The Graduate Student Assembly executive officers have set a daunting schedule for themselves as the academic year begins. In addition to classes, research, and other scholarship responsibilities, they are visiting almost every program that offers graduate degrees. They’re attending almost every event at the Graduate Life Center. And they are hosting many activities, from a welcome back barbecue that drew hundreds in spite of a downpour to ice cream socials and lunches with Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen P. DePauw.

GSA President Matt Chan of Hong Kong, China, said the reason is simple. The organization wants to raise its visibility and make students and faculty advisors aware of its programs and mission. 

They are building on past efforts. GSA Director of Communications Emma Potter of Elkton Virginia, noted that last year, the group helped push through a parking program for graduate students. “It was birthed not from administration, but from student conversations in the GSA,” she said, “GSA listened to student concerns and formed our own solutions that the university went on to implement.”

The university is giving the parking program a test drive this year, offering 75 slots to graduate teaching and research assistants via a lottery.

The group also began a program to loan commencement gowns to students free of charge. Potter, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development, said the GSA had 220 applicants for the 80 master’s and doctoral degree gowns on hand.

“Not every graduate student can or would choose to take on that added expense at graduation. The number of applicants shows us that the need is there, and we want to further our efforts to fulfill this need,” she said.

Chan, a civil and environmental engineering doctoral student, said for the past couple of years, the GSA executive board gradually cut back on the number of programs the GSA offers in order to focus on the quality of those programs.

“By cutting down of the quantity of programs, we are able to increase the quality of the remaining programs that most support graduate student life here at Virginia Tech,” he said, noting the GSA has doubled the travel fund budget so the group can provide assistance to more students to present at conferences in their fields of study.

Chan said the organization also has been engaged with the diversity and inclusion initiatives associated with the campus-wide InclusiveVT program. Graduate students are passionate about inclusion and diversity, and have been vocal about ways to accomplish those goals, he added.

Potter and Chan said the organization wants to provide more professional development opportunities for students. “The quintessential graduate school experience is not just about lab work or research, but is more comprehensive. It includes experiences that shape us into well-rounded scholars and professionals,” Potter said. “The GSA is dedicated to helping graduate students take part in as many professional opportunities as possible – whether conferences, dissertation support, or cash awards. The GSA wants to support graduate students in their professional endeavors.”

 The GSA also wants to strengthen relationships with faculty and graduate program coordinators. That goal led to the flurry of presentations and meetings.

“So far, the responses has been overwhelmingly positive,” Potter said. “The GSA executive board plans to be very visible during the first few weeks of the semester, online and in-person, especially at events and activities in the Graduate Life Center.”

 “This year, we were able to attend more than 30 of the graduate program and college orientations,” Chan said. “We hope we were able to raise awareness of the support and leadership opportunities we offer here at the GSA to new and returning graduate students all across the Blacksburg campus, as well as the extended campuses.”

In Spring 2015, the GSA revised its constitution. Students were key participants in the process, providing input, criticism, and ideas, Potter said. This year, the GSA will continue with it revised governance procedures, continue to restructure roles and responsibilities, and work to ensure the GSA’s sustainability.

 “The university is going through a lot of changes, so there is a fantastic opportunity for us to build on this momentum and bring new life to the organization,” said Chan.

The GSA has several events planned for the first months of the semester. They include:

  • Sept. 9, noon in the Graduate Life Center: Lunch with Dean DePauw, known to students as a “Guac(amole) Talk with the Dean.”
  • Sept 21, 4:30-7 p.m. in the Squires Student Center: Graduate and Professional Schools Fair.
  • Sept. 24, 5:30-7 p.m. in the Graduate Life Center Multipurpose Room: GSA General Assembly Meeting
  • Oct. 14, noon in the Graduate Life Center, the second Guac Talk with the Dean.

Chan said GSA officers plan to be much more visible on campus throughout the year. “If you see us, don’t be shy,” said Chan. “Come over and talk.”