Spring 2007 Letter

Aloha Fellow Graduate Students,

On behalf of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) Executive Committee (EC), Happy Spring! I hope you are surviving finals and getting ready for summer. It is my pleasure to bring you the end-of-the-year installment of the 2006-2007 GSA President's letter. Your EC has worked very hard this year, and our hard work has paid off. This letter may seem a bit long, but it is packed with important information.

Top 10 things the '06-'07 EC accomplished on your behalf (a.k.a. reasons why the 2006-2007 GSA kicked butt).

Number 10 - Social savvy: Our esteemed party-laureates Eileen Kranz andAmanda Hemmesch kept you entertained with the tried and true social events, notably the almost weekly TGIFs (plus poetic/comedic e-mail announcements), but also with new sophisticated sorties such as the Blue Man Group and Brandeis' production of Physician of His Honor. And, they added in a touch of social justice to our social community through the First Annual GSA Holiday Clothing Drive. They started some great things that I hope we'll see next year.

Number 9 - Budget neutral: You expect us to stay within budget, and we did, but here are some of accomplishments that also created challenges:

  • We paid off unexpected bills lingering from last year's EC.
  • We dealt with unforeseen changes to orientation which meant we had to contribute more to the GSA Welcome Reception than in years past.
  • We restructured our club funding policies to make them more competitive and to encourage clubs to organize and apply. The result? We allocated our entire budget to deserving grad student organizations, which did not happen in previous years. Seven clubs received a total of $1,700 this semester (5 of these were newly chartered).

Thanks to Iskender Dildaev, our steady numbers man, for guiding the treasury, and to VP Nikhil Bapna, for the transformative ideas on club funding policy. Also of note, this is the first GSA budget to be guided and approved by the Graduate Student Senate.

Number 8 - Reaccreditation: We provided a strong grad student voice in the NEASC (New England Assn of Schools and Colleges) reaccreditation, which President Reinharz just announced. As a result of strong activism, notably by Graduate Student Representative to the Board of Trustees, Elisabeth (Bea) Moolenaar, the reaccreditation team heard our concerns and included them in their final report. This was one of several ways that we gained the ear of the Brandeis Administration.

Number 7 - Leaders: We cultivated and strengthened the pool of graduate student leaders.

  • The Senate made steady progress. Senators who made notable contributions were Karen Tyo (Health Care) and Allison Taylor (Library & Technology Services). Senators made a start towards developing their own leadership, with Ijezie Nokwomah as Co-Chair and Eric Allard as Coordinator.
  • I predict that next year will be the year that the Senate transitions from a new body to an established and effective organization. Elections will be in the fall, and I hope you will participate by running and/or voting for representatives from your school.
  • We reached out and connected to other graduate student leaders at the North East Regional Meeting of the National Association of Graduate/Professional Students. These connections provided us with resources and ideas for next year.
  • We had the most participation in elections ever, with almost all EC Officer positions contested (unprecedented!), and a much higher voter turnout than last year.

Sometimes victory is bittersweet. As Eleanor Roosevelt would say, "leaders create leaders." We wish the best to next year's EC (and we expect the best out of them).

Number 6 - Webalicious: Our web site has been revitalized with more accurate information and less redundancy. A big thanks to Web/Communications OfficerAlex Williamson for his hard work this year. He tells me he has a few more plans for improvement during our last months in office this summer, and I'm sure he would welcome your input (and thanks)!

Number 5 - Journal2: This year's Symposium & Journal Coordinator, Maniola Sejrani, has shepherded not one, but two issues of the Graduate Student Journal into publication during her tenure. As a result of her considerable effort and talents, the 2007 edition was published about a year earlier than the 2006 edition.

  • Thanks to the Graduate Student Senators, Carlos YepezDavid Kokiashvili, and Mary Jo Larcom, who were an integral part of the review team, and (again) to Elisabeth Moolenaar for her Editorship. Check it out online athttp://www.brandeis.edu/gsa/gradjournal/, or visit your Dean's office to look at a printed copy.
  • In lieu of hosting a graduate student symposium, which has required considerable effort and been poorly attended in previous years, we held a wine and cheese reception to recognize this year's 11 authors from various programs in The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and The Heller School.

