by Brittany Zorn, IRT ‘13
IRT Arts and Sciences Programs Specialist
Once again, I had the honor of attending the Annual IRT Alumni Holiday Dinner hosted by the Office of Graduate Diversity & Inclusion (OGDI) at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) on December 3, 2019. This was the third annual dinner organized by OGDI and my second time in attendance, and each year the event has gotten bigger and better! I was proud to observe that IRT alumni from all stages of their graduate school journeys attended: Xahn Tran, IRT ‘17, Arman Liwanag, IRT ‘17, and Dominique Young, IRT ‘15, all current UMD graduate students, made an appearance. Current IRT student and UMD applicant Frangy Pozo, IRT ’19 brought her parents with her to the dinner, which made for a delightful contribution to the feeling that we were all dining with family. However, the greatest treat, for me personally, was getting the chance to reconnect with three of my own IRT cohort mates, Sharon Edwards, IRT ‘13, Amber Montgomery, IRT ‘13, and Kathy Vu IRT ‘13, who have all earned their Master’s degrees and entered the workforce. Surrounded by IRT alum who are all at different phases in their professional/graduate school journeys, reconnecting with former advisees and fellow Summer Interns from my IRT class, and meeting IRT friends, family, and peers was genuine soul food.
It is important that I acknowledge the person who has made this event possible. I first met Christopher- the Director of OGDI and the mastermind behind these annual dinners- at IRT’s 2018 Recruiters Fair. We bonded instantly over our mutual enthusiasm for IRT community spaces. Later on, when I asked Christopher how this holiday dinner tradition was established he responded, “The December IRT Alumni Holiday Dinner, along with the May IRT Celebration of Graduates, were coordinated to enrich the community aspects of our IRT graduate students” and to allow “everyone [the opportunity] to network and also just reflect, rest, and reconnect”. Indeed, this year’s dinner was true to that purpose; nearly a dozen IRT alum were in attendance, plus a good showing of UMD community members, and everyone was enthusiastic to talk, connect, and enjoy a nice meal. Personal connections were forged, strengthened, and rekindled at this dinner, and it only solidified for me the importance of preserving IRT community events like these.
As an IRT alumna and now as the Arts & Sciences Programs Specialist, I find this kind of investment in creating and sustaining IRT community spaces and events to be exceptional when considered against the larger landscape of graduate education across the country. I believe this sort of investment is what makes our consortium institutions true partners to IRT’s mission and core values. While at the Dinner this year, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with UMD’s Associate Provost and Dean Dr. Steve Fetter. In conversation about the impact of hosting events such as these, Dean Fetter mentioned the University’s interest in increasing the number of faculty of color they employ. In that moment I was able to articulate how events such as these – events that are created solely for students of color and community members invested in issues of equity, access, and diversity in education – are one way to foster an environment that is more likely to retain diverse faculty. I thanked Dean Fetter for his role in curating these events; when upper level administrators show that they care about their diverse students by allocating time, personnel, and money to hosting annual events such as these, you not only retain your diverse graduate students through a robust sense of connectedness and institutional support, you attract more diverse faculty and staff who seek to contribute to, and be a part of that sort of academic community.
With three successful years of IRT Alumni Holiday Dinners behind us, I cannot wait to see how this event continues to grow. Thanks to Christopher Perez, Dean Fetter, and others at the Graduate School, University of Maryland, College Park demonstrates a rigorous commitment to recruiting AND retaining IRT scholars. I hope to see more leadership from consortium institutions as we have seen from UMD and welcome the establishment of new IRT community traditions across the network!