Why Coffee Chats?
Yazdan and other faculty shared with Pichon and fellow founding member, Ciana López, UW BioE Ph.D. student who founded the Biomedical Diversity Community (BDC), that the BioE department needed more opportunities for students to interact informally. “We identified that everyone in the department is thirsty for more connection for people to feel more welcomed and included,” Yazdan said. “So, we wanted to offer opportunities for people to network and have mentorship so that when they see someone in the hallways, they feel comfortable saying ‘hi.’”
With that goal in mind, López and Pichon created a subcommittee of the BioE Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) committee called Building BioE Community. Through conversations with faculty and focus groups they conducted, the two learned that formal mentoring programs weren’t successful. Studies showed the department needed opportunities for faculty to be in touch with students more often, especially students from underrepresented backgrounds.
The idea for Coffee Chats came from a few sources. The initial concept came from discussions in a book club that Pichon was leading on the topic of mentorship. Additionally, Pichon drew inspiration from his time in industry at a company that fostered a strong culture of community and mentorship. This helped ignite his passion for creating a similar culture at the UW. “We came up with the idea of Coffee Chats to provide a low-key environment where people across all levels of the department – faculty, staff, grad students, post-docs and undergrad students – could come together over food,” Pichon said.
What are Coffee Chats?
Coffee Chats started in October of 2021 and has taken place once a month. Originally located in the Vista Café in the Foege building, it recently expanded to a second location at South Lake Union.
There are three goals for Coffee Chats. To build community by fostering connections within the department. To provide opportunities for informal mentoring between students, post-docs, faculty and staff. And to present topics not normally discussed in classes. Topics have included handling chronic stress, self-reflection, the power of vulnerability and navigating uncertainty in research.
Each event has a different host who introduces the discussion topic for the first half of the meeting. The host can be a student, faculty or staff member. The committee works with the host to make sure the topic is of interest to the entire BioE community. The hosts are asked to supply resources for the attendees including articles, TED Talks, podcasts and more to help them prepare for the meeting. The second half of the event includes an activity such as volleyball, Pictionary, charades or Bocce Ball.
Many individuals and UW Registered Student Organizations (RSO) helped make Coffee Chats successful. “Tapping into RSOs, faculty, and staff in our department was key to getting people from the community to attend the chats,” Pichon said. Coffee Chats is supported by the JEDI Building BioE Community subcommittee and many students from the group as well as faculty and staff have helped organize the events. Additionally, the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) RSO has provided help with advertising and reaching undergrads. The Bioengineering Industry Engagement (BioEngage) organization assisted with scheduling the events.
Several BioE students have contributed their time to the events including BioE Ph.D. student Veronica Porubsky, undergrad Joey Liang and former undergrads William Sham and Kelly Yeh.