In light of the ongoing contract negotiations between the University of Michigan and members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, I felt moved to write a piece that details my experience with Graduate Student Instructors and the tremendous impact they have had on my educational experience here. As a dual-degree student in both LSA and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, I have had wonderfully supportive relationships with the vast majority of GSIs I have had in my courses, and it is mostly because of the support they provided through an extraordinarily high level of instruction that I find myself where I am today.

The work GSIs do more than warrants certain benefits such as an annual 6 percent increase in salary to cover the high cost of living in Ann Arbor and instituting a hard 20-hour work-week cap. The inability of the University to properly compensate its graduate student employees will make it difficult for them to perform at a high level. This consequently detracts from the educational experience of both myself and all other undergraduate students at the University due to the significant number of classes that have GSI instruction and the help provided to undergraduate students by GSIs in their pursuit of an education.

One of the most prominent and helpful experiences I’ve had with graduate student instruction was last year, in my second-year written theory course. This required course built on the concepts taught the year before, which I did not put much effort into learning during my first go-around as a freshman. I arrived in my first-semester, second-year class determined to make up for lost time. After struggling through my first few assignments, I quickly realized that I needed extra assistance.

My professor referred me to a few graduate students who would be able to tutor me and help me catch up on concepts. I worked countless hours with a graduate student and progressed from a D the previous semester to a B in my first term of second-year theory and an A in my final term. This graduate student helped me effectively reach the point where I not only understood the material, but I was able to teach myself to understand it on my own, helping me gain educational independence. I believe that part of the educational experience at a university is learning how to learn, and in this context, it was because of the tremendous dedication of a Graduate Student Instructor that I was allowed the opportunity to do so.

After succeeding in theory and finding an interest in the field of communications studies, I took it upon myself to complete the prerequisite coursework for declaring a major in the Department of Communications. The instruction I received from the GSI in the introductory courses was paramount to my success and ability to pursue this major. At each stage in a difficult term-long research project for one of the prerequisite courses, my GSI met with me multiple times and reviewed my work. His feedback, both related and unrelated to my project, was essential to my educational interests, career goals and personal development. Without this GSI’s assistance, I would not have the same understanding of the narrative power of advertising that I do today.

Moreover, the services that my GSIs have provided me transcended merely helping me understand the coursework at hand. They not only helped me to know the purpose behind the concepts I was trying to understand, but also the context in which they appeared in the real world and what I could do to take what I learn to affect change in the world as a student and professional.

My communications GSI, serving as both an instructor and mentor, gave me valuable insight into the broader field of communication studies, what my professional opportunities were with a communications degree and helped me understand the relevance of what I was doing in regards to my future coursework as a communications student. It was the experience that I had with this GSI — and other GSIs ever since — that, more so than professors, brought my learning full circle, as he was able to connect the metaphorical dots for me in a way that I could not have done on my own at the time in a one-on-one, personalized setting.

The invaluable help and guidance that I received from my GSIs is not unique to me. Without GSI contributions, my education and the education of many other students would be undoubtedly lessened. GSIs routinely make themselves available to help students like myself with coursework through holding weekly office hours that supplement those of professors, which makes the attainment of an education at the University more accessible. These office hours served me with the valuable link between material mentioned in lecture and the important concepts that I retain for use on exams and future academic and professional endeavors.

The impact of the work GSIs do is significant to undergraduate students’ educational experiences, and because of this, the University should collaborate with instead of combat the bargaining efforts of the GEO. Without GSI instruction, both my own educational experience and that of other undergraduate students would not be the same.

Zachary Cox can be reached at coxz@umich.edu.

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