GPSA inauguration an informal event

By Olivia Garber

The microphone in the back of the room was meant for questions. And Nyasha Hungwe had a really… The microphone in the back of the room was meant for questions. And Nyasha Hungwe had a really big one.

He asked Nila Devanath, this year’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly president, how the incoming president could fill her shoes.

“Well, I wear a size six,” Devanath replied, garnering some laughs from the 30 people who gathered in the William Pitt Union to watch the GPSA executive board inauguration last night. GPSA serves Pitt’s graduate student population in much the same way the Student Government Board governs undergraduates — acting primarily as a liaison between students, University administrators and local and state government.

Hungwe, a law student and the incoming president, was inaugurated along with the rest of the board during an informal ceremony that touched on the board’s future plans. Each board member who attended spoke briefly, and most said they planned on working hard during their terms.

David Givens is the new vice president of committees. Michael Lipschultz, who won after last Wednesday’s tie-breaking vote, will be the vice president of communications. Anthony Cray will be the vice president of finance, and Samannaaz Khoja the vice president of programming.

When it was Hungwe’s turn to speak, he started by thanking Devanath for what she had done during her presidency, highlighting her efforts to fight Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed cuts to education funding, as well as her work in opposition to the Port Authority’s decision to cut bus routes.

“You stomped your foot — size six — and said ‘Wait. Stop it,’” he said.

Hungwe said after the ceremony that he plans to continue with the steps Devanath has already taken to prevent the proposed budget cuts, like emphasizing Pitt Day in Harrisburg and the letter-writing campaigns.

Although Devanath will not be on the Board next year — as a second-year medical student, she said she’ll be too busy — she said she will continue her relationship with GPSA “peripherally.”

Part of that planned involvement includes teaching the new board “tips, tricks and what it means to lobby,” she said.

“There can be so many little roadblocks. If you’ve never run into them before, you’ll run into all of them,” she said, refering to newcomers to the process of advocating for the University’s 10,000 graduate students.

Devanath will continue in her position as the chairwoman of Pitt’s Student Government Council until June, when the council will have its elections, and she will maintain her position as the Northeast regional vice president of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students until December.

G. Reynolds “Renny” Clark, Pitt’s vice chancellor for community initiatives and chief of staff, also lauded Devanath’s efforts.

“You took the word ‘professionalism’ and really made it the moniker of your organization,” he said.

He added that the efforts of the outgoing board set Pitt apart from other universities’ student governments in that it showed that Pitt students really care about legislation that affects them.

Hungwe, a second-year law student at Pitt, detailed two of his long-term plans for GPSA. He hopes to create an endowment fund for graduate students and improve relations with graduate school alumni.

The endowment plan would use donations from current students and alumni, creating an additional source of funding for graduate students. Currently, GPSA relies on the student activities fee, which is $20 per graduate student each semester.

Hungwe called this an “alternative to asking the administration to raise the student activities fee.”

Another one of his plans was to increase relations between alumni and current students — he mentioned boosting networking and mentoring programs and emphasized the importance of the two.

“It’s about who you know and what you know — which, on top of academic priorities, is the tripartite approach to success,” he said.

To do that, Hungwe hopes to create an alumni council, which would include an alumnus from each of Pitt’s graduate schools. He said that both of these plans are long-term and that it might take up to 10 years to reap their benefits.

Givens, who was an administrative assistant for GPSA for two years, also has plans for his new role as vice president of committees.

Givens, a religious studies doctoral student in Pitt’s School of Arts & Sciences, said he wants to increase communications between students and the University, as well as update the bylaws.

During the ceremony, Givens was in charge of giving away presents to the outgoing Board members. There were special gifts for Devanath.

Her going-away presents included a clock, a business card holder and a pen — each representing something special about her presidency.

Givens said the clock was a symbol of all the time Devanath spent working on GPSA, the business card holder showed how she “ramped up the professionalism” of the organization and the pen represented all the times Devanath stole pens from the GPSA office.

“I see pens, and I take them,” Devanath said.