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November 25, 2015

Senate group gathers info on grad student experience

A University Senate committee continues to gather data as it prepares to make recommendations on improving the graduate student experience at Pitt.

In its Nov. 19 meeting, the student admissions, aid and affairs committee received preliminary results of a Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) climate survey and at its next meeting plans to review school-by-school information on services available to graduate students.

Final results of the GPSG survey are expected to be available at that meeting, set for Jan. 20. In addition to informal information-gathering by committee members in their home schools, Stephanie Hoogendoorn of the Office of the Provost said that she will work with Alberta Sbragia, vice provost for graduate studies, to collect uniform information from the graduate schools for the committee.

The Senate committee is focusing on graduate student concerns in conjunction with GPSG’s efforts to boost support and help graduate students feel more connected to the University. It plans to deliver recommendations to the Senate in spring.

In a brief presentation, GPSG president Joseph Kozak and past president David Gau, GPSG’s representative to the Senate committee, offered some preliminary survey results.

They prefaced their presentation with a video clip from the March 20 strategic planning town hall session in which a Pitt law student commented that some students there feel connected to the law school, yet feel neglected  by and disconnected from the University.

Gau said, “We heard a lot of these stories that a lot of grad students felt disconnected from the main University itself,” which was a motivation for the survey.  “It’s one thing to hear the stories; it’s another see if we can get some numbers behind (them),” he said.

Kozak said the survey also shed light on what services students are aware of. “One of the most common comments that we found is that students don’t even know about GPSG.”

The eight-question survey closes at 5 p.m. today, Nov. 25. Graduate students can access it by clicking on the “Take action” box at

Based on about 600 early responses, when asked which services they found important, grad students ranked professional development highest, followed by career services. More than half the respondents valued mental health services; less important were graduate student lounges and legal services.

Gau noted that “a lot of students don’t know we have these services for them here already,” pointing out that about half were not aware of mental health services that are available at the University.

The majority of respondents reported feeling supported in their own departments and schools, while most felt neutral or not supported by the University and by GPSG.

Similarly, in the early results, departments and schools most often got a positive response when students were asked “Do you feel that your opinion is represented by …?”

Kozak said GPSG plans to have Computing Services and Systems Development sort the anonymous data by school and by degree level once all the survey results are in.

Gau said, based on respondents’ comments, “It’s pretty clear there is pretty big segregation amongst the schools. Different schools’ students are feeling different things.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow     

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 7

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