“I’m originally from California, so making the transition across the country was different. I knew nobody in Virginia. That was scary and exciting. Grad school had its ups and its downs, but I will say I was able to find my sense of community.”
Last week we had the opportunity to chat with Kim Rahimian – a VCU Class of 2020 Occupational Therapy graduate student – about her capstone research.
Kim’s capstone project was a program evaluation on her own program’s diversity, equity, and inclusion – and in her final year in grad school, she attended RAMmalogues sessions, IExcel Education courses, and participated in the IExcel Mentoring program.
We asked her why she decided to focus on diversity and inclusion within her capstone – and Kim told us that it stemmed from not being from here and from feeling like a part of the minority group in a lot of different aspects within a graduate school program.
IExcel Education courses were designed to enhance cultural competency skills that lead to a more open and inclusive environment. These courses exist for both faculty, staff, and for students – and the aim is to cultivate a culture of inclusion through education. The IExcel Education courses that Kim attended were designed for faculty & staff specifically – but they allowed her to learn about diversity and inclusive educational practices that she could use to better inform her decisions within her capstone project to transform her own department.
The first course within VCU Inclusive Excellence’s programs that Kim attended was a RAMmalogues session on Intersectionality. When asked what her thoughts were on it, Kim said that she “was just impressed with the space to have those types of dialogues, and the way it was facilitated - it was really set up well.”
Kim’s goal through her capstone research was to really analyze her program and provide a road-map on how the program can prioritize where to improve. One of the areas she focused on during this process was her program’s curriculum – and a course that influenced that section of her research was an IExcel course on experiential learning activities. Kim said that she learned the best methods to incorporate these hands-on experiential learning activities in order to tackle those really hard discussions.
“On the one hand, you don’t want to offend or upset anyone - faculty, students included, but you also don’t want to skirt around these issues that impact everyone in society. There’s a delicate balance.” Kim took one of these experiential activities and implemented it within her own program’s cohort. Kim mentioned that it was important to experience these moments within her own program, because you’re going to have difficult and uncomfortable moments with patients and clients, and that’s the reality of the healthcare field.
Kim also participated in the IExcel Mentorship program - she said that before signing up she was unsure, due to being a grad student, until she realized that she “still needed people to look to for guidance and for mentorship.”
It doesn’t matter where you are in your education. Kim said that the best part of IExcel Mentoring was “the support system that came with it. I was just pleasantly surprised at how good of a fit both my mentor and I make, as well as the rest of my mentor group through IExcel. I was a little worried at first that I’d be the only grad student, but then there was someone else in the group who was also a grad student. But there was also someone in undergrad who was a sophomore, and then another person in the group who was trying to go to med school, so it was a really good mix of different individuals at varying points in their life – and so it’s refreshing to have that extra support system to just bounce ideas, vent, talk, and know that you’re not alone.”
We asked Kim about her plans beyond graduation – she told us that her research and experiences here at VCU have given her “this momentum even after I graduate to continue doing this work” and that now more than ever we need to promote a more inclusive environment.