On the “UC Davis Memes for Edgey Teens” Facebook group, Carter Johnson, a second-year applied math graduate student, posted a well-known meme template: “what we really want” listing the much-anticipated opening of the Memorial Union’s Games Area, and “what administrators think students want” listing a sketch of the design for the Walker Hall redevelopment. Scheduled to open in 2019, Walker Hall will soon be home to the Graduate and Professional Student Center, which Johnson said he is genuinely excited for.
“I’ve been wondering when they were going to do something about the most dilapidated central building on campus,” Johnson said. “If anything, I wish it had been prioritized sooner. In my opinion, the school needs to focus more on the needs of the students it already has before trying to attract a larger population.”
Housing the Graduate and Professional Student Center will be the third repurposing of Walker Hall. Originally built in 1927 for the Agricultural Engineering Department, the building last housed Design and Landscape Architecture facilities. Walker Hall has been closed since 2011 due to insufficient seismic preparedness.
According to the 2012 proposal for UC Davis’ now-approved Graduate and Professional Student Center presented to then-Chancellor Linda Katehi, a push for such a center began in 2003. However, Carlos Ruvalcaba, the chair of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and a fourth-year in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. program, said support for such a center stems from as early back as 1992.
“Other campuses actually already have graduate student centers,” Ruvalcaba said. “Their rationale is […] if graduate students are more aware of their resources and have space that is outside their lab, then, in theory, they should be more effective educators.”
Currently, there is no designated physical space specifically for graduate students or postdoctoral scholars. Marjannie Eloi Akintunde, the Senior Career Advisor for Career Services for Graduate and Postdoctoral Scholars at the Internship and Career Center who received her Ph.D. in Immunology from UC Davis, had access to a lab and a professor while she worked on completing her degree. However, she said there was no designated working space while her husband worked on his Ph.D. in Geography.
“A lot of grad students don’t have a home or a place [on campus],” Eloi Akintunde said. “Grad students end up floating around. Especially with all of the social science and humanities grad students, after they pass their qualifying exam, they don’t come back to campus sometimes […] so they’ll lose that community. A lot of them start to feel isolated and that can develop into […losing] your motivation.”
Michael Lairmore, the dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine who works with mostly graduate and professional students, said the center will serve as an important space to promote both social and work-based networking.
“We pride ourselves on interdisciplinary graduate programs at UC Davis [and] one way to promote that […] is to have a space and environment that encourages [the] cross-hybridization of ideas,” Lairmore said. “They really are the workforce that drives the research part of the mission of the university. I think it’s important to show them the respect that they need.”
Presently, overgrown trees have partially hidden the “Engineering” lettering at the front entrance to Walker Hall — named after H.B. Walker, a former chair of the Agricultural Engineering Department — and cobwebs cover the sloping door handles at the front entrance.
Amanda Steidlmayer, the strategic initiatives coordinator for Graduate Studies who also serves on the project’s advisory committee, has the blueprints and early sketches of the planned Walker Hall exterior thumbtacked to the walls of her cubicle. According to Steidlmayer, the front side of the building, which faces Hart Hall, will be retained while a wood facade with additional lighting will be added to the back side, which faces Everson Hall.
“The idea is to keep the historic front,” Steidlmayer said. “Inside, it is getting gutted — just because it’s had so many lives. As you’re going by from the Silo to the library you’ll be able to come in and there’s going to be a big courtyard and a walking path.”
According to Steidlmayer, the center will eventually include features such as large classrooms, a multipurpose room, a childcare room and a lactation room. Resources on campus such as the Office of Graduate Studies and the GSA will be relocated to the center.
“We have three graduate preparatory programs — the McNair Scholars Program, the Guardian Professions Program and UC LEADS,” said Elizabeth Lambert, the marketing and communications manager for Graduate Studies. “Right now, they’re all dispersed through different areas on campus, but we’re going to centralize them within the Graduate and Professional Student Center. It’s not just giving the students a home, it’s giving these programs a home too.”
Both Eloi Akintunde and Ruvalcaba managed to stay socially active during their time as graduate students. However, both said they feel that graduate students at UC Davis struggle to find a community.
“Having a graduate center specifically designated to grad students can really help some of the students who don’t have a home place,” Eloi Akintunde said. “It would really help students feel like they have a sense of community and, in turn, I think it will help students enjoy their Ph.D. experience more.”