Working from home, but still working hard for graduate and professional students

Submitted on April 20, 2020

By Elizabeth Labiner

The Graduate and Professional Student Council (GPSC) doesn’t shy away from big or long-range range goals. Their work can sometimes take months or even years to come to fruition, but they stay the course through changes in leadership and representatives, not to mention changes throughout UArizona. Over the past year, GPSC has achieved some exciting success in realms ranging from financial aid to family support. 

GPSC President Marie Teemant identified the three major wins over the last year about which she was most excited. First, she says, GPSC has more members than previous years. She notes, “In the three years I have been involved, this is the year we have had more representatives, resulting in a more full council to contribute.” Teemant explains that while most graduate students may not notice this aspect of GPSC operations, it’s important to have graduate and professional students from as many of the colleges as possible in order to best understand the needs of students from across the entire campus, including online programs.

Second, the Arizona Financial Aid Trust Fund (AFAT) Graduate Need Based Aid was created and instituted. Graduate students know we all have to pay fees, even when our tuition is waived; often, there is the sense that graduate students’ needs are minimal or even absent in the ways those fees are distributed by the university. Among the fees is one that is matched to some extent by the State of Arizona. For years, the financial aid that is created through this fee has gone primarily, if not exclusively, to undergraduate students. Now, though, GPSC was able to get a commitment from the administration to dedicate a proportional amount of that aid to graduate and professional students, beginning in Fall 2020. Teemant hopes this will help alleviate the need for aid at the department level, particularly in light of the financial hardships being faced by many graduate students. 

Third, GPSC worked in partnership with Provost Folks, her office, and the UA Libraries, in order to give UArizona its first family study room! Teemant is thrilled to provide this space for parents: 

This will help any student who has children, giving them access to the library and a place to study where their children are welcome, have some toys to play with, children’s books to read, and they are able to meet other students with kids. We hope to see more family initiatives benefit the Wildcat community, as we know many student-parents need very specific support and understanding in balancing their work and life.

While the libraries are currently closed due to the current public health crisis, the family study room is another campus resource to which students can turn when campus reopens. 

During the campus closure, GPSC is working to support graduate students both remotely and in-person when necessary. Teemant worries about graduate students slipping through holes in UArizona’s support system, and emphasises that GPSC isn’t going away, saying, 

My biggest concern is the students in situations we haven’t anticipated. The Directors of Graduate Studies and Program Coordinators should have forwarded an email from GPSC with a form to help us know of students who need help—food, housing needs, connection to medical or counseling services, etc. For students who don’t know where to turn, we hope they know our (virtual) door is always open. We want to make sure everyone has what they need at this time—including some form of company through online socials! For students who are working in labs due to their research at this time, we also want to make sure they have the support they need and health precautions in place.

The Graduate Center, Graduate College, and GPSC are all working to ensure resources are ready and available to graduate students. Please consult the list of resources for graduate students to see how your needs might best be met for whatever difficulties you encounter during social distancing. 

Both in light of the current circumstances and in general, Teemant says that, moving forward, GPSC will be focusing a great deal on the mental and emotional health of graduate students. Teemant explains, “We have been working on mental wellness resources and thinking about what improving mental wellness means for graduate and professional students. In part this is connecting students to resources they have available, such as CAPS, but we also know this means a cultural shift across campus as to what the expectations are of graduate and professional students.”