2021 - 2023 Strategic Plan
The 2020 - 2021 Executive Board of the Graduate Student Congress (GSC) at the University of Kentucky (UK) has drafted a strategic plan that outlines our organization’s goals and major initiatives for the next three years (2021 - 2023). In general, this includes: (1) internal graduate and professional student advocacy; (2) enhancing and strengthening the GSC itself; and (3) implementing programs and practices that meet the needs of graduate and professional students.
State of Graduate Education
Graduate and professional students across the United States are faced with many distinct political, social, professional, academic, and financial challenges. Not only must graduate and professional students contend with a political and social environment that is hostile to higher education and scientific research, in general, but they also face diminishing career prospects within academia, specifically, and particularly for the jobs they are trained to secure. Graduate and professional students are also disproportionately affected by the volatile federal immigration policies that affect higher education, as many more graduate and professional students than undergraduate students come from other countries. In addition, graduate and professional degrees cost more, yet assistantship stipends remain historically low, in many cases, forcing graduate and professional students below the poverty line for five (5) to seven (7) years. What’s more, graduate and professional students struggle with increasingly poor and unstandardized advising/mentoring from graduate faculty, and the average graduate or professional student is six (6) times more likely to have poor mental health and wellbeing compared to the average American citizen.
Besides, graduate and professional education at the University of Kentucky is in need of investment and reform. In 2018, the university’s Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) on Graduate Education, was tasked with “envisioning the graduate student experience and developing a rigorous intellectual vision for the University of Kentucky’s graduate education mission for the next 10-15 years.” As of 2020, none of the strategic initiatives suggested by the panel were pursued by Central Administration and so another Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) on Graduate Student Wellness was created. Their report has yet to be released, but in early 2021, the GSC was able to convince Central Administration to fund and hire a Graduate Student Career Advisor position, as well as a Basic Needs Graduate Assistantship for Fall 2021. The Graduate School is also currently in the process of hiring a new Associate Provost/Dean of the Graduate School.
Importantly, graduate and professional students have unique needs as teachers, professionals, and researchers. Graduate and professional student fees should be prioritized for conference, research, professional development, and graduation regalia awards, alleviating degree- and professionalization- mandated financial burdens. This prioritization would decrease the strain on the small stipends that many graduate and professional students receive, which barely cover housing and food costs. Additional fees directed at providing advanced professional development opportunities in the form of workshops, conferences, networking events, and the like, would also allow graduate and professional students to more effectively prepare for their desired careers, whether that be inside or outside academia.
Therefore, graduate and professional students should have representation at all levels of university administration. Representation at all levels not only ensures that more policies, programs, and initiatives are supported by graduate and professional students, but it also helps to prepare graduate and professional students for the type of professional responsibilities they might assume when entering the workforce, both within and beyond academia. The Graduate Student Congress (GSC) – an organization consisting of, led by, and dedicated to serving all graduate and professional students at the University of Kentucky – is uniquely equipped to ensure these needs are met in a manner benefiting all graduate and professional students.
Unfortunately, given the current global pandemic, economic downturn, and widespread social unrest, the Graduate Student Congress (GSC) remains hampered in its ability to ensure the needs of graduate and professional students at the University of Kentucky are heard and addressed. The GSC still retains almost no control over fees paid by graduate and professional students at UK, nor does it have much authority to approve policies or practices that affect graduate and professional student welfare. Official graduate and professional student representation also remains solely through the Student Government Association (SGA), which is largely controlled by undergraduate students; and most of the graduate and professional student fees paid to both the SGA and Student Activities Board (SAB) still do not benefit graduate and professional students. With the support of the Graduate School, the Graduate Student Congress (GSC) continues to seek legislative and financial autonomy from the Student Government Association (SGA) and the Student Activities Board (SAB).
