Amendments to PAG bill spark mixed senator reaction

Emily Stearney

Grants awarded to graduate students will be handled differently, due to the amendments passed by Graduate and Professional Student Senate at its meeting last week.

Starting Jan. 15, 2015, the process of awarding Professional Advancement Grants will incorporate the approved changes.

The bill outlines a system for awarding graduate students money to help offset the cost of attending conventions and conferences. 

GPSS passed three amendments to the bill at its meeting last week, with one of the amendments awarding grants first to high-priority applicants. After all high-priority awards have been given, a lottery will be held with the remaining funds for low-priority applicants.

Applicants who have never received a grant before are considered high-priority, and those who have are low-priority.  

Grants will also be awarded based on which month the student is traveling rather than which semester. Grants will now award $180 to all students who receive the award, whether they are presenting at the convention or just attending.

Maria Perez, graduate student in agronomy, explained the old system.  

“Before presenters at a conference were awarded $200 and non-presenters were awarded $120. Now, everyone receives the same [amount],” Perez said.

The details of the bill have been discussed by the Senate for months, and senators have divided opinions on how effective these changes will be. 

Mahdi Ramezani, graduate student in mechanical engineering and former GPSS senator, does not agree with the amendment to award grants based on travel month.

“The old system worked on a first-come first-serve basis. GPSS voted to fix that and the changes were to be implemented this year,” Ramezani said.  

He said although grants are now to be awarded based on the month students would travel, this system is similar to the original system.  

“By the end of the month, there won’t be any money left by the time you apply,” Ramezani said.

Ramezani said because applicants no longer have to compete with all other applicants in the semester, funds will still be distributed unevenly.

“I don’t support it, in my personal opinion,” Ramezani said.

Perez said the amendments won’t impact students in a major way, but the system could use a more accurate way to measure the amount of grants allocated for each cycle.  

GPSS will keep records to show how many students apply for grants each month, and the funds allowed for each month could be distributed more accurately based on the demand recorded for each month, Perez said.

TJ Rakitan, treasurer for GPSS, agrees that the data that can be recorded with a monthly system will be helpful.

“From a data perspective, it’ll be great,” Rakitan said, although he acknowledged a limit in the data’s ability. “[Once] we tell people there’s no more money, no one applies. We have no idea about the excess.” 

There is no way to measure how many more people need grants after funds run out because people stop applying if there is no money available for people to apply, he said.

Despite this issue, Rakitan agrees with the motion to amend the bill.

“I can see pluses and minuses,” Rakitan said about the changes.  “We needed to revisit the notion of [professional advancement grants] and reconsider whether or not they were serving the people we wanted them to serve. The problem that we had initially is that the first-come, first-serve system gave the people with preexisting knowledge of a conference an advantage.”

Overall, Rakitan said he looks forward to further tailoring the bill to maximize the impact that allocated funds can make on the graduate student body.

“The idea is, can we make this money go further?” Rakitan said.