A pioneer in establishing the Graduate Community Initiative, a plan to better address graduate students’ needs, Mike Walsh grad was elected student trustee on Saturday. He is the first graduate student officially elected to the graduate seat on the Board of Trustees, after the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and Student Assembly delegated one trustee position to undergraduate students, and the other to grad students last year.
Walsh said some of the key issues he will address are building a cohesive community amongst graduate students, housing, transportation and sustainability. He said housing is especially problematic for grad students who sometimes have families and find Collegetown rents too expensive. That, combined with the little parking space available in Collegetown, make it an unattractive place for many grad students to live.
Walsh is proposing to create a more unified graduate community through a new housing initiative. Currently, grad students are spread out between the Hasbrouck Apartments, Maplewood Park Apartments, Schuyler Court, Hughes Hall and Thurston Court. Walsh cited the Maplewood Apartments as the perfect location for a new graduate housing initiative, because they are reasonably located near central campus, Collegetown and the Belle Sherman Elementary School.
To ensure grad students have constant transportation to campus, Walsh said he would work with TCAT in the fall when they review their bus routes to ensure that grad students have transportation at all hours.
“I want to ensure that grad students are represented when the time comes to review bus routes, so that a student can access their research lab at 2 in the morning,” he said.
Former GPSA president Janet Vertesi grad, who worked with Walsh during her tenure as president when he was vice president, explained how the lack of a central grad student space makes campaigning in student elections difficult.
She asked, “Where are [grads] supposed to campaign? The Chapter House? Duffield?”
This came to a head when the Big Red Barn, the grad student center, was shut down in December. It reopened earlier this month and currently, a new graduate community center is in the works as part of the Cornell Master Plan according to an article in The Sun.
Toward that end, Walsh said, “The goal is to make people feel comfortable academically and socially at their first year of grad school at Cornell.”
For many grad students, the first year of grad school is the most crucial year because this is the point where a person lays down the foundation of their research and their life for the next four to five years.
“It’s the point where a person says ‘I’ll stick with it’ or ‘I’m going to give up,’” he said.
One way Walsh proposed to help grad students was to develop a mentorship program with the Graduate School to set people up with an advisor who would counsel them academically, but also provide guidance. Walsh also discussed creating a graduate resource center where students could acquire information about housing, transportation and health insurance.
However, he explained, one of the biggest challenges in implementing these goals lies in Cornell’s administrative structure.
“Navigating the Cornell bureaucracy will difficult,” he said.
Vertesi explained that it is Walsh’s unique combination of real vision and attention to detail that makes Walsh an ideal candidate for the position.
“His vision is grounded how the University works, whom you need to talk to you and knowledge of the University statutes you need to go through to get things done,” she said.
As a member of the President’s Climate Commitment Implementation Committee, Walsh expects to use his position to promote sustainability amongst the Board of Trustees and students. He emphasized that many students are not aware of some of the creative efforts Cornell has done to reduce their ecological footprint by making connections with student groups on campus.
“Cornell is a leader in research and developing new systems of producing renewable energy. [It] is good about backing up words with actions and putting them into practice,” he said.
One example of this the Engineers for a Sustainable World teaming up with Campus Life to conduct a survey on how much energy is lost through the old windows in the Gothic dorms on West Campus such as Lyon Hall and Baker Tower.
However, Walsh’s victory may be short lived. Runner up Shawn Kong, grad, and a Sun columnist, told The Sun he planned to challenge Walsh’s win to the University Ombudsman on the basis that Walsh ran on a ticket with GPSA vice presidential candidate Mario Guerrero. He cited an e-mail where Guerrero endorsed Walsh, which Kong considered to be electronic campaign material. Trustee Election Guidelines strictly prohibit campaign materials “either physical or electronic, published by candidates and/or their supporters … that include the names, positions, or any other information regarding other elections.” Such materials are supposed to only promote the Student Trustee nominee.