By Thea Gribilas, Jessica Mazze and Sarah Tomlinson
There are nine candidates running for positions on the Ryerson Graduate Students’ Union (RGSU) for the 2021-22 academic year. Campaigning began on March 12 and voting will take place online from March 16-18.
Obtaining union status for graduate students has been “a long time coming” as previously reported by The Eyeopener. This week, the RGSU will finally have its first-ever election separate from the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) with four positions open for the executive team and seven for the Board of Directors.
The executive team will consist of: the president, vice-president of operations, vice-president of education and research and vice-president of student life and events.
The board of directors will have one representative for each graduate faculty: arts, science, interdisciplinary, community services, business management, communication and design as well as engineering and architectural sciences.
The Eye spoke to eight of the candidates to hear more about their platforms.
Charlotte Ferworn: RGSU president, acclaimed
Charlotte Ferworn is in her second year pursuing a PhD in physics. She is the acclaimed next president of the RGSU. She is the former graduate student representative in the RSU and current vice-president operations at the RGSU.
“I was responsible for most of the finance decisions so I have experience in that area. I helped run events before and I know a little bit about each executive position,” she said. “So I think it will make it a bit easier to lead other newer executives.”
As president, she said her main goal will be to make sure the RGSU remains an established and sustainable organization that serves graduate students for years to come.
In addition, she says she would like to run another survey among graduate students to learn more about their needs.
“We want to make sure that we’re moving forward in the direction that graduate students want, and that they can see as a useful operation,” she said.
The incoming RGSU will also focus on establishing a more comprehensive health plan for graduate students. In a previous survey, the RGSU determined that 63.3 per cent of graduate students surveyed were willing to pay more for a health plan with greater mental health and dental coverage.
As a graduate student herself, Ferworn said she sees how mental health services could be beneficial to students who have families or work full-time jobs outside of school.
“They’re less likely to have alternative insurance or to be covered by their parents’ insurance,” she said. Therefore, she plans on placing an emphasis on dental coverage and mental health coverage, as opposed to doctor’s notes, which the current RSU health plan covers.
According to Ferworn, the RGSU is negotiating with the university for the cost of health coverage and expects to have a response before May 2021.
In terms of their relationship with the RSU and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), Ferworn plans to collaborate on services that all students need such as providing a student advocate for graduate students.
“As students on campus, we do share some things and we should be able to work together to create a great student experience for everyone.”
Ferworn said that she hopes to have the RGSU headquartered in the same building as the RSU to facilitate collaboration.
Nonetheless, having separate representation for graduate students is important. According to the RGSU website, graduate students prioritize research, professional development and graduate assistant positions, which is different from the needs of undergraduate students.
“It’s such a different experience, and the students themselves are different,” said Ferworn. “We’re usually more mature because we’re older and the events we want to attend are usually a bit more professionally related.”
“With the sheer number of different undergrads versus grads, there’s no way a government that was representing both could actually address the needs of graduate students, while accommodating the majority,” she added.
Ferworn also said she wants to provide more grants to help graduate students attend conferences related to their field of study.
“Conferences are really big to graduate students. They can be a big part of how they’re evaluated as students in terms of research, and paying the expenses of conferences is a big cost that goes with it,” she said. “It was very clear [in the survey] that the graduate students relied on grants to pay for them.”
Anastasiia Iepitrop: vice-president of operations
Anastasiia Iepitrop, who is a first-year master of international economics and finance, is the acclaimed vice-president of operations for the RGSU.
She completed her undergraduate degree in Lithuania and moved to Canada in 2014 where she works in a bank in an anti-money laundering position while taking courses at Ryerson.
“I still work full-time in finance, so I do hope this experience will be beneficial to my understanding of [the vice-president] operations job,” she said.
In her role, she’ll be managing the RGSU’s budgets to ensure it can accomplish as many of its goals as possible.
“The RGSU has multiple goals in mind,” said Iepitrop. “They want to provide different benefits [and] foster relationships through events, and the VP of operations ensures that all those things are possible.”
She said her main goal for the RGSU is to build a community and to meet the wide range of needs and interests of all graduate students, especially encouraging their successes in research and studies.
Rebecca Cabral-Dias: vice-president of education and research candidate
Rebecca Cabral-Dias is in her third year pursuing a PhD in molecular science. She is running for vice-president of education and research.
Cabral-Dias holds a Bachelor of Science at Ryerson. During her undergraduate she worked in the biology course union and in the Tri-Mentoring Program. Currently, she is an equity, diversity and inclusion committee member at Ryerson as well as the president of the molecular science graduate students’ union.
