Last spring, the University of Maryland’s Graduate Student Government couldn’t fill a ballot for the seven positions on its executive board. The group had to hold special elections for two vice president positions in the fall.

That won’t happen this year. Fifteen graduate students are vying for a spot on the GSG’s executive board, and four positions have contested races — a fact that excites Annie Rappeport, the group’s current president.

“So many people actually want to be execs this year,” she said. “That’s awesome.”

In addition, 52 graduate students have nominated themselves to be program representatives, a crowd that includes well-seasoned GSG members running to reclaim their positions and people who are new to the group.

This number is down from the group’s current membership, which sits at 60, but Rappeport said the GSG’s numbers will increase after recruiting incoming graduate students to run as program representatives its fall elections. Last year, the group grew from 28 to 65 voting members in the fall.

Voting began Monday and will carry through to April 28. Graduate students can vote for executives and their program representatives at


Annie Rappeport — international education and policy doctoral student; sitting president

This year was one of reflection and rebuilding for the GSG, Rappeport said, following months of turmoil after Stephanie Cork resigned as president amid an investigation into her alleged misuse of the group’s funds.

Rappeport spoke with former GSG leaders and current longstanding members of the group to reaffirm its “origin story” — why it was formed in the first place and how it can honor that original purpose. Rappeport noted that the group continues to rally behind many of the same issues that fired up its creation, namely getting collective bargaining rights for graduate employees, connecting graduate students across a decentralized campus and pushing for more affordable housing in the area.

[Read more: UMD grad students surprised by sudden failure of collective bargaining bill]

She also worked with members to bolster the group’s numbers to be able to fill seats on campus advisory committees that had sat previously sat empty, and to strengthen relationships with stakeholders across this university that had fallen by the wayside.

“There’s been a lot of mending and rebuilding those relationships on campus so we can walk over and talk to any department and office and have the door be open and be welcomed in and work together,” she said.

Now that a solid foundation has been built, Rappeport is confident that the GSG can proceed full-steam-ahead on its goals: ensuring graduate students have access to affordable housing and aren’t wrung out by excess fees, supporting international students by collaborating with the Office of International Students and Scholars Services and advocating for graduate employees’ right to safe and healthy workplace environments.

“I believe I can take this momentum and actually get some really cool stuff done,” Rappeport said. She paused, then added that she’s sure her competitor would be “really great, too.”

Lovish Mullick — information systems master’s student

Mullick decided he wanted to be a part of the GSG after seeing advertisements online for the graduate student social events it hosted. He was impressed by its ability to serve as a community for graduate students dispersed throughout a decentralized campus.

Mullick said becoming president of the group would help him “learn more about how GSG works and just give me new life experiences.”

“I’d also really like to voice the concerns of graduate students,” he said.

If elected, Mullick said he’d be interested in working to connect graduate students from multiple disciplines and allow them to network and share tips for finding internships and jobs — something he noted that he and other graduate students he knows have struggled with.

Legislative Affairs Vice President

Martin Sanders — master’s of business administration, public policy master’s student; sitting legislative affairs vice president

In November, Sanders attended his first ever GSG meeting — and was appointed legislative affairs vice president in a special election.

Since then, he said he’s worked to improve his understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order — the set of policies governing the structure of GSG meetings — and learned how to write resolutions and legislation, all while juggling a full course load, a teaching assistantship and an internship with the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Next year, if re-elected, Sanders wants to be an “extra pair of hands” for program representatives who either don’t have time to write resolutions or don’t know how to. He also plans to help in efforts to bolster the GSG’s membership and draw more graduate students into the group’s orbit.

“I’m a big believer in pounding the pavement,” he said. “The more face-to-face contact you have with people, I think will more likely get them involved.”

Academic Affairs Vice President

Han Kleman — sociology doctoral student; sitting program representative

Abhimanyu Sachdeva — information management master’s student

Neither Kleman nor Sachdeva responded to requests for comment.

