2012 – 2013 Annual Report

Graduate Student Council

2012-2013 Annual Report

Overview

Building upon the last four years of visionary leadership and transition towards a strategic rather than tactical organization[i], this year’s GSC was able to execute upon a number of large-scale and long-standing strategic goals while at the same time building pathways for powerful new interactions and partnerships. In addition to completing a number of inherited long-term projects, the GSC also grew core competencies to unprecedented scales, planted the seeds for new initiatives to address underserved needs, and strengthened and made more transparent our internal operations. Thanks to the dedication of those leaders before us, the leadership of 15 executive committee members, guidance of 60 general council representatives, and selfless contributions of hundreds of graduate student volunteers, the graduate body has experienced a year of service to students and by students unrivalled in recent history. As a result of this sustained effort, the GSC was awarded the MIT Compton Prize, the highest prize for service at the Institute, for its outstanding contributions to student life over the last five years. This was the first time in the GSC’s 59 year history that it received such an award as an organization.

To outline the accomplishments of the 2012-2013 year, what follows is a framework and overview of the GSC’s most salient activities and accomplishments followed by a brief discussion of target areas to watch in the coming year. Though conciseness forces a summary review, it should be noted that the GSC benefits from the guidance and partnership with various offices/organizations around the Institute, including but not exclusive to The Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE), The Division of Student Life (DSL), The Office of the Chancellor, The Office of Provost, Institutional Research, Government and Community Relations, The Office of the Executive Vice President, MIT Medical, MIT Transportation, The MIT Alumni Association, The Office of the President, The Chair of the Faculty and Faculty Leadership, The MIT Tech, The MIT Undergraduate Association, MIT Ombuds Office, and the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS).

This year’s activity can be broken up into four (4) major categories:

  1. Programming: Events and activities put on by the GSC for all MIT graduate students
  2. Advocacy: Representing the interests of graduate students to MIT and outside bodies
  3. Resourcing and Information: Providing support as well as information that helps graduates support themselves
  4. Structures and Partnerships: New GSC traditions or bodies as well as external partnerships

Programming

Programming at the GSC began this year with GSC Orientation 2012. Over the last five years, the GSC has grown its student-run institute-wide orientation program to be the largest in the United States (and likely the world), both in terms of scope and scale. This year, the 2012 Orientation lasted 18 days and provided new students from all schools with 41 events to choose from. In addition to being planned and executed by graduate student volunteers, the 3-week long production by the orientation committee (OC) requires over 6 months of planning, involves collaboration with over 20 offices around MIT, coordination and financing of the seven graduate dorms, and requires the dedication of nearly 75 upperclassmen graduate volunteers.

Noteworthy for 2012 Orientation was the focus on traditionally underserved segments of the graduate population. The Families Carnival hosted over 500 graduates and their children for food, games, and resource information distribution. This marks the largest family-oriented event in GSC’s history and the largest graduate family event at MIT over the last academic year. Similarly, GWAMIT, the GSC’s women’s advocacy subcommittee, hosted the largest-ever women’s lunch with almost 400 incoming graduate women in attendance. At the event, numerous administrative speakers greeted and talked with the incoming class of women scholars. Similar to the families event, this luncheon represented the largest women-specific gathering of the MIT graduate community in 2012. A third new support-based event was the International Student’s Mixer – an event that paired new international students to international alumni in the Boston area that came from a similar country/region. This event, in partnership with the MIT Alumni Association, hosted nearly 200 international graduate students and alumni.

Following orientation, the Activities committee worked to provide continual personal interactions between graduate students with their large portfolio of institute-wide programming. Of note are the MIT Graduate Arts Gala and Soiree that attracted over 700 graduate students to view and discuss art made by fellow students. The GSC also hosted its annual MIT Grad Gala, the largest gala event at MIT that brings nearly 600 graduate students out for a three-course meal and dancing in a hotel ballroom. At an even more impressive scale, the GSC hosted the largest off-site trip in the 2013 academic year with the successful execution of the MIT/Snowriders Ski Trip. Nearly 800 graduate students were transported and supported for three days of skiing at Jay Peak, Vermont.

In addition to the above large-scale events, the GSC also organized a range of smaller-scale events to encourage more personal interactions amongst students. Noteworthy were the new GSC Coffee Hours meant to provide graduate students a late night venue to refuel and meet up after other food options and restaurants close in the area. Also new this year was the Friendside Frenzy series of events that invited 20-30 students to spend two hours together learning about each other and making diverse connections across campus. Another example of human-scale programming was the GSC Off-Campus subcommittee’s work in planning and executing 25 small dinner discussions for the two thirds of MIT grads that live off-campus and, therefore, do not have access to graduate dormitory resources or programming. The 2013 off-campus subcommittee was the most active in the GSC’s history.

