Masters Matter: Graduate Student Association Senate (GSAS)

Mason Calhoun and Zach Hottel talk about App’s Graduate Student Association Senate and the grad school experience.


  • Dave Blanks: Hey folks! It’s me, Dave Blanks, from University Communications, with a continuance of our series of podcasts about all things graduate school here at Appalachian State. Joining me today we have Zach Hottell and Mr. Mason Calhoun. Hello fellas how are ya?

    Mason Calhoun: I am well.

    Zach Hottell: Doing pretty good!

    Dave: All right! Okay, So both of you fellas are part of GSAS. We’ll get into that in just a second. Let’s first talk about who you are. Zach, if we can start it out with you, what brought you to Appalachian State University, were did you come from and what are you studying here?

    ZH: I’m a second year grad student in the public history program here at App. I’m originally from Virginia and that’s where I did my undergrad, at Roanoke College. I was looking for public history programs and I was really impressed by the family atmosphere here at App and the connections I was able to make with the professors even when I was just looking for schools. That was really unique compared to a lot of places.

    Dave: Without even coming to campus?

    ZH: Yeah I mean without even coming to campus…how helpful everyone was and then when I came for my campus tour it was completely different than other places. I was able to meet with a lot more faculty and the chair of my department. At some of the other places they were really closed to perspective students. When I came here I could already tell it was really family and I was really impressed by that. Coming from a smaller undergrad institution, that was a pretty big deal.

    Dave: Absolutely. So, what are you studying specifically.

    ZH: I’m in the public history program. It’s taking history and applying it to the real world so museum work, battle fields, things like that. That’s what I really do. I’m into the Civil War and the kind of more the memory of the Civil War than the actual fighting. I study “The Lost Cause.” But I also do a lot with museums and how to interpret history and how to build exhibits and things like that.

    Dave: Okay. So what is your dream job?

    ZH: My dream job? I guess…I would go to work for the national park service. I think that would be a really good job. Of course those jobs are kind of hard to get. I’m really into local history and things like that, so I would like to work for a smaller organization because you get to do a lot of different things and I have a really wide variety of interest in the public history field.

    Dave: Right. Okay. Cool. What about you Mason? What brought you here to Appalachian State University? Where did you come from and what are you studying?

    MC: All right, well I did my undergraduate degree at Slippery Rock University which is Northwest Pennsylvania. It’s about an hour north of Pittsburgh.

    Dave: Okay, Slippery Rock. I’ve never heard of that one.

    MC: Yes, Slippery Rock, SRU or snow and rain university as we affectionately called it during my time. So, the weather is a lot like Appalachian. That’s not the reason that brought me down to ASU.

    Dave: I understand that.

    MC: What brought me here was my undergraduate research professor had ties with two people that run the neuromuscular lab here at Appalachian State. So, it was a really natural fit for me to contact them and get plugged in with the university here. I did apply to a couple of other places but as far as the academic side of things and what I like to do in the outdoors, this was really the best fit of the three that I applied to.

    Dave: Okay! So, you’ve been here…?

    MC: Well, I’m a second year graduate student. I’m looking to graduate in May. So this will be just about two years…well two years in June.

    Dave: All right.

    MC: And I’m studying Exercise Physiology concentration research so I’m battling with a thesis right now.

    Dave: Okay. Haha

    MC: Maybe I’ll hopefully be finished up this month. I think for me a dream job would be to work somewhere within the medical field. I’m interested in med school. But really using exercise as medicine to help along side of traditional pharmacological treatment or in place of that.

    Dave: Okay, preventative kind of a approach?

    MC: Yeah, very similar to that. If I have someone coming in with heart disease or the onset of heart disease whether that be coronary artery disease and treating them the traditional way, maybe prescribing exercise along side of that traditional pharmacological treatment and see how much more effective that can be.

    Dave: All right. Interesting. So both of you fellas have a lot on your plates because you're grad students but on top of that you’re part of GSAS. Now, if you’d like to tell us Mason, what GSAS is. What does that stand for and then maybe we’ll get into some of the nuts and bolts the function of GSAS.