“I do have ample experience working in a graduate students’ union, essentially that means I’m able to organize my time, get things done, make sure we stay on track, make sure we stay on budget,” said Cabral-Dias. “All the nitty gritty boring stuff that people don’t realize goes into a students’ union.”
If elected, Cabral-Dias said she hopes to increase the yearly educational grant from $500 to $800, establish a new professional development program, make connecting with Ryerson alumni accessible for graduate students and support graduate student-led projects.
“Because this is such a new student union, I want to ensure its success,” said Cabral-Dias.
Jolene Hunt: vice-president education and research candidate
Jolene Hunt is in her fourth year pursuing a PhD in economics. Hunt has been closely following the formation of the RGSU since she started at Ryerson in 2017. She first became aware of the executive team through her role as vice-president of communications for the economics graduate student association.
Hunt said she is ready and willing to help establish the RGSU in any way she can to help set new precedents.
“As part of the research and education position, I might be dealing with things like travel grants for conferences, things like that to support graduate students,” said Hunt. “There’s certain job market activities that we need to do in order to prepare ourselves to get on the job market.”
Hunt said she hopes the RGSU will implement adequate healthcare benefits that provide greater coverage and take into account the specific needs of graduate students.
“When I was a TA at York University, the health care benefits for the TA’s were basically the same as that for the professors,” said Hunt. “The benefits that are provided right now, while they’re originally envisioned for undergrad students, don’t really meet the needs of graduate students, who are often parents.”
Pooyan Nayyeri: vice-president student life and events
Pooyan Nayyeri is in his first year pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering. He has been acclaimed for the position of vice-president of student life and events at the RGSU. He will be responsible for non-academic advocacy and event planning for the RGSU.
Nayyeri, who is an international student from Iran, said he believes he is the best fit to understand and address the concerns of his peers.
At the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, Nayyeri volunteered with the RGSU assisting in the creation of graphics for different campaigns in the elections for the RGSU.
He also has some experience in the planning of events, including technical events and tours of industries or factories.
As the incoming vice-president of student life and events, he said he hopes to ensure students are connected across faculty lines and have ample opportunities to create connections both with their peers and in their industries.
Fallan Mitchell: Ted Rogers School of Management director
Fallan Mitchell is a first-year master of management student at the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM). She is the acclaimed representative of the TRSM faculty for the Board of Directors on the RGSU.
As a representative of her faculty, Mitchell hopes to provide greater academic support for students in her faculty “such as travel and funding grants that are specific to students’ needs.”
“This may include more networking [or] career-oriented events for MBA and MScM students,” wrote Mitchell in an email to The Eye.
Mitchell stated that she intends to communicate the needs of TRSM graduate students with the executive team at the RGSU, where she hopes to “ensure that some of the budget is being allocated to those needs.”
Christopher Randall: interdisciplinary programs director
Christopher Randall is in his first year pursuing a master’s degree in applied science. He has been acclaimed to the position of interdisciplinary programs director at the RGSU in which Randall will be representing all of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies students.
Randall completed his undergrad at Ryerson and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Environment and Urban Sustainability. During his undergraduate, he was involved in the Faculty of Arts student society and the RSU as the Faculty of Arts director.
He is currently part of the graduate council for environmental applied science and was recently elected to the Board of Governors for next year.
“I think I have all those real-life applications of those experiences to be able to take what I’ve learned and take what I know from both my formal studies and just my extracurriculars and really apply it to this new organization,” he said.
“I find a lot of the programs are more [isolated] simply because they are so unique,” said Randall. “But as the interdisciplinary studies rep I’m really hoping I can bring a sense of community across all graduate students, especially in this virtual world.”
Jack Adebisi: Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science director
Jack Adebisi, a first-year master of mechanical engineering student, is running for the RGSU’s Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science (FEAS) director position.
Adebisi moved to Canada in June 2020 and said he’s heard about the poor relationship between the RSU and Ryerson, and wants to build a stronger students’ union for graduate students.
As a former international student himself, he hopes to act as a voice for them.
“I have that perspective so I can really reach out and talk with them and understand where they’re coming from with their issues,” he said.
Apart from supporting international students, he said he hopes his time at the RGSU will reinforce its role as a union and make the school’s administration aware of the needs of all graduate students.
Mohammed Amin Shirazain, who is running for Faculty of Arts Director, didn’t respond to The Eye‘s request for comment in time for publication.