Visiting students explore graduate study at UW–Madison

Undergraduate students from small liberal arts colleges visited UW–Madison in September to learn about graduate school and the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Groups of people sit and converse at round tables in a brightly lit marble hallway. Round lamps hang from an ornate ceiling. The hall is framed with tall columns.
UW–Madison graduate students and visiting undergraduates from midwestern liberal arts colleges met in the Wisconsin Historical Society building the afternoon of Friday, September 22. Visiting students had the chance to ask current graduate students about their experiences in graduate school. (Photo by Ben Jones)

The visit was part of the Graduate School Exploration (GRADx) program, a collaborative venture between the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA), the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM), and host institutions from the Big Ten. GRADx is designed for underrepresented students and students with nontraditional paths to college who are interested in pursuing graduate degrees in the arts, humanities, and humanistic social sciences.

The Graduate School Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Funding organized the visit September 21 through 23, working with colleagues in the BTAA and ACM to provide students with an insightful look into opportunities to pursue graduate scholarship and research.

“Our goal in hosting this visit is that students will love our campus and find networks and places of comfort where they know they belong,” said Douachong Lee, multicultural initiatives manager in the Graduate School. “Eventually, we hope they’ll apply to UW–Madison when they’re considering graduate school. Whether or not they end up here, we want them to leave GRADx knowing more about applying for and attending graduate school than they did before.”

From a tour of Camp Randall to dinner on State Street with a panel of faculty and directors at UW–Madison, the schedule for visiting students was packed with opportunities to explore campus and connect with the faculty and staff that make it a vibrant place.

The program kicked off with a welcome speech by DeVon Wilson, associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the College of Letters & Science, who attended Beloit College – an ACM school – as an undergraduate.

“You can’t hide at an ACM school,” Wilson said. “I tried – you can’t hide. You have to engage.”

Wilson added that this level of engagement mirrors what students will experience in graduate school. He encouraged students to be their authentic selves and to be brave as they venture into the exploration of graduate studies.

A group of people seated at a long table covered with a red tablecloth listen to one person who is speaking. The person smiles while talking.
Steve Quintana, a UW–Madison professor in Counseling Psychology, speaks with visiting GRADx students during a networking lunch hosted at the Multicultural Student Center on September 22. (Photo By Ben Jones)

Through GRADx, the visiting students had the chance to experience a larger research university’s campus and get a sense of how it differs from smaller liberal arts colleges. During a session about graduate school basics on Friday morning, Graduate School Associate Dean Florence Hsia told the students that although UW–Madison is a big campus, it also offers the best of both worlds.

“We have many graduate programs, but within each of those graduate program is a rich community in which, hopefully, you can find a home,” Hsia said. “And at the same time, as a big research university we can offer lots of cross-campus, cross-unit, cross-graduate program resources to support you.”

Graduate School Dean William J. Karpus also spoke to the students. He said that he had great faculty mentors as a graduate student, and that the visiting students would discover the same is true at UW–Madison.

“Those faculty mentors can make the difference for you and help accelerate your career,” Karpus said. “I’m still in touch with my PhD advisor today.”

A person speaks enthusiastically to a small audience. In the foreground of the photo are a few people sitting and listening to the speaker.
Leslie Bow, a professor of English and Asian American Studies at UW–Madison, speaks with visiting students during a networking lunch on September 22. (Photo By Ben Jones)

Throughout the day Friday, the students also had opportunities to network with graduate faculty in the arts, humanities, and social sciences and to tour more spaces on campus including the Multicultural Student Center. Students visited the Special Collections at Memorial Library and then walked across Library Mall to the Wisconsin Historical Society to attend a panel on campus life in the afternoon, where they heard about the many resources that graduate students have access to on campus.

After the panel, they met with current graduate students who volunteered their time to talk with visiting students about graduate school and their experiences at UW–Madison.

“We really encouraged our GRADx students to ask graduate students questions like, why did they decide to go to graduate school?” said Lee. “Once students know their reason for pursuing a graduate degree and what they want to research, we hope they’ll lean on their experience at GRADx to reach out to faculty here and find a program that fits their needs and goals.”

A person wearing a suit jacket over a brightly colored short smiles while speaking a others seated around a table.
Graduate student Tolulope Akinwole shares his academic experiences with visiting undergraduate students in the Graduate School Exploration (GRADx) program during a meet and greet at the Wisconsin Historical Society building on September 22. (Photo By Ben Jones)

Students ended their evening with a dinner hosted at Porta Bella Italian Restaurant, with remarks by Graduate School Associate Dean Marcy Carlson and three faculty keynote speakers – Associate Professor of English Laila Amine, Assistant Professor of History Jorell Meléndez-Badillo, and Professor of Dance and Director of the Division of the Arts Christopher Walker – who shared stories about their graduate school experience.

In spring, the students will also visit the University of Minnesota as the second part of their GRADx program. GRADx is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


The Graduate School would like to thank its partners and volunteers who contributed to the success of the GRADx visit.

  • UW–Madison organizers: Douachong Lee, Abbey Thompson, Marcy Carlson, and Florence Hsia.
  • UW–Madison faculty and staff: DeVon Wilson, William J. Karpus, Irina Diaz, Kevin Wong, Robin E. Rider, Tricia Dusick, Hope Dymond, Moldir Oskenbay, Jay Stokes, Noreen Siddiqui, Laila Amine, Jorell Meléndez-Badillo, Christopher Walker, Brian A. Burt, Erika Marin-Spiotta, Grant Nelsestuen, Nils Ringe, Tamkinat Rauf, Leslie Bow, and Steve Quintana.
  • UW–Madison graduate students: Ayodeji Adegbite, Tolulope Akinwole, Randolph Carr, Casey Fletcher, Mariah Moneda, Lizzie Neary, Mohan Richter-Addo, Alexis Stewart, Charlotte Whatley, and Andromeda Swissdorf.
  • Members of the 2023-24 GRADx steering committee: Charity Farber (BTAA), Brian Williams (ACM), Allen Linton (ACM), Marynel Ryan Van Zee (Carleton College), Katie Rodgers (Coe College), Danielle LeFaivre (BTAA), Tamara McNish (University of Minnesota), Abbey Thompson (UW–Madison), Vivian Ta (University of Iowa), Jennifer Teitle (University of Iowa), Laura Farmer (Cornell College), and Douachong Lee (UW–Madison).