    MC: Sure, GSAS stands for Graduate Student Association Senate. It functions very similarly to the Student Government Association or the Student Senate for the undergraduate level which is something I am sure many people are slightly more familiar with.

    Dave: Right.

    MC: But essentially, we’re an on campus group that is run by graduate students. Pretty much all of our meetings and all the things that we do completely are centered around grad students. Not only helping them on campus but also how the organization is run itself is completely done by grad students. We do affiliate with the graduate school as our academic advisor is the associate dean right now. But, from the day to day all the way into anything else we are doing, it’s all grad students.

    Dave: Zach?

    ZH: I mean I just want to echo that it really is a completely student run organization. Because we are graduate students we have an extra level of independence. So, even though we do have an advisor, he really doesn’t know very much about what’s going on. We make all the decisions pretty much ourselves. We give out all the money ourselves. The university lets us handle our own affairs.

    Dave: Tell us about the philanthropy that GSAS is involved with.

    ZH: Well, GSAS really does three main things. One, we work with grants. So, we get so much money from each student that accumulates every year and then we give out about $10,000 worth of grants four times a year to help with research, travel for the graduate students. If you’re presenting at a conference, if you’re doing a really interesting project, if you need some equipment, you can apply to GSAS to get a grant and we review those completely by students and then those are handed out. The second thing we do is really try to work with some of the social things on campus graduate students…there’s not a lot of opportunities on campus like there are for undergrads to get involved.

    Dave: Oh yeah. You get insulated.

    ZH: Yeah. You can really get trapped in your department I always like to joke when I talk to new students and I say, “If you wanna be stuck in your department all the time you be my guest!” But, if you want to be able to get out and meet other people in other departments and talk to them about what their work is and try to broaden your horizons then you can be a part of GSAS. We sponsor a lot of social events that are designed to do that. It’s not just going out and drinking and having fun. It’s a lot with networking and trying to build yourself as a person. Then the final thing we do is really try to be active on campus and in the community so we do a lot of community service events. We’ve had Farm Café days. We’re currently in the middle of a food drive for Hardin Park Elementary School. We’ve been to some local grocery stores and stood outside in the cold and collected a lot of food and then several departments have worked to collect food. You know we’re pretty proud of the kind of work we do in the community.

    Dave: Right absolutely well it sounds like you guys are very busy.

    ZH: I mean, another big part of GSAS is to help out of state and international student find their way here at Appalachian. We work with them because they don’t really understand where to find housing or how the university works or even anything about the community. We help them find housing connections and things like that when they come to campus. I’m from Virginia and when I came here I had no idea where to look for an apartment, where to get anything to eat, where the grocery stores were or anything so what we did kind of at the beginning of the semester…we had heard a lot from the out-of-state students and also from the international students. The international students were really in trouble when they came. So we made lists that we provided through our website of different housing organizations…where you can look and their websites with their contact information. It has where the grocery stores are and where the restaurants and the social events. We provided that through the website to prospective students that were really looking. We also have a social media page, a Facebook page that we invite prospective students to join. Then we give them the opportunity to post on there. “I’m having trouble finding where to fly in to.” Then the executive committee really monitors that and provides feedback to these students. So when they’re in search of something we try to match them up with a partner that can provide them with those answers.

    Dave: That’s great. I’m sure it’s very intimidating coming from another country to this town, trying to find some place to live. Just that everyday, average stuff that you have to have.

    ZH: Yeah. And we’ve had a couple international students that we really talk with about their experience and we found out there was a lot of turnover in the international student department here on campus, so it’s really hard for them to get one person who really helps them the entire time that they’re here. So we really wanted to work to provide that opportunity for them, because we had people that would come and they wouldn’t be able to get from the airport here because they didn’t have a car, or they wouldn’t be able to get an apartment because they didn’t have a U.S. ID, you know, things like that you ready had to have someone on site to do that. We really worked hard to provide those resources to people.

    Dave: That’s great. So specifically, let’s get into what the both of you do. So, Mason--what is your role? And I should say--you’re both Graduate Ambassadors as well. So you both have that on your plate, too. But for GSAS, what do you do, Mason? What’s your role?

