In anticipation of the new school year, the Gradzette arranged an interview with Enoch A-iyeh, the president of the University of Manitoba Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA) – the body that represents graduate students at the U of M.
Enoch A-iyeh is a master’s student from the electrical and computer engineering department. He served as vice-president external of UMGSA during the 2015-2016 academic year. A-iyeh hopes to continue his work and address five primary goals he’s put forward as your new UMGSA president: establish a stronger bond between the UMGSA and graduate students, prevent or reduce future budget cuts, streamline UMGSA finances, definitively end their relationship with the Canadian Federation of Students, and improve the availability of UMGSA travel awards as well as funds to offset publication fees for graduate students.
Gradzette: What do you see as the primary cause of student disengagement and how do you intend to address this issue?
Enoch A-iyeh: The UMGSA has been involved in outreach efforts a lot [last year]. As part of those efforts we sent out invitations to units offering graduate programs and with graduate students who are currently not represented on council. In other efforts, executives personally went out to graduate students during events including orientations in various units. These efforts were aimed at information sharing on the role of the association and benefits to members.
These calculated efforts [resulted in] less than satisfactory results. Given the dedicated efforts and the response you would think that the lack of engagement and response is likely due to the busy schedules of students, perhaps due to their research load. In terms of addressing this issue, we think it’s important to make outreach efforts a continual process. By and large, the engagement process would be incremental but steady. We also think that we may have to address the issue by looking for better outreach plans and finding ways and means to be more involved in the lives of graduate students.
The current response indicates that future target efforts should not take away from research experience but rather contribute to it. Comprehensive outreach efforts including student representatives and associations would also be an important factor. Recognition of graduate student [participation] is currently being explored as a co-curricular option. Hopefully these plans [will] bear fruit on student engagement.
G: You mentioned that you wish to reverse the university’s budget cuts. Can you elaborate on that and provide a use for these funds if they were reversed?
EA: First of all, the instituted budget cuts cannot be reversed. However, those proposed for future terms may be prevented or reduced and we think that should be up for discussion and input from students. We are starting to develop a larger collaborative front on this issue. Several elected student leaders are realizing that budget cuts do not only affect graduate students. They affect all students for the most part. On this collaborative front some key and significant players were initially missing and unresponsive. [They] have realized the effects of cuts on their members and so they are starting to get involved.
Of course, this has been a partnership with UMFA, CUPE 3909 local, and AESES, among others, and we are looking forward to continuing those efforts. Reversal of budget cuts will not provide any funds for us. It will simply lift the burden of the cuts on students implemented by the university administration. The process, however, will bring back several useful and necessary services that were eliminated because of the cuts.
G: Could you provide an example of streamlining finances in action as well as an example of something you wish to streamline as president?
EA: This is intended for the UMGSA internal spending policies and application processes. By streamline, we want to have one focus in utilizing monetary resources: students and student priorities. In the end, we want to minimize our expenses, and when we do have to expend resources, we want to consider that it should be mainly for the benefit, participation, and availing of resources to students. It’s increasingly difficult to access and cross-check information on student award and grant applications, so we hope that streamlining processes would make it easier to access information.
G: What is a ‘successful exit’ from the Canadian Federation of Students in your opinion?
EA: People and associations should have the liberty of associating with other partners. Free and open membership is the way to go and so nothing less than this is the right way to approach the issue of membership. So a successful exit means that honesty in membership claim is expected from our external partners. It means that organizations we are not members of realize and admit this simple fact so that they may follow the proper channels to acquire membership.
G: You mentioned that there are increasing demands for travel awards and paying for journal fees. How do you intend to address these needs for graduate students and do you have any data of demand by students informing your plan of action?
EA: Our annual budgetary allocations for conference grant student support has been exceeded for the last couple of years. This is an indicator of the popularity of conference grants and that they are a real way UMGSA supports students. To address the issue of increase in demand, we first of all want to save some money towards the conference grant fund by looking at ways and means of minimizing costs of our internal operations.
However, the increase in demand has to be tackled jointly with departments, the faculty of graduate studies, and academic supervisors. By no means is any one stakeholder able to shoulder all the responsibility. Also, the idea behind conference grants allocation is to support students to showcase their research. This has mainly encouraged conference article publications, but other avenues for publishing research include journal article publications. So we want to look at supporting students who pay journal publication fees to showcase their research too.
What do you think of these goals for the president? If you have any comments or suggestions, A-iyeh invites you to email him at email@example.com.