Graduate students are a huge part of the Clemson Family, and Graduate Student Government (GSG) is working hard to make sure graduate students’ needs are addressed and their voices heard. With a tremendous amount of change happening on campus, GSG President Ryan Heil and VP Danielle Zanzalari are focused on communication and building a stronger, more vocal, more connected community.

Clemson graduate student government leaders Ryan Heil and Danielle Zanzalari at a recent function on campus.Q: How does a strong graduate school bolster a university’s national reputation?

Ryan: Graduate students drive a university’s research efforts. Beyond the benefits to research, graduate students are an important part of student affairs and admissions and they play an essential role in teaching classes. The quality of graduate students is a major factor in determining the quality of the university. A strong graduate school can recruit the best students and advocate for their interests. Additionally, graduate students go on to be leaders in industry and academia. Cultivating successful professionals enhances the reputation of Clemson University on a global scale.

Q: You’ve said before that graduate students need to be blended into the Clemson Family. What do you think this looks like and how do you plan to foster these relationships?

DanielleAs graduate students, we do not fit distinctly in as students or faculty because sometimes we take classes and sometimes we teach classes. We have a unique situation on campus and do not feel as appreciated as undergrads. Our goal is to change that by bringing awareness to the different, but important, needs of graduate students. Ryan has really been leading the effort to get graduate student issues and needs noticed by administrators. In addition, we are trying to make sure that graduate students are represented in every issue that may affect them. Our job is to make the lives of graduate students better and the only way to do that is to have our voices heard.

Q: In looking for the new provost, Clemson is emphasizing a culture that is tied together by community, service, engagement and collaboration. How can graduate students support and contribute to this culture?

DanielleI believe graduate students already fit many pieces of this culture. Graduate students work on campus in the classroom or lab, take classes, serve as journal editors, represent Clemson at conferences and do a multitude of tasks that serve their University. They also collaborate on research with other departments and individuals. I strongly believe that the contribution and continued support of these aspects of Clemson’s culture is inherent to the graduate student status.

Q: Since communication is so important, what are some of the ways you see grad students getting a voice at the table and sharing their needs with the larger community?

RyanThe critical first step toward getting grad students a voice at the table is increasing awareness around campus about the value that graduate students bring to Clemson. Most people would never know that the number of hours taught by graduate students on this campus per semester is equivalent to 321 full-time employees.

We also feel that greater representation of graduate students on University committees would be very impactful. We want to build a culture of advocacy within the graduate school population — we have a voice, and we need to utilize the platforms we have to communicate our needs. We know our needs better than anyone else. Increasing the amplitude of our voice will start to change the culture at Clemson and hopefully spur decision makers to think more about the needs of graduate students. While this is something we have been aggressive in advocating, the numbers of graduate students on task forces and committees are not yet representative of our population.

Q: In what ways do you see Clemson and the graduate student government (GSG) working to make graduates students feel valued as part of the community?

DanielleGSG has been working hard to partner with existing organizations and structures on campus to help out graduate students. For example, we received feedback that graduate students wanted Fike Recreation Center open longer during the summer. The managers of Fike were willing to extend the hours of operation on weeknights. This is one example of our efforts to solve graduate student problems and to make them feel valued. Other examples of ongoing partnerships include the Alumni Association, Marketing Services, the Women’s Council, Parents’ Council, Undergraduate Student Government and Faculty/Staff Senate.

Q: With the start of the “3-Minute Thesis” program, GSG is encouraging students to make their research more accessible. What is the importance of increasing understanding and how else do you plan to accomplish this?

Ryan: Explaining your research to non-experts is an essential skill. Selling your ideas, regardless of whether you are in academia or industry, is an important part of any career to optimally impact a field of study. Our goal is to better promote the incredible graduate student research currently being done. The 3-Minute Thesis© provides one way to encourage graduate students to find new and innovative ways to explain their research. Another opportunity in which graduate students can make their research more accessible is the Graduate Research and Discovery Symposium (GRADS). Additionally, beginning in August, we will be highlighting a “Researcher of the Month” in our bi-monthly newsletters and on all of our social media platforms.

Q: Graduate schools are about research, but graduate students need more than funding. What are some of the initiatives and programs you want Clemson to support?

Ryan: It is important to remember that research is the primary, often all-consuming, focus of graduate students. Enabling graduate students to be successful in their research by attracting and retaining talented faculty who value working with graduate students is essential. We would love to see Clemson become more inclusive of graduate students throughout all facets of the University. Thus far GSG has made impressive strides in enhancing the graduate student experience such as creating ways for graduate students to be connected with the community through the bus route to Greenville and developing several different community service opportunities. With that said, there is still A LOT of work to be done. In every facet of the university experience, graduate students need to be valued — from admissions, orientation, “on-boarding” and representation in University governance, to parking and transportation, on-campus health care and athletics.

Q: There have been efforts to increase social outreach for graduate students through programs run by CORE and volunteering events. What are the biggest issues facing that effort, and how would you like to improve it?

Danielle: We have made great efforts this summer to diversify the types of activities GSG puts on for graduate students and their families. So far, we have hosted an ice cream social on campus and a bike tour on the Swamp Rabbit Trail. Our biggest challenge is getting feedback from students on which events they want to see or have enjoyed.  We have reached out to different groups of people and have diversified our activities planning committee, but hearing graduate student responses is helpful! We really want to engage international students, students with families and students in Greenville as well as have more on-campus events.  We strongly want to encourage graduate students to speak to members of GSG, email or tweet at us or Facebook us to let us know what you want to see.