Proper german makes a difference between sexus and genus - the biological and the grammatical gender of things. They have very little in common and the grammatical gender is not an indication of biological gender.
For example: Der Manager (male) and Die Führungskraft (female) are both gender-neutral descriptions of the same person (your boss).
However, there is a political movement that doesn't understand this and is very strong, especially around academia. It insinuates that these two unrelated things actually are related and the generisches masculinum (generic male form) is oppressive male chauvinism (ignoring the question what the generic female and neutral forms are, which also exist).
If you converse with those circles, as seems the case, you can research the artificial forms they have developed, which usually tack an "In" (a common, but not universal indicator of the female form) unto a generic male (and sometimes other) word. For example, "Student" becomes "StudentIn". Unfortunately, there is no common way in which to tack on this suffix, because just adding it in proper german writing would simply turn the male "Student" into the female "Studentin". One form is the one I gave: The "Binnen-I" - a capital I inside the word. Others are "Student/in" or "Student*in" and I'm sure there are yet more. All of them will be marked as wrong in your spellchecker, but here we are.
Note that if you add an article, it becomes "der/die Student/in". Or whatever butchered sentence someone feels correctly expresses their gender-political position.
For some common words, new words have been created, for example "die Studierenden" (plural form of students, literally meaning "those who are studying".
For plural, pick whichever you like best:
- Studenten (correct German, but it could be gender-political suicide)
- Studenten and Studentinnen (explicitly naming both genders)
Yes, it makes an already difficult language even more so. I don't recommend you express your thanks publicly in a university unless you want to not work there anymore.