CFANS grad student hopes for student boards in more UMN schools

The 17 colleges in the University have the potential to develop their own graduate student boards to provide specific help to students within their college.

Kayla Song

Graduate students at the University of Minnesota are working towards increased communication with their college’s administration and faculty to more easily address student concerns and community events – a previously intimidating process. 

Erin Gilbert, the chair of the Graduate Student Board — called GSB — in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, is using her position to encourage the University’s other 16 colleges to create their own graduate student boards.

While a few colleges within the University have unofficial graduate student groups or inactive student boards, Gilbert hopes to make graduate student boards a best practice in every college.

Gilbert, a graduate student in the Department of Plant Pathology, said she started the initiative in October after a graduate student in another college was interested in CFANS’ board model.

The board, which took two years to create, provides interaction, resources and events with students, faculty and staff, said Gilbert, who is half way through her two-year term as chair of the CFANS board.

“One of the main things I noticed was administration and faculty and grad students seem to all have the same goals in mind,” she said. “But they have no way to talk to each other and … work together on things.”

To start a board, colleges have the option to imitate the format of the CFANS GSB, she said. The creation of each board depends on the level of interest from graduate students and different colleges’ deans offices.

Gilbert said she hopes to finish gauging interest in each college by the summer of 2018 and will start developing boards for each college in the fall.

“Hopefully I’ll create a how-to guide for how to create these boards and have our constitution available to them if they want to copy our model,” Gilbert said. 

The boards will be different from the Council of Graduate Students and the Professional Student Government, though they all share a common goal of advocating for graduate students.

“COGS does a great job in addressing concerns at the University level,” Gilbert said. “One thing we run into a lot is that there are issues at the college level that graduate students want dealt with, and we really have no one to go to.”

Scott Lanyon, dean of the University’s graduate school, said a power gap between graduate students and faculty often keeps students from suggesting minor improvements to their programs. 

“That’s one of the functions of the board, I think, to provide a venue for graduate students to bring up ideas and then have it go forward from the board as … a board discussion,” Lanyon said. 

A GSB in each college at the University would also help stop student concerns from falling through the cracks, he said, adding that large administrative bodies don’t have the capacity to address individual programs’ concerns.

“It’s very difficult to take individual department concerns to COGS, whereas it would be much easier for an individual department to take their concern to a college board,” said Siddharth Iyengar, a fourth-year College of Biological Science graduate student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. 

Iyengar is part of a small, unnamed group of graduate students in the College of Biological Sciences concerned with questions of diversity and equity in their college. He said an official student board would be more effective in addressing student problems.

“There’s so much to be done at the University level and so many people to talk to,” Gilbert said. “It’s really hard to hone in on issues or concerns or events that might be more appropriate for the college level.”