    MC: So my current role in GSAS is to be the acting President, which basically consists of managing the executive committee, which consists of myself and eight other individuals, and then managing their affairs, and then the affairs of all of our subcommittees, so on and so forth, on through the senate body.

    Dave: How long have you been the President?

    MC: It’s just been for this academic year, with GSAS, it is an organization that rolls over from year to year, so in April, we will actually select the new executive committee, and they will take office directly after that meeting.

    Dave: Okay. So the former leaders select the--?

    MC: Well actually, there is a voting process, essentially what happens is we put a call out for nominations two months preceding the election month, or the meeting for the election month, and then the month prior to the date of election, we go ahead and have those people that were nominated put out, essentially on a ballot, but there’s not physically a ballot, everyone is just aware of who the candidates are. They might give a brief speech kind of highlighting why they fit the position that they are running for. Then in our meeting in April, we’ll come together as a senate, and it’s only that group of people that are present at the April meeting that will go ahead and make a vote. The person will leave the room, make our vote, come back, inform them of what position they’ve taken or have been voted into, and then from there, they take office at the end of that meeting.

    Dave: Okay. So Zach, what’s your role in GSAS?

    ZH: Well, I’m the parliamentarian whose one official written duty is to enforce the rules. So I handle the constitution and the by-laws and then make sure the meetings run okay and things like that. Which sounds boring and it kind of is but somebody has to do that job.

    Dave: Well do you enjoy it? It seems like something you enjoy.

    ZH: I do enjoy it. I guess I’m weird that way in the fact that I enjoy things like that.

    Dave: Well we need people like that!

    ZH: Yeah! And being able to keep things orderly and under control. But I think with everyone on GSAS will say you do a lot more than what your official duties are in the constitution. So not only am I on the rules committee, but I also serve on the social committee. I’ve worked with out-of-state, international students committee to develop a housing list and get that on our website, I’m working really closely with a food drive, overseeing where the boxes are and then the actual collection of the boxes, I’ve worked a little bit with the 5k, and several others things that we’ve done throughout the year, so I think everyone would say, you know, we all have very limited duties as spelled out by the constitution but everyone really pulls double and triple duty. We get out there, and we do what we see needs to get done that we’re interested in. So everyone really has a wide array of duties in GSAS.

    Dave: So, why would someone want to get involved with GSAS--whoever wants to take this one.

    MC: Well, I got involved--I guess there’s so many reasons I can think of.

    Dave: How many people are involved in GSAS? There are 1800 grad students.

    MC: Right, yeah, there’s about 1800 grad students on campus. Of that we have about 26 senators, I believe, and then there’s myself and 8 executive members. So that’s the whole of GSAS, but, that being said, one of the main things that I don’t think students know or understand is that any graduate student can get involved with the organization. You do not have to be a senator, or an alternate senator, to get involved with what we have going on and try to make a difference on campus for grad students.

    Dave: And with all the community outreach as well, I’m sure you’re more than willing to have any grad student help out.

    ZH: Technically, every grad student on campus is a member of GSAS. Each department is invited to appoint a senator to be your representative for the graduate students. Because of course, 1800 of us in one room trying to make decisions would not happen. SO everyone is definitely invited to become a part of GSAS, every graduate student can apply for a grant, and they can serve on a committee, they can help us participate in events, they’re invited to the social events, so everyone is really invited to participate in GSAS.

    Dave: Right. Okay.

    MC: Going off of that, one of the main functions again as a grad student is most of the time you’re engaged in research and one of the main things Zach pointed out that we do is provide grant moneys for either helping to fund your research, or helping to fund travel to disseminate your research. But what a lot of grad students I don’t think realize is that that money comes from a fee that’s charged to every grad student in their tuition. So this is money that is being put up by grad students to be given back to grad students by GSAS. And that committee who decides who gets the money, I mean, any grad student can serve on that. Sort of an interesting point where as a lot of the other grant funding comes from a University office. This is directly from grad students.

    Dave: It seems like grant-writing and getting grants is vital to your whole experience.

