On Friday, March 16, the two presidential tickets for the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA) sat down at a town hall to discuss their platforms and field questions from campus. The tickets are ECE Ph.D, Secretary David Giles with BME Ph.D Senator Elorm Agra, and AE Ph.D Senator Andrew Cox with HSTS Ph.D Senator Renee Shelby.
The town hall opened with the candidates discussing their platforms and the changes they want to see on campus. Giles led off with some broad ideas he had for GSGA.
“I would like to have a more data driven approach,” Giles said. “Basically, I think the best decisions are the ones that are made with the most information, so I’d like to hear from as many grad students as possible, especially those that are traditionally quieter and maybe feel like they’re a little bit more alone on campus.”
In addition, he discussed the possibility of increasing GSGA’s presence by holding weekly office hours and increasing involvement online on sites such as Reddit. Overall, the Giles/Agra platform revolves heavily around engagement and involvement.
Cox, on the other hand, began discussing his platform in the realm of empowering graduate students.
“Us graduate students conduct Georgia Tech’s world class research,” Cox said. “And we have the best interest, as any graduate student would whether you’re funded or unfunded, in seeing Georgia Tech succeed. But we need to also make sure that Georgia Tech has the resources available and that we’re utilizing those resources to make ourselves succeed in Georgia Tech’s environment.”
Cox then delved into specific areas he would help graduate students in. He addressed the continuing issue of graduate student stipends staying up to date on current costs of living and inflation, and discussed the possibility of a graduate orientation for new graduate students.
One point that both platforms agreed on is getting more graduate students involved in GSGA and the power it holds on campus.
After both teams discussed their platforms, questions were fielded from the audience and the moderator. The candidates were asked what one thing has to be changed about GSGA.
Shelby answered first, citing two things. First, GSGA needs more clarity and transparency in what they do. Second, is splitting the pot of money that the student activity fee goes towards.
“All grads pay into the student activity fees and then they do not effectively see that money that they pay in,” Shelby said. “So, one thing that I would like to see happen is an actual splitting of the fees, the graduates pay into a pot that is 100 percent separate from what the undergrads do, so that we can dedicate those fees to fund things that grads want and need.”
Agra agreed with Shelby in splitting the pot, especially since most bills that go through GSS are submitted by chartered organizations made up of almost entirely undergraduates.
“That system sort of lends itself to groups that are already established and hinders innovation,” Agra said. “And lends itself to people who know how this stuff works already and who have been doing this for a while. I would like to shift that more towards inspiring innovation, [getting] new ideas from normal graduate students like myself.”
Giles then echoed Shelby’s point about spending money proportional to the amount graduate students put in.
The next contentious issued revolved around how to help international graduate students who want to stay in the U.S. after getting their degree. Agra, as an international student from Ghana, said that they issue hit close to home. One of his ideas is to have a dedicated immigration lawyer on campus for students.
“This is Georgia Tech,” Agra said. “These are the brightest students in the world and we shouldn’t be worried about where we go after.”
Cox, being an American, acknowledged that the domestic students do not have an appreciation of what international students have to go through. He suggested, “working with our campus law services to meet more with international students and give them their options.”
After questions ended, each member of both teams gave a closing statement on why graduate students should vote them as their next leaders. Cox and Shelby highlighted their extensive platform and how they crafted their ticket with the larger Tech community in mind.
Giles and Agra focused on broader issues that they feel need fixing. They want to focus on reaching out to the average graduate student and representing them. They feel the nitty-gritty is not as important at this time because those will fall into place regardless of who gets voted in.
Elections are open until Friday, March 23, and more election and candidate information can be found here. The website for graduate students to vote can be found at elections.gatech.edu.