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Saturday, December 20, 2014

GPSA offers vital services for grads

On behalf of the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), I welcome all new students joining UNM this semester. GPSA has served students since 1969. Our mission is to enhance the academic and intellectual environment for the graduate and professional students at UNM. We promote the rights, interests and professional development of our students within the University community through advocacy, education and financial support.

Who are grad students? There are more than 6,000 grad students on campus, about 22 percent of all students. We are seeking master’s degrees, MBAs or Ph.D.s. Many of us are teachers in the Albuquerque Public School system. We are New Mexico’s future health professionals and lawyers. Many GPSA members are staff at UNM, too. About three out of four grads are New Mexico residents and 10 percent of us are international.

What do grad students do? Graduate students conduct much of the research that makes UNM the flagship university of our state. From critical race theory to quantum information, solar panels to cancer research, graduate students are passionate about our work.

We are nerdy-in-a-good-way, fun to talk to and eager to make positive change in the world.

Grad students also teach or support 40 percent of the undergraduate classes at UNM. We are the instructors of record for many introductory classes, grade homework and essays, hold office hours and tutor. Grad students remember what it was like to struggle with class material, making us a tremendous resource in the success of undergraduate students.

Our roles as faculty research support, as students in our own classes, and as undergraduate instructors can lead to tensions.

While our assistantship contracts nominally cover a certain number of weekly hours, we are often asked for much more. We report to faculty to whom we must deliver graded essays and research and on whom we depend for our own grades and degrees.

What can GPSA do for me? Most students first encounter GPSA at our office in the Student Union Building, room 1021, where grad students can print for free in our computer lab. Our staff will be happy to talk with you about the many resources on campus for students, such as Graduate Resource Center or the Graduate Ombuds Office.

GPSA offers $500 and $5,000 grants to support student research and travel for conferences or professional development. Our programming creates a sense of community, and is a place where you can get to know students from outside your department.

The GPSA Council is a representative body of all campus departments and is responsible for appropriating funds to student organizations. As your government, GPSA is sustained by the $25 student fee charged each semester. Since you have already paid for our services, come get your money’s worth.

What does GPSA stand for? This semester, GPSA is focused on the University budget and the New Mexico state legislative session. We recognize that any increases in tuition or fees will significantly impact the grad students who can afford to return to campus next year.

Most grad students would like to work in the state after graduation, but many of us are burdened with debt and can have a hard time finding a job. In December, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that master’s students have more than $28,000 of debt upon graduation and Ph.D. students have $45,000 or more.

Compounding this problem, the federal government will stop offering subsidized loans to graduate students in July. Students will begin accumulating interest on loans even before we graduate.

The federal government has effectively raised tuition on graduate students by about 20 percent, charging each UNM student almost $5,000 more for their degrees. We are therefore looking for financial support from the University, in consideration of these loan changes.

To make sure the University can afford to keep tuition low, GPSA is working with UNM Government Relations to encourage the state legislature to fund higher education through the new funding formula, which removes the tuition tax credit on students. GPSA also supports Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Senator Tim Keller.

The bill provides businesses a $5,000 tax credit for hiring a graduate or professional students with a degree from a New Mexico university in any of the science, technology, engineering, math or health professions. We hope SB16 will offer an opportunity for many more students to get a job in the state upon graduation.

The beginning of the graduate school pipeline is just as critical as graduation. I urge every UNM undergraduate to consider graduate school. If you have questions about what grad school might be like or how it could help your career, ask your TA or come talk to the GPSA office.

GPSA exists to support you in your development as students. We are here to listen, so come to talk to us. unm.edu/~gpsa

Katie Richardson is the president of GPSA. She writes a monthly column about graduate studies and concerns. If you have a question for Richardson, please send her an email at katie.gpsa@gmail.com