Chris Swin knows graduate students—because he is one. As president of Drexel’s Graduate Student Association (GSA), Swin has made it his mission to give the graduate student population at Drexel a voice.
Swin began his tenure as a student at Drexel in 2003, as an undergrad in mechanical engineering. After finishing his BS/MS program in 2008, he began his Ph.D. work in the same discipline. Early on in his career as a grad student, Swin acquired leadership experience as a member of the Mechanical Engineering Graduate Student Association (MEGA) from 2008 to 2010, serving as vice president.
After finishing his stint as VP, Swin joined the GSA to strengthen the graduate student voice. “I felt that the student voice needed to be heard from the grad student perspective,” says Swin. He felt that GSA needed an extra jolt to kick start some new initiatives to better the lives of graduate students. “I felt like we could do more for the students to make their lives better, to give them best out of their stay here at Drexel. I have been a part of the Drexel community for a long time as a student, and joining the GSA and voicing for students is my way of giving back.”
Direct student outreach was of utmost importance, said Swin, so upon becoming president of the GSA, he did a survey among graduate students to assess some of the issues that grad students wanted addressed to improve their social and academic lives. Among the various sections of the survey, which covered topics such as student/alumni networking, general student life and career services, graduate students really desired a space to call their own. “Graduate students were really calling out for a dedicated space to call their own,” said Swin, “for working, studying and networking.”
Swin made it his mission to see the space come to life, and renovations to the space have already begun. With help from the Office of Graduate Studies, and the immense support of Provost Mark Greenberg, Vice Provost John DiNardo, and James Tucker, senior vice president of the Office of Student Life and Adminstrative Services, the new graduate student lounge is expected to open this fall. “There are two phases to the renovation,” Swin said. “The first will be complete in a few months and we are aiming for next year for the completion of the second phase. The space is a full-blown lounge. There is a lot of social space for fun activities, but also work space, like larger conferences rooms for meetings and a multimedia lounge to enrich study groups and other meetings.”
Though his time as the GSA president is coming to a close, Swin plans to stay active in seeing a number of GSA projects come to fruition. Student-to-student networking has been one of Swin’s most important goals, he said, and he hopes that future GSA administrations continue working on making those connections happen. One project, led by current GSA Vice President Jessica Snyder, is a peer mentoring campaign, which would allow students to pair up in various ways to make the orientation process (into both Drexel and the city of Philadelphia) more fluid for international students and students from other parts of the country.
Additionally, Swin and the GSA always look for ways to make online graduate students more engaged in the Drexel community. “[Many online students] feel left out because they’re not on campus,” he says. “I’ve been pushing toward having them more involved and I hope that continues. I spoke with the chair of the Drexel Alumni Association, Jeffrey Macaluso, about having online students come to some of the alumni events held outside the Philadelphia area to meet alums and other online students to work together and network for professional or study purposes.”
With the multitude of events he and the GSA have helped to spearhead—from Grad Student Day to the winter social at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and the number of graduate student organizations that have been set up in the past year (the number has more than doubled in three years), Swin has set up a legacy for GSA that sees students working together to better the lives of their peers socially and academically.