Community Development Vice President

Binbin Peng — urban and regional planning and design doctoral student; sitting academic affairs vice president

This year, in her role as academic affairs vice president, Peng led a group of graduate students in planning GRAD, a daylong celebration of the research conducted by graduate students at this university. Peng said the event had 123 research presentations and saw about 500 attendees.

But Peng chose not to run for re-election as academic affairs vice president this year, because she said she wanted to give other graduate students the opportunity to serve in the position. Having a different graduate student plan GRAD would also ensure a fresh flow of creativity and ideas, Peng added.

Peng said she’d be a great fit for community development vice president, as she’s passionate about planning events.

“All graduate students are under pressure by their research and studies. They are swamped by exams, coursework,” Peng said. “[Social events are] a good platform for them to make friends, even shout out your pressure to your peers. ‘Oh, you have the same coursework! Me too,’ and ‘You have so many exams! Me too.’”

Diversity and Inclusion Vice President

Shakia Asamoah — education policy master’s student

One of the things Asamoah was most excited for when she started graduate school was the diversity this university offered — not only racially, but also in culture and mindset.

But she was soon dismayed to find that while the school certainly had more students of color than the small liberal arts university in Ohio she attended as an undergraduate, there didn’t seem to be much of an intentional push toward diversity.

“In talking to other grad students, we all kind of felt the same way — that we were actively having to seek out people who were like us,” she said. “Or were put in a place where we were the people who had to be educating our majoritized peers on things we thought that they should know.”

[Read more: “They don’t care”: UMD GSG says university, USM have been ignoring them]

So when Asamoah first heard about the diversity and inclusion vice president position, she jumped to nominate herself, thinking it would give her a new platform to continue the work she was already doing to advance diversity at this university.

Currently, Asamoah works as a graduate assistant for the Maryland LEAD Program, which offers leadership development opportunities to students. In this role, she encourages people to think critically about social systems and the sorts of conversations they’re having — and pushes them to dive deeper into cross-cultural dialogues.

Previously, she represented the black student union at her undergraduate university.

As diversity and inclusion vice president, Asamoah said her first goal would be to gauge the needs of graduate students. In her own experience, she said she’s had little opportunity to have a direct impact on her department.

“It kind of feels like you’re just supposed to show up and whatever’s offered to you, you’re just grateful for it,” she said. “There hasn’t really been a way for me … to be able to feel like I have a sense of community and I’m not just a student who shows up and takes classes and then leaves.”

Financial Affairs Vice President

Xu Han — public policy doctoral student; sitting student affairs vice president

After serving as student affairs vice president for a year and a half, Han wants to return to the first position he served on the executive board. His current policy goals more closely align with financial affairs vice president, he said.

Since joining the GSG in 2016, Han has advocated for affordable graduate student housing. This semester, he worked with the GSG to establish a resident advisory committee that allows graduate students living in Graduate Hills and Gardens to engage with Southern Management, the corporation that manages the two buildings.

If re-elected, Han wants to continue pushing for more affordable housing options for graduate students. He also wants to work with the Office of International Students and Scholars Services to set up an advisory committee with students, faculty and staff, which would hold the office accountable for spending revenue from the international student fee, which went into effect in fall 2017 after this university bypassed review mechanisms to impose it.

Government Affairs Vice President

Rachel Lamb — geographical sciences doctoral student; sitting government affairs vice president

In September, Lamb was elected as the GSG’s first government affairs vice president. She has spent the past year building and strengthening relationships with graduate students and administrators across the University System of Maryland, as well as policy groups on the campus, such as the Graduate Assistant Advisory Committee.

Lamb also worked with the legislative action committee, which she chairs, and the group’s new advocacy coordinator to plan a letter-writing campaign and lobby day to give graduate students an opportunity to directly engage with legislators on issues they care about.

Now, she wants to find more ways to connect with graduate students to both understand the issues and share the advocacy work the GSG is doing. In addition, Lamb plans to help host advocacy training events to help graduate students better share their stories with lawmakers and feel more comfortable doing so.

