How can joining student groups set you up for success?

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Collage of GPS 2023 Lunar New Year Festival, with student groups, students, faculty, and staff in attendance

Leaders of GPS student organizations share how their involvement outside of the classroom has enhanced their graduate school experience

Many people who have gone through graduate programs say that you get out of your experience what you put into it. And at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS), we make it easy to tap into your personal and professional interests with a variety of student organizations. 

Some GPS student organizations focus on professional development, while others are more geared toward social and community building. These organizations provide informal learning opportunities for students outside the classroom in a diverse and unstructured environment — without any worry about being graded. 

And through all groups, students get the chance to learn about various cultures and communities while meeting people from different programs, countries and backgrounds — helping to build personal relationships that can help them in and out of the classroom.

Building community

Students gather at a LASO event. | Contributed photo

Master of International Affairs (MIA) ’23 student and president of the Latin America Student Organization (LASO) Ana Zapata said she chose to get involved with because she was eager to build community at GPS. 

“Ever since I immigrated from Ecuador to the U.S. at age 11, I have struggled to find a community where I felt safe and understood,” Zapata said. “My parents and I settled in Los Angeles, a city that has a Latino population of 48% predominantly composed of Mexicans and Salvadoreans, and I felt so out of place. The culture shock I experienced whilst growing up in LA was huge.” 

After reviving LASO from dormancy due to remote learning and limited opportunities to gather during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, LASO leadership made it their mission to become more than a cultural club, hosting a series of professional and academic events for students, as well as fun and interactive events. 

“I think that the impact that LASO has had at GPS is that we pioneered the revitalization of student-run clubs. After LASO Fest — our huge cultural party — and the academic events we put together at the beginning of fall quarter, it incentivized other clubs to do the same,” Zapata said. “We wanted to promote the Latin culture in many different aspects of academia, and with other clubs now following suit, I truly believe it was because LASO took that first step.”

For some students, interest in student groups began long before they set foot in the halls of GPS. MIA ’23 student John Kim said that Mannam, the Korea-focused student group, was a driving factor in applying to the program. 

The board of Mannam. | Contributed photo

“I was a part of the COVID-19 generation in college, so I knew that I wanted the next phase of my academic life to offer a vibrant community in which I could partake in a wealth of cultural activities and be surrounded by multiculturally-minded individuals,” Kim said. “By being involved with Mannam, I have been able to build close relationships with colleagues that also cared deeply about Korean affairs and U.S.-Korea relations.” 

Kim, who now serves as president of Mannam, said his involvement also led to the opportunity to do work for the Korea-Pacific Program (KPP), where he collaborated with professors Stephan Haggard and Munseob Lee to carry out webinar series and live public talks. The club played an active role in hosting an incredible roster of world-renowned academics and Republic of Korea government officials at GPS, including Lee Tae-woo, director-general for North American Nuclear Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Pacific Leadership Fellow (PLF) Lee Jong-wha, dean of the College of Political Science and Economics at Korea University; Lee Soo-Hyuck, the South Korean ambassador to the U.S.; and Consul General Young-wan Kim.

“It’s always surreal and fascinating getting to meet these individuals in person, and they have inspired new network opportunities for me in my career search,” Kim said. 

While some like Zapata and Kim had a goal from the start to connect with their classmates through student organizations, for others, such as Graduate Organization of GPS (GO GPS) president Robert Daquila, their deep involvement with a student group was more spur of the moment — though no less impactful. 

A GO GPS event. | Contributed photo

“I was encouraged by a ’22 GPS graduate, Swati Nair, to run for the position of president,” Daquila, MIA ’23 candidate, said. “I didn’t know much about the role prior to discussing it with her, but I’m glad I took her suggestion. She saw that I enjoyed attending both social and professional events held at GPS and informed me that I could be a part of helping to host similar functions the following year. I was also intrigued by the structure of the board and the different departments that it interfaced with, so I threw my name in the hat.”

GO GPS represents and promotes the academic, social, professional and community interests of GPS students, working to serve as a center for student involvement and to support other GPS-affiliated student organizations as well, Daquila said. 

“In my experience, it’s been great to see how hard the student community works to support one another,” Daquila explained. “Ideas at GO GPS board meetings are thrown out weekly to explore what needs should be addressed and how to best address them. I can really see how much the members of this community care about contributing to the school’s development in a positive way.”

A positive impact

Students are not the only ones supporting each other; often, support for student groups comes from faculty and staff as well. Juliane Alfen, MIA ’23 student and co-president of Women Going Global (WGG), said the support WGG events have received from female faculty and staff has been one of the most positive aspects of her time in leadership — as well as the impact those events and initiatives have made on the San Diego community.

Women Going Global event. | Contributed photo

“In the winter, we held a professional clothing swap where our club members could swap professional attire and had various professors from GPS contribute to these efforts,” Alfen said. “We donated the remaining clothing items to Sharia’s Closet, a local San Diego nonprofit that provides free, emergency clothing to women and families that are experiencing financial hardship.”

Alfen said that WGG has also been spearheading efforts to make menstrual products easily accessible at GPS and throughout UC San Diego facilities. 

“We have been meeting with campus organizations to make these products available and figuring out ways to discuss menstrual equity at a larger scale,” Alfen said. 

Another goal of WGG is to host networking events throughout the year for women in policymaking and consulting, as well as to connect with female alumni from GPS. The group also held various social events, including spending time with female scholars at professor Barbara Walter‘s house in a more casual setting. Through these networking events, some members received job offers, research positions and internships thanks to conversations they had at the events, Alfen explained. 

Despite the number of benefits of participating in student organizations, it’s understandable that some may be hesitant, in the face of a rigorous academic workload, to sign up for additional activities or responsibilities. Daquila’s advice? Just go for it.

“The student organizations are specialized to not only offer real-world experiences in program management, marketing, operations, communications or otherwise, they also help you develop your network and friendships at GPS that will carry on with you after graduation,” Daquila said. “This program goes by quickly, and I think it’s important to immerse yourself in the experience to get as much as you can out of it.”

Full list of GPS student groups:

  • Graduate Organization of GPS (GO GPS)
  • Asameshikai
  • China Focus
  • Data Science for Policy and Strategy Club (DSPS)
  • Development Club
  • GPS Consulting Club (GPSCC)
  • Journal of International Policy Solutions (JIPS)
  • Latin America Student Organization (LASO)
  • Mannam
  • Net Impact
  • Queer International Policy and Strategy (QuIPS)
  • Southeast Asia Link (SEAL)
  • Security Studies Group (SSG)
  • Women Going Global

To learn more about how you can get involved at GPS, visit our Student Groups webpage.

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About author
Virginia S. Watson is the Assistant Director of Communications for the School of Global Policy and Strategy. She has spent her entire career in editing, writing and design, both in industry and higher education. She holds a master's in technical and professional communication from Auburn University and a B.S. in journalism from Troy University.
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