Survey Gauges the Pitt Experience

students in an auditorium

University of Pittsburgh graduate and professional students say they feel valued and empowered by the University’s administration, faculty and staff. This is the primary finding of a new survey from the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG) that offers a glimpse into students’ opinions toward their Pitt experience.

According to the annual GPSG Student Survey’s findings, 80 percent of polled students feel “cared for and respected” by both the faculty and staff within their individual departments and schools. Another 62 percent said the same for the senior administrators — with whom they may or may not have regular interaction — within those same University divisions.

Graduate and Professional Student Government Resources

Graduate and Professional Student Orientation, Aug. 22:

  • Welcome, resource fair and breakout sessions, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, 2-5 p.m.
  • Picnic and cookout, Cathedral of Learning log cabin lawn, 5-7 p.m.

Travel grants: financial assistance and recognition to graduate and professional students who present at academic conferences

Supplemental funds: financial assistance to organizations to offset costs of events or projects that promote professional development

Legal assistance: half-hour appointments available during the school year

“The survey data that GPSG has compiled provides us a tool with which to assess the attitudes and perceptions of our graduate and professional students. While we’re always seeking to address concerns, strengthen relationships and make Pitt a dynamic place to learn and grow, it’s useful to have feedback that can help guide our efforts,” said Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson. “This year’s survey indicates these efforts have made an impact that we can build upon to further enhance the time these students spend with us.” 

Nathan Urban, Pitt’s vice provost for graduate studies and strategic initiatives, said that graduate and professional students play integral roles within Pitt’s community. Making their time at Pitt a meaningful experience is among the University’s highest priorities.

In addition to reporting a general feeling of appreciation from the University, the survey showed that nearly three-quarters of respondents expressed a desire for an even stronger connection to Pitt. Nearly 60 percent felt they would benefit, both personally and professionally, from increased institutional programming.

“Graduate student education is an essential component of the research and teaching success that has made Pitt the world-renowned institution that it is today. We will continue to prioritize education, training and mentoring relationships with all our graduate and professional students,” said Urban, who earned his PhD in Pitt’s Department of Neuroscience and won a Rhodes Scholarship as a Pitt undergraduate.

In terms of the types of programming desired, 54 percent of those polled said they “probably would” or “definitely would” participate in additional career and professional development activities. Another 50 percent said they were most interested in volunteering and community outreach activities. Other popular choices included health and wellness initiatives, alumni networking and academic programs.

When you historically think of how graduate students feel connected to a university, you think of their association with their school or department. While that connection is a natural occurrence of specialized graduate programs, we’re trying to develop a deeper relationship between students and the University.

Justin Saver, recent former president of the Graduate and Professional Student Government

This is where GPSG’s leadership plans to step in proactively, said Christopher Staten, the organization’s newly elected president and a Master of Business Administration candidate within the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. In the coming academic year, Staten said GPSG plans to strengthen its communication and marketing efforts, emphasizing existing opportunities, programs and services of which polled students say they were generally unaware.

Gauging the Pitt Experience infographic. Link to text version.

Survey results showed that while more than 70 percent of polled students had heard of GPSG, most could not name their GPSG representative. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of respondents had not attended GPSG programming in the past year. Students also were unfamiliar with the organization’s professional offerings. More than 80 percent said they did not know that GPSG offered free legal services, close to 70 percent were unaware of supplemental funding opportunities and more than 55 percent were unaware of the organization’s travel grant program.

“The survey shows us where we are now. In terms of creating an even more inclusive environment for all students, it helps us devise a plan for arriving at where we want to be at the end of next year and beyond,” said Staten. “In the coming year, we hope to make further strides in expanding positive interaction between Pitt students and academic leaders and to foster a greater sense of community amongst the nearly 10,000 graduate and professional students at Pitt.”

Additionally, Staten’s administration hopes to expand upon recent initiatives and programming implemented during the 2016-17 academic year. Justin Saver, GPSG’s immediate past president, who is pursuing his Doctor of Pharmacy degree, said his administration worked hand in hand with Pitt’s senior leadership to emphasize student engagement and partnership efforts between Pitt administrators and the graduate and professional student body.

Saver’s term started with GPSG hosting its largest orientation to date with approximately 700 graduate and professional students attending the event in David Lawrence Hall. Keynote speakers focused their remarks on the importance of student involvement outside of academics. The Provost's Graduate Studies Office has been working to enhance the visibility of programming for graduate students across campus by expanding the graduate student orientation program. 

Throughout the past academic year, GPSG collaborated with various University entities and student groups to sponsor special initiatives and personal and professional events. Most notably, the organization partnered with the Office of Community and Governmental Relations and the Pitt Alumni Association to produce the Graduate and Professional Student Research Showcase at Pitt Day in Harrisburg in March. Fifteen student researchers, representing 10 schools, presented their work to legislators and other state officials. Other programming included the third edition of TEDx University of Pittsburgh, career development opportunities for doctoral students and interactive Title IX and inclusion training.

“When you historically think of how graduate students feel connected to a university, you think of their association with their school or department. While that connection is a natural occurrence of specialized graduate programs, we’re trying to develop a deeper relationship between students and the University,” said Saver.

Now in its third year, the GPSG Student Survey polled 1,294 individuals — doubling the participation of any previous year — representing 13 percent of Pitt’s graduate and professional full-time enrollment. Close to 40 percent of participants were enrolled in a master’s program, while more than 30 percent were PhD students and just over 20 percent were pursuing a professional degree. All 14 of Pitt’s graduate and professional programs were represented, with the largest groups of students responding from the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.