Juman Kekhia, ESIA ’16, a GW senior double majoring in international affairs and dance with a minor in sociocultural anthropology and this year’s Senior Class Gift Campaign coordinator, sat down with Vice Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski, BA ’91, MA ’94, EdD ’97 for a conversation before Winter Break. They talked about the GW student experience and how alumni can have a major impact on the time current students spend at the university.
Juman Kekhia: So take a little hop back in time to your GW experience—what are some of the activities that really made your experience here meaningful?
Peter Konwerski: I got involved as a student leader early by running for office my freshman year and became a representative of my floor in Thurston Hall. I later became an RA (resident assistant – now resident advisor), which was great because I got to work with other students and help build a sense of community. I also played intramural sports such as volleyball and indoor floor hockey, so I got to see people competing and bonding together as teammates and having a good time.
We didn’t have “#OnlyatGW” back then, but I went to a lot of events that, I think, had I not gone to GW I never would have seen, like going to my first presidential inauguration and hearing world leaders speak. Seeing Ronald Reagan speak, seeing [former Soviet Union leader Mikhail] Gorbachev speak – they were making history in their time and it was really exciting as a GW student. We talk about that a lot today, how the university and our students are experiencing and making history—GW has always been a place where you can see those things happen, where you see history being made.
JK: So it’s a lot of the same things that we have now that make the GW experience what it is.
PK: Oh, definitely.
JK: I think that student activities are such a big part of GW. What do you think are some of the staple student activities that really make a GW experience?
PK: Events like the Inauguration and Inaugural Ball that happen every four years are really iconic ones for GW students. I think big traditional campus events—like Fall Fest, Spring Fling, student elections, Greek recruitment—are student events that everybody knows. Then there’s CI (Colonial Inauguration) and Commencement that are bookends to the GW student experience and are really special events in our community.
Those events are the big shared experiences, but everyone has their own personal experience here at GW, and a big part of that is the variety of opportunities available to students: clubs, musical groups, service, study abroad, internships —experiences both in and out of the classroom.
JK: We see that– we see that really reflected in the Senior Class Gift Campaign. Seniors are giving to their schools or their [organizations] or, you know, whatever it is here that’s most important to them.
PK: I think it’s exactly like that for alumni too; it’s like you said about the Senior Class Gift, you can be as specific and targeted as you want. Alumni can choose to make a gift to their major, a faculty member, a research project, the library. You can support the curricular part of your experience, like your school or college. Or you can support the co-curricular part and give to Athletics, give to scholarships, give to student organizations; maybe that money can go towards refreshing a residence hall lobby or residence hall study room or enhancing our mental health and medical services in the Colonial Health Center.
We can really say to alumni and students: we want your interests to be mirrored in the gift you make, and we will be good stewards and make sure it goes directly to that. If you give to KACIF [Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund] it’s going to go directly to a student who can buy a 10-week metro pass so they can get to their internship at a non-profit every week without having to worry about where that extra money is going to come from.
JK: So you think alumni target where they give back and focus on what they are most connected to?
PK: Definitely. When an alum was really involved in a specific student group or focus they ask about those things when we hear from them. A lot of the people who I knew as RAs want to know what’s going on with District House—they say, “I lived in Crawford [Hall], I can’t wait to drive by and see the new residence hall. What else do students need?” That’s where you get that feeling of kinship.
JK: I know that Balance: The GW Ballet Group had our 10 year anniversary two years ago, and we invited all our alumni back and we had people coming from all over the country. To see the way it’s impacted them and their careers and how they all came together for this one experience is just amazing because they’re all asking, “How can we help you guys? How can we give back to this organization that has done so much for us?”
PK: And that’s a good example. Balance is probably something that started with three or four students who wanted to dance but there was no group. So, they found space and they founded this group. Now, students like you are not only still dancing, but the alumni are coming back and seeing what you’re doing and thinking, “That’s great, how do we get you more dance space? More studio time? Costumes? Whatever it is you need?”
JK: It was just kind of this whole cycle of things, seeing these alumni come back and still be invested and wanting to know what we were doing and how they could help. I know that Balance has changed my GW experience, and it’s something that I will continue to follow and give back to when I leave.
PK: That’s what we hope to achieve, to provide our students with the experiences that make them feel passionate about turning back around down the road and making sure that future students like them are able to have that same connection, that seem feeling of spirit or camaraderie or accomplishment.
JK: We benefit so much from the experience and the support of alumni. I think that’s how I see alumni really impacting our experience as students, when they’re really engaging us and making it possible for us to do all the things that we do.
PK: And I think the diversity of the things that you do is so important to remember, too. Somebody does dance, but somebody else doesn’t want to dance, they want to do an internship, but somebody else doesn’t want to intern, they want to do research—students can find those opportunities to do all the diverse things they want to do because our students are unique and diverse and don’t all do one thing. They don’t all want to work on Capitol Hill, some want to perform and some want to write and some want to serve the community and some want to study abroad. So how to make sure all those things happen?
JK: And it’s through the donations that all these things become possible, which is amazing.
PK: Exactly, and then you walk out of here with a little less debt but with no less experiences had.
JK: And it’s the experiences that you walk away with that matter so much more.
Thank you Peter and Juman!
Supporting GW’s Division of Student Affairs can have a serious impact on what our students can achieve each year. Make a gift today, or learn more about ways to support GW students by visiting campaign.gwu.edu.