Three of five positions uncontested in SGPS elections

VP Graduate and VP Professional are competitive elections

Queen's Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) is holding executive elections on Feb. 11-12.

The positions are President, the SGPS' primary representative on senior administrative bodies; Vice-President of Campaigns and Community Affairs, who is responsible for representing the interests of the SGPS and their members within local, provincial and national bodies; Vice-President of Finance and Services, who coordinates the services offered through the SGPS; Vice-President of Graduate, responsible for representing graduate students' needs and interests; and Vice-President of Professional, responsible for representing professional students’ needs and interests.

President, VP Campaigns and Community Affairs and VP Finance and Services are all uncontested and will require votes of confidence.

The VP Graduate and VP Professional positions each have two candidates running.

President — Chris Cochrane

Chris Cochrane decided to get involved with the SGPS a year ago after hearing student leaders express concerns about student government.

Cochrane, a materials engineering PhD student, is running uncontested for the position of 2015-16 SGPS President.

“One of my friends came up to me and said, ‘hey, I think this is something that you should do’, and I said, ‘yeah, that’s a place where I can go and maybe solve some problems’,” said Cochrane, PhD ’17.

As an engineering student, he said, he comes from a “different side of campus” than previous SGPS Presidents, and this gives him a different viewpoint on issues.

He said he thinks the issues that are most important to graduate and professional students include access to mental health resources and career resources.

He added that the two-year embedded counsellor program, which “embedded” three counsellors in engineering, the School of Graduate Studies and the School of Education in 2013 — in addition to five other counsellors — is “running out of funding”, and he’d like to see this program continue and extend to professional programs like the law school.

Career resources, Cochrane said, are also currently targeted more towards undergraduate students.

“You’re looking at this career planning and then the resources that the University has available aren’t targeted towards you,” he said. “I think that’s a big issue.”

If elected, he said, one of his priorities will be “addressing the career services issue in terms of professional development” — for instance, having adequate resources for graduate students who don’t want to pursue academic careers. Cochrane said more than half of graduate students don’t decide to pursue academics.

He added that he’d also like to increase the visibility and accessibility of the SGPS to its members, as members of the society often study separately on campus rather than being “densely populated”.

“So, somehow, solving the problem of bringing these people who are all spread out, kind of diluted around campus, together just so that they understand what can the SGPS offer them,” he said.

Although he’s “sad” to be the only candidate running for the position, he said he supports having a vote of confidence.

“I think it’s good that the SGPS at least has these votes in the case of single candidates, unlike the AMS, but I think it would have been far, far better for our membership to have a choice,” Cochrane said.

— Natasa Bansagi

VP Campaigns and Community Affairs — Lorne Beswick

Seeking re-election as VP Campaigns and Community Affairs, Lorne Beswick is looking to continue his work on issues like sexual assault, childcare and mental health.

Beswick is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of History and has served on Student Affairs Mental Health and Alcohol Working Groups and Queen's United Way, among other organizations.

One issue Beswick plans to focus on this term is sexual assault, which he feels the University has yet to properly deal with.

“I think myself and the University have a lot of common ground. We recognize there’s a problem — but it kind of stops there,” he said.

Beswick said he’d like to see a different approach from the University to gain feedback from students.

He’s currently working with and hopes to continue working with students, the AMS, policymakers and advocacy groups to get a more specific set of recommendations from every interested party.

Beswick said he would also like to see the formation of a student committee that would conduct research of its own to make official recommendations on the issue of sexual assault.

Another big issue, he said, is childcare on campus. Beswick is an active member on the Queen's Daycare Board and, since the closure of the facilities at 169 Union St., has been working on new solutions for graduate student childcare.

One idea Beswick has is the conversion of an unused room in the JDUC into a “child-minding room” — a safe space for parents to spend quiet time with their children during the day.

“I’m hoping that the childcare situation around the campus resolves itself in a way that benefits and pleases everyone,” he said.

— Jacob Rosen

VP Finance and Services — Christina Huber

For her final year of law school, Christina Huber said she wants to take what she’s learned at Queen’s and give back to the community.

Huber, who is running uncontested for VP Finance and Services, said she has always been interested in finance, and that her experience — including work at the Royal Bank of Canada and at a hedge fund company — makes her the best candidate for the position.

Huber studied finance and economics at the University of British Columbia before coming to Queen’s for law school, where she said most of her degree “is incorporating finance and law”.

“I’ve worked for a number of different companies and I’ve gone to school elsewhere and I think that’s allowed me to kind of have more of an open idea to finance and not so restricted to just the numbers,” said Huber, JD ’16.

