Washington State University’s Graduate and Professional Student Association is celebrating its 50th birthday this spring – a milestone that brings pride, joy, and amazement to those who are in the group or have supported it throughout the years.

GPSA was created in 1971 as a result of concerns that the voices and issues of graduate and professional students were lost among the needs of the larger undergraduate population. Originally part of the Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU), graduate students decided to splinter off to form their own group, the Graduate Student Association.

The group’s name changed five years later to recognize WSU’s professional students – those enrolled in programs such as veterinary medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and now the Elson S. Floyd School of Medicine.

“To know that graduate and professional students have had a voice through GPSA for 50 years is impressive,” said GPSA President Jennifer Johnson. “Our goal has always been to help students have a great experience at WSU academically, socially, and professionally.”

Addressing specific needs

It was the first of many initiatives undertaken by GPSA over the years to address the specific needs of its constituents – now numbering about 4,000 students across the WSU system.

Today, GPSA is made up of multiple cabinet positions and 60 senators representing departments on the Pullman campus and extension centers. While it often advocates for graduate and professional students located on all WSU campuses, funding sources limit its reach primarily to those enrolled on the Pullman campus.

One important way GPSA advocates for students is lobbying for key legislation that impacts graduate and professional students. The GPSA vice president for legislative affairs, along with other GPSA representatives, regularly participates in events such as Coug Day at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., and lobbies in Washington, D.C.

GPSA offers students a wide variety of programs and services such as providing evening childcare, events to showcase their research, workshops on interviewing skills, providing dissertation and travel grants, grocery reimbursements, and social events like the Ice Cream Grab & Go at Ferdinand’s on Tuesday, April 13, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Visit GPSA’s website to learn more about its positions and programs, as well as its many achievements throughout its history.

Collaboration leads to success

TaMisha Greathouse, associate director in the Office of Student Involvement and GPSA’s advisor, said that having a graduate student group with so much history shows it was taken seriously by WSU leaders from the very beginning.

“They are really good about talking with graduate and professional students to hear their concerns, and then sharing the stories they gather with upper-level administrators,” said Greathouse.

One concern GPSA has heard from constituents in recent years is that WSU’s teaching and research assistantship stipends are less competitive than those offered by similar schools. Determined to make headway on this issue this year, Johnson and her team have worked closely with Lisa Gloss, dean of the WSU Graduate School, who helped gather data on stipends across WSU’s colleges and disciplines.

“We have gotten great support from administration,” Johnson said. “Changes won’t happen right away, but they see our concerns and want to work with us to figure out how to fix them.”

Gloss said she has always been impressed with GPSA’s dynamic leaders who, like Johnson, have a strong drive to make a difference for graduate and professional students.

“I am impressed with their energy and persistence,” Gloss said. “A lot of people can learn from their grace and ability to make points respectfully. I enjoy working with them.”

The symbiotic relationship between GPSA and the WSU administration is a model for other universities, Gloss said, and she will share examples of their collaboration during the Western Association of Graduate Schools’ annual conference this month.

“Through our partnership, everyone has access to GPSA’s energy and resources, as well as the resources and institutional memory provided by the Graduate School,” Gloss said. “Together, we have created something very impressive.”

The future is bright

Amir Gilmore served as GPSA president during the 2018-2019 academic year. Now an assistant professor in WSU’s Department of Teaching and Learning, he credits his experience in the group for opening many doors in his personal and professional life.

“What GPSA has given me is beyond words,” Gilmore said. “It gave me confidence, improved my speaking skills, I got to know many people on campus, and built lifelong friendships. GPSA changed my life.”

Even more importantly, Gilmore said, GPSA has changed the lives of WSU’s graduate and professional students in many meaningful ways and is well positioned to continue making positive impacts.

Greathouse agrees and is excited to see what the group’s future holds.

“The energy and drive they have for creating programming and advocating for students shows that even though GPSA is 50 years in as an organization, they still have a lot of spaces and places they can take things and go,” Greathouse said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what the next half-century will look like for them.”