Meet Maggi Bienvenu, a grad student currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching degree with a concentration in Elementary Education and Special Education Mild/Moderate Grades 1-5, and also a graduate assistant in the Graduate School.
Maggi began her grad school career in fall 2015 while also working full time as a teaching assistant in Lafayette Parish. A year later, in fall 2016, she secured her graduate assistantship.
In the Graduate School, Maggi and the other graduate assistants work closely with the full-time staff to process applications and generally offer support to grad students from application to graduation. A few of their responsibilities include entering credentials related to applications for admission, connecting students and visitors with grad programs, answering applicant and current student questions (about everything!), and helping with special events like orientation, grad student appreciation week, and commencement.
“The Grad School office is a one-stop shop, so sometimes a lot of students don’t realize what our role is within the University and how it relates to their programs—especially new students who are curious about coming to grad school,” she says. “We help by processing paperwork and verifying qualifications of applicants so departments can focus on choosing the right fit candidates for their programs. If you have questions about your application, we can help you with that. Likewise, if you’re not sure where to start, we can point you in the right direction.”
The graduate assistants in the Graduate School not only handle admission questions and paperwork, but also help current students with questions about the various forms they must complete along their grad school journey, thesis and dissertation editing, and assist with any graduation inquiries and paperwork.
Maggi’s graduate assistantship includes a monthly stipend and a tuition waiver. Being awarded the graduate assistantship this year has meant she is now working fewer hours and focusing more on her classes—so she’s getting more done and completing her degree program at a faster pace.
“It’s awesome,” she says. “It was a struggle last year trying to work full time and doing school on top of it. It slowed me down and definitely dipped into my finances. Last fall, I had already decided I would take out a student loan and focus exclusively on school. During that time, I received the assistantship, which means I had to borrow considerably less. Now I only have to finance my final semester, which is an unpaid internship as a student teacher. I will still be able to pay my bills while facing a manageable amount of debt after I graduate.”
Maggi credits networking with finding the assistantship. She applied for an assistantship when she applied for admission, but there weren’t any available in her program at that time. She told her graduate coordinator that she was looking for an assistantship, and her grad coordinator helped spread the word—and spoke well of Maggi to the offices with upcoming openings. That, she said, is key to how she landed the interview for the assistantship in the Graduate School
“A lot of these positions come about by word of mouth. Networking is big! That’s an essential skill to have in the real world, too,” she says. “You have to be willing to put yourself out there and let it be known what you’re looking for and what your skills are. The more people who know that you’re looking and what you have to offer, more of them will put your name forward when they hear of something. You should already have a good relationship with your graduate coordinator if you expect them to speak up for you. It’s about fostering those relationships all around you. One of those relationships may be the key to reaching your goal.”
Her advice to fellow graduate assistants is to make the best of any opportunity.
“You will get back what you give to it,” she says. “I’m creating relationships all across the University. Where I work as a graduate assistant has helped me understand that I’m a part of something bigger.”
And that, she believes, will translate to her life as an educator.
Sometimes teachers are out-of-touch with the administration and the decisions they make. Maggi has learned through her time in the Graduate School that to improve the student’s educational experience each part of the organization must work and communicate together. “Rather than just complaining about these decisions and doing nothing, I’m learning how to be comfortable speaking with a principal or administrator to better understand why decisions are made. This will help me advocate for change at my level.”