Grad Student Resources Addressed in Virtual Town Hall

Resources for Pitt’s graduate and professional students were the focus of a virtual town hall hosted by the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of the Provost–Graduate Studies.

Panelists Jay Darr, director of the University Counseling Center; Marian Vanek, Student Health Service director, and Linda Williams-Moore, associate dean and director of Student Life shared their insights on navigating the graduate experience at Pitt and addressed students’ questions at the Oct. 5 event moderated by Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies.

Malena Hirsch, president of Pitt’s Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG), and Amanda Leifson, GPSG executive administrator, joined in the conversation.

Basic resources

Leifson recommended the GPSG site as a good place for graduate students to find academic and professional resources and a calendar of social events.  

In addition, Godley noted that each school has an ombudsperson to help graduate and professional students resolve conflicts and issues, adding that students may reach out to any of the ombudspersons University-wide.

Health and wellness resources

Vanek noted that the Student Health Service’s primary function is to keep students healthy and well, a role that goes beyond offering primary care and medical services to include a range of health education and wellness programming to enhance living and learning.

Telemedicine and in-person care are available; due to COVID-19, students must schedule by calling 412-383-1800 to speak with a triage nurse.  Registered nurses are available 24 hours a day to address students’ health concerns.

“Students should learn to take charge of their health,” she said, noting the lifelong importance of establishing good exercise, sleep and nutrition habits.

Student Health offers free nutritional counseling, substance abuse and recovery programs, and tobacco cessation programs. Its Stress-Free Zone includes yoga, mindfulness meditation and guided meditation nature walks; programming is continuing in virtual form this term.

Vanek noted that getting a flu shot is of heightened importance this year due to the pandemic. She urged students to view the flu shot clinic calendar to arrange getting a free vaccine.

Darr outlined the University Counseling Center’s personalized approach to care and shared details on its customized services that include 15-minute informal “Let’s Talk” phone sessions, virtual drop-in sessions and group options.

All services are being offered in a virtual setting, he said. He added that the Counseling Center offers a graduate support group and noted that counselors can accommodate students who are unavailable during regular office hours.

View details on the Counseling Center’s offerings at counseling.pitt.edu.

Student engagement and involvement

Williams-Moore urged graduate students to make use of the graduate student lounge, located on the fifth floor of the William Pitt Union (WPU), to work, study or just hang out and connect with other graduate students on campus. Students can swipe into the room with their Pitt ID. Staff at the WPU information desk can assist if help is needed to access the lounge, she said.

Graduate students can connect with one another through a range of organizations in their schools or campuswide. Williams-Moore said Pitt student organizations are meeting virtually this semester. A list of the 500-plus campus student groups can be found on the Student Organization Resource Office website. Students who are interested in starting a new group may contact Williams-Moore for help.

Williams-Moore highlighted the annual Social Justice Symposium, held each January; and the Panther Leadership Summit, as opportunities for graduate student participation, and added that the RISE program employs graduate students as mentors.

Making professional connections  

Godley noted that while many field- or profession-based networking opportunities are found within the schools, the Pitt Commons networking platform is an excellent resource for connecting with other graduate students and alumni for mentoring and career information.

In addition, the Center for Doctoral and Postdoctoral Career Development offers career planning events and resources, and Pitt’s Career Center has useful resources for graduate students as well.

Resources for international students

Pitt’s Office of International Services provides programming beyond practical assistance with visas. It also offers a calendar of social events and programs aimed at helping students adapt to American culture.

Resources for students of color

Pitt’s Pan-African Graduate and Professional Student Association has recently re-formed and information will be distributed soon, Hirsch noted.

Networking dinners for graduate students of color are held in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon University. Organizers are working to plan in light of the pandemic.

Darr said that the Counseling Center’s programming includes sessions on managing racial stress and trauma, and on self-care and social justice.

Pandemic-related concerns

The pandemic has delayed academic progress for some graduate students, particularly in fields where data collection has been affected.

Godley said decisions on extending financial support and appointments are made at the school level. For more information on how individual departments or schools are supporting continuing students in light of the pandemic, students should talk to their adviser or program director or consult their ombudsperson, she said.

If needed, students can also apply for an extension to their statute of limitations.

Graduate students with financial needs may apply for Pitt’s student emergency fund.

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