July 25, 2007

C.U. Creates New Position Focusing on Grad Student Life

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In March, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly presented a plan to President David Skorton to develop more resources for graduate students and better integrate the graduate and professional student community.
On July 16, Brenda Wickes ’85 began her position as Cornell’s first assistant dean for graduate student life. Wickes’s job includes overseeing issues of graduate student life and trying to develop a more cohesive community for graduate students.
The GPSA, the “official representative body for graduate and professional students,” according to President Janet Vertesi grad, represents over 6,000 graduate and professional students on the Ithaca campus of Cornell.
According to Wickes, Cornell planned the creation of her position before the presentation of the Gradate Student Initiative in March. She said she hopes to add impetus for the University to work on graduate student issues, but that, in general, these issues have moved more to the forefront in recent years. [img_assist|nid=23618|title=Courtesy of Cornell University Photography.|desc=Brenda Wickes ’85 was recently named Cornell’s first first assistant dean for graduate student life.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=67]
“We see her as a very important liaison, as someone who connects and does outreach on behalf of the Graduate School to other important units and groups,” J. Ellen Gainor, associate dean of the Graduate School, stated in a press release.
Wickes, who previously worked as a graduate residence manager for 11 years in the Office of Campus Life and as a member of the Crisis Community Support Team for three years, will supervise the Big Red Barn, graduate student orientation and general graduate student life activities and events.
“[I will be] working with and on behalf of graduate students at Cornell,” Wickes said.
Two of the issues that Wickes is already beginning to address include problems for partners and family members of graduate students and the relationship between graduate students and their faculty mentors.
The GPSA’s report states a need for better services for families and partners of graduate students. The report also suggested that married graduate students might be deterred from Cornell because it is difficult for their spouses to find employment in the Ithaca area. The GPSA’s plan for a career services center would help “students and their partners during their time in Ithaca,” in addition to helping graduate students find work after school.
This year’s graduate student orientation on August 18 and 19 will include a resource fair, panel discussion and dinner for accompanying partners and family members of graduate students, according to Wickes. [img_assist|nid=23620|title=Taking Initiative.|desc=Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President Janet Vertesi grad, Vice President Michael Walsh grad and Secretary Arnaub Chatterjee grad discuss a proposal for the Graduate Community Initiative in March.|link=node|align=left|width=60|height=30]
In March, GPSA Vice President Michael Walsh grad said that graduate students often rely on their advisors for support due to being “heavily stressed by long days and heavy workloads.”
“It can be isolating,” Walsh said.
Wickes said that she will be working with others at Cornell to publish packets on mentoring for graduate students and their faculty advisors to help them better communicate.
Other central issues of the report are a sense of isolation within their respective departments or programs and housing, which is linked to transportation problems, a lack of community and mental health issues.
To solve some of the problems, the Initiative suggests creating a housing plan similar to the West Campus Residential Initiative. According to the report, Cornell only offers housing to 14 percent of the graduate population. The report also states that a solution to housing problems would alleviate transportation problems as well as foster a stronger community.
Housing issues can be especially challenging for international students, who comprise approximately 40 percent of Cornell’s graduate and professional student population, according to the report.
Professional students at Cornell’s Ithaca campus include those in the Law School, the Johnson Graduate School of Management and the College of Veterinary Medicine.