Increasing graduate school success among undergraduate students

A new workshop led by Chemical Engineering graduate students aims to help undergrads navigate pursuing a graduate degree.

Written by José Carlos Díaz, Wen-Wei Wong, Ajay Chavda and Anish Avasthi.

A group of Michigan Chemical Engineering graduate students recently launched an initiative to support undergraduate students interested in pursuing an advanced degree. The Graduate School Application Workshop was designed to assist and prepare undergraduate students, predominantly juniors and seniors, in their journey toward applying for Master’s and PhD programs.

The workshop, developed by José Carlos Díaz, Wen-Wei Wong, Ajay Chavda and Anish Avasthi, aims to introduce students to the various application materials required for graduate school and facilitate thoughtful discussions to help attendees make informed decisions about their academic pursuits.

The first session welcomed four undergraduate Chemical Engineering students interested in learning more about the application process for graduate school. After the initial workshop, additional students requested materials and expressed interest in attending future sessions, emphasizing the need for the workshop, the first established in the Department of Chemical Engineering.

The success of the first workshop laid the foundation for the second, which seven total students attended, including two from other College of Engineering departments. The second workshop addressed the complexities of selecting the right graduate school by examining factors like rankings, stipends and benefits available to graduate students. Attendees also learned about effectively interacting with advisors and graduate students at their potential future institutions.

Ajay Chavda, Wen-Wei Wong and Anish Avasthi (left to right) during the first workshop.
Ajay Chavda, Wen-Wei Wong and Anish Avasthi (left to right) during the first workshop.

First-generation mentorship and inclusivity

The initiative’s driving force includes José Carlos Díaz, a fifth-year Chemical Engineering PhD student, and Wen-Wei Wong, a dedicated workshop leader and first-year Chemical Engineering PhD student, both of whom identify as first-generation graduate students. With a deep understanding of the challenges that come with limited guidance, Díaz and Wong are on a mission to empower aspiring scholars. Their personal journeys serve as a source of inspiration, demonstrating that with the right support, first-generation students can excel in academia.

“If I had this during my undergrad, it would have made my graduate application experience much less confusing,” Wong said. “Initiatives like this can have a big impact on undergraduate students, and we hope it makes their dreams more easily achievable.”  

Díaz and Wong ultimately hope the workshop will provide clarity and guidance where there was once uncertainty for undergraduate students.

A fulfilling exchange of experiences

During the workshops, Chavda, a first-year Chemical Engineering PhD student, emphasizes the importance of self-discovery and purpose when it comes to graduate school applications.

“Among the most crucial factors to consider is exploring what research questions you like and want to answer, as well as identifying the societal challenges that truly motivate you to pursue research,” Chavda said. “We want these workshops to go beyond the conventional application process, reminding students that the pursuit of higher education is not merely a step forward, but a transformative journey guided by personal passions.”

As the program continues, Díaz, Wong, Chavda and Avasthi, alongside other passionate volunteers, have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and shared learning. By fostering these connections, they are not only guiding the next generation of scholars but also enriching their own academic experiences.

“The collaborative spirit exemplifies the best aspects of mentorship and underscores the workshop’s potential to positively impact the department and the student community,” Avasthi said. “Having this guidance when I was applying would have made me much more confident in my applications.”

Wen-Wei Wong, Ajay Chavda and Anish Avasthi (left to right) discuss factors to consider when choosing a graduate school during a workshop.

Strengthening departmental core values

The Graduate School Application Workshop initiative aligns seamlessly with the core values of Michigan Engineering, where “people first engineering” is not just a phrase but a way of life. By prioritizing students’ needs and aspirations, the program reflects the college’s mission of preparing individuals to drive positive change and innovation in their respective fields.

As the third workshop approaches to provide guidance on fellowships and personalized application materials, it is evident that the Graduate School Application Workshop is not only transforming the graduate school application process but also nurturing a supportive and dynamic academic community.

Many volunteers have contributed to the success of the Graduate School Application workshop, including Dat Doi, Grace Li, and Yoke Qi Ho, Kelly Raickovich and Lisa Clark.

Undergraduate students interested in attending the next Graduate School Application Workshop can reach out to Wen-Wei Wong for additional information. The workshop is open to all College of Engineering undergraduate students interested in pursuing a graduate degree. Juniors and seniors are especially encouraged to attend.