GSA President brings a decade of work experience to new role

2016-17 Graduate Students’ Association executiveGSA President – Shannon KitchingsVP Equity and External Affairs – Sarah Cavelle MillerVP Communications – Kirsten BottVP Student Affairs – MacKenzie HunterVP Finance – Julian PetrachenkoVP International – Caroline DroletGSA Senate Representatives – Charissa Sanche and Emily Guertin In all the communities that Shannon Kitchings has been a part of — geographically and personally — she quickly looks for opportunities to inject herself into the life of those communities.Brock is no exception.In March, within a year of beginning a master’s degree in social justice and equity studies, the Burlington resident was elected 2016-17 president of Brock’s Graduate Students’ Association (GSA).The GSA represents and advocates for the nearly 1,700 graduate students enrolled in Brock’s 49 masters and doctoral programs.“I came into the role on a platform to amplify the voice of graduate students,” she says, “and to be a good liaison with the rest of the institution and community to get graduate student issues on the agenda.”Kitchings has a bachelor’s degree in theatre and drama from the University of Toronto, as well as a diploma in acting from Sheridan College and a post-graduate diploma in public relations from McMaster University.To the GSA role she brings a skillset from 10 years of working in the non-profit sector nationally and internationally as an administrator, educator, communications specialist and fundraiser. Given her career experience, it’s not surprising that professional development for graduate students is one of her top priorities for the GSA.“One of my objectives is to find ways to come up with additional funding support to make it easier for graduate students to go and to present at conferences. I also want the GSA to work in partnership with others on campus to help graduate students navigate a path out of graduate studies and into future careers, particularly transitioning to careers in non-academic fields.”Kitchings is also conscious of the pressures that go with pursuing advanced degrees that involve intensive research projects, some of which are sensitive in nature. She will work with the GSA executive and program representatives to look at new year-round programming and resources to address issues around mental health well-being.“Research takes a toll. Engagement can be draining and exhausting and difficult to navigate. As well, students experience their own personal setbacks, including financial stress.”Kitchings is a strong proponent of self-care strategies for coping with stress.“One way for graduate students to take responsibility for their well-being is to utilize self-care strategies to help avoid and prevent burnout and setbacks,” she says.A few examples she recommends are getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated, taking time to reflect, and sticking to a nutritious diet.After a decade in the workplace, Kitchings says she made a quick and seamless transition back to academic studies with the SJES program being the right match to her interdisciplinary interests.“When I decided I wanted to return to academic studies, Brock had the only program in which I could combine my interests in communications, business, arts and social justice,” says the singer and spoken-word poet.Her MA research will involve exploring voice in testimony in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. Her supervisor is Professor Susan Spearey.On a personal level, Kitchings sees this year as an opportunity to show leadership in strengthening the graduate community “as a safe and welcoming space for indigenous and international students.”“As the GSA, we are in a position to strengthen resources toward creating a graduate student culture that makes every student feel welcomed and a valued part of the Brock community,” she says. “The GSA is here to listen to students so that we can support them around what they say they need.”