AeroGSAC provides a voice for AE graduate students


AeroGSAC members. Top, from left, manue Martinez, Ankit Jain, Aaron Perry, Vedant. Bottom, from left, Gavin Ananda, Shruti Ghanekar, Ishaan Sood.
AeroGSAC members. Top, from left, manue Martinez, Ankit Jain, Aaron Perry, Vedant. Bottom, from left, Gavin Ananda, Shruti Ghanekar, Ishaan Sood.
Leaders of the Aerospace Engineering Graduate Student Advisory Committee (AeroGSAC) have been undertaking a number of initiatives committee members hope will benefit generations of AE graduate students long into the future.

One of the oldest organizations formed for graduate students in the College of Engineering at Illinois, AeroGSAC has been in operation since 2007. The group was created to serve as a voice for all AE graduate students, and strives toward continuous improvement in the Department to serve graduate students’ needs. AeroGSAC also encourages involvement in student projects, and initiates additional projects to further improve the students’ experiences.

Recently, AeroGSAC leaders have made a conscience effort to build more structure into the group’s efforts. “We’re trying to make AeroGSAC more sustainable and define what it is we do,” said Ankit Jain, AeroGSAC Associate Chair. “We are focusing on our purpose and taking on various new initiatives.”

A very visible effort in which AeroGSAC has had input will be the AE Department’s renovation of the “Cube Farm,” the expansive third floor space in Talbot Laboratory that serves as offices for many AE graduate students. The department has budgeted about $320,000 for a remodel of the space this summer. “The Cube Farm is very cluttered everywhere and could be designed better,” Jain said.

“It is critical to offer our graduate students a great space to work, and the department will undertake this summer a major upgrade of the graduate student office space on the third floor of Talbot. The input from AeroGSAC in the design phase of the upgrade project has been critical,” said AE Department Head Philippe Geubelle. “Our graduate program has gone through a major expansion, from about 85 students 10 years ago to close to 200 today. We continue to attract remarkable graduate students from all over the world.”

Acting as a conduit between the graduate student body and department administrators is one of AeroGSAC’s main purposes. “We get to talk to the head of the department and head of graduate studies (Prof. Greg Elliott) twice a semester so they can gauge what the student population is thinking, and the department can talk about initiatives they’re going to do for the grad students,” said Gavin Ananda, AeroGSAC Chair.

Getting the word out to AE graduate students about AeroGSAC and the services it can provide has been a major goal for the organization this year. Another has been advocacy, particularly in terms of:

  • Identifying diversity issues. Committee members recognize a need for bringing in a more diversified set of speakers for the 590 Graduate Seminars and addressing other topics of concern for female students (about 20 percent of the AE graduate student population) and underrepresented groups.
  • Promoting interdisciplinary exposure (i.e. AE entrepreneurship, space policy, engineering ethics, etc.) for graduate students. Jain noted several AE faculty members have pursued entrepreneurship and some have started their own companies, and their shared experiences hold lessons for the students. As part of this inaugural initiative for the department, AeroGSAC is hosting an entrepreneurship panel discussion session this semester to provide exposure to the graduate students.
  • Administrative advocacy. Through this initiative, AeroGSAC helps communicate graduate student proposals and concerns to the Department administration. This semester, the group is hosting an inaugural ‘Town Hall’ event for the graduate students in the AE department.

AeroGSAC also promotes professional development among graduate students. The group has hosted small group discussions with speakers who travel to campus for the 590 Graduate Seminars. “Even the visitors find it beneficial to do the one-on-one,” Ananda said. AeroGSAC typically hosts one 590 speaker per semester.

The group hosts non-technical seminars in which industry leaders come to talk to the students. AeroGSAC also hosts lunch seminars in which AE graduate students are invited to talk about their own work in progress while practicing their presentation skills. Graduate students making the presentations gain credit toward their 590 Seminar attendance requirement. AeroGSAC’s most recent professional development initiative is the inaugural AE Graduate Student Research Symposium that will be held at the end of this semester. The goal of the Symposium is to showcase AE graduate research occurring within the department.

In addition, AeroGSAC also hosts social events, intended to help the graduate students get to know one another, and to encourage their interaction with faculty. To promote physical well-being and more social engagements, the group has created a new initiative called the Aerospace Intradepartmental Sports Engagement (AISE), in which they hope to establish a platform to sustain frequent sports activities throughout the semester for the graduate students. As part of a recent survey, volleyball seemed to be the most popular sport among the graduate students, faculty, and staff, hence the group is hosting a volleyball tournament as part of AISE this semester.

Staci McDannel, AE Coordinator of Graduate Programs, greatly appreciates the group’s efforts. “Obviously AeroGSAC is a major asset to our graduate program,” she said. “This group gauges the needs of our students, such as more contact with industry leaders and more social interaction among students, and helps the department fulfill those needs. They have been a tremendous asset to me and I am grateful for their ideas and input."