This past Student Body Senate elections season reeled in 33 percent more voters than last year’s elections — but that’s not the only difference between this season and previous years.
About 13 percent of the more than 60,000 students at UCF are graduate students, according to the College of Graduate Studies. And this year, the eight Senate seats for the College of Graduate Studies have all been filled. In the past three Senates — 45th, 46th and 47th — there have only been five graduate students, according to UCF’s Student Government Association.
Every college usually has one to 10 senators representing its students.
Senators act as liaisons for students in their college and are responsible for educating them, along with registered student organizations, about available SGA resources and funds.
Senators can also draft bills and propose amendments to the SGA constitution.
“We’re not invisible, we’re here on campus and we care about the experience,” said Eric Patz, who left his anesthesiology career at almost 50 years old to pursue a master’s in anthropology at UCF.
Patz is currently a senator and has served on Senate for about two years.
“I wasn’t really sure if I understood how the university worked anymore,” Patz said, thinking back to why he got involved with Senate. “I looked at it as a way to see if it could help me adjust myself to the university. … But now I’m using it more as a tool to benefit graduate students.”
Students can, for example, attend educational conferences and receive funding from SGA to cover the trips, which can cost thousands of dollars, provided that certain steps are followed and the cost breakdown remains within specific rules and guidelines.
Because many graduate students attend conferences as part of enhancing their studies, Patz said involving these students in Senate is important.
“We want all of our seats to be filled,” said Meghan Kircher, speaker of the Senate. “We want every student to be represented and have representation within their college, and having more voices — as many voices as the portion allows — is really important because when we have a full Senate, we have a healthier debate, healthier conversation.”
So why have all the slots for graduate student representatives been filled, compared with recent years when participation was sparse?
Patz said the Graduate Student Association has been working to recruit grad students and encourage them to run for a Senate seat.
“We actively sought them through engagement,” he said. “It’s such a value to the undergraduates as well because they can ask us about graduate schools ... and we can gain so much from them based on their experience. It’s a relationship that has to exist.”
Jonathan Chapin, who started his master’s in real estate at UCF in August, joined Senate on its Governmental Affairs Committee this semester after encouragement from GSA to run. Along with Senate, Chapin juggles working full-time as a real estate broker and attends night classes for his master’s degree.
“I chose GAC because I interned for Congressman [Darren] Soto back in the 113th Congress,” Chapin said. “I use that experience to give a little more insight into the legislative process. … I got to see how bills were drafted, negotiations were taking place for bills [and] what can and cannot be brought into a bill, as far as voting goes. I think I can bring that to my colleagues on GAC and bring a little insight as to how it actually works.”
Patz said Senate participation is a way to not only bring issues to light that affect students, but also as practice for life after college.
“I understand this is how the world works … where committees are formed and decisions are made by a diverse group,” he said. “You’re going to be working in groups the rest of your life, and you have to learn how to work in these groups and make these decisions and compromise and be willing to not always get your way.”
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.