Number 4 - Travel & Research Grants: Our inaugural year for the GSA Travel and Research Grants (TRG) resulted in awards totaling $3,085 to Marianne McPherson (Heller), Jillian Dickert (GSAS), Zhipeng Yan (IBS), Yan Zhao (IBS), Abdul Rehman Khan (Heller), Maya Moore (Heller), Yi Zhang (GSAS), Betsy Marzahn-Ramos (GSAS), Margaret Post (Heller), and Allison Taylor (GSAS). A big thanks to TRG Officer Dimitar Pachov for establishing the announcement, review criteria, and review process from scratch, and for convening a review team. He has been a great advocate for funding for grads this year. Next year's TRG Officer will have a much easier job because of Dimitar's groundwork. Thanks also to the Senator reviewers, David KokiashviliCarlos Yepez, & Like Wei. Look for the next round in the fall.

Number 3 - Health Insurance: With the deadly combination of knowledge, passion, and guts, Graduate Student Senator Karen Tyo (Heller) worked with the Brandeis Administration when they went health insurance shopping this year. As a result, the team, which also included Elisabeth Moolenaar, pushed insurance broker Koster to contract with Harvard Pilgrim rather than MEGA, which means that we have a better rate, better benefits, and a company rated #1 in US News and World Reports for customer service. While other universities/colleges are dropping family coverage or separating graduates from undergrads so that the grads pay higher prices, we have good news:

  • Lower premium rates and 2 plans to choose from for students and families.(Please note that the Tufts plan, which is separate but provided as an option to Brandeis grads, will increase by 7.1%.)
  • Added benefits, such as wellness, dental, and vision.
  • No deductible.

The Health Services Website web site will be updated with the details within a week. The Health Services Administrator Kathleen Maloney (kmaloney@brandeis.edu) values your input and encourages you to call or e-mail her or Insurance Coordinator Diana Baccari (baccari@brandeis.edu) with questions or concerns. Also, please note that there is the option to pay your 2007-2008 premium in 3 monthly installments over the first semester, rather than all at once, through the Tuition Management System. There is a $100 fee for this service, and the balance is due in full by December 2007. Please contact Peter Giumette (giumette@brandeis.edu) for more information.

Number 2 - Infrastructure: The administration has heeded our persistent call to develop an adequate infrastructure to support graduate student needs. They convened the first ever "Senior Brandeis Graduate Student Admin" summit to talk about issues such as housing, health care, and other support needs. Two of the big accomplishments growing out of this are:

  • The creation of the Assistant Provost for Graduate Student Affairs position, and the selection of Alwina Bennett to fill this position! Now, we'll have someone who is 100% dedicated, dedicated 100% to our needs!
  • Despite the distinct possibility that grads would lose all "beds" in the Charles River Apartment complexes due to the renovation of Ridgewood for the undergrads, we have maintained 61 spots, which matches the number of grads currently living there.

And finally, (drum roll please), the Number 1 Reason Why the 2006-2007 EC has provided successful leadership for Graduate Student at Brandeis is:

We will have a home! After consistent pressure from several prior ECs, including my constant and pointed challenges this year to the Brandeis Administration to deliver on a six-year-old promise, a Graduate Student Center is being planned for space on the ground floor of Kutz Hall. This space is larger than what was originally proposed in Usdan, it is accessible for students who use wheelchairs, it will provide the EC and Senate with needed space and equipment, and it will provide you with needed space and equipment. This space will open up a whole realm of possibilities for GSA-sponsored brown-bag discussions and presentations, question and answer sessions about things like health care, and student club/organization activity. We can also work on new initiatives, like MBTA discounts, TA/RA contracts and salaries, and forging stronger connections with the undergraduate Student Union. We are hopeful that it will be ready for use during the fall 2007 semester.

The 2006-2007 GSAEC has worked successfully to build our academic support community and maintain our social community. We have strengthened and built a mutually respectful working relationship with Brandeis Administration that will bring more positive results in the future. Please join me in congratulating the EC Officers and Senators who made these things happen. My sincere thanks to the EC Officers and Senators, and to our champions in the Brandeis Administration: Alwina Bennett, Marty Krauss, Jean Eddy, and Rick Sawyer. I owe a large debt of gratitude to Jessica Basile, Graduate Student Services Specialist, for being my right hand, and to Elisabeth Moolenaar, for being my left. I have found great reward during my tenure and experiences with working to advance the graduate student cause at Brandeis. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve as your President.

All the best,

Taletha Derrington
2006-2007 GSA President
Doctoral Student, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management