“If graduate students across the system and via GSG and via these individual grad groups have a common framing or a common ask, that’s only gonna improve the chance that the legislators or the decision-makers we’re trying to influence hear that message clearly,” she said.

Public Affairs Vice President

Lovish Mullick — information systems master’s student

Niroman Joe Aro Charles —  telecommunications master’s student

If elected, Aro wants to use GSG as a platform to unite graduate students across the campus and encourage them to share their experiences — something he says doesn’t happen nearly enough.

This past year, Aro said a number of international students at this university have been scammed by a caller masquerading as the Department of Homeland Security. His biggest concern is that students generally don’t tell their classmates that this happened to them.

“I want graduate students to be more involved and voice their concerns,” Aro said. “There should be a unified method for them to share what is happening in their lives, so everyone can be more informed and it could actually help other students not to get caught in such things.”

Ganesan Poorvaja —  bioengineering and biomedical engineering master’s student

Poorvaja did not respond to requests for comment.

Student Affairs Vice President

Kioumars “Q” Haeri — theatre and performance studies doctoral student; sitting program representative

While pursuing his undergraduate degree in Tehran, Haeri served as head of his school’s student union, where he learned the power students can have when they band together.

Haeri said he worked with members of the union to mobilize students to push against the university’s plans to move the arts building from a cultural district in the city. After circulating a petition and gathering students in a rally, the union was successful, he said.

If elected, Haeri said he plans to work with the student affairs vice president and the public affairs vice president to visit each department on the campus to connect with students and understand their concerns.

“I love to work with communities, I think it’s very important,” he said. “If you have a good community, you’re going to have a good life yourself.”

Nisha Dayananda —  information management master’s student

Originally, Dayananda only intended to run as a program representative. But after mulling things over, she decided to take a swing at the student affairs vice president, where she said she could be in touch with students and understand the issues they’re facing.

Specifically, Dayananda said she’d like to push to make the lives of commuter students easier. As someone who lives in Germantown and relies on this university’s Department of Transportation to get to campus, Dayananda has a front-row seat to the obstacles faced by these students.

If she misses the bus that comes to the Gaithersburg Park and Ride at 6:45 or 8:35 a.m., she has to either take an hour and a half metro ride to campus or wait for the next bus that comes at 12:05 p.m.

To help the situation, Dayananda said she’d speak with DOTS about sending buses more frequently for commuter students.

“I am the person who is already going through all of these problems,” Dayananda said. “The person who has experienced it can really follow up with these things well and talk to people about it. I am in the position to understand.”

Tuesday Barnes — sociology doctoral student

Barnes said the 10 years she’s spent at this university are the most transformative experience of her life. She struggled her way through high school in Baltimore, but racked up a 4.0 GPA and carved out a place on the Dean’s List while studying sociology as an undergraduate. Later, she was awarded a McNair fellowship to pursue a doctoral degree in sociology.

But her journey wasn’t perfect, Barnes said — along the way, she’s experienced mental health and financial challenges. She credits the community she had at this university for getting her through these times by refusing to let her slip away or feel alone.

“It just matters, you know? It really matters to have people who love you like that, who might not even know you,” she said. “These weren’t my best friends, these were just people who had jobs and cared about students.”

[Read more: UMD’s grad school may hire adviser to help students with health issues, leaves of absence]

Working as an academic adviser in the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life, Barnes said she has developed a new appreciation for student affairs work. In this role, she primarily interacts with members of Greek Life, but she says the issues they discuss — mental illness, substance abuse and sexual assault — impact the campus at large.

Now, Barnes said she wants to support graduate students the same way she has been supported. She emphasized how incredible she finds the research being done on the campus — how students are working to make sure that people they’ve never met have clean air to breathe and food that’s grown in a just environment.

“People all around campus are doing that kind of work,” she said. “And even if I never meet them, I want them to know that I love them and I appreciate them.”