Prepared by Barun Singh, GSC President 2004-05
This has truly been an outstanding year for the Graduate Student Council! Building upon the strengths and accomplishments of recent years, we have made significant improvements on a wide range of aspects related to the graduate student experience. The pillars of the Council’s work have been, and should always be, representativeness, transparency and accountability. Internally, the Council balanced the desire for speed and flexibility in action with the need for thoughtfulness in decision-making. Strong relationships with administrators, faculty, staff and students based on trust and collaboration have allowed the GSC to succeed with regards to a wide array of issues. This summary briefly outlines at a high level the GSC’s work over the past year in the following areas, specifically how this work has affected the graduate student experience, and the GSC’s role in that experience:
- First-Year Experience: Orientation & Mentorship
- Graduate Academic Experience: Advising & Support
- Careers and Professional Development
- Relationships with Student Groups
- Communication with the Student Body
- Student Needs and Housing
- Student Safety
- Institute-wide Efforts
- GSC Internal Structure and Continuity
First-Year Experience: Orientation & Mentorship
The 2004 Fall Graduate Orientation program was the biggest and most successful to date, with over 70 events planned over a one-month period, most within the first week of the arrival of new students. These events provided venues for social interaction and were critical in helping students during their first few weeks at the Institute. In addition, effort was put into simplifying the logistics and planning for future orientations.
The GSC continued and expanded its successful mentorship programs, in which senior graduate students volunteer to mentor incoming students to assist them in adjusting to MIT. The international student mentorship program benefited over 120 incoming graduate in its third year. In addition, a new program was established for mentorship of members of underrepresented minority populations.
Graduate Academic Experience: Advising & Support
A key issue for the Council over the past year has been the graduate academic experience. The GSC worked with the Provost’s office to survey the entire student body on a wide host of issues related to graduate advising and their experiences at MIT. An over 50% response rate produced a rich and descriptive set of data on the topic. The GSC also ran a set of focus groups, bringing together over 85 faculty, administrators and students from 25 distinct departments to discuss issues related to advising. The survey findings and focus group discussions were presented in many forums, including a town-hall meeting with over 200 attendees, a faculty meeting, a meeting of all department heads, a roundtable with graduate administrators, and various departmental meetings. Through these efforts, the GSC was able to clearly elucidate to the community the need for improvement of graduate advising, and the sharing of best practices across departments and schools. The case was also strongly made for the need to support and encourage peer-to-peer mentorship and support programs at the local level. Faculty members throughout the Institute are now aware of the issues at hand, and are well-situated to move to the next phase of implementation.
A longstanding effort of the Council has been to increase the diversity of the graduate population. Towards this end, a new program known as Converge was implemented by the GSC this year, in collaboration with the Black Graduate Students Association and members of the MIT administration. Converge served as a “graduate preview weekend” for well-qualified undergraduate members of under-represented minorities with 24 potential MIT applicants participating in the program. It received a great deal of positive feedback and has been institutionalized after only one year, as the Provost’s Office has agreed to coordinate it in the future.
The GSC supported diversity beyond racial or ethnic lines as well through the passing of two resolutions. The first offered support for the creation of a full-time administrative position directed at providing support for members of the LBGT community, a position that was later approved and created. The second resolution urged MIT to include marital, partnered, and parental status as part of its nondiscrimination policy, which has received much support from the community.
Careers and Professional Development
The Fall 2004 Career Fair, co-sponsored by the GSC, the Class of 2005, and the Society of Women Engineers, was incredibly successful, attracting over 200 employers (a 33% increase over the previous year) and 4,000 students, and increasing profit by over 50% from the previous year. The collaboration between all three partner groups was very strong, and a new model was put in place to allow MIT’s Science, Engineering, and Business Club to participate in the Fair as well.
The GSC also continued a number of seminar series in place from previous years directed toward career and professional development: Academic Career Series, Professional Development Series, and Business and Technology Lecture Series.
The Council has continued its work to increase the sense of community among graduate students at MIT. The annual GSC Ski Trip was larger than ever, attracting over 450 students, owing largely to the GSC’s collaboration with the graduate student group Snowriders. The GSC also continued to increase support for better engagement of the off-campus student community. The Thirsty Ear pub was reopened this year, thanks to the previous year’s efforts of the Ashdown House Executive Committee, GSC, and the Pub Advisory Board. The GSC supported the pub through its reopening, which has proven to be quite successful. The GSC’s own pub, the Muddy Charles, underwent significant renovations this year, making it an even more appealing location for students.
One very positive factor in increasing the sense of community among the graduate population and graduate alumni was the success of the GradRat, the graduate ring. The GradRat underwent a substantial redesign in 2003, allowing students to get custom rings specific to their department, and the new design has greatly increased the connection that graduate alumni feel towards MIT.
Relationships with Student Groups
The GSC has worked over the course of this year to build stronger relationships with the many graduate student groups at MIT. By working with all the stakeholders, including MIT’s 300+ student groups, a comprehensive restructuring of the Association of Student Activities (ASA), a joint committee of the GSC and Undergraduate Association (UA), was developed and implemented. The ASA Constitution was replaced with a more appropriate set of GSC/UA Bylaws and ASA Operating Guidelines. Doing so empowered the ASA Executive Board to be more dynamic in changing its operating guidelines, while ensuring accountability within both the GSC and UA. Additionally, the changes introduced a process to appeal ASA decisions with the GSC and UA.
