Graduate students working to establish a community

The Graduate Student Association and its 6,000 members are standing on shaky ground, but President Bert Waters is working to fix that.

In the six years of the organization’s existence, it has yet to establish continuity, Waters said.

“It’s important to develop a foundation so that next year’s graduate committee has a smooth transition,” he said.

Waters, who is working toward a doctorate in health-related sciences in the School of Allied Health, took the position as president after the previous president, Robert Fazio, left because of his father’s passing on Sept.11.

With the help of Jonathan McCloud, chairman of the sixth annual Graduate Research Symposium and Exhibit, Waters said he plans to ratify the organization’s bylaws and have an election with representative members of each of the 13 schools at VCU.

“We have such diverse graduate programs,” he said, “and to get them all together would be some good stuff.”

McCloud, who is working toward his master’s in music education, agreed the GSA needs firmer footing and added that more Academic Campus involvement would be positive.

“The past couple of years, the GSA has been governed by medical students,” he said. “There was no office so meetings were held out of members’ houses.”

VCU needs a strong GSA because the needs of graduate students differ from the needs of those enrolled in undergraduate programs, McCloud said.

“Graduate students have much more specific needs.” Most of them are already working full-time professionally in their field.

“By participating in GSA, you learn about professional development, which helps when you’re becoming a part of faculty,” he said, adding that a professor told him it was important that he participate in governance.

Kate Smith and Pamela Ezell round out the team of four active members in the GSA trying to strengthen the organization’s voice on campus. Once a student enrolls in a graduate program at VCU, they become an automatic member of GSA.

Waters said he credits the support from Dean F. Douglas Boudinot and his assistant Lori Floyd as being a considerable help in finding a place for GSA on campus.

The group now resides on the third floor in the Moseley House, the home of the School of Graduate Studies.

“They (the School of Graduate Studies) provided us with this office and they’ve been helping us regroup,” he said. “People are attracted to places that have some sense of belonging in large universities.”

Boudinot had advice for GSA on how to make the organization stronger.

“The first question to ask is what are the real issues here at VCU?” he asked. “If you have a formal organization then it’s easier to represent graduate students and their issues in a forum.”

He added that the purpose of an organization like the GSA is to lobby for the interests of the graduate students.

Aside from setting up the governmental aspects of the organization, Waters said, the active members of the GSA have been working on their annual April symposium as well as trying to attach their name to various forums with other organizations. The group previously held a social mixer for all members and hopes to have another one.

While Waters said he doesn’t want to be president next year, it’s his job to find a successor and make sure the GSA’s house is in order when the next president comes to fill his shoes. He said he ultimately wants the GSA to be a little more self-reliant.

“We have to act as a service and a showcase for grad students,” he said. “I want us to have the ability to work with undergraduate government as well as on our own.”

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