The URI Graduate Conference began in 2007 with a small group of graduate students from the URI English Department. This Graduate Conference Committee, or GCC, has since served as the sole governing body of the URI Graduate Conference. To date, there have been 9 conferences, and we are presently working on our 20th (for 2016). Graduate Conferences have ranged from a humanities focus, to a broader social and cultural studies focus, and even to a completely interdisciplinary focus. URI graduate students have generally made up about half of the presenter population, which, since 2007, has totaled over 500 students including those from universities and colleges all over the nation—and world. Conference attendees who did not present, but simply came to listen, learn, or engage, number in the hundreds. Over the years, original research from graduate students has included papers, panels, and presentations on philosophy, history, sociology, rhetoric, music, literature, linguistics, religion, postcolonial studies, gender and sexuality, women’s studies, popular culture, new art media, and creative writing among others. Represented disciplines outside the humanities have included ecology, evolutionary biology, economics, cultural and social anthropology, oceanography, environmental and natural resources, marine affairs and physiology, physical therapy, textiles, fashion merchandising and design, and electrical, computer, mechanical, and biomedical engineering.
Since year one, all of the fundraising, marketing, programming, and financial decisions have been made by an autonomous, diverse volunteer GCC of about 20-30 graduate students led by a single Chair or two Co-Chairs. The majority of GCC members have been PhD and Masters Degree students from the Departments of English and/or Writing & Rhetoric, though other disciplines have been represented. The faculty, Department Chairs, and Directors of Graduate Study in the English and Writing & Rhetoric Departments also historically provided financial, personnel, and advisory support. In 2014, the primary hosts for the conference were URI’s Graduate School and the Division of Research and Economic Development. Each year, however, all final decisions about partnerships, funding, support, and conference implementation have been left to the discretion of the GCC under the leadership of the Chair(s) and with the advisement of the Board of Directors.
New Chairs have traditionally been selected by previous Chairs based on a candidate’s demonstrated interest, past conference experience, and service on the GCC the year prior to their selection. Prior conference experience and involvement has always been preferred. Traditionally, also, Co-Chairs have mutually decided and agreed to work together based upon shared values, a sense of camaraderie, and a positive working relationship. Their ultimate goal has always been to make the conference as positive, inclusive, inviting, intellectually stimulating, and innovative as possible.
The overarching goal of the URI Graduate Conference has always been to support the collaboration and research of graduate students at URI and across universities everywhere. In order to do this, the Chairs are responsible for assuring that a diverse group of graduate students are able:
- to make connections between and across graduate programs at URI and beyond;
- to be as involved as they wish to be—on a volunteer basis—with conference planning and implementation by serving on the GCC;
- to promote their original graduate research in a supportive yet intellectually challenging atmosphere;
- to strengthen their professional networking opportunities as they converse and think with local, regional, national and international students from ivy-league, peer, and smaller institutions;
- to moderate and/or to present either as a solo presenter or as part of a graduate conference panel; and/or
- to get feedback on their research from select, supportive members of the URI faculty.
In addition, conference presenters and audience members outside of the URI community are able to experience our graduate students’ high-quality research and intellectual acumen and consider entering—or indeed have entered—a URI graduate program after attending the conference. The Chair or Chairs are always responsible for inviting high-quality researchers, engaging speakers, and innovative thinkers to deliver keynote and plenary addresses, bringing further attention and prestige to our conference, graduate school, and university.