    ZH: I would definitely say that. I mean, in my department and most other departments, everyone has capstone projects, they’re expected to do independent research, to go to conferences, and of course all of that costs money and there is funding from the University, through the Office of Student Research, but GSAS provides a really good extra amount that really helps graduate students be able to do what’s expected of them while they’re here at App.

    MC: One of the main things we try to act as is a soundboard for students. So any graduate student can come to an open forum during a meeting and voice concerns either within their department or something that maybe is on a larger scale, say, as the University as a whole, and then it’s our job as an executive committee to take that back to administration and continue to have a dialog with administration to see how we can maybe change or address the concerns of the graduate student body. In addition to that, we also act to plug graduate students into a number of different committees on campus that are University-run committees, and that each of these committees, the student will act as a voting member. So that’s sort of a unique opportunity for graduate students that aren’t necessarily senators to get involved and have a say in how the University shapes itself to accommodate graduate students here on campus.

    Dave: What are some of the committees?

    MC: There’s several. There’s one that I serve on which is Academic Policies and Procedures, which is the last committee that sees any change to any sort of academic policy, whether that’s a course change, or a title of a course change before they go on to the chancellor for final approval. So we recommend directly to the chancellor and so I vote on that committee alongside of the SGA President. Some other committees that we have are the calendar committee, so this person helps to sit on that committee and try to plug in GSAS’ events along with anything else that might be relevant to grad students to get it on the main University calendar. There’s another committee known as the FDC, which is the Faculty Development Committee, which is just now being implemented, which allows grad students to work in conjunction with other faculty on creating what we call “Faculty Mentors.” And these individuals would act to improve the mentoring experience between Faculty Mentors and students. And those are just three, there’s several, and unfortunately I don’t have all of them locked into my head right now.

    Dave: No, that’s interesting. That’s fine. I just wanted to get a little taste of what was out there.

    ZH: I think another reason why people get involved in GSAS is it’s kind of ingrained in the graduate student experience. So all of us are at the upper level of students when we leave undergrad. We were really involved in our undergraduate institution. We’re leaders. And we come here kind of with the same mentality. We really want to do good on campus; we really want to be involved and be a participant while we’re here. So it’s kind of expected of us in our departments, in the history department, I helped lead the Graduate Student Association and several other organizations. So everyone I think is really involved, you know, when you come here. So it’s really ingrained. It’s kind of expected of you to be a part of campus and be able to help lead this campus. So through all of these committees and things like that, graduate students have their voices heard a little bit more because we are the next level on the academic scale. So it’s really kind of hardwired into what we do and why we get involved in GSAS.

    Dave: So GSAS is not the only student governmental association on campus. There’s also the SGA. So, do you guys ever work with the SGA in any form or fashion?

    MC: Well, that’s a recent development for this group. In the past, it’s my understanding that GSAS and SGA didn’t have too much overlap. And that’s something that I’ve worked with the current SGA president, Carson Rich, to kind of rectify over this year. We now have a liaison that’s present at each one of our GSAS meetings whose sole role is to take notes and bring those back to the SGA, specifically their executive cabinet and then their senate body. But she also relays information from SGA to us as GSAS, so that we can start to have a more open dialogue about what sort of events are going on, what SGA is doing, what we’re doing, and how we can sort of start to help each other. Just granted that they have a tremendous amount of resources available to them that we don’t necessarily have.

    Dave: Right. Different kind of organization, different size, right?

    MC: Right. The undergraduate student body is far larger than the graduate student body, so it’s understandable that they need more individuals to make that organization run efficiently.

    Dave: Where do you get more information about GSAS?

    MC: Well, there’s several locations. One is our Facebook page, that is probably the most outward facing place that you can get in contact and understand what’s going on with the organization, and that’s just as easy as going to Facebook and typing “GSAS” into the browser, should come right up. Along with that, we have our webpage, which, again, if you go to the main ASU page and type GSAS into the search browser, we’ll be the first thing that comes up and you click on that and browse through our webpage. We’re currently working on an AppSync page but that’s still in the early stages. We’re looking to have that put together by this coming Fall.

    Dave: Okay. Well Mason Calhoun, Zach Hottell, thank you so much for joining me today, I learned a lot, I really appreciate your time.

    Both: Thanks for having us!

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