Lounge Opens for Graduate and Professional Students

  • Mark Azic (left) in his final year of an economics PhD, is from New Jersey. “Most of the things I know about the city of Pittsburgh I learned from colleagues in my department,” he said, “so to the extent that I interact with students from other departments, it’s almost like I find out secrets of the city and the University that I’m blind to.” Azic celebrated the opening of a graduate and professional student lounge on the fifth floor of the William Pitt Union on Monday, with Sritama Chatterjee (center) in the English department and Stephanie Aldrich in neuroscience. The lounge was an effort two years in the making. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Twins Christy (left) and Crystal Taylor, fourth year med students, celebrated the opening of a new graduate and professional student lounge in the William Pitt union on Monday. Christy is vice president of committees on GPSG’s executive board; Crystal is vice president of communications. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • J. Stephanie Rose, vice president of programming on the Graduate and Professional Student Government board, chats with fellow students at the opening of the grad student lounge on Monday. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)
  • Rachel Coombs (center), GPSG president, talks with J. Stephanie Rose (right), vice president of programming and Amanda Leifson, GPSG executive administrator, at the lounge opening. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)

“A huge important part of grad school is networking with peers. We wanted to create a space where people could collaboratively create as a group,” said Rachel Coombs, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG), at the opening of a new lounge on the fifth floor of the William Pitt Union on Jan. 27.

“We’ve been working toward this for at least two years,” she said. “It’s exciting and really rewarding to see the whole University stepping out to meet grad students’ needs.”

Coombs, a sixth-year PhD student in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, has led the student-driven charge for this space during her time as GPSG president. Funding was allocated in last year’s GPSG budget.

“The Office of the Provost is pleased to have supported, along with Student Affairs, the efforts of the GPSG to establish a graduate and professional student lounge,” said Nathan Urban, vice provost for graduate studies and strategic initiatives, who partnered with Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students, to make the space a reality.

“With this new dedicated space, our graduate and professional students will have more opportunities to build connections beyond their disciplines that will enhance their scholarly and professional pursuits. These contacts are essential to helping our students take advantage of all that Pitt provides both now and beyond their time at Pitt,” Urban said.

“It was a very positive experience being able to start out by asking grad students what they wanted,” said Coombs. “Certain departments and schools have lounges, but we found it was really uneven across campus, who had what.” 

“Most of the spaces here on campus are for undergraduates,” said Crystal Taylor, vice president of communications on GPSG’s executive board and a fourth-year medical student. “It’s nice for people have a space to decompress that’s just for them where they can relax,” noting the central location on campus. “Grad school’s tough.”

The grad student lounge

A place for community

While there are newly renovated dissertation writing and graduate student rooms in Hillman Library, students generally use those spaces as a place to read, write and quietly work. This new lounge is the first space offered on campus to build community among graduate and professional students.

In addition, since many grad students serve as teaching assistants for undergrads, some wanted a place to prepare for classes and evaluate work. “It was requested that there was a space where grad students could go where they wouldn’t run into their students as they’re grading papers,” for example, said Coombs. 

Only graduate and professional students have access to the lounge, which is complete with a flat screen TV, worktable space with outlets, couches, chairs and other amenities. There are talks for adding a fridge, microwave, cable TV and a gaming system. 

“This is a nice thing,” said Stephanie Aldrich, a neuroscience PhD student who attended the grand opening. “It’d be a great place for game nights or tabletops.”

Ways to reserve the lounge are being developed, but for now, Coombs said, students can email GPSG to coordinate something specific. Otherwise, it’s open for drop-ins. “I don’t want to tell people how to use the space. We just want to see what happens. If issues arise, we’ll go from there as a governing body. I’m hoping since this is really something student-driven that people will be excited and respectful.”

“You’ve got to really appreciate her tenacity and her determination,” said Taylor of Coombs’ effort to establish the lounge. “I feel like this is her legacy.”

Others at the opening praised the efforts as well.

“We have grad students coming here from everywhere with no friends and no context about the University or the city of Pittsburgh,” said Danny Doucette, a third-year PhD candidate in physics. “In my field, people work in their lab and sometimes tend not to even know the people across the hall. A space like this is huge. It means we can cross-pollinate across departments and share ideas, which is the future of research. The other side is grad students having a space to connect with each other. Our programs may be different, but we’re all going through the same struggles.”

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