Aug 26, 2019 | Atlanta, GA
Article by Autumn Siebold
Providing more affordable housing and dining options. These are two of the major goals that Narayan Shirolkar and Aroua Gharbi want to accomplish during their time as president and vice president of the Graduate Student Government Association (Grad SGA).
“When we looked at the last grad experience survey, we realized one of the biggest concerns was financial stress,” said Shirolkar, a third-year Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE). “Since we’re in the middle of Atlanta, one of the largest financial concerns is always housing. So, we’re trying to form a plan that will reduce the cost of graduate student housing on campus.”
And then there’s the issue of the high cost of dining — both on and off campus.
“Right now, if you stay on campus until 10 p.m., your only food options are to go to Tech Square or get something delivered, which gets pretty expensive,” said Gharbi, a third-year Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering and Computational Science and Engineering. “Some of the solutions we’re thinking of include vending machines with healthier options, as well as a meal plan that’s better for grad students.”
Recently, we spoke to the new leaders about their time at Georgia Tech and working with Grad SGA. Here’s what they said.
How did you get involved with Grad SGA?
Shirolkar: I’ve been involved since my first year as a grad student at Tech, which was two years ago. I started out on the graduate student senate. On the executive side, last year, I served as the vice president of conference funds. In the MSE Graduate Student Advisory Group, I got to help with getting a stipend raise for MSE grad students. I ran for this leadership role because working on smaller-scale changes like those made me think about how I could help the larger grad student community.
Gharbi: I’ve been in Grad SGA for three years. Before this, I was the vice president of student life and did a lot of work with planning grad student events. I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I could help with more than one part of grad life, and even though this year I was considering taking a year off of working with Grad SGA, running with Narayan seemed like a great way to push forward our ideas to help students.
What do you enjoy most about working with each other?
Shirolkar: When I was looking for running mates, Aroua was the first name that came to mind. She’s done a lot of work on the student life side of Grad SGA, while I worked in academics. It made sense to create a team that included someone with insight from each area.
Gharbi: Narayan is very pragmatic. I like that he doesn’t get lost in the wording or the different arguments around something. It balances my tendency to focus more on the qualitative stuff. For example, while I usually have dealt with student life issues and want to know how students feel about different campus resources, Narayan has worked with numbers like the stipends of MSE students or housing costs. I like that, while we come from different backgrounds in Grad SGA, we can discuss everything and focus on serving the grad community.
What is the most satisfying part of being in your position?
Shirolkar: I’d say the senate meetings, because you get to hear from a lot of different people with totally different perspectives. About a year ago, the CRC was presenting on why they wanted to get a video board, and I was so surprised not only by all the different perspectives, but also by students having the power to make decisions on a $250,000 item. It’s interesting to see how different students’ experiences are and that the decisions we make have an impact on the entire campus.
Gharbi: For me, it is being able to empower other Grad SGA executives and students. I enjoy working with students, because they always surprise me with how much they can accomplish. For example, every year, our entire events team manages their own fundraising for events, and they’re always trying to come up with new events for grad students to socialize, like the Spring Graduate Picnic and Inspire@Tech. While the Grad SGA experience may be less important on a grad student’s resume, our representatives always go above and beyond their position.
What is your favorite part of being a grad student at Tech?
Shirolkar: I like that grad students here are very involved on campus. Although we are a highly ranked research institution, our grad students are doing amazing things beyond their labs. They’re running advocacy programs. They’re hosting K-12 outreach programs for students, and there’s a student organization for almost anything. When I was looking for grad schools, I wanted opportunities to get out of the lab and enjoy being a student. I knew I’d be able to find something to do here.
Gharbi: I love the fact that we have people from all over the world at Tech, because I get to learn about their cultures and share my own.
Aside from your work with Grad SGA and your degree program, what do you do with your time?
Shirolkar: I still work with the student advisory group in MSE, especially now that I can contribute what I’ve learned about advocacy from Grad SGA. I also like to go on hikes, play badminton, and do some swimming at the CRC.
Gharbi: In the last couple of years, I’ve worked with WREK radio, doing things like playing music, making announcements on the air, and giving away tickets. Otherwise, I like to go for a run or work out at the CRC.
What advice do you have for students wanting to get involved and make change happen?
Shirolkar: Get involved with Grad SGA events, like the Career, Research, and Innovation Development Conference. It’s a great opportunity to meet people. Also, email your school’s Grad SGA senators. They’re the direct representatives for students, so you can ask them about specific initiatives or how they’re helping students with a general issue.
Gharbi: I agree with Narayan — come to our events and get to know your fellow grad students. You can keep up with our initiatives and other news and events by liking the Grad SGA Facebook page.