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How to Get Involved as a Graduate Student, As Demonstrated by Nick Thompson

November 03, 2014

Nick Thompson, president of the Graduate Student Association, stands in the graduate student lounge he hopes to renovate.

Nick Thompson has a lot he wants to accomplish this year. It’s his first year as the president of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and his last year as a master’s student in the School of Public Health.

“Our goal really is to create a more unified, engaged and active graduate student population,” he said. “We want students to participate outside of class. Your dissertation or master’s project can’t be everything. You need to get out, make friends and dive into some academic, community and social events.”

Getting involved with the community is especially important for Thompson. As a neuroscience major at his undergraduate alma mater, Binghamton University, he joined a premedical association as a member, and later stepped into the role of events coordinator. After helping organize the Binghamton AIDS Walk/Run and arranging numerous events at a local nursing home, he began to see more involvement from the students. He hopes that creating opportunities for students to easily become more involved in the community will foster more participation and unity among the graduate student population.

While applying to Drexel’s College of Medicine, Thompson learned about the School of Public Health’s master’s program, ultimately deciding to concentrate in health management and policy. From his start at Drexel directly after graduation, he became involved in the school’s student government organization. His work with the GSA motivated him to run for president after much encouragement from the previous president. He won and became the first GSA President from the School of Public Health.

Now, presiding over 8,000 students in the graduate student body and over 30 daughter graduate student organizations in the GSA, Thompson has a lot of work ahead of him.

For starters, the group holds reoccurring events, like the Books & Bagels interdisciplinary research lecture series. Then there are special events to be planned, like the GSA’s recent trip to Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind the Walls” event, the Halloween Bash held in the Great Court of Main Building, and future events like Top of the Tower, a semiformal on the 56th floor of the Bell-Atlantic tower overlooking the city. To organize those, Thompson has weekly meetings with his executive board, and quarterly Senate meetings with other graduate student organizations. Of course, he gets a lot of help and support from the executive board in brainstorming, planning and making events a reality.

Besides scheduling and organizing events, Thompson has meetings for all the committees he’s on: the Committee for Student Life, the Committee for Student Relations with the Alumni Association, the Dean’s Advisory Council, the Steering Committee for Drexel University’s 125th Anniversary and the Honorary Degree Committee.

“It sounds like a lot and sometimes it is,” he said. “I was originally intimidated by how many hours I’d have to put in. I didn’t know if I could do it, but it’s been a great experience so far and we’ve made a lot of progress.”

And don’t forget that Thompson is a full-time graduate student, which is enough of a challenge. Somehow, he finds the time to work at his internship at Jefferson University in operations support for the hospital, which is part of his master’s project.

So how does he do it all?

“It’s very much Siri reminding me of when I need to go places and change gears,” he said. “I’ve always been excellent with time management, but this experience has helped me improve my skills even more, including leadership and public speaking skills. Those skills are all really important if you’re going to be working in health care because you need to be able to speak to people.”

In his current roles and duties, he’s already talking to a lot of people. In addition to planning upcoming events, Thompson is also working with other local organizations and nonprofits to create community service opportunities.

But the GSA isn’t just about creating events. It’s also about advocating for the needs of graduate students by meeting with Drexel administrators and President John Fry to foster collaboration and strong relationships.

One of his biggest projects this year involves improving the graduate student lounge, which he says some students don’t use or know about. Located in the basement of Main Building, the large room is suited for study purposes and group meetings, with tables, chairs, a conference room, couches and even a podium. For Thompson, the next step is to make the space more user-friendly, flexible and convenient for students.

“We want the lounge to have a space for students to do everything: eat, study, relax and collaborate. Some students have facilities in their departments now, but it would be better to have an improved space where graduate students can come together,” he said.

Most importantly, however, Thompson wants more students to participate in their community, but especially the GSA-sponsored events. The GSA daughter organizations are always looking for new members and Thompson will be the first one to say you should join.

“I think everyone should be involved with their university and surrounding city in some way. It sounds cheesy, but I think it’s important,” he said. “Don’t skip opportunities because you think they don’t seem relevant to you. They’re relevant to you. Everything is relevant to you."