GSA at 50 years 5 ways the GSA is bringing graduate students together

When Rice University's Graduate Student Association was formed in 1969, it had a singular focus: create a space for graduate students to hang out, relax and socialize after a long day of rigorous studies. Thus was borne Valhalla, a small bar (or "hobbit hole") tucked into the basement of Keck Hall that became a fixture of campus life. Over the years, the GSA evolved and expanded into what it is today — a robust support system that enriches graduate student life in a variety of ways. In honor of the GSA’s 50th anniversary celebration taking place during Homecoming & Reunion Nov. 1 & 2, 2019, we’re highlighting five (of many) fun ways the GSA brings the graduate student community together.

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1. Viva Valhalla

While Valhalla has changed little over the years, it is still, indisputably a centerpiece of graduate student life, whether students are enjoying the food and drink or holding fun events like Valhallaween and Carnavalhalla in the commons.

Top: Valhallaween, 2015. Bottom left: A view into Valhalla. (Photo by Tommy LaVergne) Bottom right: Carnavalhalla, 2018, a celebration of Brazilian culture held in the graduate student commons outside Valhalla. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)
“While on the surface it’s a cheap bar for grad students to let off steam, it’s so much more – it’s a community. Having a communal watering hole where grad students from across the university come together to rest, to laugh, to debate and, yes, to drink, allows for friendships to be built across schools, across disciplines and across cultures. Valhalla is an important part of what knits the GSA together across campus. Viva!” — Cat Majors ’19, GSA president for 2017-2018 and currently a postdoctoral scholar at Northwestern University

2. Celebrating international culture

GSA International Culture Night, 2016. (Photo credit: Hussain T. Hijazi - Pella Gallerie)

Wondering what it's like to hang out with brilliant scholars from all around the world? Look no further than Rice, where as of last year, 40 percent of Rice’s graduate students came from outside the United States and represented 73 different countries. For many, the diversity of the graduate student community is a defining characteristic of the university, and it's worth celebrating.

“Rice has always taken pride in its level of student diversity. When I was a student, Rice could boast of student presence from over 50 countries; this was unmatched at any U.S. school. This results in students developing broad outlooks with very fulfilling experiences."— Sumedh Warudkar ’13, an economist with Shell Oil Company who was GSA president in 2011-2012.
Top left: Members of the Black Graduate Student Association staff operate a booth at the 2019 GSA Culture Night. Other photos: GSA International Culture Night, 2016. (Photos by Hussain T. Hijazi - Pella Gallerie)

The GSA celebrates international diversity through a variety of events, from themed coffee breaks to thrilling performances held during Graduate International Culture Night. “It still warms my heart to think of this uniquely ‘Rice’ experience,” says Kristjan Stone MS '08, PhD '10, former GSA president and now a technologist with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and member of the ARA Board. He recalls seeding International Culture Night during the International Graduate Student Summit. “With all the collaboration, learning and celebration of different cultures — students were empowered and supported to affect positive change.”

“We have grads from all across the nation and the world, from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences. That diversity and the celebration of it is what I believe to be the reason why the Rice graduate community is so special.” — Hannah Pearce '22, GSA president and bioengineering Ph.D. student

3. A lil' friendly competition

From Beer Bike to Powder Puff to Ultimate Frisbee, graduate students showcase their competitive spirit in a variety of events throughout the year. (Image: Samantha Gean riding for GSA's Beer Bike team, 2015)
Top left: GSA Beer Bike, 2019. Top right: GSA "keg bike," 2003. Bottom: Beer Bike kickoff party, 2015.
Left: GSA Ultimate Frisbee, 2017. Right: GSA Powder Puff, 2018.

4. Getting career-ready

“The GSA collaborates with different offices at Rice and beyond Rice to create awareness of the resources available to the graduate student population. These efforts help them to enhance their soft skills, leadership skills and build a professionally rich resume so they can be more competitive in the job market. GSA also advocates for services pertaining to professional development that cater specifically to grad student needs.”

— Thasneem Frousnoon, GSA’s vice president for professional development and chemistry Ph.D. student

5. A drive to serve campus and community

Whether graduate students are volunteering their time to create a vibrant and inclusive campus community through GSA leadership positions, or they are engaging the broader Houston community through a variety outreach programs, one thing is clear: service is at the heart of the GSA.

The GSA organizes regular trips to the Houston Food Bank and partners with other campus organizations, including the Center for Civic Leadership and the Rice Coalition on Hunger and Homelessness.
“Whether it’s our inclusive traditions or our staunch advocacy for the wellbeing and success of all members of our community, it’s evident that we support each other at every opportunity. I appreciate more and more how open Rice graduate students are to working together both personally and professionally.” — Jason Guo ’20, graduate student in bioengineering and GSA president in academic year 2019.
The GSA 50th Anniversary Celebration takes place Nov. 1 & 2. For more information, visit gsa.rice.edu/alumni/50th. Follow the GSA on social media @RiceGSA.