Voices of the LSI: Community drives conversation, and we must engage in it together

Graduate student Lauren Hart

At a large institution like the University of Michigan, with almost 50,000 students, it can be difficult to feel a part of both the community of intellectual leaders that work and study here and the community outside the university. Considering all of the scholarly and programmatic commitments researchers are engaged in,  Ph.D. students like me often report feeling a lack of connection to their fellow peers and community members outside of their immediate graduate programs. In order to increase connectivity among fellow graduate students, the faculty we work with, and the broader community that we live in, accessible and abundant community engagement events must be planned to drive meaningful and continued engagement. 

I entered the U-M Program in Chemical Biology (PCB) in 2021, and I immediately felt the negative impact of COVID-19 on building relationships within my academic and broader community. Limited in-person gatherings, discontinued annual events and beginning a graduate degree in a hybrid setting made me very aware of the lack of connection between my peers and the larger community I was living in. To address this lack of connectivity and to create a broader support system for my fellow PCB students, I led the formation of the community engagement committee of the PCB student council, along with fellow grad students Katherine Lev, Ingrid Kilde and Kareem Aboulhosn. 

Community drives conversation, and we must continue to engage with one another in the places that we love, live and work in, and thus believe in protecting, restoring and uplifting. This need drives the work of the PCB community engagement committee. As a committee, we seek out opportunities to work within our off-campus community to broaden our view of what “community” really is — beyond our graduate program or even university. 

A group of PCB students volunteer at an inaugural park clean-up event in Ann Arbor
PCB students volunteer at a park clean-up event in Ann Arbor

We begin planning events by talking with leaders deeply engaged within the organizations we are working with to better understand their and how our PCB community may be able to fill in. In 2022, this committee engaged PCB members through an inaugural park clean-up event in Ann Arbor. Additionally, we conducted our first donation event to collect essential items for SOS Community Services in Ypsilanti, collecting over $900 worth of donated items for the center. 

These events have resulted in increased engagement between members of the PCB community through meeting and working in the community as fellow scientists and friends. Additionally, the formation and work of this committee have spurred conversations with peers about community needs and creative ways to approach meeting those needs through organized events. 

We are very excited to offer our annual park restoration and essential item donation events in 2023, along with many other events. Ultimately, we hope these activities will continue to engage not only our fellow graduate students, but the broader U-M scientific community, in developing ideas to have a larger impact throughout the community that we live and work in.  

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About the Author

Lauren Hart is a Ph.D candidate in the Program of Chemical Biology and founder of the PCB community engagement committee. She works in the labs of David H. Sherman, Ph.D., at the Life Sciences Institute and Gregory J. Dick, Ph.D., in Earth and Environmental Sciences to understand the dangerous biosynthetic patterns of toxic cyanobacteria in Lake Erie, USA and Lake Victoria, Kenya. She is particularly interested in the toxic molecules produced by cyanobacteria in freshwater systems and how we can develop methods to assess their human health risk towards coastal communities and drinking water availability. Lauren received the 2023 LSI Outreach Award for graduate students in recognition of her devotion to curating community relationships on and off campus. 

If you would like to collaborate with the PCB Community Engagement Committee or support their work, please contact Lauren