In addition to the GSC’s packed social programming portfolio, the Academics, Research, and Careers (ARC) committee in the GSC doubled its programming this year with twenty (20) large-scale events aimed at providing graduate students useful tools or knowledge for navigating graduate school as well as careers afterwards. Included in their offerings were a financial planning seminar, 2 alumni networking events, 2 GWAMIT conferences attracting over 500 graduate men and women, 3 dissertation bootcamps for giving students advice and quiet space to write their theses, 6 career path series covering fields as diverse as academia, consulting, public policy, and big data, and 6 grad skills series providing training and resources for skills such as grant writing, publication submission, and negotiations with supervisors and advisors. Like the Off-Campus committee, ARC’s programming efforts are unmatched in the GSC’s recorded history.

A final point of pride for the GSC’s programming efforts this year was the 2012 MIT Fall Career Fair. The GSC is the largest of three student organizational partners and oversees the Fall Career Fair Directors whose job it is to plan, finance, and execute the largest career fair at MIT each academic year. This year’s career fair was the largest in MIT’s 151 year history and brought to campus over 300 employers for several days of informational sessions, panels, interviews, and the main career fair event. In addition to drawing significant student crowds, the Fall Career Fair is also open to Postdoctoral researchers as well as MIT Alumni. The proceeds from career fair sponsorships are split amongst the three partners to redistribute directly to the student population. From the GSC’s end, the excess profits were distributed in their entirety to increases to the GSC Funding Board to grow support of graduate student clubs on campus, to augment the GSC travel grant for students to present at conferences, and to create an historic fund that, in partnership with several other offices at MIT, provides back-up childcare for graduate students with children.

Advocacy

One of the GSC’s main constitutional duties is “to represent the graduate students on all matters pertaining to their general welfare as graduate students.[ii]” To this end, the GSC meets, partners, and collaborates with dozens of offices around MIT every year to advocate on behalf of the best interests of graduate students. The GSC does this in two manners: through its committee memberships and through its direct advocacy.

The GSC Nominations Board serves as the official, transparent, and accountable body for nominating graduate students to 27 Institute committees, ad hoc committees and task forces, and can provide relevant student membership on search committees. This year, the nominations board reviewed over 125 applications, conducted approximately 75 interviews, and placed 60 graduate students in positions to represent the larger graduate body in specific areas of expertise. New this year was the creation of the Presidential Transition Advisory Cabinet (PTAC) that was spearheaded by the GSC and Undergraduate Association (UA) and was charged with “providing advice and student perspective to MIT’s 17th President, L. Rafael Reif, as he developed a vision for the Institute’s future”. As a result of its success, President Reif has decided to maintain a group of student advisors, to be renamed the Presidential Advisory Cabinet (PAC). Also new this year was the expansion of Nominations Board membership to include non-officers so as to increase transparency with the community. Though only one non-officer slot was opened, this move was meant as a trial to inform future GSC leadership on the expansion of the board.

Institute Representatives were responsible for an impressive degree of advocacy over the last year, with an example being the major advance made via the Transportation and Parking subcommittee relating to the pending creation of a new bus line to serve the 2,400 graduate students that live off campus in Cambridge and currently have no transportation options after 7 PM. Similarly, graduate representatives worked with faculty leadership and advocated through the Faculty Policy Committee to permanently create a student holiday that coincides with Fall Career Fair to allow students to attend without compromising their academic commitments. A final example of successful advocacy was through the ROTC oversight committee in which the GSC representative took ownership over the push to rename Lobby 10 as a memorial to MIT’s student and faculty war dead.

Outside of Institute Committee Structures, the GSC maintained an active advocacy portfolio through its Housing and Community Affairs (HCA) committee as well as officer corp. Major advances were made in transportation with the institutionalization of the Grocery Shuttle, a line previously financed and trialed by the UA/Dormcon/GSC but now picked up by MIT. The GSC also instituted a Costco-Target shuttle to allow students without cars to purchase furniture and home supplies as well as a new Zipcar program that incentivizes students that want to grocery shop at cheaper or more diverse locations outside of Cambridge to carpool with rented zip cars and submit reimbursements through the GSC. Both of these programs, as well as the aforementioned Off-Campus shuttle line to Inman Square will be trialed over the next year to collect data on usage and usefulness.

