Developing students, fostering leadership
The name of the game in Fordham University’s Office of Student Development (OSD) is “constant contact,” according to Nicol Gotsis, director of the office.
If you didn’t know that there was a director of student development for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), you probably graduated before 2005.
Gotsis’ position was created by the graduate students themselves through the Graduate Student Association (GSA).
Reuben Robbins, GSAS ’08, former GSA President, remembers when there was no such position.
“One of the most humbling aspects of leading GSA early on,” he said, “was trying to understand why graduate students seemed to not have a strong presence at Rose Hill and why the student services were mostly geared to undergraduate needs. [Then] I saw that there was no GSAS or graduate student presence in student affairs. So, that got us to thinking, ‘what if we had a GSAS person focused on student affairs?’”
Of course this was no easy task. But the association decided that they could actually fund the new position on a part-time basis, if they slightly raised students’ fees. Two years later, Nancy Busch, Ph.D., dean of GSAS, expanded the position to full time.
“It was a true collaborative effort between GSA and GSAS,” Robbins said.
And Gotsis’s position has certainly remained collaborative. “Professional and academic development is crucial in the success of our GSAS students,” she said.
In an institution focused on developing the whole person, it is certainly a very big job. The office assists with large-scale events like orientation, awards ceremonies, the annual GSAS poster/video competition, student-run conferences and symposia, as well as workshops and networking events. It is also concerned with smaller issues, like ensuring GSAS students get their copy cards each semester.
The newer initiatives at the OSD, however, mostly focus on fostering the continuous contact among this office, GSAS students and alumni, and the administration that Gotsis emphasizes.
The first change came early, when Gotsis moved the GSAS student newsletter online, promoting immediate contact with students. Since then, Gotsis has worked to empower the students just as they first empowered her position.
The OSD has created two new events: the yearly Dean’s Town Hall meeting, open to all of GSAS, and a recurring Lunch with the Dean, in which small groups of students are invited to meet informally with Dean Busch. Both initiatives make the GSAS administration more accessible to its graduate students and give the students another chance, outside of GSA, to be heard.
More recently, the office established contact with the world beyond GSAS and Fordham. In collaboration with the Office of Career Services, Gotsis is offering GSAS students their own Fordham business cards.
“Thanks largely to the innovation of the graduate students, and the cooperation and support of the Fordham community, this office has grown in incredible ways,” said Gotsis. “We can now really help nourish the professional and academic growth of our GSAS students—we can provide the means for students’ self-empowerment.”.
Reuben Robbins, Ph.D., GSAS '08, a past president of the Graduate Student Association, is a postdoctoral fellow at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavorial Studies at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University.
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