Pitt’s Graduate and Professional Student Government is showing its appreciation for grad students this week with its annual Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week. Malena Hirsch, president of GPSG, said this week acknowledges grad students and helps make them feel “appreciated.”
“These students often sit at an intersectionality of professionalism and being a student, where the lines are kind of blurred between how the University perceives them and how their PI, their professors, their colleagues and peers perceive them,” Hirsch, a graduate student in business administration and health care administration, said. “It’s a way for us to recognize graduate and professional students in how they are as students.”
The week of virtual events will kick off on Monday and last through Saturday. The events are sponsored by GPSG — the student governance body for Pitt’s graduate students that advocates for grad students and oversees the allocations of the graduate student activities fee. The week is held in partnership with the National Association for Graduate and Professional Students, which designated the week in 1993 to celebrate the value of graduate and professional students in the academic community.
Some of the virtual events are a therapy pet cafe hosted by Animal Friends on Monday — where participants can connect and talk about pets — and a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator workshop on Tuesday so students can learn more about their personality indicators. Events later in the week include a Houseplant 101 session on Wednesday with City Grows, a Thursday seminar on building positive mental health by Dr. Kristen Lee and a Friday evening mixology workshop.
The week will conclude on Saturday with the Mega Grad Collab, which will allow students from across Pittsburgh to network with each other. This event is hosted in partnership with grad associations from Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University and Point Park University.
Jazzkia Jones, vice president of programming for GPSG, said recognizing grad students during this week with events is important because they are sometimes overlooked in favor of the larger undergraduate student body.
“Oftentimes the identity of graduate students gets lost within a university,” Jones, a graduate student in the higher education management program, said. “As far as us being students, us being peer professionals that are also juggling jobs, juggling family, juggling other responsibilities that aren’t necessarily tied to the identity of being a student, because oftentimes we think of undergraduate students.”
The University’s Office of the Provost is partnering with GPSG by promoting the events on its webpage. Originally, the provost’s office also planned to host free coffee and bagels, and the University Counseling Center planned to provide free t-shirts and water bottles, but due to the recently announced shelter-in-place period that started last Wednesday, these events had to be cancelled.
Jones said COVID-19 had a big impact on the planning process for the events this year, including the cancellation of many popular events from previous years, such as the Spring Fling held at the Rivers Casino.
“A lot of different partnerships that we wanted to host, we could not because either their organizations are not allowing them to host events or they haven’t transferred into a fully virtual system,” Jones said. “It definitely challenged us in terms of thinking about what we can and cannot do.”
Amanda Leifson, executive administrator for GPSG, said grad appreciation week is important because the struggles of grad students are not often valued as much in comparison to those of undergrads.
“When we think about universities, we think about the typical experiences and difficulties that undergraduate students have because they make up the majority of students at universities,” Leifson, a graduate student in the political science department, said. “It’s typically where the money comes from, and thinking about the University typically tends to come from an undergraduate-student lens. But there are other t
ypes of students, other types of experiences at the University.”
Hirsch said graduate students often go unrecognized for the sacrifices they make when working toward a higher degree.
“A lot of people, they put their family’s life on hold, they will uproot their entire life or their family’s life to come back and pursue higher education,” Hirsch said. “They are incurring greater expense if they have to take on more loans, or just the stress that comes with not taking an income for however many years.”
Jones added that she thinks grad students should be acknowledged for taking the initiative to seek out higher education.
“A lot of times it feels less of a big deal to be a graduate and professional student because you’ve already went through the typical undergrad getting your bachelor’s degree,” Jones said. “But it takes so much more courage to continue to go back to school.”