Group to foster communication among grad students

Distinguished Fellowships Advisor Beth Keithly explains the basic ideas behind the Graduate Student Assembly, which aims to foster communication among graduate students with varying backgrounds and ages. Photo by Xiang Li | Mercury Staff.


A team of staff members are forming a new organization to provide graduate students with a common platform for interacting and collaborating with each other.

Director of Graduate Studies Robert Pearson is leading the team as they put together a new organization called the Graduate Student Assembly. They plan to bring together as many students as possible and help them find a stronger, louder voice on campus for their needs to be addressed, Pearson said.

Dean of Graduate Studies Marion Underwood said she’s thought about starting this organization since fall 2015.

“It’s curious to me, given that the university started as a graduate institute, given that graduate enrollment is still so strong, that we do not yet have a university-wide association for graduate students,” she said. “There are in some of the schools, graduate student associations specific to disciplines or even school wide. But there’s never been anything across the university.”

Underwood said because master’s and doctoral students come from various countries and are of different ages, it is important to have an organization that enables interaction across disciplines.

“Many graduate students know people who they study with, they know people in their labs, but they don’t have a chance to know others,” Underwood said. “We see this as a way for graduate students to connect across disciplines for social activities, maybe even for academic work to advocate for their interest, to learn from each other.”

The Student Organization Center mandates that new student organizations must fulfill certain requirements before being approved. Pearson said the team is currently focusing on three important action items to fulfill the minimum requirements to register the Graduate Student Assembly. These include electing representative officers, finding a faculty advisor and creating a constitution.

“The goal is to get all these three pieces together and an application for a registered student organization by May 1 so that this organization is eligible for funding from Student Affairs for the fall semester,” Pearson said.

The organization would be a systematic way for graduate students to advise the Office of Graduate Studies on ideas and initiatives they would like to see implemented, Underwood said. She added that the intent of this organization is not to displace or replace existing student organizations across schools in UTD, but to support these organizations and aim for university-wide cooperation.

The team has held two meetings so far to solicit feedback from the students about the kind of organization they want to form. Attendees gave feedback that showed interest in forming interdisciplinary connections.

“Graduate students get a lot of support within programs, but how much they get varies across the university,” Underwood said. “And there’s not, currently to my knowledge, an existing structure that brings graduate students from across the university together to discuss their mutual goals and interests. This organization might enable interdisciplinary connections among graduate students.”

Since these meetings, the graduate studies team has put together an organization on Blackboard and added students to it so they can see information about the group. The team is also communicating through emails and their Facebook page.

“This is what graduate students want, and it is important for their professional development to foster interdisciplinary connections and this might be the kind of group that would help enable such connections,” Pearson said.


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