Graduate and professional students are the future professors, researchers, administrators, and leaders of institutions of higher education, like the University of Kentucky, as well as of the state of Kentucky, the United States, and the world. It is essential that they are granted sufficient and appropriate training, education, and resources while they are at the University of Kentucky. The Graduate Student Congress (GSC) seeks to ensure that graduate and professional students at UK are prepared accordingly, and to that end, we propose the following short- and long-term goals.
We envision a Graduate Student Congress (GSC) that is an official governing body at the University of Kentucky guided primarily by the voices of graduate and professional students and endowed with the financial and legislative means to enact change for the welfare of all graduate and professional students at UK. The GSC deserves to receive and control all the mutually-paid graduate and professional student fees currently received by SGA and SAB, as well as directly represent graduate and professional students at all levels of the university (e.g., President’s Council, Provost’s Council, Board of Trustees, etc.). Moreover, the GSC should be more involved in discussing and influencing university policies and procedures, and the GSC should continue to work closely with UK administrators, other organizations, offices, and programs to achieve its goals.
The GSC is the only student-run organization at the University of Kentucky that is in the best position to pursue initiatives and actions that serve to benefit all graduate and professional students in an egalitarian and just manner. As such, the GSC should be recognized by university leadership as the preeminent advocacy and governing group for graduate and professional students at UK. The GSC promotes responsible and ethical research conduct, maintains transparency and detailed records for all of its functions, and provides quality interpersonal and professional development opportunities for graduate and professional students. Additionally, the GSC functions akin to a House of Representatives rather than a Senate, meaning each individual graduate degree program or department can elect at least one Representative to serve in the Congress. This model allows for a unique and dynamic perspective on the graduate and professional student experience at the University of Kentucky, and as a result, the GSC is able to provide more tailored development programs to graduate and professional students while simultaneously allowing those students to participate in the cultivation of those programs.
Finally, in the last 15 years, the Graduate Student Congress (GSC) has grown exponentially, and has successfully provided (and continues to provide) valuable resources and support for between 8,000 and 9,000 graduate and professional students annually at the University of Kentucky. The GSC excels at using flexibility and creativity to solve the myriad of problems facing 21st century graduate and professional students. As graduate and professional students ourselves, we experience and know intimately the challenges of graduate education, yet our passion and drive for the welfare of all graduate and professional students at institutions of higher education fuels our aims and our actions.
The mission of the Graduate Student Congress (GSC) is to unify and represent graduate students, professional students, and postdoctoral scholars at the University of Kentucky in matters affecting quality of life, and to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and professional development through seminars, forums, outreach programming, advocacy, and community enhancement.
As an organization, the values we hold that guide our daily activities are:
- Graduate and Professional Student Representation: As we pursue initiatives, develop programs, and plan events we will ask ourselves: Which graduate and professional students are most affected? Have we adequately requested and received feedback from those graduate and professional students? How can we better listen to and unify the voices of all graduate and professional students?
- Fellowship and Collaboration: As we pursue initiatives, develop programs, and plan events we will ask ourselves: Who, other than graduate or professional students, is at the negotiating table and who should be at the table? How might we effectively collaborate with other members of the UK community? How can we foster long-lasting partnerships and support structures for graduate and professional students?
- Graduate and Professional Education Focused Decisions: As we pursue initiatives, develop programs, and plan events we will ask ourselves: What decision best contributes to the learning and development of graduate and professional students? What decision best help them advocate for their needs? How best can we meet those needs? How might an action or policy help some graduate and professional students at the expense of other graduate and professional students? And how might we mediate this?
- Social Responsibility: As we pursue initiatives, develop programs, and plan events we will ask ourselves: As members of the local, state, and national community, how can we protect, promote, and support the just treatment of graduate and professional students? Relatedly, what responsibility do we have to protect, promote, and support the interests of higher education, in general?
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matter: As we pursue initiatives, develop programs, and plan events we will ask ourselves: What different intersecting identities are involved and how might we be welcoming to people of all backgrounds, experiences, and identities? How representative is the GSC body of the diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and identities in our community? How can we ensure that we do not enhance existing power imbalances? How can we best demonstrate equity and inclusion in our relations with other organizations and individuals, both inside and outside the university?
