Since 1999, MIT’s Presidential Fellowship has been one of the most prestigious awards incoming graduate students can receive. The pool of fellowships consist of more than thirty named awards supported by generous philanthropic donations. As a group, they constitute an exclusive opportunity that is celebrated every fall with a semi-formal reception. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Graduate Education reformatted the traditional structure and setting of the reception into a virtual event, and it was sincerely enjoyed by participants despite the unique constraints.
Director of Graduate Fellowships Scott Tirrell provided the opening remarks, introducing Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz and Senior Associate Dean Blanche Staton, all of whom provided insight into how to best utilize MIT’s resources and get the best out of the graduate school experience. Students and administrators were then separated into meet-and-greet style breakout rooms, where broad-ranging topics included research, work experience, and favorite movies. More than 70% of the 90 attendees stayed for most or all of the event.
Exit survey respondents praised the breakout rooms as the star of the show, and 75% said they were interested in attending a similar event in the future. With the uncertainty around the shape of future fellowship receptions, this is very reassuring news. The information gathered will help the Office of Graduate Education improve and build upon previous programming to create events that not only meet expectations, but surpass them, even in a virtual environment.