What is a Graduate Assistantship?
Graduate Assistantships (GAs) at USM are critical resources for students, departments, and the University, and are central to the University’s commitment to experiential learning and Pillar Three of Vision 2028 -- the “Integration of Learning and Work”. GAs are mentored by faculty or staff to conduct research, project-based work, student services, or teaching assistance that enhances the student’s academic and professional goals and provides crucial financial support. These experienced adult students contribute substantially to the University’s academic, research, and student services goals, which drive learning, enrollment, and workforce development.
Featured Graduate Assistants
Sheddy is a graduate student in the Leadership Studies master’s program and a Graduate Assistant for the Office of Admissions on the Gorham campus. This is Sheddy’s second Graduate Assistant position, having previously worked as a GA in the Student Financial Services department.
Why did you apply for this GA position?
My goal is to work in Higher Education, so I wanted to see a different side of it. I had worked on the financial side in my previous Graduate Assistantship and it was really helpful and eye-opening. My career goal was either to work in admissions or advising--I didn’t want to just focus on the financial side of Higher Education, so I wanted to see if I would fall in love with Admissions and if it is what I want to do. I really do like it, I enjoy going to work there every day.
Are there any particular projects you have taken the lead on?
This semester, I spoke to (my boss) Julia and we decided to create an ‘Alumni Return Day’. I got the idea because at my high school, my guidance counselor always invited me and some other college students to talk to their students, because it’s better to hear from an actual college student rather than from your teachers.
I brought the idea to my supervisor and our office created ‘Alumni Return Day’ whereby we, the current students, are the admissions ambassadors. We have almost ten students working at Admissions who are going back home over winter break, and will go back to their high school to talk to a class and anyone else interested in college that wants to know more about living on campus, off campus, or more about USM in general.
How does this position relate to your degree in Leadership Studies?
It relates well because I actually spoke to my future supervisor, Julia, before I applied for graduate school and she told me about the Leadership Studies program because I told her that I wanted to work in admissions or advising. She broke it down for me and told me what Leadership Studies has to offer. You don’t just have to do a degree in Higher Education to work here, Leadership Studies covers all aspects of things. I want to do something outside of the box, and she told me Leadership Studies would be a great fit and I am now doing my capstone on first generation college students. With my GA, I have gotten real job experience and the position has supported me both academically and financially. Right now, I feel ready for the real world because of my program and Graduate Assistantship.
Laura is a Maine Law student currently working with USM Honors professor Rebecca Nisetich as a Research Assistant on a project about the representations of property law in American fiction. Specifically, they are looking at the ways authors use examples of ‘imperfect property’ such as slaves and dogs to underscore the fraught nature of laws that define sentient beings as objects of ownership and economic value.
Why did you apply for this GA position? What was interesting about the appointment?
In particular, I wanted to do something to supplement my law degree that wasn’t going to be directly affiliated with my coursework. I just wanted something that would diversify my brain a little bit and this project seemed like a nice challenge to utilize the skills I’d already been learning in school but apply them in a very unfamiliar way. I’m not an English major, I’ve never studied literature. It’s a good way to challenge myself to apply the materials to somewhere else. I want to clerk in the future and work for a judge, so I really wanted the opportunity to see how I can adapt to working with someone who is coming at it from a totally different perspective and challenging myself to apply the facts in totally different ways. It keeps you more engaged with the material than just being tested on it.
What project are you working on?
We’re working on a paper that Professor Nisetich presented at a symposium earlier in the year about a Mark Twain novel, Pudd’nhead Wilson. So working from that novel, we are trying to make connections to the legal rhetoric that was happening at that time, especially around the ideas of slavery, animals, and property. We’re exploring both how in the novel they talk about law, race and animals and then also connecting that to the actual case law at the time. I’m sort of bridging the gap to connect what was really happening to what she is interpreting in the literature. In my program, we don’t often get asked to do case law from the 1800s and she is applying a more cultural, artistic lens to how people are using the language, whereas I only know it in terms of what the law says. I think the plan is to expand it to a greater publishable article. After this paper is finished, she also has plans for a book (that will build upon similar themes and focus more specifically on the representation of pitbulls in literature and law.).
How does this position relate to your academic program of study?
What I’m doing for her is filling in the gaps to make sure she is talking about the law correctly. The expertise I can bring is that I know how to read the case law, understand the issue and find the primary sources. That helps sort of bridge the gap for what she is trying to do with all that information. In terms of how it’s utilized my law degree, it’s the same sort of research, but she has me read things that are more theory based, and people reading law tend to approach it from a totally different lens, which is super confusing to me sometimes but also totally valid.. It’s been a really great experience to engage with heavy topics in an important way. I’ve never studied critical race theory before but I’m interested in criminal defense in the future, and race is still a very big part of life in America so I’m very happy to be getting a deeper perspective on that experience and how we’ve interacted with race throughout history.
Erik currently holds two positions - a Graduate Assistantship with the Service-Learning and Volunteering office and a Research Assistantship with the Justice Policy Center in the Cutler Institute. He is nearing the end of his graduate studies in the Policy, Planning and Management Program.
Can you describe your role working in the Service-Learning and Volunteering department? What is the focus of your work?
If a professor has a course that they want to collaborate with an organization for a service component in the community, I coordinate the course-based placements for students. In a sense, my role is to be the oil in the engine to keep it running smoothly and ensure the faculty member and community partner are on the same page, that the students are informed of what their obligations are and how they need to present in this professional environment and help them understand how it connects with their learning objectives back in the classroom. A big part of this role is that every student who goes out into the community is a part of this institution and these community partners will talk about their experience with those students. So, it is making sure the University is represented well and the faculty, students, and staff really interact in a positive way with the community.
What are your goals for this project?
One of the four academic pillars of the institution is service. My outcome and my goal in my position is a long-term building goal. It’s not a goal that I’m going to see, but the relationships and the partners that I’ve worked with have built strength and resiliency through the positive experience they’ve had with our office, our faculty, and our students. My goal is to strengthen USM’s relationship with community partners, the public school system, the local government and different organizations.
How does this position relate to your graduate studies?
My initial focus was nonprofit management. I’ve worked for a lot of nonprofits and almost all of them had poor management. Now, having done this work, my interest is almost more complex than a single organization. But I have enjoyed, both in my GA and my other work around campus, creating networks that connect organizations across a community. Marginalization and inequality survive because of siloed-ness. Communities that are mixed economically, racially, and culturally create opportunities for everyone there. I think of organizations the same way. The strength of USM is only enhanced by the relationship it has with the entire Portland, Gorham, Lewiston-Auburn, Southern Maine community. That sort of larger spectrum coordination is now where I’m more interested in focusing.
How does this assistantship relate to your professional goals?
I came to graduate school because learning is spectacular and beautiful, and I don’t want to be at the end of my capacity. I had opportunities for growth, and I would say the program gave me certain tools. But more so, I have learned so much working with the Service-Learning and Volunteering office. Working within USM and with the University’s partners that has really made me grow professionally. My professional goals are to do something dynamic and interesting that benefits society. When people talk about professional goals, I think they talk more about where they’re going--my professional goals are to have my hands full and have it be worth it.
How to Apply
If you are interested in learning about current GA positions and how to apply, please head over to our Graduate Assistantship Opportunities page.
For more information, please email the Office of Graduate Studies at firstname.lastname@example.org; call 207-780-4872; or stop by and see us in our new location: 117 Wishcamper Center, Portland campus.
Join us for our final coffee hour of the fall 2019 semester on Thursday, December 19 from 2:30-4:00 PM in the Wishcamper Forum.