Graduate Student Government (GSG) has accepted a mission.

Their purpose? Push Clemson up the ranks and contribute to its prestige.

Their plan? Engage the members of Clemson’s graduate school and encourage innovative interaction between students and the world.

Their biggest challenge is connecting all the facets of Clemson’s Graduate School. Beyond the different academic disciplines, the students also vary widely in age, nationality and location. Rather than being daunted by the differences, GSG’s projects will embrace diversity as it addresses structural, social and academic opportunities.

“We hope that we are creating a long-term plan to accommodate the growth that Clemson has forecasted,” said Ryan Heil, 2014-15 GSG president.

Filling in the holes of support

Graduate students attend classes at one of several campuses, each of which offers unique amenities like dining options, recreational facilities and health care providers. Coverage of these needs can vary and issues may go unanswered because of the distance between them and the main legislative body in Clemson.

Clemson graduate student Chandler Cook has been elected VP of Graduate Student Government's Greenville campus subset of its governing body.

Chandler Cook

“There are some serious holes of support for campuses outside of the main one, but we want to give them a direct line of advocacy to change that,” Heil said.

In order to get that direct engagement, GSG created a new subset of its governing body that will focus on supporting students in the Greenville area. Called GSG-G, for Greenville Council, it will represent and coordinate CU-ICAR, the MBA program, CUBEInC and the University Center.

GSG-G will handle “needs ranging from health care arrangements to answering questions like, ‘Where do I work out?’” Heil said. As graduate students find themselves more equipped to face challenges, they can spend more time on their research.

The council’s new vice president, Chandler Cook, will also share the responsibility of appointing members to GSG’s steering committees. These groups plan activities, manage philanthropic projects, communicate with alumni and address international student matters.

With this streamlined system, new standards can be set for graduate campuses while creating a more attractive environment for prospective students.

Coming together, as family

Graduate students also need greater social connection to foster creative discussions.

“Every program is craving more functional interactions between groups,” Heil said.

Past socials have traditionally occurred in Clemson at local establishments. However, what may be good for a 28-year-old student from Indiana living in Clemson may not be attractive for a 35-year-old student from India living in Greenville with his wife and kids.

To bring the diverse groups together, student leaders have begun planning events that cater better to their student populations. In December, the graduate school had its first holiday party, open to all students, staff and faculty. Held in Greenville, it attracted more than 300 guests.

GSG also organized two “paint and wine” nights. Deans, professors, Student Affairs administrators and other staff showed up to connect with the graduate students.

These gatherings serve as a networking opportunity just as much as a fun time — encouraging conversations that could lead to collaborative research and a stronger community.

Academic advantages

Three-Minute Thesis winners post with Nadim Aziz, interim dean of the Graduate School.

Three-Minute Thesis winners pose with Nadim Aziz, interim dean of the Graduate School.
Image Credit: Dhaval Parmar

Regardless of the discipline, every graduate student has a need for educational excellence and recognition. Part of earning that academic reputation comes from presenting research at national and international conferences.

To increase those opportunities, GSG has renovated and expanded the Professional Enrichment Grant Application Service (PEGAS), a program that enables graduate students to apply for funds to travel to conferences.

On campus, GSG has implemented the Three-Minute Thesis competition and created the Graduate Research and Discovery Symposium (GRADS). Three-Minute Thesis challenges a student to make a compelling presentation of his/her thesis and its significance to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes. GRADS gives students a chance to share their remarkable work outside of their discipline, inviting encouragement and collaboration as well as engaging the different programs.

Pushing Clemson

GSG’s plans complement larger institutional adjustments to make Clemson’s graduate program nationally recognized — an important focus of the 2020Forward Initiative.

Though GSG leadership is transitioning, their goal remains to have a more engaged graduate student body.

“We all want to enable students to go out and connect. As the prestige of the degree rises, everyone benefits,” Heil said.