During her time as a Ph.D. student at Penn, Meredith Wooten worked at the Graduate Student Center. Six years later, she is serving as the center's director.
Wooten officially assumed the leadership role of GSC on Aug. 31 replacing former Director Shaina Adams-El Guabli, who had helmed the center since May 2017. In her new position, Wooten said she wants to partner with new organizations to promote social and academic development, as well as to prioritize helping students adjust to life at Penn.
She added that she hopes graduate students will learn to see the GSC as more than a place to get coffee, and that the GSC becomes a location where students attend events and connect with resources or advisors.
Wooten previously worked as the founding director of Drexel’s Center for Scholar Development, where she provided guidance for high-achieving students, some of whom were first-generation, low-income students. At Drexel, Wooten also helped establish First Forward, a program connecting first-generation students with mentorship and resources.
Organizing programming at Penn, according to Wooten, will differ from that at Drexel due to the University's decentralized system in which the 12 graduate schools operate largely autonomously. She added that she sees the GSC as a “neutral” space where students can go to raise concerns and get help.
“I’m really passionate about advocating for graduate students generally,” Wooten said. “But particularly for any graduate student population that is underrepresented or that may face challenges when navigating the academy.”
Wooten also cited her time as a graduate student at Penn as an asset to her current position. Before earning her Ph.D. in political science in 2013, Wooten also received a master's degree from the School of Arts and Sciences in 2006.
While attending Penn, Wooten garnered experience working as a fellow for the GSC, where she created the two-week writing retreat “Dissertation Boot Camp" and assisted in the launch of the Family Resource Center.
But Wooten added that when she attended Penn as a first-generation graduate student, she felt a gap for first-generation programming, from which she said she would have benefitted. She added that she hopes to better serve this community in her new role.
Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President and sociology Ph.D. student Haley Pilgrim said that as GSC director, Wooten will act as an advisor to GAPSA, which in turn provides funding for GSC initiatives. She added that Wooten's experiences with first-generation programming will be helpful for GAPSA’s focus on FGLI issues this year.
According to GAPSA’s Research Council Chair and ancient history Ph.D. candidate Gregory Callaghan, the director fulfills an important role as a liaison between graduate students and administrators.
“Few students are going to wander by the Vice Provost’s office every day, but hundreds of students come in and out of the GSC each day," Callaghan said.
He added that Wooten’s personal connections to the center makes her ideal for the role.
“That sort of history inspires confidence that she will be really dedicated and passionate about her new role,” Callaghan said. “She has experienced the center from administrative, support, and constituent perspectives."
It's a role that Wooten hopes will improve communication in the graduate community.
“I think for many graduate students, the administration can feel remote and impersonal,” Wooten said. “We can try to shrink that distance.”
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