March 14, 2007

GPSA Presents New Initiative to Skorton

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On Monday afternoon, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly presented the Graduate Community Initiative to President Skorton and the Cornell community. The Initiative mirrors the University’s “Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds” campaign and includes plans for a new graduate student center, a career resource center and increased integration for graduate and professional students.

According to Janet Vertesi grad, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, the GPSA is the “official representative body for graduate and professional students.” The GPSA represents over 6,000 graduate students on the Ithaca campus —one third of Cornell’s student population.

The Graduate Community Initiative is a comprehensive response to many of the concerns facing graduate students.

“Usually people come to our Assembly with small problems, like child care issues. This is our opportunity to take a proactive position instead of a reactive one,” Vertesi said.

One of the major challenges for graduate students is the sense of isolation within their respective departments or programs. The GPSA Initiative addresses this issue by outlining steps to build a cohesive graduate community on the Cornell Campus.[img_assist|nid=22121|title=Taking initiative.|desc=President Janet Vertesi grad, Vice President Michael Walsh grad and Secretary Arnaub Chatterjee grad discuss a proposal for the Graduate Community Initiative Monday.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=50]

The first step, said GPSA Vice President Michael Walsh grad, is to create a student center that can keep up with the demands of the graduate community.

“The Big Red Barn, our current center, has some space. However, it is not multipurpose and cannot accommodate everyone,” said Walsh. “Groups that want to meet in the Big Red Barn are often turned away because the place is over-booked,” he added.

Vertesi noted that the Big Red Barn’s recent closure for structural repairs had a major impact among graduate students.

“They were at a loss,” she said. “I think it is a sign of the importance of a community center.”

The Initiative also addresses the need for a career resource center. According to the document, the center should have a two-fold mission: “To provide career services for students and their partners during their time in Ithaca, and to smooth the transition between graduate school and the workplace.”

Married graduate students are often deterred from Cornell because it is difficult for their spouses to find employment in the Ithaca area. A graduate resource center would alleviate this problem by providing local career resources for graduate students as well as their partners. In the short term, the GPSA hopes to better publicize the career services which are currently available to graduate students.

Housing is another issue addressed by the Graduate Community Initiative. In light of the recent Campus Life Residential Initiative, which resulted in the renovated West Campus residence halls and Noyes Community Recreation Center, the GPSA believes a similar initiative would find success within the graduate community.

Currently, graduate students are faced with limited housing options. According to the report, Cornell only offers housing to 14 percent of the graduate population. Moreover, these facilities, which include the Hasbrouck Housing Complex, the Maplewood Housing Complex and Schuyler Hall, are far from campus and accommodations are “dilapidated.”

Adequate housing would alleviate transportation problems, foster a cohesive graduate community, and relieve the stress of finding housing for graduate students, 40 percent of whom are international.

“Graduate students tend to integrate much more into the Ithaca community than into Cornell. A residential complex would change this,” Vertesi added.

The GPSA initiative includes mental health as another topic for discussion.

“Graduate students are heavily stressed by long days and heavy workloads. It can be isolating, and students often rely on their advisors for support,” Walsh said.
The report suggests strengthening community support “to alleviate some of the sources of situational anxiety and depression on campus.”

Although graduate students are entitled to the same Gannett counseling services as undergraduates, the report proposes extended hours in more locations to accommodate graduates’ needs.

So far, the Graduate Community Initiative has been met with a positive response from the Cornell administration and faculty.

Graduate School Dean Alison Power stated, “In general, we are quite positive about the GPSA’s ideas about strengthening the graduate community and we applaud their efforts.”

According to Vertesi, President Skorton also seemed enthusiastic about the Initiative during the presentation on Monday.
“His response was, ‘What type of time table are you looking at?’” she noted.

The response from within the graduate student community has also been optimistic, Vertesi and Walsh agreed. Both received positive feedback from their peers soon after the document was released.

Although the Initiative calls for some major changes, the GPSA hopes that their proposals will become part of the University’s Comprehensive Master Plan.
“We hope it guides campus development over the next ten years,” Vertesi said.

Some parts of the Initiative, such as better marketing of career resources and social events, can be implemented even sooner.

“We don’t have a ‘Denice Cassaro’ list serve , so it can be hard to get a message out,” acknowledged Walsh.

The GPSA intends for the Initiative to be a starting point for further discussion among graduate students about improving their experience at Cornell.

“This is a document about community,” said Walsh. “We need these things to be better students and better teachers, and to help us feel like we are a part of Cornell.”

To read the GPSA’s Graduate Community Initiative and post feedback, visit