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Q&A: Graduate and Professional Student Government President Lauren Hawkinson

university-lauren-hawkinson-gpsg-feature
Lauren Hawkinson, president-elect of the Graduate and Professional Student Government, poses in front of the South Building in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Sunday, March 26, 2023.

The Daily Tar Heel's Akash Bhowmik sat down with Graduate and Professional Student Government President Lauren Hawkinson to discuss her administration's platform, the issues faced by graduate and professional students at UNC and how she hopes to build connections with students and administrators across campus.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily Tar Heel: What motivated you to represent UNC’s collective graduate and professional student body?

Lauren Hawkinson: I was mostly motivated by my desire to be an advocate for graduate and professional students. 

I've been an advocate for most of my career — both professional and student career — I started serving in student government in middle school, honestly, and it just kind of continued from there. 

When I was an athletic trainer, I served on the Student Senate in the Great Lakes region and then I served on the Governmental Affairs Committee in both Wisconsin and Virginia, so getting involved in student government or some form of government wasn't foreign to me and I always have enjoyed my position, especially when I'm able to advocate for others through that position.

DTH: Could you tell me a little bit about some of the issues facing graduate and professional students today?

LH: The main platform for my administration that I'm working from is graduate and professional student well-being. All of the biggest issues that I've heard from both graduate and professional students fall under that larger umbrella. 

I'd especially like to focus on affordable housing, food insecurity and financial well-being. We were able to get a stipend increase this last year, but there's still more work to do there, especially thinking about how we incrementally increase our stipend to keep up with inflation, and I want to make sure that is looked at at regular intervals so that we don't fall as far behind as we did, again. 

Then, thinking about mental and physical well-being, so access to healthcare and insurance. I'm thinking about it in terms of a Bill of Rights almost — so reasonable work hours, holidays and wellness days off. And then, making sure that graduate students understand and feel safe following the reporting procedures if they do have issues with their PI's or advisers that they’re working with. Making sure that they have those avenues for reporting is really important. 

And then help some with career services and professional development to provide support, especially for those students who are seeking future careers outside of academia. A lot of times we hear a lot about academic careers in our departments — rightly so — that's what our advisors know best, but some of us would like to go into other areas and so I think it's important to have resources for us to gain more knowledge in that realm.

DTH: What are some initiatives you are currently working on or will be working on very soon? 

LH: Right now, I'm involved in the Chancellor's Student Career and Life Skills Development Working Group, so I'm really excited about that group. There are individuals in that group from across campus and I'm representing the graduate students there. It's really great that we have a voice there because I think oftentimes with career services and professional development in the larger campus community, graduate students can get lost. 

I think that the offerings that the Graduate School provides for career and professional development are wonderful for graduate students, but I think there's definitely more work that can be done in the larger campus community for graduate students in particular. I'm excited to be a part of that group working towards finding solutions there.

I know there's another member of my cabinet who is a student in the occupational therapy department, and I know she's hoping to connect with administrators on campus to integrate occupational therapy students to help with assessments of accessibility of campus and helping to target where the money is going to go there to make improvements in terms of physical accessibility of our campus buildings.

DTH: How do you hope to build connections with other students and faculty at UNC? How would you like other people to see you as president?

LH: I think the best way to create connections is through communication and showing up. I would love to hear from any graduate and professional students across campus. My email inbox is always open. Please let me know if there are issues that you see coming up, if you want to schedule a meeting with me, or if you want me to come and visit your department, I'd love to attend your town hall meetings that the senators hold with their departments. So that's really how I see making connections with students.

In terms of faculty, this summer, one of my goals is to continue to meet with more administrators across campus, when we all have a little bit more time than during the school year, because I'd really like to lay the foundations of those relationships now. So then, when things do get busier in the school year, we have those already created and can work on things together.

In terms of how I want the graduate professional students to view me, I think just being an empathetic listener and advocate are my two primary goals.

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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