The Virginia Tech Graduate School has launched four new programs aimed at helping students succeed during their time at the university.

The Office of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives developed the suite of support programs. Director Dannette Gomez Beane said the office added a focus on retaining students through degree completion.

“Our staff expertise has shifted this year, with more people able to provide coaching and mentoring support to graduate students, particularly those who are from historically marginalized populations and those who are identified as struggling academically,” Beane said.

Beane said the programs align with the office's tagline, “From recruitment to graduation, supporting student excellence through diversity.”

“We figured you can do recruitment better if you do retention better," said Beane.

The programs include peer-to-peer support coaches; PhocuseD to Phinish, a dissertation boot camp; Cypher, a graduate school version of “study hall,” with monthly speakers; and Community of Scholars, a professional development series aimed at underrepresented students. 

Peer-to-Peer Support Coach

Stephanie House-Niamke, of Roanoke, a master’s degree student in the School of Public and International Affairs, and Shekila Melchior, a doctoral student in counselor education and supervision from Dale City, Virginia, lead the Peer-to-Peer Support Coach program. The program will reach out to students who are on academic probation, admitted provisionally, or who need additional academic guidance.

“From personal experience, just not knowing where the resources are, especially if you are first-generation college student, can be difficult,” said House-Niamke. “We want to provide tips and tricks to navigating graduate school and helping students find that balance.”

Melchior agreed.

“We recognize the intensity of a grad school program and the significance of support,” she said. “We hope to provide support and resources that will improve students’ graduate academic experiences.”

PhocuseD to Phinish

Nicole Johnson, of Searcy, Arkansas, is a doctoral candidate in higher education and leads the PhocuseD to Phinish effort. The program offers a three-day boot camp each semester to provide food, support, and motivation to help students complete at least part of their dissertations.

“We help them create a writing process and plan to finish,” said Johnson. “Graduate school is already isolating, especially if you are an underrepresented students. We are creating community.”


This program is open to all students who need a "study hall" to keep them on track. The group will meet on Friday afternoons to work in an uplifting atmosphere. Once a month, a guest motivator will offer resources toward finishing the degree.

“Students need community when getting through their graduate education,” said Beane. “Cypher is designed to serve as a tough-love space where students hold each other accountable to make progress toward degree completion.”

Community of Scholars

This program is targeted to students who identify in underrepresented groups (i.e. racial and sexual minorities) and provides professional development based on identity. Speakers will come twice a semester to speak about time management, communication, conflict resolution, and leadership.

“Under the idea of the university’s motto, Ut Prosim, Community of Scholars was created to contribute to the transformative graduate student experience,” said Tigue. “It brings scholars from different academic focuses together to learn skills, build trust, and create a supportive community.”

For information about joining the programs, or to find out when they meet, visit the Graduate School website, or contact Beane for details.

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