This past year the GSA worked tirelessly to tackle unprecedented external pressures while striving to improve the graduate student experience. Here are highlights of the GSA’s efforts:
- GSA core services: new GRT UPass agreement with once-a-year refund option; expansion of the health plan to include the EmpowerMe service at no cost; new legal service program; renovations of all spaces in the Graduate House and the addition of a ground patio.
- Community building: pint of politics events; faculty nights; social events at Grad House including events focused on integrating satellite campuses and international themed events.
- Advocacy: access to resources during COVID-19; term extensions; funding support; signature commitments from uWaterloo; equity strategy; faculty-level advocacy; and endorsing unionization of graduate workers.
- Funding contribution: $75,000 for thesis completion awards and international student support; over $20,000 to support social and academic graduate student initiatives; $2,000 to support equity groups; $1,000 to support research on sexual violence.
- Internal governance: hired executive manager and hospitality manager, revamped GSA website and social media channels; risk management framework, director’s handbook, four short-term research contracts; amalgamation of political positions from 16 to four; and three-year Strategic Plan.
“The year was marked with many victories amid multiple challenges. Through the coordinated efforts of our board, council and the executive team, we navigated the Student Choice Initiative in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and not only sustained our operations but improved overall service delivery and support for graduate students. We also saw an increase in engagement through our communication channels, as well as volunteer and paid opportunities with the GSA,” Samuel said.
Our advocacy efforts in recent months have been focused on supporting graduate students through the pandemic. We launched a petition to call on the University to reduce spring term tuition and are continuing conversations to ensure financial support is provided to graduate students. David Billedeau, the GSA vice president and I diligently collaborated with the university administration to ensure that graduate students had access to resources they needed and were informed of our efforts.
I am very grateful to all our campus partners for their efforts, particularly Jeff Casello, associate vice president, graduate studies and postdoc affairs and, Chris Read, associate provost, students, whose commitment to improving the graduate student experience enabled us to increase support for graduate students during the pandemic.
In the past few months, my team and I also worked to create a multi-prong strategy to address equity issues impacting graduate students. We held several meetings with stakeholders and equity-seeking groups to ensure the GSA is actively involved in all discussions. We will start wider consultations with our BIPOC members in the coming term to set a direction to go forward.
A major undertaking of the GSA this past year was the development of a multi-year strategic plan, which I facilitated over the past seven months. The three-year Strategic Plan was developed and approved by the Board and implemented in fall 2020. I am very pleased with the outcome and am hopeful that the Strategic Plan will help further improve the GSA’s efforts in the future.
It’s an honor to have served the graduate students for two and a half years. I am thankful to God for the strength to endure as I led the GSA during these unprecedented times. By serving with excellence and dedication, I believe we have set the stage for the GSA to become a national leader in providing graduate student support.
I am very excited to see the incoming president, David Billedeau, continue to climb the momentum and take the GSA to the next level.
“If you are passionate about making meaningful impact for the graduate student community like I am, I encourage you to get involved with the GSA – your contribution can make a difference for all graduate students,” Samuel said.
Naima N. Samuel, MBA, MA, BSc.
President and CEO (2018-2020)