Changes to Domestic Travel Award; less money awarded to students

Andrew Keiper

Last spring semester the Graduate Student Senate voted to enact changes to the Domestic Travel Award that lessened the amount of money awarded to students, the changes have now been in effect since fall of 2015.

According to Fritz Yarrison, executive chair for Graduate Student Senate, the changes were made to stretch the budget to accommodate a larger number of graduate students at Kent State University.

“We want to provide as much as we can to as many students as possible,” Yarrison said. “That’s our goal.”

Along with the decrease in funding from $350 to $300, the senate voted to remove language which previously made the award explicitly noncompetitive and began requiring the recipients to be presenting at the conference or event they’re attending.

Yarrison said that a subcommittee was developed by the senate to form the changes. A stipulation for the policy shift was the budget restrictions faced by the senate. The Domestic Travel Award is the biggest award given by the Division of Graduate Studies. The money funds fall, spring and summer semesters.

One of the final hurdles in passing the policy was figuring out how to deal with the overload of applicants. The subcommittee, the senate and Yarrison agreed that randomizing the selection process was the fairest way to deal with the inundation of students applying for the award.

“Myself and the board all agreed that less money to more students is inline with the goals the senate has,” Yarrison said. “We have no illusions about the cost of travel.”

According to Suparna Navale, finance chair for the Graduate Student Senate, the funds for the travel award are derived from money allocated to the senate from the university. The amount available changes annually. This academic year, the senate had $120,000 to award, which can fund approximately 400 students.

Navale said the eligible applicants for this year was interestingly under the number of awards available. Typically, the spring semester sees the highest number of applicants and the summer the lowest, she said.

Beyond the latest stipulation that award recipients must be presenting research at the conference they’re attending, Navale said there are a few other common reasons students don’t receive the award. Incomplete applications can be common and lead to ineligibility for the award. If a student applies for a conference that is outside of the travel period of that semester or has already received the award during that academic year they will also be ineligible.

Ultimately, the Domestic Travel Award is about supporting students, as is so much of what the Graduate Student Senate does. The changes to the policy make it more accessible and level the playing field to support as many students as possible, according to Melody Tankersley, the Senior Associate Provost and Interim Dean of Graduate Studies.

“The idea is that we want to support the professional development for graduate students,” Tankersley said. “It’s critical  for graduate students to share their work. It also couples well with the intent of graduate studies, which is to narrow the discipline and deepen the depth of knowledge.”

Andrew Keiper is the graduate studies reporter for The Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected]