The Graduate and Professional Student Council is the umbrella student government of the University's nine graduate and professional schools. The Chronicle sat down with GPSC president Amol Yadav, a fourth-year PhD candidate in biomedical engineering, and vice-president Shannon O'Connor, a fifth-year PhD/MD candidate in biomedical engineering, about the upcoming year.
The Chronicle: What are the goals for GPSC this year?
Amol Yadav: One of our biggest aims for this year is to look into the graduate student housing situation. We want to study what are the different issues that students have regarding housing, so we understand that it is mostly safety and affordability of the housing around campus. Most of them live off campus, so our aim is to come up with solutions to that this year, so we have started a special committee that will constitute of some representatives from the [general assembly] and some students from the University who can study the surveys that were done by the different schools over the last couple of years and then come up with sort of a proposal to the administration to look at making changes to the situation.
Shannon O’Connor: We actually had a retreat last spring where we had all of the representatives to the general assembly come for about three hours. We formed teams and did a lot of brainstorming about ways in which we can improve the graduate and professional student community in ways that we haven’t looked into in the past. So we came up with a lot of really great ideas and we have honed in on some that we think are pretty exciting, and we’ve formed a new committee for that. We are calling it Bridging GaPS [Graduate and Professional Students]. The idea is that there is a population of graduate and professional students that we think aren’t coming to a lot of our events, and we would like to find a way to reach out to the students who don’t come to normal events.
AY: Another goal is to increase the graduate student advocacy on campus.
SO: And really the goals are established a great deal by the general assembly. The really wonderful thing about GPSC is that all of the power is in the hands of the general assembly, and they represent their departments, so it’s pretty neat in that it is entirely dispersed and whatever students really want to accomplish, they get to.
TC: Do you find it at all difficult to work as one organization uniting students from nine schools?
SO: Absolutely, but for me, that is what makes it fun. I think that there is a great deal more potential for what people can do when they come from diverse academic backgrounds, and I think that even some of the things that we accomplished last year wouldn’t have been accomplished had we not had that great marketplace of ideas from so many different schools and experiences. So, yes, it does make it challenging just because people come from systems that work differently than our governing body, but I think we are pretty good at listening to what the needs of the general assembly are.
AY: Different schools have their own programing and their own events going on, so mostly the students tend to be in that particular area of campus and not really go in other areas. For example, someone from Fuqua doesn’t really go to Twinnie's. So that’s also like getting all of the students together from different schools through social programming and events, that’s one of our goals for the GaPS program to bring them together.
TC: What do you consider your biggest accomplishments from last year?
SO: We have an executive board of 13 members and two basketball co-chairs, and at the beginning of the summer of last year, we went around and had everyone state their goal for the year. Something above and beyond what their predecessor had done, and by the end of the year, everyone had accomplished that goal, and it was really cool.
The basketball co-chairs worked really hard to create what was the largest social gathering of graduate and professional students as it is every year, but last year in particular there was inclement weather and they had to run an inclement weather plan.
The communications chair totally changed the GPSC news. It is kind of amazing. It is in this format that is really easy to read, very accessible. He made sure that every graduate and professional student was getting it. There were a couple schools that weren’t getting it before, so we worked really hard to make that happen.
Our community service chair organized a 5k race for charity and a carnival for kids in the Boys and Girls Club.
Our two social co-chairs hosted Thirsty Thursdays and [football] tailgating, and they also implemented [basketball] tailgates last year. They did beer tastings and started happy hours after general assembly meetings so that the reps could talk after we did all of the logistics.
Our student group liaison and our treasurer totally redid the way that we look through requests for student group funding. They redid the applications, they had info sessions. They made it more accessible to students so that we got better quality applications than we had in the past, and people felt like that was a much more accessible source for funding.
Our academic chair hosted monthly lunches with some of the highest academic leaders in the Duke community, including President Brodhead, lots of the deans. Which allowed for about 15 to 20 students to have lunch with someone who wouldn’t necessarily be accessible to them otherwise, which was pretty cool.
Our university affairs coordinator, along with our president last year and one of our social co-chairs, hosted the national association of graduate and professional students conference.
We totally rewrote our bylaws last year, so our attorney general led a judicial committee to propose an entire rewrite. It is now a really accessible and usable document that everyone is pretty proud of.
AY: We got a student to come to our [general assembly] to talk about veteran students who are at Duke and how we can improve their campus life. We have set up a committee that works with the veterans association.
We also had an increase student activities fee for all of the graduate and professional students. It increased by three percent.