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Pittsburgh welcomes regional conference

Jorge Cham, the author of PhD comics, speaks at the kickoff event for the NAGPS Northeast Regional Conference. (credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor) Jorge Cham, the author of PhD comics, speaks at the kickoff event for the NAGPS Northeast Regional Conference. (credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor) A visiting student from Penn State embraces Jorge Cham, the author of PhD comics, at his book signing. (credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor) A visiting student from Penn State embraces Jorge Cham, the author of PhD comics, at his book signing. (credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor)

Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh co-hosted the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS) Northeast Regional Conference this past weekend. The conference was a meeting of schools in the region to discuss best practices, programs, social events, and national issues that concern graduate students across the country.
The conference began with an open-to-the-public lecture in David Lawrence Hall by Jorge Cham, a Stanford graduate who produces the popular comic Piled Higher and Deeper. Piled Higher and Deeper, or PhD for short, details the often comedic yet tragic lives of graduate students. Afterward, Cham signed books at a barbecue hosted in front of the William Pitt Union.

P.J. Dillon, a computer science Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh and the current vice president of communications of the university’s Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) was very happy with the turnout for the event. “To have the graduate student community really come out, having them hear him talk and laugh, and migrate to the food—it kind of carried over that good vibe and allowed us all to mingle on the grass with good weather,” Dillon said.

Saturday was the main business day for the conference. Jason Heustis of Tufts University, who is the NAGPS Northeast Regional chair, kicked off the conference with an overview of the organization and the regional status. After this report and breakfast, 12 seminars were held throughout the day, including talks on lobbying and advocacy, community-building activities, building better websites, health insurance, employment concerns, and internal funding management.

Alex Evans, a Ph.D. student in geophysics at MIT and the current president of NAGPS, was also at the event. Evans discussed how regional conferences are an excellent forum for dealing with graduate student issues. “A lot of the issues we deal with are local, and this provides us an opportunity to discuss those issues and effect change at a regional level,” Evans said.

Saturday’s evening activities took the conference to Harris Grill for a “Pittsburgh-style” dinner, followed by Carnegie Mellon’s Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) hosted wine-tasting. Jon Kowalski, a doctoral student in engineering and public policy and Carnegie Mellon GSA’s vice president of external affairs and current director of finance for NAGPS, said “this conference is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase our premier social event of the year to graduate student governments all over the northeast.” GSA’s wine-tasting is an annual event held at the PPG Aquarium.

On Sunday, the conference hosted another installment of GPSA’s popular series “Pancakes & Politics” with Allegheny County Council President Rich Fitzgerald. Following the event was the regional business meeting and a closing lunch. Carnegie Mellon GSA President and Ph.D. student in engineering and public policy, Carolyn Denomme, was glad that Pittsburgh was able to host the conference. “The regional conference is a great way to network with other graduate student leaders and to learn how the services that Carnegie Mellon and our GSA provide to graduate students compare to other institutions and help us improve that.”

Kowalski, who served as one of the conference co-chairs was pleased that the conference was a success and was glad that Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh found “another great opportunity to collaborate.”