Graduate assistant program allows for professional growth

By Meredith Garner, Contributing Writer
West Liberty University’s Graduate Assistant (GA) Program has seen an increase in enrollment this year. Graduate students get the opportunity to earn their degree with an additional real-world experience in their field of study here on the hilltop. The GA program became more established in Fall 2016 with developed, organized programs available to students. 

“We’re very happy with the way our program is going so far,” said Sara Sweeney, Office of Graduate Studies Director, “The GA position is supposed to provide an additional extracurricular experience for students that are also pursuing a master’s degree.”
 GA students can gain several benefits from participating in the program, such as a housing waiver to live on campus for free, receiving 18 credit hours as a tuition waiver, or a stipend based on the department. 
“It provides benefits towards the university to have additional pair of professional staff that are also graduate students, but also provide that learning experience for the student,” said Sweeney.
There are three different types of Assistantships which include teaching (GTA), research (GRA) and service (GSA).
Criminology GA Hannah Walters works in the Criminal Justice office. Walters helps various professors with daily tasks, tutors students and will be co-teaching a class with Dr. Keith Bell, associate professor of Criminal Justice, this semester. 
Walters said, “I love everything about my program. They let you grow as a person, and guide you to reach your full potential. I have learned so much in such a short time from working in the Criminal Justice office.”
Emily Powers is the GA for West Liberty’s Acrobatics and Tumbling team. “I’ve always wanted to coach and this was a way to do it while pursuing a higher education,” said Powers. 
Time management skills are essential to Powers in order to maintain a balance between scheduling and planning practices, recruiting team members, online MBA program classes and office hours. Powers said, “I really like that the courses are seven weeks long and there is a set schedule.”
Last year, Sweeney conducted exit interviews on the GA students. “Every single one of them recorded a very positive experience. They thought they had learned a lot to help them in their future careers,” said Sweeney. Becoming a GA provides an additional “resume builder” for young professionals to gain further insight for a future career, according to Sweeney. The different programs being offered to students provides them with flexibility within their academic program.    
“I get many benefits from my position, but there are some things scholarships can’t buy. That is the relationships you make, not only with faculty, but students you have never met. The criminal justice department is like a family, and that is the biggest benefit anyone could ever have when working,” said Walters.
Photo provided by Hannah Walters