The Technique sat down for a virtual interview with Lea Harris, incoming president of the Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA), to learn about her plans for the upcoming year and what the takeover experience has been like for her during COVID-19.
Harris came to Tech in 2016 for a doctorate in aerospace engineering after attending the University of Colorado, Boulder for her undergraduate degree, where she was heavily involved in athletics. At the time, she didn’t expect to join the student government, but she had always veered towards leadership and development and found herself wishing there was something she could do about graduate student stipends.
With encouragement from a friend, she became a GSGA senator. Fast-forward to today, and she is now excited to leverage her experiences to lead the intersection of policy and government. This year, Harris and Vice President Jay McKinney hope to focus on helping graduate students feel more welcome on campus.
Their initial plans involved many avenues for grad students to meet each other and get involved in campus traditions; however, with COVID, they are working on creative ways to achieve these goals. A pressing question for Lea is: “How do we get people to respond, so that we know what they need?” The answer will help her lead grad GSGA towards sustainable, long-term connections with the student body.
In order to build a more connected grad student network, she draws inspiration from Biomedical Engineering (BME), an inter-departmental program with a tight-knit social framework and strong professor-student relationships. According to Harris, “BME organizes events for every personality type.” Whether it’s a football tailgate or a laidback social event, no student is forced out of their comfort zone to connect with other grads.
Another initiative she and McKinney would like to work on is involving more grad students in student government. She ran uncontested for President and says that of the 60 available seats in the senate, GSGA occupies only 50%. She muses that graduate students often assume they are too busy to get involved or, reminiscent of her first year at Tech, don’t know where to get started.
Harris hopes to expand grad SGA membership and partner with undergraduate SGA for welcome week. She raises questions on inclusivity within SGA: “What can we do to make [welcome events] more inclusive to both parties? To make [them] more inclusive to an extremely wide and diverse campus?”
When it comes to taking over student government during the current pandemic, Lea is very grateful for the support from the outgoing officers. After an exhausting day of 35 virtual interviews for her cabinet, she is extremely excited to get her boots on the ground, organize lunches, town halls and engagement events, meet a ton of new people and hopefully inspire others to get involved. When she started, graduate government seemed like “this thing over there,” but today, she is proud to take their positive impact on campus even further.