On May 1, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly will be undergoing a change in leadership.
The current GAPSA President, Gaurav Shukla, a graduate student in the College, will be graduating this spring. He will be replaced by Miles Owen, a graduate student in the School of Design. Becky Umbach, a Ph.D. student in the College, will serve as the new vice president.
Looking forward, Owen wants to continue to address important issues, as well as other problems that have been "simmering in the background," he said.
Hoping to target the stigma that he views as attached to mental health issues on campus, Owen intends to create programs promoting resources and eventually to argue for more and improved resources for students.
Owen recently held an information session at the School of Design to "introduce" his peers to more resources on campus. He aims to adapt this type of event to target the larger graduate community.
Once more students begin to utilize these resources, he expects GAPSA to work with the administration to improve the “user experience” so that mental health wellness can be easier for students to schedule.
Shukla described student engagement in government activities as an "eternal" GAPSA issue. As some students are “completely sidelined, unintentionally,” others are able to attend events and to continuously contribute their views, he observed.
Over the course of the academic year, he spearheaded the creation of a mentorship program to connect new GAPSA members with more experienced participants and alumni. While he viewed this initiative as somewhat successful, he said that it fell short of its original goal.
“We haven’t figured out perfect answers on to how we get more engagement,” he said.
In an attempt to make involvement easier for busy students, GAPSA may consider the reduction of current attendance requirements for General Assembly members Owen said.
He has also been working with other design students to create an organized GAPSA information packet with more accessible information. The project would be more geared towards new GAPSA members, but could benefit the entire graduate community as well.
“[New members] can hit the ground running,” he said. “They [won’t] spend their first three or four meetings trying to figure out what the acronyms mean."
Umbach noted that many graduate students feel disconnected from others outside of their school.
“The running joke is that you meet people on dating apps who go to school at Penn and you’re like, ‘I could never have met you outside of this dating app because all of the grad schools are so separated,’” she said.
She explained that each graduate school has money in a Graduate and Professional fund which is meant to help facilitate interactions between students in different schools. If two of Penn’s graduate schools plan an event, they can tap into their school’s GAP fund. GAPSA will then match each school’s contribution.
As the vice president, she hopes to make people more aware of the GAP fund so that students across different schools can socialize.
On a grander scale
Owen explained that in order for GAPSA to make large-scale changes in student life, they must present data to the University to illustrate the scope of their complaints. Unfortunately, much of this data is confidential and so he hopes to increase the transparency between student government and the University during the upcoming academic year.
GAPSA plans to continue to push for the University-wide diversity office that they had begun to advocate for at the beginning of the semester. In fact, Penn’s Committee on Diversity and Equity recommended that the University create the office at Wednesday’s University Council meeting, Owen said.
This year, GAPSA underwent a “renewal project” that assessed the ten-year-old institution and how it could be improved. The final report will be released over the summer.
“I think the average grad student should care [about GAPSA],” Owen said. “Everyone has worked incredibly hard to get here … caring about their broader University — that’s just going to farther enrich their experience and make all that hard work worthwhile."