Center use up among grad students

Jens Krogstad

After six years at the Student Dispute Resolution Center, graduate student Tara Tieso is logging extra hours because of an increase in graduate and professional students coming to the center.

Starting this semester, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly is paying Tieso an extra $3,000 a semester to work 10 more hours per week.

The center helps students solve campus-based concerns or complaints, such as University policies or relationships with instructors.

In the 2001-02 school year, 70 graduate and professional cases were resolved through the center. The following year the number almost doubled to 138 and another smaller increase is projected for this year.

Jan Morse, the center’s director, attributes the increase to campus-wide e-mails the center started sending once per semester last year.

Stability also contributed to the increased traffic, she said. The center has been at Eddy Hall since the 1999 fall semester. Prior to that, the center shifted around campus nearly every year, and the number of students dropped after each move.

Tieso, one of three ombudsmen working with graduate and professional students, said the students often juggle multiple responsibilities, such as a job and family, in addition to coursework. Because of added responsibilities, their difficulties are often more complex and have greater consequences than those of undergraduates.

“When something draws your attention in a stressful way, the ripple effects are greater,” she said.

Because she faces similar situations, Tieso can relate to them. She balances a family – she has a 12-year-old son – while working on a master’s degree in epidemiology and public health, plus a doctorate from the School of Social Work.

“It’s helpful to my job that I get what they’re going through because I live their life,” she said.

GAPSA executive director Megan Thomas hears about many students’ problems because she refers those who come to GAPSA for help to the resolution center.

She said most of the issues are small, such as registration or financial aid mix-ups.

“I once dealt with someone who couldn’t register for classes until they paid their library fine of zero dollars,” she said.

But when more serious problems arise, the stakes are much higher.

“A lot of times their Ph.D.s – their entire academic career – is on the line,” Thomas said.

She said many of the issues students face involve conflicts with advisers and professors.

Students rely on them for research and teaching assistantships in addition to courses they are taking, she said.

“In other words, you’re not only upsetting the person who can hire you, but the person who can flunk you,” she said.

Tieso said the center ideally helps prepare students to handle future problems as well as solve current ones.

“Part of what we do is not only to resolve the situation, but to give them a toolbox to handle more issues in the future,” she said.