Following a semester that saw a successful basketball campout and legislation to encourage more focus on graduate housing, leaders of the Graduate and Professional Student Council are looking ahead to their Spring goals. The Chronicle’s Carleigh Stiehm checked in with GPSC president Amol Yadav, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, and vice-president Shannon O’Connor, a fifth-year PhD/MD candidate in biomedical engineering, to reflect on this semester and preview the upcoming year.

The Chronicle: In your opinion, what were the biggest accomplishments of GPSC this semester?

Shannon O’Connor: This semester has been especially great for GPSC. Our general assembly, with more representatives from across Duke than ever before, meets every two weeks. Our executive committee of 15 meets additionally twice a month and other GPSC committees are meeting all the time—all to serve our Duke community.

We’ve kept on with our yearly commitments. Our finance committee read dozens of student group funding applications and gave $24,000 for student group initiatives for the fall alone. The Basketball Committee ran a phenomenal and safe basketball campout early in the semester to welcome all the new graduate and professional students to Duke, celebrate the community we have and get Duke basketball tickets. GPSC News has been going strong with weekly updates on GPSC progress and all the exciting events Duke has to offer. Our social chairs have hosted stellar Thirsty Thursdays, tailgates, toga parties and so much more. We welcomed speakers at all our general assembly meetings, including Major Sara-Jane Raines, the operations commander of Duke Police; Dr. Richard Riddell, the Duke University vice president and university secretary; Stefani Jones, the [Duke Student Government] president; and Anna Kenyon, the Duke student medical insurance manager. The GPSC luncheon series is underway, where students can share a meal with some of the most influential members of Duke’s administration. Every general assembly representative has signed up for a university committee, so we are well-represented across Duke.

We’ve delved into some new areas this year, too. The Chronicle has covered each of our general assembly meetings this semester. We’ve organized successful family-centered social activities and all sorts of new, creative events. A new committee, Bridging GaPs, was established as a group to follow-up on ideas from last Spring’s retreat. Its first initiative, GPSC House Thursdays, is underway with new, fun events at the GPSC house including pumpkin carving and game nights. We have been working very closely with the Duke police. We solicited student feedback regarding campus safety, then met with the leaders of Duke police, who have been very receptive to making changes, being more vocal to students about their initiatives, coming to our GA meetings and writing for our GPSC News. We passed a housing resolution, urging the creation of a position to ensure safe and adequate housing for every grad/prof student. We were well represented at NAGPS—which we hosted last year at Duke—and one of our exec members has been elected to the executive committee of NAGPS. Our community service committee helped organize a 5k race for charity, and a strong Movember campaign to raise awareness about men’s health issues.

TC: Are there any major ongoing initiatives that will continue to be worked on next semester?

SO: There are always ongoing initiatives with GPSC. We’ve established a few new committees over the course of the semester to explore topics such as sustainability and endowment transparency, as well as finding better ways to reach out to grad/prof students who don’t usually get involved. Our logo design contest is ongoing, and we’re soliciting applications for spring student funding. Plus, we’ve held a brainstorming session at each general assembly meeting to allow the whole assembly to help solve problems faced in different schools. These projects are in the earliest stages—stay tuned.

Amol Yadav: The housing committee will analyze various student surveys that Student Affairs conducted regarding off-campus housing and provide recommendations to the administration. The endowment transparency committee will research DukeOpen and Divest Duke initiatives and report back to the GA. We will try to equip GPSC house with basic entertainment facilities like TV, projectors and host events on the theme of ‘Bridging Gaps’ to bring students from various schools together. We will have a exec board retreat in early January to come up with long-term vision for GPSC. Organize the annual GPSC retreat in February with GA reps to discuss improvements in the functioning of our organization and meetings. Some of our members will attend the regional southeast conference of NAGPS to build connections with neighboring universities.

TC: What are your goals for next semester?

AY: Make sure Housing, Dining BS Residence Life updates neighborhood reports and creates a central resource for information regarding off-campus housing. Develop a vision document to serve as a guide for future Presidents of GPSC.

SO: In addition to spring student funding and a new GPSC logo, we’re organizing a spring formal, retreats for both exec and the GPSC general assembly, Young Trustee elections, a transformation of the GPSC house into a useful place for graduate and professional student to be, exciting speakers both at the luncheons and at the general assembly meetings, some graduate-and-professional-student-oriented LDOC events and even more exciting social events based on feedback from the social survey.

TC: What has been your favorite GPSC related moment so far this year?

AY: Passing the housing resolution unanimously. Off-campus housing is an issue which has come up for years but nothing constructive was done to solve it. I took it as my personal goal for this year. We created a committee this summer that met with HDRL and came up with short-term and long term plans to solve the issue of safety and affordability. A resolution demanding immediate creation of a new position in HDRL that will specifically work for off-campus housing was passed by our GA. Sending the resolution officially to Larry Moneta and receiving an acknowledgement that a position will be created ASAP was a very rewarding moment for me.

TC: If you could say one thing to all of Duke’s graduate and professional students, what would it be?

SO: Plug in. There are over 100 graduate and professional students working so hard on exec, in the GA and on committees all to make the Duke community more vibrant. No matter what you’re looking for—a beer at Thirsty Thursday, trivia nights, a football game starting with a tailgate, a legislative forum of people from every department across Duke, free food, a committee to work on unsolved problems, concerts, movies, lunch with an administrator, a few days to hang out with friends and get basketball tickets or even a forum to share your research—GPSC has it. Go to a GPSC event, strike up a conversation with someone from another discipline, build a bridge and make our community that much better.

AY: The biggest complaint from U.S. Congress is that graduate students are not as organized and vocal as undergraduates. We have a long way to go to match the level of advocacy, passion and commitment that undergraduate students show for student issues. Our board is aware of that and it is our long term goal to bridge that gap. To achieve that goal will require strategic planning, solid institutional memory and tremendous support from the administration. Our current exec board is thoroughly committed to lay the foundation of that dream so that future boards can carry the mission ahead. If you believe in that dream, GPSC doors are always open for you.