Dinners Support International Graduate Students, Families

Graduate students' children enjoy the first cultural family dinner.
Graduate students' children enjoy the first cultural family dinner in July.

International graduate students and their families are invited to a second cultural family dinner on Saturday, Aug. 19 at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 867 North Pleasant St., Amherst. The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with children's activities.

More than 120 people representing 16 countries enjoyed an evening of food and entertainment July 15 at the first dinner, which was sponsored by the Graduate Food Security Coalition, consisting of the UMass Amherst Graduate Student Senate (GSS), Graduate Women in Science (GWIS), and Immanuel Lutheran Church, which hosted the event.  

Faculty liaison, professor Sandra Petersen, STEM Diversity Institute director, says, “Although this coalition seems to be a disparate group, we share a strong interest in meeting the needs of international graduate students. Particularly during these difficult political times, we want the students to know that they are a valued part of our community.” 

Sumera Ahsan, GSS international student coordinator and summer food security coordinator, says she got involved in the project because the goal of the GSS is to address issues that impact the success of graduate students and their families. “These issues include food insecurity, the high cost of living in western Massachusetts, the very limited funding available for the summer, and few funding and work opportunities for international students due to visa restrictions. In addition, there is more social isolation for the students in summer. These issues affect the basic living standards of graduate students, and may also hinder their academic pursuits,” she said.

Raquel Bryant, co-chair of the GWIS mentoring committee, which funded the first dinner, said, “The first family dinner was an opportunity to get community members, parents and kids together in a family-friendly environment to share a meal and support community-building over the summer. GWIS is committed to the professional and personal advancement of women pursuing careers in STEM and related fields. Community-building activities like this provide support for international graduate students, especially those who are mothers, as well as their partners and children.”

Steven Wilco, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, said, “Part of Immanuel’s mission is to serve our neighbors and to learn what it is our neighbors have to share with us. Many of the graduate students and their families are literally our next-door neighbors, and we hope through this project to strengthen one another and our community.” The church will fund, as well as host the August dinner.

The Graduate Food Security Coalition is working on sustainable strategies to improve the lives of international graduate students. If you would like to get involved, contact Petersen at spetersen@vasci.umass.edu.