Fall 2006 Welcome Letter

Dear Fellow Graduate Students,

In a very official way, I would like to say Aloha! To returning grad students, welcome back! To new grads, welcome to Brandeis! To our Islamic and Jewish grads, happy holidays! The semester is well underway, and I hope you have all settled into the grad student groove. 

Welcome to the first 2006-2007 installment of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) Presidents’ letter. It might provide you with an excuse for a study break, lining for your bird cage, or, hopefully, some information about what your hard-working Executive Committee (EC) is doing on your behalf. I will summarize the activities of last year’s EC and provide updates on those of the current EC.

A major accomplishment of last years’ team was the revision and amendment of the GSA constitution. We modified and clarified existing roles, responsibilities, procedures, and time lines of the GSA to meet our expanding mission and growing needs. The two major amendments were the official establishment of a Grad Student Senate and a new Travel and Research Grants Officer position. I’d like to extend a special thanks to Jessica Basile (Grad Student Services Coordinator), Elisabeth (Bea) Moolenaar (Board of Trustees Rep – EC officer 2005-2007), and Matthew Graham (Social Coordinator 2005-2006) for their coordination of this effort. In the spring of 2006, and the Grad Student Body ratified the amendments. Please check it out @ www.brandeis.edu/gsa/.

The Senate was created in response to a referendum in the spring of 2005 where the Grad Student Body voted to establish a Senate. The goal was to extend the GSA’s reach into the three graduate schools, the graduate student community, and the various administrative channels that plan events and make decisions affecting grad student life. During the spring term, the Senate met three times to begin organizing. 

The new Travel and Research Grants Officer (TRGO) position was created as part of a larger initiative begun last year to increase GSA’s role in fostering academic development. Dimitar Pachov (dpachov@brandeis.edu) is our fearless leader for this year’s inaugural initiative to provide small travel and research grants to grad students. Look for a request for applications from him later on this semester.

In addition to creating the TRGO position, last year’s EC worked on building Brandeis’ academic community through the GSA Online Journal. The GSA Journal Coordinator James Wirth solicited and received numerous manuscripts for consideration, convened a review board of students and faculty, and selected articles for publication. The journal has just been published so check it out atbrandeis.edu/gsa/gradjournal/2006/. The next opportunity to submit manuscripts will occur towards the end of this semester. We also need people to help with planning the symposium. Please sign up to help and direct your questions or ideas to this years’ Journal and Symposium Coordinator, Maniola Sejrani, maniola@brandeis.edu

In addition to expanding our academic mission, the Spring 2006 EC intensified efforts to work with Brandeis administration on issues such as the dramatic increase in health insurance and mediation of student grievances. Officers met with various administrators to articulate the issues and challenges, thus beginning the process of identifying solutions to these particular areas of concern. Members worked over the summer to provide data on health insurance, and the Fall 2006 EC is continuing the work in this area. The Spring 2006 EC also hosted a Conflict Management and Resolution Workshop with Gladys Maged (interested in another workshop – contact me!). I would like to extend recognition to Rick Brabander (Social Coordinator 2005-2006), Bea, and Gracia McGovern (President 2005-2006) for their efforts and leadership in these areas. 

Social events hosted by the GSA included the very-essential, ever-popular, almost-weekly TGIF, the Sunday River ski trip, and end of semester party. I bet the returning students probably made some new friends in the course of the festivities – I know I did. By the way the food and drink was consumed at the end of the year party, this event was very successful and indicates that we should go bigger this year.

The 2006-2007 EC has been hard at work since taking office in August. We increased our presence during orientation activities to enhance awareness of the GSA among new grads, and to recruit nominations for the 2006-2007 Senate. The Senate has already had its first meeting, and this year we will see an increased grad student presence on university committees that affect and enhance our grad student experience (for more information, contact GSA Vice President Nikhil Bapna, bapna@brandeis.edu). We are actively engaged in building relationships with faculty and administration, and have already held meetings to introduce our goals and concerns for the year. 

One of the biggest concerns is related to dedicated space for the GSA and for grad students. Over the summer, this issue came to the forefront. Despite the fact that grads represent almost 40% of the student population at Brandeis, the only space for grad students from all three schools was the small computer room and lounge located outside of Graduate Student Services (GSS) in Usdan Student Center. The GSA EC also had a room in the basement of Usdan where the EC met and stored supplies for social events and clubs. We had hoped to make it a lounge for all grad students’ use, but security issues prevented this. 

While discussion had taken place during meetings of COGSI (Committee on Grad Student Issues) regarding securing expanded, dedicated space in Usdan, our bid for space lost ground this summer. The space we did have became a casualty of the Usdan remodeling that was initiated with little notice in order for Brandeis to take advantage of a reasonably-priced contractors’ availability. This last minute move put the GSA EC and the GSS in a difficult situation due to the absence of many EC members. Special thanks go out to Alwina Bennett, Assistant Dean of Student Life, and Jessica Basile and Kristen Mullin (also a Graduate Student Services Coordinator last year), for packing up GSA belongings and finding storage space for the summer.

However, losing space has increased the challenges that EC officer face in executing our duties. Some of our equipment is now missing, and the Social Coordinators have had to be extra creative in the planning and hosting of TGIFs this fall. Although we were able to secure space in the Commuter Student Lounge on the 3rd floor of Shapiro Campus Center to provide access to computers and printers, establishing grad student access and ensuring that our equipment was functioning properly has posed a larger challenge than faced during our previous arrangement (status update – the computers and printers should now be working, and Brandeis ID card access can be established by filling out a form at the Shapiro information desk on the first floor).

In response to this disappointing set-back, the EC has increased our discussions with faculty to find intermediate and long-term solutions. Faculty and administrators have been very open to meeting with us, and I am optimistic that a mutually beneficial arrangement can be found for this year. We will continue advocating for permanent, dedicated space for the Brandeis Grad Student community. 

The 2006-2007 EC is committed to building upon the foundations laid by last years’ team, maintaining and enhancing our social events and activities, and establishing some new initiatives to strengthen the graduate student community. Particular areas of focus for this years’ EC are:

  • Services and infrastructure for Graduate Students: health insurance, housing, health center & counseling services, and dedicated space for GSA and Grad Students.

  • Academic community: continuing the Grad Student online journal, revitalizing the Graduate Student Symposium, awarding travel and research grants, and working with faculty to increase interdisciplinary exchange and scholarship between and within schools.

  • Social community: TGIF, kayaking, ski trip, end of semester parties, other events to be announced, and ____________ (You tell us! Please contact Eileen Kranz, ekranz@brandeis.edu, or Amanda Hemmesch,arh@brandeis.edu, with your ideas).

  • Recreation, leisure, and activism: the GSA can recognize or charter Grad Student Clubs; chartered clubs may petition the GSA for small grants (contact Nikhil bapna@brandeis.edu).

  • Grad Student Government: fostering the work of the Grad Student Senate, improving the GSA website (contact GSA Web & Communications Officer Alex Williamson, alexwill@brandeis.edu, with ideas), and holding office hours where grad students can meet with the GSA EC officers each week, starting October 9th (this week – see complete schedule & times).

Thanks for your attention to this letter – I realize it contains quite a bit of information. I wanted to make sure you knew what your GSA EC officers are doing on your behalf. Please feel free to contact me, taletha@brandeis.edu, or any of the other EC officers with your issues and ideas. I look forward to meeting you at events, and wish you a productive, successful, and fun fall semester.

Taletha Derrington