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April 14, 2016

Faculty Assembly endorses graduate student resolutions

Faculty Assembly has endorsed a trio of recommendations from the Senate student admissions, aid and affairs (SAAA) committee for fostering better communication and connections among the University’s graduate schools.

SAAA has focused on the graduate student experience in response to concerns raised last fall by graduate student leaders who reported that some grad students feel disconnected from the University. (See Oct. 29, 2015, University Times.)

SAAA co-chair Robin Kear, in an April 12 report to the Assembly, said the committee “held discussions on what grad students need, want and might expect from the University. From these meetings we agreed that, of course, we want to take care of graduate students and we wanted to work toward a better experience for them.”

The SAAA committee reviewed a Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) graduate student climate survey; results of one-on-one interviews by Provost’s office staff with key staff in Pitt’s graduate schools; and a report by Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner on graduate students’ usage of programs and services, over the course of its meetings this academic year.

“We want to encourage a strong collaborative culture around grad students. We found there are strong existing services but not all grad students know about them. We feel that we want to foster a collaborative network and encourage a more connected community for all grad students,” Kear said.

The committee recommends:

• Improved communication. “The No. 1 request of the GPSG was having the ability to communicate directly and efficiently with all grad students,” Kear said. “For example, even sending an email newsletter once a semester would help spread awareness of resources and services. Other examples would be gathering relevant staff across schools and departments so they can share best practices.”

• More institutional support of GPSG activities. “There has been some movement to do so, but we would ask for broad support of the fall orientation, and also of the general campus tours and orientations that GPSG started in 2014,” Kear said. “This could also potentially include appointing a graduate student life coordinator that works across schools and bridges academics to student life.”

• Graduate student support outside the Provost’s area.

“In our talks we became aware of some things that grad students need, but that don’t report to the provost, such as off-campus housing and facilities issues,” she said.

The committee is asking the provost to consider the recommendations and report on progress and actions in 12 months.

Kear said the Provost’s office has been responsive, appointing Alberta Sbragia, vice provost for graduate studies, to the committee when the issues were raised last fall.

In addition, Kear said, action already is being taken toward several areas of concern, including support for a University-wide graduate student orientation next fall and better promotion of University-wide resources for grad students.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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