“This is going to be my final year in law school next year, and I figured it’d be really cool to take what I’ve learned and kind of help the Queen’s community out.”

Huber said the SGPS currently has “quite a large surplus of funds”, and she’d like to see it placed in something like a savings account, in order for it to earn “enough interest to meet inflation” and “hopefully make it grow a little bit”.

Although she acknowledged that this likely won’t be implemented next year, she said she hopes to reduce the SGPS student fee to make it more reflective of the services that graduate and professional students receive.

Huber added that she wants to implement a system whereby clubs or individuals who have applied for funding or bursaries could find out whether or not they have received this funding “in a timely matter”.

She also cited the budget as a matter of concern.

“Currently, the budget is not as clear as it should be, and it doesn’t match up with audit statements,” Huber said, adding that it would be beneficial to “link the two” and update audit statements, which haven’t been updated since 2013.

It’s difficult to determine specific issues facing students within the SGPS, she said, because graduate and professional societies deal with some issues “on their own”. However, she said, students should be made more aware of SGPS services.

“I think that is a collective effort between all the executives, trying to make the SGPS services — more students aware of them,” Huber said.

— Natasa Bansagi

VP Graduate — Mark Kellenberger

VP Graduate candidate Mark Kellenberger wants to bring graduate students together.

Kellenberger, a third-year PhD student in mechanical and materials engineering, said the graduate student community is fragmented. He added that his experience at Queen's as an undergraduate and master’s student, and as a captain of the swim team from 2008-11 and assistant coach from 2011-12, has given him the experience of bringing people together.

"I think I have a lot of experience in bringing people together and getting people to abide by a kind of team dynamic kind of thing," he said.

Kellenberger's platform includes creating a framework for departmental handbooks for graduate students.

"I'm going to create [a framework] so departments can easily create a handbook with all the rules like course requirements and comprehensive exam requirements that all graduate student departments would stick to," he said.

Another platform point is expanding the Student Advisor Program, which offers consultation on academic and personal issues to graduate students.

"Right now, this program is very in-demand and I think it would be better to expand the program, if possible — to hire another advisor," he said.

"I think looking for other revenue streams to try to expand this program is really important."

Kellenberger said a major issue facing graduate students is their inability to relate to the SGPS. He added that graduate students often don’t know about the different committees and initiatives they can be involved in, and said if these were more visible, students’ voices would be more impactful.

"In terms of graduate students individually, I think there's a lot of problems right now trying to get our voice heard in terms of the University," he said.

"For example, Queen's just came out with a new sexual assault policy and there was no consultation with graduate students whatsoever,” he added, referring to the interim policy created by the University that will be replaced by a permanent policy by the end of the academic year, following student consultation.

Other changes Kellenberger is looking to make are the creation of a framework for departmental and faculty graduate student associations to promote social interactions between students, and to make resources available to meet Queen’s time to completion policy.

"There's been a time to completion policy implemented by Queen’s, saying that 'you're done' at two years — there's no more funding [for Master’s students]," he said.

"Currently, those time to completion rules are in place, so what I want to try to do is I want to work with students and departments so students can actually meet these goals."

Kellenberger suggested creating goal-setting workshops or expanding the Student Advisor Program as a solution to this.

He said the SGPS is primarily made up of students from the law and history departments, and he'd like to see more input from other departments.

"My expertise lies obviously in what engineering and what science students need, but I think I also have enough experience meeting with people in arts, in education and in law to know what their needs are as well,” he said.

— Mishal Omar

VP Graduate — Dinah Jansen

Dinah Jansen, who served as VP Graduate in 2014-15, is looking to convince voters to have her continue in that role into next year.

Jansen, a sixth-year history PhD student, said what makes her the best candidate for the position is her ability to take initiative.

"I think I'm able to take my own initiative by exploring some of the issues I see from students who raise concerns to me directly and I do my best to follow through on them," she said, adding that she helps people on an individual level and raises awareness more broadly via social media and newsletters.

“I respond as best as I can to seeking policy change through the School of Graduate Studies, and helping organizations like the Human Rights Office and HCDS in order to provide change to better the academic experience for graduate and professional students."

Jansen said one of the major issues currently facing graduate students across faculties is maintaining effective communication between the student and their supervisor.

“A lot of students are left behind and can't get to degree completion quickly enough if their supervisors aren't responding to their emails, refuse to meet with them or even purposely try and hold them back in their degree completion,” she said.

Jansen said the SGPS has launched a pilot project in which students are encouraged to record conversations with supervisors so that it’s clear what’s said and done during meetings, and allows students to then follow up with supervisors about what occurred in the meeting.