- Academic & Professional Growth: As we pursue initiatives, develop programs, and plan events we will ask ourselves: How do we help graduate and professional students grow not only academically, but also professionally? What skills and experiences (e.g., mentoring, communication, project management, teamwork, etc.) will graduate and professional students need for non-academic careers? How can we help students better communicate and collaborate with organizations and individuals outside their field of expertise?
These goals are just general recommendations and we empower future GSC Executive Boards to adjust or supplement these goals as the organization, and the environment in which it exists, changes and grows.
Short-Term Goals (next 12 months)
- To secure some type of recurring funding for the Graduate Student Congress, whether that be through SFAC, SGA student fees, or the Provost’s Office, or another source.
- To have representation from all UK colleges or schools, with an ultimate goal of 65% of individual graduate degree programs or departments.
- To maintain relationships with Central Administration that ensures that the voices of graduate and professional students are being heard and considered.
- To continue improving transparency and record-keeping of all offices and committees, ensuring ease of transition and efficiency of effort.
- To develop best practices for graduate and professional student organizations (GPSOs) relating to interorganizational communication and collaboration.
- To continue working with UK faculty, staff, and administrators to develop policies and practices to improve the mental health and wellbeing of graduate and professional students.
- To ensure a graduate or professional student selected by the GSC is involved with at least 75% of identified ad-hoc university committees and panels.
- To complete our third annual Graduate and Professional Student and Postdoc Wellness Survey with at least 50% response and completion rates, as well as summarize the findings of this survey into a comprehensive report.
- To write and disseminate a standardized way for graduate and professional students to seek solutions for their problems, in a way that can protect them from potential faculty repercussions.
- To find ways to hold wide scale mentor accountability and protections for students.
Long-Term Goals (next 3 years)
- To gain control of 100% of graduate and professional student fees.
- To establish legislative and financial autonomy from the SGA and SAB.
- To obtain a permanent, voting seat for a graduate or professional student on the Board of Trustees, Provost’s Council, President’s Council, University Senate, and all University-wide hiring committees.
- To continue ensuring that programs, events, and opportunities supported by the GSC align with the current needs and interests of graduate and professional students.
- To continue expanding professional development programs, initiatives, and funding for graduate and professional students’ career endeavors inside and outside academia.
- To continue developing programs that enhance the graduate and professional student mentoring experience and help prepare undergraduate students, especially those from underrepresented minority (URM) groups, for graduate school.
- To expand graduate and professional mental health advocacy efforts, thereby creating an academic environment conducive to good mental health.
- To continue fostering an atmosphere of interdisciplinarity and intersectionality that welcomes graduate and professional students from all personal and academic backgrounds and traditions.
- To have representation from at least 90% of individual graduate degree programs or departments.
- To create an emergency fund specifically for graduate and professional students facing financial hardship.
- To continue hosting monthly meetings between members of the GSC Executive Board and Central Administration (e.g., President, Vice President, Provost, Vice Provost, Dean of Students, etc.).
- To ensure a graduate or professional student selected by the GSC is involved with 100% of identified ad-hoc university committees and panels.
- To be the nexus for a network of registered Graduate/Professional Student Organizations (GPSOs) for at least 90% of individual graduate degree programs or departments, and have consistent communication between these organizations and the GSC.
- To increase the response and completion rates of our annual Graduate and Professional Student and Postdoc Wellness Survey to at least 85%, as well as begin summarizing progress and changes between these surveys every three (3) to five (5) years.
The 2020 - 2021 Executive Board
Katherine Counts, President
Lauren Fann, Vice President
Amanda Slone, Chief of Staff and Operations
Katie Sharp, Secretary
Shaila Zaman, Treasurer
Srinu Ippili, Institutional Affairs Officer
Ellie Johnson, External Affairs Officer
Madison Sands, Professional Student Affairs Officer
Erome Hankore, Postdoc Affairs Officer
Asia Ellis, SGA Representative