The HCA also took the lead on following up on a three year project of increasing both the actual and the perception of safety in the Northwest corridor of campus by organizing meetings between MIT Police and the four related graduate dorms to discuss, interview, and orient a new police officer position dedicated to the four northwest dorms. What resulted is a new full-time officer stationed in Sidney Pacific and dedicated to protecting the Northwest Campus. Similar to the safety initiative, the HCA also inherited and executed upon the stipend recommendation charge that occurs once annually each year. This year the HCA analyzed additional data sets and performed error analyses before concluding that the cost of living for graduate students was rising at 4.78%, driven mostly by continued increases in off-campus rental rates (7.93%). A stipend recommendation of 4.78% was proposed by the HCA to Dean’s Group and the final stipend for the next academic year was set at 3.5%. Though this is a larger deviation than normal, the GSC appreciated the larger context of financial uncertainties posed to higher education by the impending sequestration and therefore understood the inability to raise stipends with the inflation felt by students.

Following on the topic of off-campus housing rates, the GSC was in prime position this year to drive discussions both internally as well as at the city council thanks to the Community Engagement Plan created and started under the 2009-2010 GSC team. Beginning in 2009, the GSC began flagging signs of uncontrolled rental rates due to inflation and thus began a strategic thrust into the city and neighborhoods to build useful connections and capital amongst city councilors and neighborhood groups. By 2012-2013, the GSC had accrued a large enough influence within the city and at home to begin driving a discussion that had otherwise remained dormant throughout the development of Kendall Square. In the early summer of 2012 the GSC authored a strategic piece[iii] in the Faculty Newsletter to bring to bear the issue upon the community and then began a grassroots faculty outreach campaign targeted at pushing for the creation of a widely inclusive stakeholder task force to review and make recommendations for the development of on- or near-campus lands. By the end of the summer of 2012 a Faculty Task Force had been formed that met repeatedly with GSC representatives prior to the release of their report[iv]. Throughout the fall and spring GSC representatives spoke repeatedly with city councils, at planning board meetings, and at city council meetings to ensure the graduate voice was heard at the decision-making level. As a direct result of the GSC’s advocacy and recommendations by the Faculty Task Force, a Housing Working Group was established at MIT, a student position was created on the Provost’s Steering committee, and hundreds of MIT graduate students were educated on the project at a Faculty Forum[v] held in early February.

A similar area of successful advocacy was on the front of childcare for graduate students. In 2009, childcare scholarships for graduate students to use at on-campus centers were phased out due to their inability to serve more than a small group of students. Following this, informational centers and advising were established at the Work-Life center though no new service programs existed to ease graduate students need for child care services. As a result of the growing unmet need of students with children, several graduate parents stepped up and were empowered by the HCA to drive the issue on behalf of their colleagues. The GSC Families subcommittee was shortly thereafter reconvened by the HCA and began work on peer comparisons and benchmarking. Within a couple of months a new childcare facility, to be built at 219 Vassar, was unexpectedly announced and the GSC brought together a coalition of postdoctoral researchers and research associates to author a piece and proposal that requested egalitarian placement practices and an ability-to-pay fee structure be implemented at the new facility. Both of these recommendations were not accepted and as a result the GSC Families subcommittee doubled its efforts in coordination with the ODGE and MIT Work-Life center to begin to build a case for back-up childcare. The GSC Executive team and General Council, determined to make impact in this area, made the first contribution of funds using Career Fair proceeds to seed a back-up childcare fund at the level of $38,000. Several administrative partners soon joined/matched and the Institute’s first back-up childcare program was formed for graduate students.

Finally, the GSC’s May 2012 General Council Meeting promise to deliver a Quality of Life survey to the General Council was delivered upon when, with leadership from the Chancellor’s Office later that summer, a coalition of Deans and students worked to craft, deploy, and analyze a high-quality survey instrument that reached 53% of all students. As a result of the partnership, the GSC has been promised full access to confidential raw data by the Chancellor’s office and intends to use this information to learn more about the graduate community and areas that need further support and advocacy.

