Recently, the Asian Studies Program sat down with three M.A. Asian Studies candidates to ask them about their work and participation in Georgetown University student government. Alexander Plum and Brian Bumpas have dedicated a portion of the graduate school experience to revive the Graduate Student Government (AKA: "GradGov") which represents Georgetown University graduate student body. Taylor Wettach represents the Asian Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service's Graduate Student Council. To learn more about these two organizations follow the links and read the conversation below: GradGov and SFS Student Council.
From left to right: Brian Bumpas, Taylor Wettach, and Alexander Plum
1. Describe your motivation for participating in student government. What do you hope to accomplish in your organization?
Alexander Plum: The Graduate Student Government has undertaken significant structural reforms aimed at improving its ability to advocate and represent graduate students as a unified body. These reforms have included a sizable rebranding campaign, a complete constitutional overhaul, and a progressive commitment to graduate-oriented advocacy issues such as the 2017 Campus Plan and the Sexual Assault Climate Survey. I hope to fulfill the organization's mission by creating opportunities for Georgetown students to develop professionally, socially, and academically while on and off campus—as both an active students and an engaged alumnus.
Brian Bumpas: I joined Graduate Student Government to engage in student life at Georgetown and build a greater sense of connection to the campus. I have had a very positive experience with the MASIA program, and I feel fortunate to learn from the likes of Dr. Victor Cha, Dr. Mike Green, Dr. Kristen Looney. Now, I hope to give back by helping to raise awareness of our program while contributing to efforts to build an even greater sense of community on the Georgetown campus.
Taylor Wettach: As an alumnus of the B.S. in Foreign Service program in addition to being a MASIA student, I felt uniquely positioned to contribute to the School of Foreign Service Graduate Student Council as well as advocate for the interests of fellow my M.A. in Asian Studies candidates. It is typical for graduate students to find them siloed from undergraduates and the greater university community. Graduate students spend less time at the university and have different academic and social needs than undergraduate students. It is my hope that I help make SFS more responsive to its graduate students’ voices. In this regard, I am grateful for the support of the new SFS leadership under Dean Joel Hellman.
2. Describe your title and responsibilities in the organization, and explain how those responsibilities impact the greater SFS/GU community.
AP: As President of the Georgetown University Graduate Student Government, I serve the main-campus graduate students as the official liaison to all university bodies and external organizations. In addition, I act as Parliamentarian of the General Assembly—a legislative body composed of program representatives from all main-campus graduate and professional schools. In these capacities, I report to and advise both the General Assembly and GSAS Dean on all matters pertaining to graduate studies.
BB: As GradGov's Chief of Staff, my role changes from day to day. It is GradGov's responsibility to advocate for a variety of interests on campus that range from increases in PhD stipends, to improved student healthcare plans, to an expansion in the amount of study space available to graduate students. In order to bring about positive change in these areas, I coordinate with Alex Plum as we meet with school administrators, form working groups to address campus issues, and help to organize events that raise awareness of our advocacy efforts.
TW: As a representative for the Asian Studies Program, I am responsible for presenting the ideas and concerns of M.A. in Asian Studies candidates to the SFS Dean's Office, as well as developing and implementing activities and events of common interest to all SFS graduate students. Also, I am directing our flagship project, a survey of the SFS graduate student body, and its subsequent report. This project will assist the council with charting the strategic direction of the council specifically and the SFS more broadly. Together, these efforts seek to impact the greater SFS community by ensuring that the SFS better reflects the interests of its students.
3. What are some lessons you have learned from being a part of this organization?
BB: In two words: time management. During the most busy weeks, my position in GradGov is tantamount to a full-time job. In order to make the most of this opportunity, I have learned how to set boundaries, ask for help, and set a strict schedule. This has allowed me to serve my community while simultaneously managing graduate student responsibilities, internships, and life in general.
AP: Large-group communication, while difficult, is one of the many keys to success. When Graduate Student Government's directors, deputy-directors, and partners are well integrated within the overarching dialogue, the quality and efficiency of the discussion is amplified.
TW: Graduate student leaders, and those they represent, are arguably more engaged in the demands of their individual lives (e.g. research or internships) at the graduate level, and are, thus, less engaged in the broader community. This is a challenge, but it is not insurmountable. It emphasizes the importance of developing strong institutional memory, of strategically applying our resources toward the greatest impact, and of ensuring that in all that we do we are actively communicating with our fellow students.
4. How does this campus-wide experience impact your experience as a graduate student in the Asian Studies Program? Would you recommend current or future MASIA students to join?
TW: I find it immensely rewarding. It helps me see the forest for the trees, so to speak, in terms of where MASIA fits within the grand scheme of the School of Foreign Service. It also has allowed me to build enjoyable and rewarding connections with people across the full breadth of SFS programs.
BB: Participating in student government is a unique way to develop leadership experience, cultivate professional skills, and consolidate lessons learned at Georgetown as a student, all while meeting fascinating, highly engaged people. Any incoming MASIA students should seriously consider getting involved.
AP: The Graduate Student Government administrative experience would truthfully complement any Georgetown graduate student wishing to improve their understanding of how a large non-profit organization (6,400+ members) operates within a relatively risk-free environment. On a daily basis my Executive Board members and I interact with university administrators and representatives from the Business or Medical Campus to Georgetown College Ph.D programs. We are constantly facilitating and planning major events and advocacy initiatives that not only affect graduate students, but the entire Georgetown community. Since arriving in Washington, D.C. this experience has given me a firsthand opportunity to engage in management, programming, budgeting, and other professional skills that can only be learned outside of the classroom.
5. What is your definition of leadership?
AP: Leadership is about keeping your team focused on an objective and motivated to do their very best to achieve success. Good leaders go beyond inspiring a “can-do” mentality to evoke a “never-never-quit” mentality. A leader inspires others to run when they would rather walk and resolve what might otherwise be seen as impossible.
BB: Leadership is about creating a vision and then recognizing the strengths of your teammates. By giving them appropriate responsibilities and the latitude to leverage their own personal skills in pursuit of shared goals, your team becomes much more effective.
TW: I see the task of leadership as one of pathfinding- helping others get where they need to go by charting the best route forward. This requires a leader to both maintain cognizance of and embrace the interests of those they represent, while simultaneously focusing these interests toward an objective which best fulfills those interests.