Seven out of seven executive council positions set to open for the GPSS


Fellow member of GPSS and friend of Kevin Natukunda, Vivek Lawana asks for support both emotionally and financially for the Natukundas during this trying time.

Jill Alt

It’s election season, and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate has an empty executive council for the 2018-19 year. But what, exactly, does the GPSS executive council do?

GPSS is the governing body of the Graduate College and meets on the last Monday of every month, discussing everything from upcoming changes to on-campus events.

The positions on the executive council are president, vice president, treasurer, chief information officer (CIO), university relations legislative affairs chair (URLA chair), professional advancement grants chair (PAG chair), and research conference chair. 

First on the roster is president of GPSS. This position is currently held by Vivek Lawana, who is receiving his doctorate in biomedical sciences. 

As president, it’s his job to be the face of the graduate school in administration. He has served on 12 search committees, including the search for the new president of the university, Wendy Wintersteen. 

“The president’s biggest unwritten responsibility is to be the face of graduate and professional students in every forum,” Lawana said. 

The president serves as the leader of the executive council, and oversees the action being done by the other members. Lawana has held the position for two years and served on many committees as well. 

Lawana said a future GPSS president needs to be a good listener and to hear the ideas of the senators, and they need the vision to execute them. He said they also need to have time on their hands for all of the work that goes into their presidency.

“If you think you’re going to be busy, running for GPSS might not be for you,” Lawana said.

The next vacant position is the vice president. This office is held by George Henry Weston, graduate student in sociology. 

The vice president’s job is to act as the senate chair and social chair of GPSS. During their monthly meetings, it is his job to run the meeting, keep everything on schedule and to acquire speakers.

“I head up the rules committee first—the rules committee looks at the constitution, bylaws and rules,” Weston said. “We were able to do a good job and kind of clean things up.”

One of his main projects was chapter nine of the Graduate College Handbook, which lays out responsibilities of graduate students. Chapter nine was redone in April 2016; however, when it was sent for approval, Weston said no one heard anything until the provost came in March 2017. It turned out it had been in limbo with the university attorneys the whole time because of unknown issues.

“I, personally, and no one else on graduate council got to see what these issues were,” Weston said. 

Weston said the vice president of GPSS needs to be very efficient. Senators do not get paid to partake in GPSS, and they don’t have time for meetings to run for hours on end.

“One of the main things is consideration of time of the senators. We [on the executive council] receive a scholarship every semester. Senators come one Monday a month, and they aren’t being paid to be there,” Weston said. “We shouldn’t have meetings that go four or five hours.” 

The treasurer’s office is held by Maria B. Mantilla Perez, graduate student in agronomy. Her job is to head the GPSS’ finances.

“She is in charge of all of our financial relations, from budgeting the money to making sure we aren’t overspending,” said Lawana.

It is the treasurer’s job to present the budget and any changes to the senate during their monthly meeting, as well as chair the finance committee. 

Lawana said the treasurer needs to be good with math and finances, as the treasurer will be doing a lot of math. 


CIO Gaurav Kandoi, graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, refers to the CIO position as the easiest position on the executive council. 

The CIO’s main responsibility is to keep attendance and recruit senators to GPSS. At monthly meetings, he passes out the placards and clickers to senators to take attendance and then collects them again at the end of the meeting. Kandoi is also in charge of managing GPSS’ social media.

Next on the ballot is the URLA chair. Michael Belding, graduate student in history, currently holds this position.

The URLA chair is responsible for taking minutes at the monthly meetings and appointing students to committees. He also serves on several committees, including the library advisory committee. While serving on this committee, Belding was able to advocate for the Graduate College and get a graduate reading room in the upcoming Parks Library renovations.

“The major thing when I first joined GPSS was cleaning up the senate records,” Belding said. “The records had not been kept well prior to my joining.”

Belding said the next URLA chair needs to be a good notetaker because when taking minutes, the URLA chair needs to pay attention to the discussion and take notes quickly and efficiently. 

He said the URLA chair also needs to serve on committees, so it is crucial that they are available to go to committee meetings and keep up with them. 

The PAG chair, Kevin Natukunda, is a graduate student in genetics development and cell biology.

His main responsibilities include reviewing applications and awarding Professional Advancement Grants—these are awards given to students to cover expenses for conferences where they present their research.

He has awarded these grants to students on a monthly basis, in conjunction with the Graduate College and with the assistance of the PAG committee. 

“This year, together with the PAG committee members, we have evaluated applications for the Margaret Ellen White Award and forwarded the names of the Graduate College,” Natukunda said. “We have yet to conduct more evaluations.”

Natukunda said someone running for PAG chair should have great leadership qualities, be very organized, have a passion for service, planning skills and patience. 

“[The next PAG chair] needs to be patient. Emails from students having troubles with their applications can sometimes get overwhelming,” Natukunda said.

Finally, the research conference chair position is held by Hannah Dong, graduate student in apparel, events and hospitality management. 

Throughout the 2017-2018 school year, her project has been to organize the fifth GPSS Research Conference. She communicates with departments all across campus to coordinate the event and make it the best it can be. 

Her responsibilities as the research conference chair are to chair the Graduate and Professional Student Research Conference (GPSRC) committee and report to the senate for approval of regular sessions and on all income and expenses for the GPSRC. 

“[The research conference chair] needs to be someone who has the passion to lead the research conference, have good leadership skills, like to learn new things, have problem-solving skills and be good at teamwork,” Dong said.