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Supporting the Graduate Student Community

Lyndsey Summers, Student Life Communications

The graduate student experience is a lot of things, but it’s not uniform. Students of all ages and backgrounds attend UT for higher education opportunities, and various factors can cause some graduate students to miss out on the college social experience. The Center for Student Engagement (CSE) teamed up with the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) to put an emphasis on graduate student programming and help students experience UT as a community—not just a campus.

Graduate students walk across campus

There were 2,240 graduate or professional students enrolled at UT during the 2022–23 school year. Graduate students range across all ages. While students aged 22–30 made up the highest percentage of graduate students in 2022–2023, there were 503 (22.5%) graduate students at least 31 years old.

For 2022–2023, there were 2,240 graduate or professional students enrolled at UT, and while students aged 22–30 made up the highest percentage, there were 503 (22.5%) graduate students at least 31 years old or older.

Because graduate students are experiencing different ages and phases of life, the graduate school experience can be isolating. Graduate students experience vastly different lives outside of the classroom. Some have full-time jobs. Some have children. Some are from the Knoxville area. Some are international students who are learning a new culture.

With these factors in mind, CSE and GSS collaborated to develop events and programs inclusive to all graduate students. Housed in the Student Union, both offices offer support to graduate students. And, based on student feedback, the CSE team is devoted to improving the college experience for all students.

One goal is to have graduate students see and experience Knoxville. “We determined a schedule to try and get graduate students not only acclimated to campus but outside of campus and into the Knoxville community,” said Brad Ward, assistant director at CSE. “Oftentimes, students could be coming from anywhere, so they’re not necessarily native to Knoxville. Some graduate students are only here for two years. While they are here, we want to show them what Knoxville is all about—and UT in general.”

International students sit in a classroom

In the past, events included movie nights, trivia nights, attending Tennessee Smokies baseball games, ghost tours in the Old City, and opportunities to interact with peers outside of the classroom.

“We’re putting an emphasis on graduate student programming and making sure that we’re hitting all their needs while expanding the growth of the programming,” said Ward. By expanding the program, Ward hopes to have larger event opportunities across Knoxville.

CSE and GSS host ten or more events for graduate students per year. Events vary, with some taking place on UT’s campus and others in the Knoxville area.

“You never feel alone when you’re going out to these events,” said Ward. “They are not specific to any kind of population. It’s something students can bring their children to. It’s family-friendly, but it’s also something that adults will enjoy.”

Upcoming events are posted via VOLink or on the event calendar at The graduate school experience can be isolating without a circle of peers. Together, CSE and GSS offer graduate students new opportunities to branch out and find a sense of community at UT and throughout Knoxville.