GradFest holds first gathering of the semester

Andrew Keiper

Kent State graduate students gathered at Dominick’s bar in downtown Kent to enjoy free pizza, cheap beer and a relaxing social atmosphere.

GradFest is a recurring event sponsored by the Graduate Student Senate (GSS), which aims to connect students from different areas of study and give them an opportunity to strengthen the relationships with their peers and navigate social networks, according to Fritz Yarrison, the executive chair for the GSS and social psychology doctoral student.

The first of the semester was hosted at Dominick’s, a local pool hall on Franklin avenue in downtown Kent. Each attendee received a raffle ticket and was able to enjoy happy hour prices on drinks while the special lasted.

The GSS rotates local bars and restaurants as locations for GradFest. Typically, the senate organizes three or four of the events per semester. They offer free pizza and a number of prizes for a raffle competition.

“The goal of GradFest is to offer graduate students a stress reducing environment that allows for the potential to build a social network among disciplines,” Yarrison said.

Graduate students often find themselves in isolated silos of research and study. Yarrison said one of the goals of the GSS is to break down the walls between disciplines and foster a sense of community among graduate students.

The first GradFest of the semester appears to have accomplished that goal. About 100 people had signed in to the event after about an hour and a half. Each attendee received a raffle ticket, making them eligible for prizes such as Kent State water bottles, coffee mugs, T-shirts and the coveted black squirrel plush toy.

“For some reason we just love that black squirrel plush toy,” said Cody Ruiz, an anthropology graduate student and department senator on the GSS.

Ruiz, who had a hand in organizing the event, has attended about five or six GradFest’s during his time at Kent State.

“I feel like graduate students in general are so bogged down that it comes down to us to do stuff like this,” he said.  

With a goal of relaxation and socialization, Dominick’s offered the perfect venue.

“I’m always happy to hear from them,” said Nancy Mandalari, a co-owner of the bar. “We appreciate our regulars. We appreciate being a part of the community.”

Dominick’s has been a staple of Franklin avenue since at least 1936, when it first obtained its liquor license, according to Mandalari. The bar offers free pool from open to close Tuesdays and Thursdays, euchre tournaments, and a Monday night pool league that has been running for over 15 years.

The bar has hosted GradFest for the past three years, usually a few times every school year, Mandalari said.  The bar never charges the GSS to take up space and lets them bring their own pizza, usually Guys Pizza.

Graduate students are different from the rest of campus, said Morgan Chaney, the Symposium Chair on the Executive Board of the GSS. They stay isolated in their departments and inundated with their work.

“Without something like this, being a graduate student would probably be a very lonely experience,” Chaney said. “You don’t get the opportunity to socialize outside of a small group of peers within your department or program.”

Andrew Keiper is the graduate education and research reporter for The Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected].