Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publication.
President Benson recently approved the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which brings the possibility of the student government to collaborate with current graduate students, as they look into developing a University-wide Graduate Student Association for the future.
The QEP’s goal is to increase engagement of all new students and is a part of the University’s reaffirmation of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), which accredits Southern higher education institutions.
The process of the QEP began during the fall semester of 2015, which involved an open-submission, proposal periods, and analysis of assessment data for this enhancement. After this previous process and data analysis, the University realized that increased student engagement for first year UTD students improved the University’s retention rates and overall student success.
This past February, President Benson approved the draft plan of the QEP that targets new undergraduate first-time-in-college students, new undergraduate transfer students, new international students, and new graduate students. Now the QEP is in its third phase, which allows development and implementation of the plan.
One of the goals is new graduate student engagement, in which the Office of Graduate Studies hopes to work closely with the undergraduate student government. Although there are current positions available for graduate students in the student government, Marian Underwood, Dean of Graduate Studies, doesn’t want to take anything away from what is already offered. Instead, she wants to partner with them and Student Affairs to create a University-wide Graduate Student Association so that they may create a partnership.
“We have talked with leaders of student government and they are very excited about the prospect of a graduate student association,” Underwood said. Currently, there are associations for graduate students in each major school of study, but there isn’t one that includes everyone.
Ian Shaughnessy, an undergraduate student in the literary studies Fast Track Program, said that he wishes there were more interactive events within the graduate student body. He enjoys the Fast Track Program and the advantage it gives students to start taking classes for their master’s degree, but he feels the program lacks community.
“As far as the Fast Track Program, in particular, I don’t feel like it’s advertised enough and I don’t feel like there’s enough students that do it and if there are,” he said. “I just don’t know because there’s no organization for that.”
Mofei Zhang, a mathematics graduate student, also had the same request. The School of Natural Science and Mathematics offers meetings for students called ‘key time.’ These meetings help the students collaborate to see how differently each other learns and to teach each other their own learning strategies.
“I wish the department had more key time meetings because this is helpful, since I feel like sometimes I struggle a bit in class.” she said. “And socials where I could meet other students in other programs.”
Marian Underwood, responded to this need for community because she wants to provide support for all students.
“I think so many of our graduate students want to feel part of the broader university community. They have a connection to a program or maybe even just to a lab. They appreciate that, but they want more. They want some sense of broader belonging.
I would really like to partner with Student Affairs to provide more social programming for our graduate students, in addition to the social programming that we offer for our undergraduate students,” Underwood said.
Even though there is a need for community between the graduate students. It is going to take time to see the development and implementation, since there are a total of 9,000 graduate students. In addition, the plan was only approved this past February.
Since then, there has already been programing that has helped enhance community between the students. Robert Pearson, Director of Graduate Careers Services, and Beth Keithly, Distinguished Fellowships Advisor, have worked closely together by hosting events and workshops specifically only for graduate students. These events vary in topics, from workshops on personal assessment, writing tips, and even social media presence.
Underwood continues to stay positive about this part of the plan. “I very much want a graduate student association and I will make sure it happens, but it will be in collaboration with students, so it’s a part of the bigger process,” she said.