Carnegie Mellon University

Image of CMU with text '3 Years Into the GSA Strategic Plan: Enhancing the Graduate Student Experience at CMU"

November 20, 2018

GSA Strategic Plan Progress Report

By Stephanie Laughton, GSA VP Campus Affairs (AY 2018-19)

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes.” ~Andrew Carnegie

Little did the GSA Executive team know in 2013 when they began to draft the “Graduate Student Assembly Strategic Plan 2015-2025” that we would be gathering five years later to publicly present our three-year progress report to the campus community. The exercise of compiling hundreds of students’ input into a single document, may have resulted in a dusty document piled up somewhere in the GSA Office, forgotten and unaccomplished. However, since its creation, the Strategic Plan has been the backbone of most major GSA initiatives, providing direction to subsequent years of Executive Board members and inspiration for our Representatives. While the document was printed three years ago and the content compiled over the two years prior to that, the issued raised and the goals outlined remain just as pressing now as they were then.

The Strategic Plan outlines a list of goals and recommendations, both within GSA and across the campus at large. As former GSA President Carolyn Commer noted in her remarks at the 2018 Progress Report Event, “the Strategic Plan was not a list of demands, it was not a student bill of rights, and it was not a policy, it was recommendations, offered in a spirit of hope.” That hope has led to expanded collaborations between GSA and various offices across CMU’s campus as we work toward achieving the Plan’s goals. Many of these were outlined by current GSA President Surya Aggarwal, including: the launch of Legal Consultations in conjunction with the Undergraduate Student Senate and the Provost’s Office, the creation of the CMU Pantry through the GSA Basic Needs Working Group and the Campus Food Insecurity Committee, and the opening of the Graduate Student Lounge in the University Center with the assistance of the Dean of Students. Just as GSA has prioritized the issues highlighted by the Strategic Plan in our own activities, the university at large has also recognized and acted to improve the lives of graduate students: GroupX fitness classes were made free for students, the Center for Student Diversity & Inclusion was created, and the CMU Task Force on the CMU Experience formed working groups to make recommendations in the area of graduate student mentorship and advising. However, for every goal and recommendation “Achieved” or “Ongoing” , there are more “In Progress” and even some that are “Not Started”. The full Progress Report released at the 2018 event can be found here.


The event in the Connan Room of the Cohon University Center transformed the room into a space for a committed and engaged community of students, staff, and faculty to discuss the problems facing graduate students today and debate possible solutions, course corrections that can be made to improve the graduate student experience. The over 90 attendees had open conversations during a poster session by current and former GSA Executive Board members highlighting the sections of the Strategic Plan and tracking the progress on each section’s goals. Then, brief remarks were given by Carolyn Commer, Interim Provost Laurie Weingart, and Surya Aggarwal. Those speeches can be watched here. Our new online progress tracking tool was also announced at the event so anyone can view our progress toward accomplishing the goals live for years to come. We were pleased to have several of our former Executive Board members present, including four GSA Presidents (Carolyn Commer, Daniel Gingrich, Travis Carless, and Surya Aggarwal). Also present to celebrate with us were Gina Casalegno, Vice President for Student Affairs & Dean of Students and Amy Burkert, Vice Provost for Education, along with GSA advisors - Suzie Laurich-McIntyre, Holly Hippensteel, Jamie Rossi and Kaycee Palko.

This Progress Report, marks not the end of the current Strategic Plan, but a new beginning, breathing fresh life into the document. The goals outlined all those years ago, are still our goals today. They set our course as an organization, direct our energy, and inspire the graduate student community as we create programs and initiatives to live up to the slogan of “creating [our] own graduate student experience at CMU.”

AY 2018-19 GSA Executive Board with Former GSA Presidents and GSA Executive Advisory Board members.

Pictured left to right: (Front Row) Pragna Mannam, Sarah Pesi, Stephanie Laughton, Cole Gleason, (Back Row) Travis Carless, Brittani McKenna, Suzie Laurich-Mcentyre, Jamie Rossi, Surya Aggarwal, Antoine Remond-Tiendrez, Santiago Carrasquilla, Holly Hippensteel, Carolyn Commer