She said that one of her goals for next year is to start a legal aid group so that students who may encounter instances in which their intellectual property is taken by their supervisor can consult with individuals with some level of expertise.

"What we're starting to see, too, is an increase in the number of cases involving students and their intellectual property, as opposed to a decrease," she said.

Jansen suggested more secure language in the Senate Policy on Integrity in Research to outline specifically what protections the University can provide graduate students in incidents of intellectual property being stolen.

"There is some language in the policy that talks about graduate students, but the policy itself needs to pay lip-service to the idea that students are vulnerable,” she said.

“That should be considered, but there's no actual concrete way listed about how to make sure that students are protected at every step when they make a claim.”

Jansen said from what she's seen and done in the past year, the SGPS has done a good job in reaching out to graduate students.

"I think the SGPS does what it can to ensure that it's getting the broadest reach to students as possible," she said.

"We also do a lot of outreach and awareness about particular issues that are of concern for students, particularly related to the student advisory board. I spend a lot of time talking to students about those issues and raising awareness about them — particularly in my council report — so that way people know what's going on."

— Mishal Omar

VP Professional — Mark Asfar

After completing his undergraduate degree and running for the position of AMS Vice-President of University Affairs last year, Mark Asfar returned to Queen’s as a law student and hopes to continue to be involved in the student community as VP Professional.

“I just felt that calling again. I saw the service and everything they do and I realized that it would be a great way to get involved, to help the community,” said Asfar, JD ’17.

Asfar was the 2013-14 AMS Student Life Administration Manager. He said he hopes his experience with other societies on campus will help him in the role of VP Professional, where he’d serve as the piece that ties the three professional programs — Law, Rehabilitation and Education — together.

“We’re all very separate groups, both physically, geographically and even community-wise — we all have our own societies,” Asfar said.

He said the SGPS has organized a lot of successful socials this year for students in various fields to connect and interact more, but it’s something that still needs greater emphasis.

“I also want to change the way we have socials, so we start fostering events sponsored by different societies and groups,” he said.

Along with bringing students together, Asfar’s platform features more development for professionals to learn how to “market themselves”, which he said is missing for most students outside of law.

This year, Asfar organized a suit fitting for law students, which he said he believes is something that would be beneficial for all professional students.

His third platform point is supporting the new education program.

He said with the new program being implemented this summer, students may find themselves lost when trying to find basic resources.

“It’s already hard in the education program when you’re on West Campus and you’re a little bit isolated from people, when you’re a graduate student who is just in the Kingston community for one year and you have barely anytime to orient yourself,” he said.

With regards to bussing and social events involving education students, Asfar said he had concerns: “Where is that information going to come from without a community around them?

“I’m hoping to be one of their biggest advocators.”

— Jacob Rosen with files from Natasa Bansagi

VP Professional — Azeem Manghat

Azeem Manghat said his main goal as VP Professional would be to be the main contact for professional students with concerns.

“I want to be the open door where they can come and voice their concerns,” said Manghat, JD ’17.

Manghat said he has plenty of experience with communication, having been working various jobs since he was 15, most recently in customer relations where “it’s entirely about negotiating”.

Law students can be very insulated, he said, which is what attracted him to run for the VP Professional position.

“This was an excellent opportunity, I thought, to get to know the needs of people outside the school and actually work with the community and not just within the law school,” he said.

As part of his platform, Manghat plans to establish a system for direct communication with the VP Professional so that all students of all three schools can have their needs fulfilled.

“I want to have something like an online resource where [students] can say, ‘hey, this is something I’m interested in and this is a concern that I have’,” he said.

Another point Manghat is looking to address is student engagement with SGPS. Right now, he said, SGPS has a ton of resources and opportunities for students, but those resources aren’t widely known.

“For me personally, when I first came here, I knew what the SGPS was because there was a meeting at the beginning of the year, but I did not know the opportunities they had to get involved with the actual community,” he said.

“I mean, I’m looking to travel and I didn’t even know they had travel benefits.”

Along the same lines of student engagement, Manghat also wants to see more initiatives like the Med-Law games that “develop connections amongst each other”.

He said he recognizes that the different schools are often separated, but that’s something that he'd like to see addressed by creating more cross-faculty events.

“Making solid connections within the people you go to school with is an excellent asset,” he said.

— Jacob Rosen

This article has been updated to reflect the following corrections: SGPS stands for Society of Graduate and Professional Students, not Society of Graduate and Undergraduate Students.

The election is for SGPS Executive, not SGPS Council.

The Journal regrets the errors.

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