GSA president sets sights on program overhaul

While medical students have their own campus, and law students their own building, the 3,267 students in the UM Graduate School do not have a central hub to call their own. Marcia McNutt, a doctoral fellow in clinical psychology, wants to change that and more.

She will begin her term as the president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) on May 15. McNutt is eager to create a new sense of community for graduate students.

“We are hard to define,” McNutt said. “We’re not just students, but faculty, researchers and professionals too. We’re a special and diverse group.”

After serving two years as GSA vice president under current president Amanda Price, McNutt hopes to build on her predecessor’s efforts.

During Price’s term, the GSA office moved from the outskirts of campus near the baseball field to the first floor of the Unger building. Since then, involvement in the graduate school’s appointed student senate has more than doubled.

“I like to look at it like a ship,” McNutt said. “Amanda and I spent the last two years building it, setting the policies in place, and now we’re sailing. It’s now my job to steer.”

Price hopes to see increased health care subsidies and on-campus housing for graduate students in UM’s future.

“Marcia brings experience from other universities,” Price said. “She went to the University of Alabama for undergrad, got her master’s at Emory in Atlanta, and was a student leader there. Her diverse perspective will move us forward.”

The university currently covers about 60 percent of a graduate student’s health care. Though UM vowed to increase that percentage annually, the remaining costs are still unaffordable to most grad students, many of whom are older than 26 and no longer eligible for coverage on their parents’ medical plans.

Graduate students must also look for accommodations elsewhere and are often forced to sign 12-month leases, and pay as much as 30 percent more than they would if they lived on-campus.

McNutt believes that open communication is the answer to advancing graduate student’s rights. She has bi-weekly meetings with Brian Blake, the new graduate school dean, to discuss these hotbed topics, and they have been successful.

“Dean Blake always tells me to close my eyes and imagine my version of a graduate school utopia,” McNutt said.

Blake said he is dedicated to working with GSA to promote not just academic success but also to develop a tangible graduate student community.

“In Marcia’s term, I plan to support her in all GSA initiatives but hope she will emphasize the introduction of graduate culture into places where graduate students have not traditionally had high exposure,” Blake said. “It will be important to break down the walls where graduate students and undergraduate students are not seen as us and them.”