GRADCafe: an experiment with positive results.

GRADCafe is a meeting. An experiment. A movement.

It is a synthesis of the World Cafe technique for hosting large discussions, and a social event (with food!) for graduate students at Ryerson. The idea for GRADCafe came about in Graduate Studies out of a desire to engage our graduate students in a less formal setting that a committee.

It works like this. We invite a small (20-30) group of students identified by programs as leaders. The event is 2 hours long, as we have a terrific facilitator from HR, Miriam Comerford, to lead the discussion. The Dean and I attend, but we usually hang back to let the conversation evolve naturally.  I present a theme, which could be a short sentence or a question.  Miriam then begins the dialogue, and the group sometimes breaks into smaller groups. Sometimes we have a discussion with everyone, sitting in a circle.  We then bring in food at the end, and the conversations continue into the dinner and often beyond.

Everyone’s voice is heard; no ideas are critiqued or suppressed. Sub-themes organically emerge, and the dialogue often naturally converges on several items, ranging from graduate student space on campus, funding, or student engagement.

GRADCafe is one of the student-centred initiatives I am proudest of in my time as Associate Dean. It has given a stronger voice for graduate students on campus. It has helped influence decision making and strategic planning in Graduate Studies. Also, it has created a wonderful network of graduate students, pan Faculty and program. Professional Communication students are talking with students in Civil Engineering; Psychology students are chatting with students in Mathematics and Documentary media.

GRADCafe is part of our larger effort to connect and engage our graduate students. It is an experiment in process, and by all measures, a resoundingly successful one.

– Anthony Bonato

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