Students, faculty and local community members participate in the Lehigh University Graduate Student (LUGS) 5k on Sunday, April 14, 2019 at Iacocca Hall. The LUGS 5K was held for the first time this year and raises funds for graduate students' research programs abroad. (Courtesy of Michael Mfarej)

5K kickstarts Graduate Student Appreciation Week

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correctly identify Pat Farrell was at the event, not President John Simon, and include correct grant information.

The first graduate student 5K was held on April 14 starting at Iacocca Hall to raise funds for research-based travel programs for underfunded graduate students.

Beginning at 10 a.m., race contestants, including Provost Pat Farrell, trekked through a scenic Mountaintop Campus course in support of Graduate Student Appreciation Week. The participants consisted of mostly local community members, along with graduate students, faculty and alumni. The runners received a free T-shirt, a ‘swag bag’ and refreshments following the event.

The top contenders within each age bracket were rewarded with medals and gift cards to local Bethlehem businesses.

Coordinators Michael Mfarej, ‘21G, and Caitlin Hyland, ‘21G, said the race was intended to raise money for graduate student travel so that the students can enhance the program’s reputation around the country at various conferences.

“We’ve been given figures of graduate student attainment of travel grants through the university, and right now we’re really only able to send 6 to 7 percent to conferences so they can showcase their research and enhance Lehigh’s visibility as a research institution.” Mfarej said. “We find that number to be very underwhelming, especially when you see that the undergraduate Student Senate is vastly funded and outweighs graduate student funding for our Student Senate.”

Mfarej said the Graduate Student Senate gets roughly a total of $38,000 for their budget. The Senate gets $13,000 for travel grants. He said the money “gets stretched thin.”

Many spectators came out to support the runners and graduate students in their fight to gain more funding for travel grants.

Posters of past graduate research that were showcased at various conferences were on display to give supporters an idea of the type of funding the students needed.

For graduate student and race participant Zachary Arms, ‘22G, the LUGS 5K is a start, but it isn’t nearly enough. He said the importance of the 5K is two-fold.

“I think it was a good start to Grad Student Appreciation Week, though I think it’s shameful that grad students have to put on fundraisers to get travel grant money because the administration has not increased our travel grant budget in, I believe, about 10 years,” Arms said.

As a member of the Graduate Student Senate, Arms calls for reform of the overall “shockingly small” budget the Senate receives and wants the administration to work with them to allocate more money for these travel grants.

“It’s been illustrated that grad students need to travel,” Arms said. “It’s part of what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to bring our research to national conventions, increase Lehigh’s brand, all that stuff. But if we can’t afford to go to these conventions, that’s a bit of a problem. I think the administration has a lot of responsibilities to graduate students that they haven’t fully acted upon, and they need to do that.”

For Erin Karahuta, ‘19G, and staff member of Lehigh’s Office of Research Integrity, the research she conducted and the experiences she received through the graduate program at Lehigh were instrumental to her success and the current position she holds at Lehigh.

As someone who benefited  from the travel grants she received, Karahuta said she wanted to make sure other people had access to those funds as well. She ran in the 5K to support her graduate student friends and to give back, knowing the importance of travel and research within the graduate program.

“There was always funding available, but it was a limited amount,” Karahuta said. “If you wanted to go to more than one conference, you probably were going to have to pay for that second conference out of pocket. And, that funding would always run out. The people whose conference was in May had less access to funding than people who go to conferences in October.”

Karahuta stressed the importance of these travel grants and how she will continue to help in any way that she can.

She said the conferences gives students the opportunity not just to learn about other people’s research but also to get feedback on her own.

“Those experiences can’t be replaced,” she said.

Mfarej and Hyland encourage students and faculty to attend next year’s LUGS 5K on April 19, 2020 to help support the graduate students and their research, whether by running or cheering on the sidelines.

“University Administrators were very helpful in raising money,” Mfarej said. “It wouldn’t have been as successful without them, and we’re really appreciative.”

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