The Graduate Student Council: KAUST's student voice

The University's Graduate Student Council works hard to make sure student voices are heard at KAUST. Pictured here are 2019 council members (from left to right): Sarah Al Abdullatif (Graduate Life officer); Maha Alrefai (Academic and Research officer); Salman AlSharif (International Business Relations officer); Maram AlMalki (president); Afnan Albatati (University Relations officer); Duc Minh Nguyen (Public Relations officer); and Muhammad Bukar (vice president and secretary). Photo by Andrea Bachofen-Echt.

By David Murphy, KAUST News

The KAUST Graduate Student Council (GSC) was founded in 2009 to give a voice to new and graduating students at the University and to represent the interests of students when working with KAUST administration, faculty, staff and community and industry partners. Since its establishment by a small number of outgoing founding class students, GSC members have continued to uphold the group's original core objectives.

Throughout the group's history, committee members have advocated for quality research at KAUST and the continued nurturing of the fluid academic and cultural environment on campus. The GSC also seeks to amplify the employment opportunities available to KAUST students upon graduation.

The GSC is advised and supported by the KAUST Graduate Affairs team. Key advisors include Paul Bennett, manager of Graduate Events and Recreation, and Tim Grubbs, lead, Professional Development. Periodically, the GSC meets and discusses student-related issues with senior University administration, including the president, the vice president for Academic Affairs and Dr. Brian Moran, the dean of Graduate Affairs.

Members of the original KAUST Graduate Student Council are pictured here during a council meeting in October 2010. File photo.

The GSC in 2019

In its original guise, the GSC's membership consisted of 22 students: 11 students were chosen from the University's original 11 graduate program tracks, while the remaining 11 students were elected by popular vote. To better meet the students' evolving needs and to improve the council's efficiency, the GSC committee was pared down over the years to its current version of seven student positions.

Maram AlMalki, a Ph.D. student in the KAUST Advanced Membrane & Porous Materials Center, is the current GSC president; Muhammad Bukar, an M.S./Ph.D. student in the KAUST Clean Combustion Research Center, acts at the council's vice president and secretary; while Sarah Al Abdullatif, an M.S. student in the KAUST Solar Center, is the council's Graduate Life officer. The remaining members of the GSC represent the four original GSC committee positions, with Afnan Albatati as University Relations officer; Salman AlSharif as International Business Relations officer; Maha Alrefai as Academic and Research officer; and Duc Minh Nguyen as Public Relations officer.

AlMalki, Bukar and Al Abdullatif recently sat down with KAUST News to outline what the GSC means to them. They also described some of the innovative developments from the GSC and what it is currently planning for the KAUST student community.

The 2019 KAUST Graduate Student Council represents the interests of University students in relationships with many individuals across the campus. Photo by Andrea Bachofen-Echt.

The function of the GSC

Bukar: The GSC means a lot to me. I see it as a medium through which I can push for important changes in order to make the lives of KAUST students better. The council exists to serve as a bridge between the students and the administration. Ideally, people come to us with their problems, and we discuss [these among] ourselves and raise [any concerns] to the various administrative offices here at KAUST.

AlMalki: The[s] a crucial [role] in the KAUST community, and I think that it...reflect[s] the students' voice and is [a part of] the University's growth and development. We want to help students excel in their academic journeys; [help them] to express themselves and have fun every once in awhile; and to communicate with people in KAUST and outside of KAUST. We want students to expand their professional networks and have comfortable housing and transportation systems.

Al Abdullatif: For me, the GSC is all about helping the student body at KAUST [through] making sure they are healthy and happy while [also] acting as a communication bridge between students and the administration.

The University's Graduate Student Council has a long history on campus. Pictured here are members of the 2014/2015 council. File photo.

New ideas from the GSC

AlMalki: We have lots of amazing ideas and plans for the students this year. We are also working on some great new ideas for housing, transportation and the Career Fair that will be introduced during the year.

Bakar: Our council has already done amazing things—with many more to come. We implemented several structural changes in the council to improve its effectiveness, [and] we implemented changes in student housing, such as devising new ways to improve the room allocation system. We have also added a couple of destinations that the free campus buses go to, and we...organized social events with the support of Graduate Events and Recreation, such as the "Rock the Block" [event], the cardboard boat race, beach fun days and many [others].

Al Abdullatif: As the GSC Graduate Life officer, I plan many of the fun events hosted by the council, including the...beach day and [the] cardboard boat contest. My plan is to host many fun activities this year to help students relax and enjoy their time at KAUST when they are not busy in the laboratory or [in] lectures.

The University's Graduate Student Council has continued to evolve from its establishment in 2009. Pictured here are members of the 2017 council. File photo.

Roles in the GSC

Al Abdullatif: Much of my job centers around planning fun events to help students lead more balanced [and] well-rounded lives. I also work with the various student groups on campus and help them reach out to KAUST students to showcase what they are interested in or have been working on.

Bukar: My role in the GSC is exciting and challenging at the same time. It is not easy to hold one position—much less two—but I find great pleasure in the knowledge that the work I do is making people's lives better. I have done similar jobs in...high school and during my undergraduate years, and I draw from my experience to help run the council in the best way possible.

AlMalki: I wanted to participate in making the difference that I wanted to see in KAUST, and I think the Graduate Student Council is the best place to do that. I think the pressure of my role is in hearing everyone's voices and letting them know what the GSC can do for them.

Also, thanks to the platform the GSC affords me, I would like to encourage students to approach us with any ideas, suggestions or problems they might be facing [without] hesitation.

Members of the 2019 Graduate Student Council welcome questions, suggestions and ideas from current KAUST students. Photo by Andrea Bachofen-Echt.

Maintaining a steady stewardship

The future of the GSC lies in safe hands thanks to the dedication of the current committee members. With the ongoing steady stewardship of the GSC, future council members will benefit from the existing knowledge base, ensuring KAUST students' ideas are acted upon and their voices thoughtfully heard.

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