BLOSSOMING GSA WINS NATIONAL AWARD
A few years years ago, some students in Bryn Mawr's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences envisioned a cohesive, interdisciplinary community of their graduate-student colleagues and set about making it real. This month, the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) recognized their success by granting its award for organization development to the Graduate Student Association. Co-president Crystal Fritz, a Ph.D. candidate in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, accepted the award at NAGPS' annual conference at the University of Miami.
Fritz, who shares the presidency of the GSA with Mary Riggio of the Department of Clinical Developmental Psychology, cites the work of her colleagues and predecessors in the office as critical to reviving the once-faltering association.
"A few years ago, the GSA existed only nominally," Fritz says."It held one meeting a year, and nobody went." Graduate students Lesley Lundeen (Greek, Latin and Classical Studies) and Jennifer Webb (History of Art) together began a restructuring of the organization, forming an executive committee that included a representative from each graduate department.
"This immediately fostered better communication among departments," Fritz says. "Before that, departments were isolated. Students in what is now the Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics and History of Art might have some contact with those in other humanities disciplines, and there was some communication among students in different sciences, but there was little chance of meeting someone from another division. Now we all meet regularly."
Robert Ekey, a doctoral candidate in physics, who was co-president of the GSA for two terms — last year with Fritz and the year before with James Schweppe of the Chemistry Department — says that the opportunity to meet students from other disicplines was especially helpful at Bryn Mawr because many departments' programs are so small.
"Some departments may admit only a few students a year," Ekey says,"so you really need to go outside your department for peer support and social interaction."
After the association was reorganized, its representatives secured a small budget from the treasurer of the College and began sponsoring regular social events. A monthly happy hour is well attended, says Fritz, and a Halloween party last semester drew a good crowd. The GSA usually has a kickball-and-barbecue picnic during the spring semester, and last fall, the association participated in a community-service day in Philadelphia.
It's not all about partying, of course. The GSA holds general meetings once a semester, and its executive board meets twice a semester, including a breakfast with GSAS Dean Dale Kinney. The revitalization of the organization led to the appointment of graduate-student representatives to several important posts that had previously been filled sporadically at best: the GSA is now represented at meetings of the College's Budget Committee, Committee on Institutional Priorities, Commencement Committee, Alumnae Association, General Faculty, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Board of Trustees. It has formed ad-hoc committees on health insurance and graduate recruiting and admissions. The latter benefitted from a GSA survey of GSAS students that delved into their reasons for choosing Bryn Mawr.
The association produced promotional materials — t-shirts and decals — for the GSAS. "This was originally a fundraiser for us," Fritz says, "but it also makes a great recruiting tool for the dean to use, and it helps raise the visibility of the GSAS on campus."
"One of our primary concerns is the integration of the GSAS into the College community," Fritz says. "We want to foster that relationship. Grad students at Bryn Mawr tend to do less teaching than grad students at large research universities,so some of us have very little contact with undergraduates — especially students in the humanities, who don't serve as lab TAs. We think that everyone would benefit from more interaction."
To that end, the GSA recently launched a mentorship program. "Graduate students volunteered to offer themselves as mentors to undergraduates who are undertaking advanced research projects." The potential mentors introduced themselves in meetings of senior seminars last fall.
Fritz and Riggio also hope to strengthen contacts with students in the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. Just this week, the GSA has unveiled a new initiative, a graduate intramural sports program, that the GSA has organized in conjunction with students at the GSSWSR.
Attending regional and national conventions of graduate students has also been rewarding, Fritz says. Last year, Ekey joined an NAGPS lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. "The national organization does a lot of lobbying in D.C.," Fritz explains, "mostly on issues having to do with financial aid, loans and taxes." At the convention in Miami, Fritz attended a workshop on loan consolidation, an area in which laws have recently changed. She hopes to bring a speaker to campus to explain the changes.
Ekey says that he feels good about his contributions to the GSA. "When I started in my program, the GSA hardly existed," he says. "We put a lot of effort into it, and new students just see it as something you do — a benefit the school offers. I'm pretty confident that it will continue to thrive."
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