All Cohort Meeting

Brittany Zorn, IRT’ 13
Arts & Sciences Specialist, IRT

Since the inception of IRT’s Associate Program, we have been dabbling in the realm of cultivating virtual community, but it is perhaps no surprise that living with this pandemic for the last two years has fast-tracked the development of our best practices for engaging with IRT Scholars remotely. Because we decided against hosting a physical Summer Workshop in 2020 and 2021, we were suddenly tasked with replicating the natural community and connection that Recruiter’s Weekend offered the cohort in a completely online setting. Since the start of widespread work-from-home policies, we have incorporated more regular virtual touch points for Scholars throughout their IRT participation, including the implementation of three All Cohort Meetings (ACM), almost monthly Social Hours, triple the number of alumni panels and workshops, and more frequent required meetings with IRT Advisors, all carried out via Zoom. We have already seen the positive impact ACMs and Social Hours have had on the 2021 Cohort; these meetings have provided a communal space for IRT scholars to talk through the challenges of applying to graduate school as people with multiple historically marginalized identities, to commiserate over the uncertainty that comes with pursuing a graduate degree during an unprecedented global health crisis, to share strategies for managing their time, their stress, and their health with each other, and to lend a supportive ear or a cathartic chuckle as a collective.

This photo is a snapshot from ACM2, which we held on January 12th, demonstrating a moment of collective joy being shared towards the end of the discussion about preparing for campus visit and interviews.

Year after year IRT staff hear from our students how isolating and demanding the graduate school application process is, even in the best of times. As an IRT alumna, I remember how alone I felt when applying to Master’s programs while living in a household where only half of us had high school diplomas and I was the only person with a Bachelor’s degree. I was embarking on a journey that no one in my immediate life could relate to, and it was challenging in a way I could not have imagined; I am certain that I would not have managed it as well without IRT’s support. As a staff person now, I am glad that I can contribute to the curation of spaces for current IRT Scholars to be in community and benefit from their colleagues’ experiences and perspectives. During the ACM on January 12th, folks with many years of experience working in education- some with Master’s degrees already- offered advice to their peers with less interview experience and everyone shared in the angst of waiting for admissions news. We acknowledged that, after many months of hard work, they had done all they could do and now things were out of their hands. Scholars reported feeling relieved to learn that others had not yet received any news while also congratulating and cheering on everyone who reported an acceptance or invitation to interview. It was restorative for everyone to come together again after a truly difficult fall semester, followed by completely unplugging for the winter holidays, and have a chance to collectively process the last few months and also help each other plan for the months ahead. It’s safe to say we will continue to curate virtual community spaces where IRT students can come together- the cost is none, the effort is minimal, and the benefit is huge and immediate. The circumstantial push to create more opportunities for cohort engagement is a small silver lining against the many challenges COVID-19 has brought to “business as usual” and I think has been able to grow and improve as a result. Here’s to the 2021 Cohort and all of the wonderful admissions news they have and will receive this application season! See you all on Zoom.

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