Resourcing and Information

The GSC is the main financial support tool of graduate student programmatic life at MIT through its constitutionally mandated Funding Board operation that is charged with distributing student fees to student groups in a fair, democratic, and transparent manner. This year, the GSC Funding board dispersed $120,000 through standard student group allocations, $6,500 through public service fellowships, $30,000 through medium sized events funds, $15,000 through council representative funding to departments, $12,000 through athletic and performance grant funding, $2,000 through group start-up funds, and $3,000 through a grant that awards and support collaboration between groups. This total, $188,500 represents a 12% increase in student financing due to the higher-than-expected GSC profits from career fair. In addition to the funding provided through Funding Board, the GSC ARC committee provided $19,000 in travel grants for graduate students to attend conferences around the world. This amount represents an 18% increase in support of graduate student travel.

In addition to distribution of financial resources, the GSC also manages the GradRat, the official MIT ring for graduate students, as well as the Muddy Charles Pub through its Muddy Charles Board of Governors. Over the last year, GradRat sales have grown by 16%, adding to a five-year growth of 41% since 2008. This year’s ring sales, topping out at approximately 790 were the largest in the history of the Institute and are set to overtake undergraduate class ring sales by 2015. Due to the explosion in growth of the graduate ring, the GSC has begun a strategic expansion of ring sales to graduate alumni, approximately 30,000 of which have never had an opportunity to purchase or own an MIT ring. This expansion is not only meant to grow the graduate alumni’s pride in MIT but also generate further revenues that can then be cycled back into GSC programming aimed at increasing interactions between alumni and current graduate students. With modest effort, we expect this program can yield 50 to 100% growth on current ring sales in a current year and therefore support twice the amount of graduate-alumni interaction as before.

The Muddy Charles similarly had an excellent year with sales during several months breaking records from previous years. After weathering shaken patronage following concerns regarding Walker Memorial repurposing, the pub has maintained its low prices while simultaneously making several capital investments in the space. The large dining room windows were upgraded with safety rails to allow them to be opened in the summer to benefit from the river breeze. In addition, many wooden chairs were replaced and the walls were repainted to improve the overall comfort of patrons. Many of these improvements were fueled by record sales this year from the Muddy Charles’ and Thirsty Ear’s alcohol catering service that expanded to new levels and served nearly every department and alumni group at the Institute over the last academic year. As a final note, because the Muddy Charles’ success and ability to serve students, faculty, and staff is predicated on its historic location and atmosphere, the pub remains keenly sensitive and interested in any future discussions regarding Walker repurposing.

The GSC’s final constitutional role, outside of programming, resourcing, and advocacy, is to provide a means of communication to and between graduate students at MIT. From the first day of office, this year’s group overhauled the principal communication channel with graduate students by revising and streamlining “The Anno”, the weekly news email to all graduate students. Fifty issues of the Anno were sent out along with two special communications. Alongside the Anno, the GSC’s flagship publication, “The Graduate” was published six times with themes as diverse as financial management, stress and wellness, and orientation. Though the Graduate’s return to print-form two years ago hosted much debate, we have seen recent growth in distribution and readership with issues disappearing as quickly as The Tech in newspaper distribution stalls.

Complementing our standard channels, the GSC also decided this year to pivot slightly away from a timidity towards publication in newspapers and journals and began utilizing these venues as means of education, informing, and motivating our graduate population. Over the last year GSC leaders have authored 10 articles in the Tech, 1 MIT Video, 1 piece in the Faculty newsletter, and were covered in a piece on Nature magazine’s Boston blog. These 13 external publications represent a 550% growth in external communications and will serve as critically important institutional knowledge points for future graduate leaders to refer to when learning about issues.

 

 

Structures and Partnerships

Over the last year, the GSC has deployed a number of new internal structures to improve the organization’s function as well as develop external partnerships to grow the relevance and publicity of the organization beyond our immediate constituency.

Internally, the GSC innovated in order to improve retention of historical knowledge as well as recognize strong volunteer leadership in the organization. The Board of Advisors (BoA) was established in the fall of 2012 to create an advisory link between the existing executive officer team and former GSC leaders from the last decade. The current BoA has met twice with the GSC and has GSC representation from a diversity of former leaders, includes current Corporation members, and covers operations dating back to 2002. This body serves the dual purpose of providing feedback to current leaders while at the same time providing historical knowledge and context not captured in the GSC’s extensive 16 year archives. As a result of consultation with the Board a number of programs and structures have been evaluated including GSC Finances, India Pre-orientation, and the advantages/disadvantages of autonomous committees and subcommittees.

