well, and it has recently secured grant funding through the University's Women's Leadership Fund.

The discussions aim to offer an inclusive and supportive learning experience to help Chargers build their skills and grow personally and professionally. Rao, the JEDI student ambassador, hopes it will continue to offer a supportive educational environment for all students, enabling them to engage in important conversations with staff and with each other.

"The point of Gather & Grow is to foster community and make connections," she said. "It lets everyone share their thoughts and their views."