New Fridays on Fourth program at Watson Library supports KU graduate students

In the Graduate Student Study Lounge at Watson Library, coffee is brewing as mid-morning light glows through the tall windows. Beats of cozy jazz meld with the tap of laptop keys as students settle into the rhythm of writing, and friendly faces greet newcomers with a menu of resources or simply a nod of recognition and welcome.  

This is Fridays on Fourth, a new weekly program aimed at offering practical support and building community among KU graduate students.  

“I’ve been describing it as chill, lo-fi cafe vibes,” said Samantha Demmerle, Assistant Director for Graduate Writing and Support at the KU Writing Center and a partner in Fridays on Fourth. “We don’t have a lot of spaces on campus like this, where graduate students can get a cup of coffee in an atmosphere of ambient productivity.” 

KU Libraries, the Writing Center, the Office of Graduate Studies, and the Center for Teaching Excellence are working together to provide that environment at Fridays on Fourth alongside resources like writing consultations, instruction on citation tools, one-on-one research help and more support tailored specifically to graduate student projects and needs.  

Blessing Jona, a doctoral candidate in Journalism and Mass Communications from Zimbabwe, has participated in Fridays on Fourth for the concentrated work time as well as a spectrum of other benefits.  

“I like the Friday sessions because there’s always something new you can learn. Watson Library has people who are very helpful, and there are so many resources here,” said Jona, describing the experience of being a graduate student in KU Libraries as a little like being a child in a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. “There are so many good things at the library, and you want all of it.” 

Grace Bartel, a graduate student in Behavioral Psychology, uses the weekly sessions as routine, focused time for writing her master’s thesis.  

“It’s a change of pace, and time away from notifications and other distractions that I can plan into my schedule,” Bartel said, noting that she plans to take advantage of some of the writing services in the future.  

Carmen Orth-Alfie, Assistant Librarian for Graduate Student Engagement and Business and a collaborator on the project, understands the challenges graduate students face, both as a librarian and through her own experience as a graduate student.  

“I intended to do a master’s thesis, but I didn’t have this [Fridays on Fourth] kind of support,” Orth-Alfie said. “I had an alternative route to finish my degree via a comprehensive exam, but if that hadn’t been an option, I’m not sure if I would have finished. I don’t want our graduate students to feel like that.” 

By offering various avenues of participation, including a Fridays on Fourth online component, the partners hope to include as many graduate students as possible. Many students are off campus during some portions of graduate work, with a growing number of graduate and certification programs completed online. Fostering a sense of community for all is central to Fridays on Fourth’s goals, keeping KU graduate students connected to resources, supporters, and each other to enable their success. 

“Graduate school can feel very isolating and we see this as the first step to reimagining and rebuilding the graduate community,” Demmerle said. 

The project also helps instill that seeking support with writing and research during graduate studies is commonplace, ongoing, and can provide many tangible benefits. An important message, Demmerle and Orth-Alfie agreed, as some graduate students harbor the misconception that they should already know how to do the work or must figure it out on their own -- a mindset that can stop them from seeking assistance or even realizing that support is available.  

“Asking for help at any stage in the process will make your life as a graduate student so much easier in the future,” Demmerle said.  

Fridays on Fourth takes place in the Graduate Student Study Lounge on Watson Library’s fourth floor each Friday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., during the regular semester. Visit the Fridays on Fourth webpage for more information. Event registration and the online option for participation can be found via the KU Events Calendar listing.