As Graduate Student Appreciation Week comes to a close, meet three student leaders

At 6,219 strong, graduate students represent the largest group of campus community members. And whether through groundbreaking research, teaching and mentoring, or leadership of organizations—and oftentimes all of the above—these students help shape Case Western Reserve University.

Since 2012, the university has annually recognized their contributions to campus with Graduate Student Appreciation Week, six days of events to celebrate graduate students.

The week—which started nationally in 1993 for graduate teaching assistants and expanded in 1995 to include all graduate and professional students—formerly was known on campus as Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week. But in recognition of the unification of Graduate Student Senate and Graduate Professional Council in June 2015, the Office of Student Activities and Leadership changed the name of the week to Graduate Student Appreciation Week.

The week’s events, which ranged from a pizza party on Monday to special departmental gatherings, began April 4 and will conclude tomorrow (April 9) with the Masquerade Ball at the Great Lakes Science Center. Tickets are available online at

In addition to their own learning in the classroom, “Graduate students also frequently serve as mentors to our undergraduate students—either acting as teaching assistants or when our undergraduate students conduct research,” Chuck Rozek, vice provost and dean of the School of Graduate Studies and associate professor of biology, said. “They are a vital part of the university and most faculty that I know came to CWRU to be able to recruit and train graduate students since they contribute to their successful research programs.”

Meet three of those students below.

Elise Blankenship

Elise BlankenshipFourth-year systems biology and bioinformatics PhD candidate in the School of Medicine; internal communications officer for Graduate Student Council

What are you studying?

My research focuses on learning more about the molecular structure of proteins. I look at cellular receptors found throughout the body and compare structures of these receptors that are available in public databases. By comparing structures of the receptors in an “on” or “off” state, we can better understand how messages get sent and received, and control everything from vision to blood pressure. These receptors are targets for a lot of pharmaceuticals, so getting a better idea of how they work could someday help with drug development.

What is your favorite aspect of the CWRU community?

The friendliness and openness of everyone on campus, from fellow students to administrators. Coming from a large school for my undergrad, I really appreciate that I recognize so many friendly faces every day, and that so many services, organizations, and events are available to everyone.

What are your plans after graduation?

I’m still in the interview process for jobs right now, but I know I want to move away from the lab and into a position that will allow me to facilitate health research by working with people and improving communication. I’m really grateful that everything I’ve learned at CWRU—from the lab and classroom to campus organizations—gave me the experience and confidence I need have a really great career.

Nirmala Lekhak

Nirmala LekhakFourth-year PhD nursing student; PhD nursing student representative for Graduate Student Council; international student from Kathmandu, Nepal

Which GSAW event are you most excited about attending or participating in?

I am really excited about the alumni event [a networking event] and GSAW Masquerade Ball. I am looking forward to meeting our alumni and improving my networking skills, and also just hanging out with my GSC friends at the ball. Also, I love music and dancing.

What is your favorite aspect of the CWRU community?

My favorite aspect of the CWRU community is actually our student body. I had never seen myself as a leader before joining Graduate Student Senate (GSS). Being involved in GSS and now GSC have allowed me to explore my own leadership skills. It motivated me to restart our PhD Student Nurses Association, which was inactive for more than two years.

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan to work in an academic setting and improving scientific knowledge in the field of dementia prevention. I am also very passionate in reducing health disparity and I hope to use the leadership and research skills I learned here to make a difference for socially disadvantaged and minority population nationally and globally.

Imani Scruggs

Imani ScruggsSecond-year Master of Science in Social Administration student; leading a newly formed diversity ad-hoc committee to become part of GSC; graduate student representative to the Board of Trustees; outside review team about diversity relations on campus

What are you studying?

I’m getting my master’s degree in social work, and it has definitely been an interesting journey. I didn’t really know much about social workers going into it except that they help people for a living. Fortunately, it’s turned into a program that I really enjoy as far as the coursework material and the passion of its practitioners are concerned.

What is your favorite aspect of the CWRU community?

My favorite aspect of the CWRU community has to be the relationships I have formed with the faculty and administrative members here. Although I’ve made some great friends as well, the “mentor-mentee” bond I’ve formed with several administrative members has been invaluable and is something I know will benefit me far past when I leave CWRU.

What are your plans after graduation?

I’m going to stay in Cleveland for at least another year and hopefully find a job working with urban youth or in youth programming. After that, I’ll just have to see where life takes me.