My name is Brian Aynardi, a candidate running for GSA Treasurer (Ph.D. College of Ag). As a disclaimer – I am currently a member of the Judiciary, but have removed myself from the elections process in order to run for this position. In the essence of transparency, I felt an obligation to provide the graduate and professional student community with pertinent information regarding an extremely important concern: healthcare.
I have come to realize in speaking with graduate students that there are a flurry of rumors, misconceptions, and unfair remarks about the GSA; particularly regarding healthcare and overall transparency. I would argue that GSA has been transparent relating to this issue. Here are some facts, which may be found on the GSA website to validate my claim:
- Aetna, neither the administration, sent out this information. It came from the GSA, and was first presented at the bi-weekly assembly meeting on February 19, 2014
- All of our assembly meetings are open to all graduate students
- In our meeting minutes (posted on the GSA website) our student healthcare liaison made the GSA aware that potential changes may be forthcoming as a result of our 105% utilization of the plan (in addition to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act), as early as November 20, 2013
- That student liaison, Katie Kragh-Buetow, was the person responsible for developing the chart informing students of the changes
- Should the GSA have done more to get this information broadcast widely in a more effective manner – Yes, we should have – but like other organizations, we have missteps, have learned from our mistakes, and are stronger and more inclusive as a result.
- Our GSA Newswire is an opt-in/opt-out list-serv. We visited nearly all, if not all, departments at the start of the semester, and asked all students to sign-up.
- GSA advocacy last year garnered us access to the mass email list-serv from the administration; however, only 2 emails are permitted per semester
- One email was sent to alert grad students/advocate for healthcare changes
- Current President Scott Rager addressed more mass emails with President’s Council
- GSA put together the open-forum on Healthcare for the graduate student body
As a member for the GSA since 2012, I have had the pleasure to work with numerous graduate students both within GSA and externally. I have been a member of GSA during the tenure of 3 presidents. I have come to learn what GSA is about, its roles and responsibilities, its importance, and its need to be a versatile group. I also have spent significant time with many of the candidates running for the executive board this year. Marika Merritt (2L-Law), has significant experience both within GSA and with undergraduate student government at Penn State. She understands the institution and how it functions. Her first item to address, if elected, is to increase the number of mass emails allocated by the University for use by the GSA. She wants the seats in the open Assembly meetings to be filled, to have open and meaningful dialogue at every opportunity, and to better Penn State graduate life. These attributes make Marika a highly qualified candidate for president. Other members running for executive board who have been active in GSA for at least the past year are: Doug Whalen – Executive Vice President (Ph.D., College of Ag), Anne Weiss – VP of External Affairs (Ph.D., College of Education), Brad Sottile –Faculty Senate (Ph.D., College of Engineering), and Katherine Anderson – Secretary (Ph.D., College of the Liberal Arts). The positions these students are candidates for are critical roles within the GSA. Their experience would be of a valued asset to the Graduate community, and I strongly ask that you consider voting for these individuals. All the mentioned candidates welcome any questions you have regarding the positions they are running for within GSA. Their emails may be found on the GSA website under the “Elections” tab. I sincerely ask that every graduate student vote, regardless of your choice.
While Healthcare is paramount to graduate students, GSA is responsible for a wide-array of other important institutional issues, such as:
- Student Activity Fee Board (SAFB) and University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) leadership, and membership on the Facilities Fee Board, Faculty Senate, Graduate Council
- Capitol Day – advocating in Harrisburg with state legislature
- Marika Merritt, Katherine Anderson, Brandon Merritt, Tom Robins, and Scott Rager in attendance (April 1, 2014)
- Advocating with UPUA and CCSG for a permanent Student-trustee position
- Sitting on University committees, task forces, boards, the Board of Trustees, and
- responsibility for allocating nearly $60,000.00 for graduate students
- Addressing student concerns such as parking, graduate school, and career services
- Leading the charge in the development of the Joint Diversity Awareness Task Force
- Funding and running the GSA Gala, Dissertation Boot-camp, the Grad Cup, and the Investment 101 workshop
- Maintaining and updating the constitution and by-laws
Lastly, I would like to add that due to a health condition I will have for life, the increase in premiums, deductibles, co-pays and the out-of-pocket maximum will cause me to incur the full out-of-pocket maximum proposed, $1350.00, as any student enrolling in the individual plan may have to pay. I share this because it would be unfair of me to comment further on a matter of such importance if this was not something that affected me substantially. However, we must realize that not all graduate and professional students are able to get subsidized health insurance. Many international students must pay the full cost, as do law students, medical students, and graduate students not on assistantship. This is an issue we must all work together on, as it impacts all of us. However, it is not the only challenge on which graduate students must collaborate to improve graduate life at Penn State.