In addition to the BoA, the GSC created a new forum, known as Awakening Creativity Talks (ACTs) that empowered small groups of general council reps from across the institute to identify an issue important to them, research it, and present it with no moderation or interference from the GSC executive officers. This unmoderated portion during GCMs served the simultaneous purpose of getting representatives more involved and taking ownership while at the same time helping the GSC identify new issues that may be arising from the constituency. Over the last year six (6) ACTs were presented on topics ranging from late night food to graduate student IRAs and investment plans. In addition to creating new venues for council participation, the GSC also brought back service awards to publicly recognize those graduate student volunteers, outside of the GSC’s leadership, that were serving the general student body in a meaningful way. Over the last twelve months, 9 graduate students have been recognized as service award recipients.

External to the organization a number of new connections were created over the last year that underpinned much of the GSC’s advocacy and programmatic success. First and foremost, the GSC forged an incredibly strong relationship with the Undergraduate Association and met weekly with their leadership to coordinate on advocacy topics as well as student stances. This partnership crystallized as early May 15th with the release of the Institute’s first ever joint vision statement from the UA and GSC leadership[vi] and grew over the summer with the joint establishment of PTAC as well as a joint health and wellness task force shared between the two organizations. In addition to UA partnership, the GSC also strengthened relations with a number of other important offices around the Institute. Specifically, the GSC grew connections with the Office of the President through PTAC engagement, Alumni association through ARC programming and ring sales, and the Work-Life center through collaboration on the back-up childcare initiative.

As noted earlier, the GSC also established a meaningful working relationship with The Tech that aimed to help source more graduate content for publication. The GSC also helped The Tech find graduate writers by offering recruitment opportunities at GSC events. In addition to connections with The Tech, the GSC developed strong working relationships with the Faculty Newsletter, local Cambridge and Boston newspapers, and online blogs with prominent journals like Nature and Science.

Finally, the GSC grew significantly in its external and global presence with its hugely successful India Pre-orientation Program, its hosting of South Korean and Hong Kong delegations for multi-day campus visits, its connections with the Cambridge City Council as a result of its housing advocacy efforts, its presence in Washington DC as a result of the Legislative Action subcommittee’s Legislative Action Days (LAD) in which MIT students pushed for open access, H-1B visas, and tax exemption, and its influential membership in the Ivy+ Summit and National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS). As a result of the GSC’s work in the public and national sector the NAGPS has awarded the MIT GSC as the 2012-2013 National Northeast chapter of the year.

Conclusions

Over the 2012-2013 academic year, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) has made significant steps towards improving the lives of students, advocating on their behalves, and providing them with the information and programs to enrich and support their diverse needs. It has done this through programming that is unmatched in size and scale by all other nationally active student governments in the United States, strategic advocacy that balances the long-term initiatives of the past with the impending needs of the future, community-sensitive resources like new shuttles and childcare that respond to constituent demands, improved communication structures internally and enhanced public presence in newspapers, and strategic new partnerships that will position the GSC to embark on more ambitious national and international goals in the future.

Future growth areas include the elevation of the GSC’s ability to leverage social media as a means of publicity as well as canvassing student opinion, the opportunity to formalize relationships with local governments through student boards, the continued participation in East Cambridge development to ensure suitable transportation and food options are available late night and safeguard students against uncontrolled rent increases in the immediate area, the expansion of resources like the GradRat to alumni, the acquisition and analysis of raw Quality of Life survey data, and the off-loading of non-critical or outdated functionalities to make way for future bandwidth. The GSC is poised for incredible impact over the next ten years and with strong leadership and a respect for long-run planning the only thing more impressive than the GSC’s historical track record will be its future accomplishments.

 

Brian Spatocco

GSC President (2012-2013)

 

 

 

 

 

Referenced Works

 

[i] Evans, A. 2011-2012 GSC Annual Report

[ii] Article II, Point 1 – GSC Constitution.

[iii] Spatocco, B. “Concerns over the lack of Graduate Student Housing in the MIT 2030 Plan” May/June 2012 Faculty Newsletter

[iv] Kochan et al. “Report of the Task Force on Community Engagement in 2030 Planning on Development of MIT-Owned Property in Kendall Square”. A Report to the Provost’s Office. Oct 12. 2012

[v] Lin, L. “MIT Kendall plans spark debate” February 8th, 2012

http://tech.mit.edu/V133/N2/kendall.html

[vi] Craighead, J., Spatocco, B., Walsh, M., Dighe, A., “UA-GSC joint vision for the MIT Community” The Tech Opinions. May 15th 2012

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