In early 2006, the walls in the hallways on the first floor of the Graduate Life Center were bare.
Formerly the Donaldson-Brown Hotel and Conference Center, the building had just been converted into a space for graduate students after the university approved a proposal by then-Dean for Graduate Studies Karen DePauw to create the center, known as GLC. Within months, the hallway walls contained photos and artwork created by graduate students and submitted to the first GLC photo and art competition.
In its early days, the competition was a way to “engage students in the decoration of the newly opened GLC and thereby increase their sense of ownership and belonging,” said Assistant Dean and Director of Graduate Student Services Monika. Gibson.
The initial call for applications focused on this objective: “Help us decorate the GLC! The goal was to select 24 photos and four works of art to display in the GLC. The rules called for photographs that depicted “interesting and artistic reflections of the life and commitments of graduate students” and works of art created by graduate students. Gibson said the response was positive. His team invited a guest judge to choose the winners, who received certificates attesting to their achievement.
Sarah Gugercin MA ’06 won one of the prizes in the second competition, held in the fall of 2006. She said the photo she submitted was from a spring trip to visit gardens. “I saw and photographed a lot of interesting things on this trip, so I must have felt compelled to share them in the contest,” she wrote in a recent email.
Pardha Pyla Ph.D. ’07 who obtained two masters and a doctorate in computer science, was another winner of this spring 2006 competition. He said that photography has been a passion for him for a long time. “I’m primarily into landscape photography and love to think outside the box with my camera,” Pyla said. “For me, there’s something interesting about capturing a scene; it’s like expressing my subjective opinion of the objective reality there.”
Fast forward 15 years and a new set of photos adorn the halls of the GLC. The fall 2021 competition was on the theme ‘Reunis’, asking students to’ show us what you are happy to be reunited with after such a long absence. Photos on the walls of the GLC show fans filling the seats at Lane Stadium, students walking on Drillfield, someone feeding the ducks at Duck Pond, tourists gathering in a state park, a group of laughing friends and hugging family members.
The competition has been held every fall and spring since 2006, with the exception of the 2020-21 academic year, when the building was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Holding the competition twice a year gives more students the opportunity to share their work, and also gives visitors new work to see regularly. The Graduate School invites guest judges, often photographers, to choose the winners.
There is also a public prize. Winners receive a certificate and a small gift, but Gibson said the contest has an underlying purpose. “It’s about showcasing the creativity and soul of our students beyond their academic work and scientific achievements, and making students feel part of the alumni community and can contribute. themselves and the way they see the world. “
Gugercin, who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts, agreed. “As graduate students come from so many different places and study so many different things, I think the photo contest is a great way for them to share about themselves and what they find interesting,” a- she declared. “Plus a lot of graduate students aren’t in arts programs so having the opportunity to share something like that is exciting. “
“The GLC has fostered a great sense of community among the diverse population of graduate students,” said Pyla. “The art competition provided an incredible opportunity to see snapshots of their incredible experiences. Of course, I wanted to participate.”
The photos and art have been as varied as the students who have submitted their work over the years, and offer viewers a glimpse into the life and landscapes of other countries, family life, nature and landscapes. monuments and scenes of Blacksburg, the New River Valley, and beyond. Some students also submitted photos of their research, Gibson said.
For the first years of the competition, students submitted copies of their work. Now, 30 to 50 students participate in each competition and the Graduate School prints the photos for framing and display. Student art also fills the hallways of the Graduate School’s second-floor offices and the Dean’s reception area.
By providing students with a showcase for their photos and artwork, “we were the first unit on campus to invite students to submit proposals to decorate a public space,” Gibson said. “When we launched this, it was new. “
Gibson said the competition also gave students the opportunity to showcase their work outside of their academic fields. It was one of Gugercin’s prints: “The photo contest was a lovely way for me to ‘show’ something creative that had nothing to do with my postgraduate research. “
The competition will be open for submissions again in spring 2022.