The GSC Funding Board distributed over $100k in funds to graduate student groups over the course of the year, and also improved its services through the creation of online funding applications. Additionally, the Council worked to foster collaborations with student groups throughout the year (e.g. through Ski Trip, Converge, Career Fair, etc.) The Council also worked with TechLink, a group co-founded by the GSC and Sloan Senate, to help them become more independent and more flexible in their continued operations.
Communication with the Student Body
The Council addressed the need for clear and effective communication with students on a variety of fronts this year. The Graduate Student News was redesigned, both in its visual layout and its content. The GSC website continued its expansion and now serves as an important reference for many graduate students. The GSC’s announcement email list has grown in subscribers to over 3,500 students and now serves as a very effective communication mechanism. Finally, the GSC’s physical presence on campus plays an important role in communication in that many students come to the GSC Office to ask questions, buy tickets to events, come to meetings, or seek assistance. The office has become more inviting to students over the past year due to significant renovations, e.g. adding a large plaque over the front door, painting, and improving the lighting.
Student Needs and Housing
The GSC built upon previous years’ efforts by creating the most accurate assessment of graduate student cost of living ever to exist at MIT, in a format that can easily be updated from year to year (placed online at ). The analysis was presented to the Deans Group of the Academic Council, which resulted in a 3.5% stipend increase (surpassing the expected increase in cost of living), and a drastic lowering of the medical insurance rates for students with families (a decrease of 6.6% for a student with a spouse, 10% for a student with dependants, and 27% for students with a spouse and dependants).
As a part of its efforts to advocate on behalf of graduate students with families, the GSC gave a “Family Needs Presentation” to a number of deans and administrators at MIT. This presentation was effective in outlining how the Institute had progressed in recent years, and where there was still need for improvement. In conjunction with these efforts, the Council advocated for childcare needs through the Corporation Joint Advisory Committee. On a more tangible level, the GSC has worked to begin the creation of a childcare co-op system in Westgate, which will allow students to pay lower fees by working in the co-op.
In the realm of housing, the GSC began a process of engaging MIT’s independent living group (ILG) community to assess the feasibility of housing graduate students in ILGs that are unable to recruit undergraduate members. The GSC also advocated on a variety of levels for increased housing capacity for the graduate population, and for the Institute to consider, in its construction of a new dormitory, the needs of graduate student families and the disparity in family housing versus single student housing.
A major reconstruction project was begun on Massachusetts Avenue this year that caused concern for many students with regards to the safety of its design. The Council displayed its dynamic nature in times of need by quickly passing a resolution, after carefully assessing the situation, declaring that the project would in fact create unsafe conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. Formal letters of concern were written to internal MIT administrators as well as over a dozen city and state officials (including the City Council, Mayor, Governor, State Highway Officials, etc.). A number of meetings were held in response to these concerns, and the end result was a substantial redesign of the most concerning aspects of the project (including the number of lanes, parking for Saferide, crosswalk width and lighting). The fact that the City and State were willing and able to reconsider the design of a project 15 years in the making because of the GSC’s efforts sent a strong message indicating the impact an organized student body can have.
This year, the GSC engaged in two very large Institute-wide efforts involving not just graduate students, but the community at large. The first of these was “MIT Votes”, which encourage participation in the 2004 United States National Elections. This effort-a joint initiative of the GSC, the UA, MIT institutional offices and various student groups-supported voter registration drives, debates, symposia and other related events on campus so that students could engage themselves in relevant national issues.
A second very important collaboration with the UA was the Student Advisory Board (SAB) to MIT President Susan Hockfield. Co-chaired by the GSC and UA Presidents, the purpose of the SAB was to introduce the President Hockfield, during her first few months in office, to the student perspective of MIT. In so doing, the Board held four lunches with her and presented a final report to the entire MIT community. A summary of the Board’s work can be found at its permanent online home, .
GSC Internal Structure and Continuity
The Graduate Student Council made many changes over the past year to its own internal structure by passing a number of amendments to its Constitution and Bylaws. While some of these amendments simply clarified wording, many amendments put into the GSC’s official documents various unofficial practices the Council. Notable changes included defining and/or clarifying the role of the ASA, an election procedure for GSC representatives, voting rights of Council members, and legislative processes for Council Meetings, as well as a change that moved the definition of housing representation from the Constitution to the Bylaws (to better accommodate changes as new residences are constructed). A new numbering system was put in place to allow easy record keeping of GSC legislation, and all legislation was placed online (see ). In total, 7 amendments to the GSC Bylaws and 3 amendments to the GSC Constitution were approved (the latter going through a referendum of the student body as well).
Finally, in order to help ensure continuity of the GSC’s efforts, the GSC Archives, which play a very important role as the storage-house for GSC’s electronic records and information, were restructured to make them easier to navigate and find relevant information in as well as more secure.