Task force to assess climate for graduate assistants at Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As part of the Graduate School’s ongoing efforts to support Penn State's graduate student population, a task force is being appointed to examine all aspects of the current climate and conditions related to graduate assistants across the University.  

The task force, being jointly appointed by Nicholas P. Jones, executive vice president and provost, and Regina Vasilatos-Younken, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School, is a continuation of the work of the Graduate School’s Strategic Plan, particularly the priority goal of "Advancing Strategies in Support of Graduate Education Quality," including improving graduate student support and conducting regular graduate program reviews.    

According to Vasilatos-Younken, recent actions taken by Penn State to improve graduate education include: increasing the number and stipend value of University Graduate Fellowships; establishing a minimum stipend grade and raising stipend levels across the University; adding new, higher stipend grades; implementing a 3 percent increase in all stipends for the 2016-17 academic year, which maintains a 3 percent average increase for the fifth consecutive year; and establishing Graduate Program Review Dashboards, to name a few. 

“While considerable progress has already been made to advance the goals of improving graduate student support, it is important to take the next step and explore student-centered factors that impact graduate program quality,” said Jones. “In particular, the current environment within which graduate students fulfill their assistantship responsibilities, and how these responsibilities interact with their academic requirements and relationship with their advisers, should be examined, as well as their impact on graduate students’ welfare and professional development.”

The charge of the task force is to examine these and related issues across the institution to determine whether there are additional initiatives or policies that need to be implemented or modified, or best practices that should be promulgated to ensure that all graduate assistants are able to pursue their education and scholarship within environments that are supportive, professional, inclusive and respectful.  

Recommendations from the task force will be submitted to Jones and Vasilatos-Younken for consideration.

Scheduled to kick off before winter break, the task force will be chaired by Suzanne Adair, assistant dean for graduate student affairs in the Graduate School, and will be comprised of graduate students, graduate faculty, and academic administrators committed to graduate education at Penn State. 


• Task Force Chair: Suzanne Adair, assistant dean for graduate student affairs,  The Graduate School

• Sarah Ades, associate professor, biochemistry and molecular biology in Eberly College of Science; and chair, Graduate Council Committee on Graduate Student and Faculty Issues

• Mallika Bose, associate professor, landscape architecture in College of Arts and Architecture

• Philip Burlingame, associate vice president for student affairs in Office of Student Affairs

• Sonia DeLuca Fernandez, assistant vice provost for educational equity in Office of Educational Equity

• Carey Eckhardt, director, global languages, literature and culture in the College of the Liberal Arts; and faculty senator

• Katharine Grills, graduate student, human development and family studies in College of Health and Human Development; and GPSA delegate

• Maryam Hojati, graduate student, civil engineering in College of Engineering

• Joyce Hopson-King, director, Office of Diversity Enhancement in College of Health and Human Development

• Stephanie Knight, associate dean, undergraduate and graduate education in College of Education

• Troy Ott, professor, reproductive physiology; associate director for graduate education in College of Agricultural Sciences/Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences

• Shakil Rabbi, graduate student, English in College of the Liberal Arts

• Ericka Reed, graduate student, biochemistry and molecular biology in Eberly College of Science

• Kent Vrana, professor/chair, pharmacology in College of Medicine

For questions, contact Adair at sca917@psu.edu.

Last Updated January 11, 2017