The Technique recently sat down for a (virtual) interview with the newly elected graduate SGA president and vice president, discussing their goals and ambitions for the upcoming year.
Technique: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and why you chose to join graduate SGA.
Eick: Hello, I’m Stephen Eick, and I am a third-year PhD student studying computer science here at Tech. I have been involved with graduate SGA for a year and a half and have participated in constitutional revision and other committees on SGA.
I wanted to run for the position of president because, having served as a member of the graduate student senate, I have seen that there is an immense amount of good that SGA can do across campus and has done on campus.
I want to be able to help build positive experiences for our graduate community both in events as well as efforts to improve the mental health of our students.
Jarquin: Hi, I’m PJ Jarquin, and I’m a third-year PhD student studying biomedical engineering. I got involved in graduate SGA as the VP of campus services this past year and was involved in SGA as an undergraduate.
SGA has a vital role on campus, and for me, it has proven to be the best avenue to make a positive change on campus.
I want to be able to help continue these efforts and elevate it into the VP role.
Technique: What are you most looking forward to in being the newly elected graduate SGA president and vice president?
Eick: The first is focusing on helping implement mental health initiatives. Zero graduate student suicides are what has to happen, and it has been frustrating to see that we still haven’t hit that mark.
The primary element I want to address is ensuring that graduate students are feeling capable; they are here at Georgia Tech, and they are smart, and they are capable. I want to help provide better resources for grad students, particularly with mental health.
The second is we want to foster community. The third is we want to focus on helping improve graduate research by building new tools to help support graduate research. There are also internal initiatives to help strengthen grad SGA internally as an organization.
Jarquin: Stephen hit the mark already on mental health, and it is not only a problem at Georgia Tech but also at other universities.
Bringing mental health professionals to all the buildings to have a bunch of satellite offices that all students can go to will help improve accessibility. So will integrating mental health services with health services.
Currently they are separate; they are even on separate websites. Mental health is health and having that separate from Stamps is not conducive.
Through the incoming VP of student engagement and wellness, we can help facilitate that integration.
Also increasing accessibility for health in Stamps and ensuring that a robust health insurance is available to grad students.
Technique: What makes the graduate student body’s needs different from undergraduate students?
Eick: As a state institution, Georgia Tech takes a significant chunk of their undergrad population from the state of GA. Tech has a diverse student body, but the majority of undergrads end up being US citizens.
It is important to note that the ratio on the graduate side is not as equal, and there are significantly more international students that comprise our student body.
Graduate SGA needs to stay calibrated toward that and serve the very wide needs and expectations of our students.
Jarquin: I would say that, for undergraduate SGA, their focus is on campus services such as dining services and residence halls, which are extremely important to the needs of the undergraduate student body.
For the graduate students, the most important points of action are stipends, health insurance and health services including mental health.
While there are differences between the student body’s needs, there are still a lot of areas in which the undergrad and graduate SGA can come together and work on mental health and health as a whole.
Technique: Are there any initiatives that you plan to do in conjunction with undergrad SGA in the upcoming year?
Eick: I think mental health will be the primary initiative that will be joint…This year the legislatures and executive branch are working to formalize the joint governance policy efforts between the respective bodies.
Jarquin: Health initiatives that we want to go after is improving the Stamps student web page by providing a LGBTQIA resources tab.
Since the summer, we have been talking with GTPD to increase transparency in their hiring and any kind of policing that they do on campus and make that available to students.
These are things we will do in conjunction with undergraduate SGA because way more undergraduate students live on campus.
Technique: Mental health plays a big role on campus and is really important to provide resources to students. Besides the resources that are already set into place, do you plan on implementing more to help the graduate students?
Eick: I think there is an aspect of providing students resources that need help. We want to find new ways to reach out to graduate students to help strengthen the graduate student community.
While Tech has mental health resources to catch them if they fall, I want to help ensure that graduate students never fall in the first place. We want to seek initiatives to keep them up and keep them looking forward.
Some ideas that we have are to increase outreach through providing different types of events which will help engage the student body. Graduate students and these mental health issues are not unique to Tech, so we want to try to address this pervasive issue on our campus. I do believe that we will be able to put a large amount of effort into addressing the problem.
Jarquin: Increasing the presence of the satellite counselors around campus. Tech has been in talks with hiring more counselors and making it more available.
An idea is to list the counselors we have and list their specialties to make available for students.
Everyone has different issues that are impacting their mental health and being able to see the specialties our counselors provide will enable students to feel more comfortable.
Technique: What are your thoughts about COVID reopening safety and what are the measures you will advocate for?
Eick: I think that our graduate students are incredibly well-informed about the realities of COVID. I think the students should follow the guidance that comes from Georgia Tech regarding the various health protocols.
We will hopefully be doing vaccinations on campus for students who don’t have it by fall. I do want to ensure that we are moving forward, we are doing many things on campus, and I want to see Tech come back as vibrant as ever.
To that end, hopefully getting students to be involved in events on campus and in a responsible manner in which they feel most comfortable.
We want our students to be safe, and the statistic that I have heard is that more students have died because of suicide than of COVID deaths this year.
From a visibility standpoint, student mental health is a critical component to this year and getting students engaged, back on campus and getting them out of the isolation that they have felt this year.
By moving forward in a responsible manner, we will be able to help improve student’s well-being.
Jarquin: There are varying student concerns about COVID, and I was on the health and safety task force over the summer.
There are a lot of concerns such as there might be international students or students from rural areas who may have not had access to the vaccine.
Pushing for Georgia Tech to hopefully be able to increase the number of vaccination shots given each day will help.
Safety is the number one priority. Through encouraging students to get vaccinated before they leave campus for the summer, hopefully it will be a higher percentage.
That will make students feel more comfortable and be able to have engaging events that are held safely.
As far as masks and sanitation that is something that will stay for a while. The mask policy for sure is something that we will advocate for.
Technique: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share about your upcoming year as grad SGA president and vice president?
Eick: I’m very excited to start getting to work in the next few weeks and transitioning over and being able to make positive constructive impacts to the graduate students and all students of the Georgia Tech community.
Jarquin: I echo that and am very excited to be serving the Tech students and the community. We are not only looking to advocate for diversity and equality, but also for an equitable graduate student experience.
We understand that all graduate students come from different backgrounds, and so we must uplift all of our students to ensure an equitable experience for everyone.