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March 3, 2016

Senate committee gathers more info on graduate student issues

A University Senate committee is drafting its report on graduate student concerns after months of information-gathering on the needs of Pitt graduate students and the services that currently exist.

The Senate student admissions, aid and affairs committee took up the issue in November in support of Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) efforts to combat decentralization and disconnectedness across Pitt’s 14 graduate schools. (See Oct. 29, 2015, University Times.)

GPSG leaders relayed concerns that some grad students lack awareness of available services and/or feel disconnected from the University.

The committee previously reviewed results of a GPSG climate survey that found the majority of 600-plus student respondents reported feeling supported in their own departments and schools, while most felt neutral or not supported by the University and by GPSG.

At its Feb. 18 meeting the committee heard the conclusion of a Provost’s office school-by-school survey that sought details from administrators on existing services and perceived gaps across graduate programs here.

Stephanie Hoogendoorn, senior assistant to the provost for academic affairs, summarized details gathered from individual conversations with more than 30 administrators in graduate programs across the University.

Among the perceived gaps administrators most frequently cited was assistance with recruiting — including funding, training in best practices, help in developing pipelines and assistance with recruiting diverse populations, Hoogendoorn reported.

Other areas cited as needing improvement included speedier access to counseling center services; technology improvements; and additional housing support for grad students.

Some administrators expressed a desire to remove barriers to cross-school collaborations, help with cultivating diversity, expand student access to writing center services and help with incorporating professional development into the curriculum.

Hoogendoorn said initiatives are underway to improve graduate services. She said the University Council on Graduate Studies is tasking its student affairs subcommittee with looking into expanding graduate student orientation; a new graduate associate dean group is examining minority recruiting, including women; and the Provost’s office is looking into technology gaps.

The University is looking into a pilot graduate version of the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) student satisfaction survey. The University uses an undergraduate SERU survey, but “because graduate students are so different, between master’s and PhD students, and even in the PhD programs … there aren’t a lot of graduate-wide-based surveys,” Hoogendoorn said.

Other efforts include improving the graduate studies website and increasing support for staff so they, in turn, can better serve students.

“I think communication is a big part of some of these issues. I think if we could teach faculty about all the things we have, that would be one of the most effective ways of helping our students,” she said. “Then faculty advisers would be able to help students directly.”

GPSG past president David Gau, a student representative to the Senate committee, said better infrastructure is needed to help schools communicate. “Right now we don’t have many good focal points for various services to come together and talk together and share best practices,” he said.

“A lot of schools are doing really good things. In talking to students, I think what we should try to do as a University is really just create more of a culture of our different schools working together.”

He added: “We have a lot of strong programs here. Certain people do things a lot better. We just need to come up with a good way for them to share these experiences so everybody can benefit. That alone will lead to a change where we’ll start working more as a unified graduate program, instead of 14 separate schools.”

Committee co-chairs Robin Kear and Cho Cho Lin will prepare a draft report for the committee’s March 17 meeting. The committee has yet to decide whether the report will include a recommendation or a proposed resolution for Senate action.

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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