Graduate School Brunch Celebrates Student Support Networks

By Amy Widner

Each year, students finishing their Ph.D., M.S. and certificate programs through the UAMS Graduate School meet for a casual brunch. The food is plentiful, but the formal agenda is sparse — in contrast to the regimented affair that is commencement later in the day. Students and their families talk, laugh, reflect and look ahead.

Attendees even get a little silly with a photo booth that provides instant photos, complete with props and signs that say “it was worth the hassle” and “dream big.”

Chris Bolden at podium

Graduating Ph.D. student Chris Bolden tells the crowd he learned to think of graduate school as an adventure.

People have fun, and that’s exactly how Dean Robert E. McGehee Jr., Ph.D., intends it to be.

“I really appreciate you being here for one of my favorite events of the year,” McGehee said to the crowd of about 100 at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock. “This celebration is about family, because if it weren’t for family, these students wouldn’t be graduating. So on behalf of the Graduate School, I would really like to thank every single family member who supported our graduates during their journey.”

The 2019 Graduate School class earned 16 doctorates, nine Master of Science degrees, and eight graduate certificates. McGehee said that each student is not only leaving with a degree, they in turn have left their mark on the faculty and administrative staff who worked with them along the way.

“By the time you meet these students on paper as applicants, you matriculate them, get to know them, help them through their Graduate School programs and get them all the way to brunch and commencement, they become family,” McGehee said.

Faculty mentor Jean C. McSweeney, Ph.D., R.N., professor and associate dean for research and co-director of the Ph.D. program in the UAMS College of Nursing, was there to support Laura Helen Hayes, who was in the nursing Ph.D. program. Hayes’ dissertation was about providing long-term care to adults who survived a childhood congenital heart defect.

McSweeney said it’s true that family-like ties develop between student and adviser.

“It’s just such a rewarding experience,” McSweeney said. “You work so closely with them and invest so much time and energy with them, and it’s so wonderful to see them succeed. Dr. Hayes has a very bright future ahead of her. She has already received some funding, and she’s joining our faculty. I look forward to continuing to watch her career grow.”

Chris Bolden — a graduate from the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program who worked with Eric Peterson, Ph.D., in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology on developing a vaccine against methamphetamine addiction — provided the keynote remarks.

Bolden acknowledged the important support he received from his family and mentor, but also thanked his peers.

“I have an amazing group of friends as a result of this journey,” Bolden said. “They became like a family while I was here. During our first year, we would study late at night, we would create study groups and study guides — we would do whatever it took to help each other pass.”

Surveying the crowd, Bolden concluded: “We all made it together.”