Graduate School Virtual Town Hall
Graduate students were given an opportunity to have their questions on Penn State’s response to the novel coronavirus answered during a virtual town hall event on April 9, hosted by the Penn State Graduate School.
- Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost;
- Regina Vasilatos-Younken, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School;
- Sarah Ades, associate dean for graduate student affairs;
- Michael Verderame, senior associate dean;
- Stephanie Danette Preston, associate dean for graduate educational equity and chief diversity officer for graduate education; and
- Roger Brindley, newly arrived vice provost for Global Programs.
Watch the Recorded Virtual Town Hall
Graduate students appointed to graduate assistantships, fellowships or traineeships will continue to receive their stipends after April 30th, based on their Spring appointment end date.
The March 24th Town Hall announcement was related to employees and student workers, not graduate appointments.
As a follow up, will graduate students who are working part time on campus, such as in Residential Dining, continue to be paid after April 30th?
That is a more complex issue. The University made a commitment to support all employees, including full-time and part-time employees through April 30th. Students who have wage payroll type jobs in the areas that you mentioned fall under that general category. The University is working very hard as we speak to come up with a strategy beyond April 30th to maintain operations where necessary and continue to support people to the extent possible, but it is too early to be able to make any commitments for those types of positions at this time beyond the April 30th date.
At this time, there are no University plans to reduce graduate assistant stipend grade levels for the upcoming year, Fall 2020-Spring 2021.
We realize how difficult it is to have to step away from an ongoing research project. There's so many exciting and important things that are going on at the University. However, given the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and safety of our graduate students, the Penn State community, and the State College community are paramount. Given this, the decision was made to reduce all non-essential research-related activities on campus. So, what is essential research? Basically, it's defined as activities that would generate significant sample or data loss, would pose a safety hazard, or would endanger patients if they're discontinued. It also includes ongoing research activities that are related to COVID-19, and we'd like to applaud all of the researchers who are using their expertise to combat various aspects of the pandemic. For a full list of activities, you can visit the website for the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research. Also, individual colleges might have provided more specific guidance to your research advisers as to what's considered essential research in your discipline. For graduate students, you should talk to your research adviser to see if your research is considered essential or not.
We recognize that these are trying times for both our residential graduate students as well as our World Campus graduate students. Understanding that there might be furloughs and layoffs or even expenses that have come with the stay-at-home order. The University has created a Student Emergency Fund. It's been prioritized. We've reached out to our alumni and friends to collect dollars for students who may be in need, specifically for those in urgent need. In addition to that, students may also access their colleges as well as their departments, and they may be able to direct them to other funds that may be available. Furthermore, for our multicultural students, we have the College Council of Multicultural Leaders, who may also have funds available or may be able to direct them towards resources that may be available to them.
The University is continually working on the availability and distribution of equipment such as laptops and wifi hotspots to students in need. Students who lack resources for remote learning should visit the remotelearning.psu.edu website and the remote learning resources section of Penn State’s COVID-19 student, employee, and community FAQs page. Students who do not have access to a computer or who have connectivity issues can complete a mobile request form.
Students who need assistance with resources to complete remote research activities should consult with their research adviser, graduate programs, and college IT services as appropriate.
This question refers to the Graduate Council’s residency requirements for research and professional doctoral students.
The short answer is that semester will still count towards residency for students enrolled full-time, but let me add a few details. For doctoral students enrolled full time, the SP 2020 semester WILL count towards meeting the requirements of two consecutive semesters of residency, regardless of whether a student keeps their quality grades or chooses optional alternative grading.
It is also worth noting that for doctoral students enrolled full time, the SP 2020 semester will count towards meeting these residency requirements despite the physical distancing restrictions currently keeping students off the campus.
I really appreciate that question because it allows us to get straight to the importance of our global work here at Penn State. Just this week the president of Penn State, Dr. Eric Barron, wrote an article called We Are One Community. I encourage you to read it. I'd like to read an excerpt of it for you because we can be assured that Penn State is deeply committed to our international community. Dr. Barron wrote, "As the new coronavirus spreads around the world so, unfortunately, do cases of xenophobia or discrimination against individuals of East Asian descent. As members of a community of learners and teachers and scholars, we have a responsibility to avoid not only falling prey to these biases but to actively address these ugly prejudices that have no basis in fact."
I'd like to remind all of you that international student scholar advising is available at 814-865-6348. Let me repeat that, 814-865-6348, and we are here to help you with all your issues related to your engagement in the community and your intercultural learning. We value our international population at Penn State. Our global work in teaching academics and research and engagement require that our international students are part of the heartbeat of this University. We benefit from your presence, and we want you to feel that you are welcome, and you're respected at all times.
One of the hallmarks of Penn State’s model of graduate education is the ability to accommodate individual student interests and programs of study with curricular models such as emphasis areas or specializations, options, dual title degrees, elective coursework that supports individual areas of research focus, and most importantly, an individual student’s research interests in research degree programs. Graduate programs continue to offer these important curricular models and faculty have moved to utilize remote instruction to continue course delivery. Graduate faculty and programs have been encouraged to assist students in identifying necessary resources they might need to continue to meet their academic goals, and to be flexible in helping students to modify or refocus their research to maintain progress towards their degree, with the priority of ensuring students can complete their degrees.
The health and safety of graduate students is our utmost concern. Environmental Health and Safety has a clear set of procedures for those who are conducting essential research on campus to follow that include guidelines for social distancing and for cleaning lab spaces with everything from equipment to computers. Still, everyone who is doing research in these labs should follow all of these recommendations. If you don't feel safe doing your research, what you should start with is by talking to your research supervisor or your graduate program leadership. The University has clearly stated that a graduate student cannot be required to come to campus to do research. If you feel that you can't have this type of discussion with your research adviser or with your graduate program leadership, what you can do is contact me (Sarah Ades). I serve as the ombudsperson for all graduate students at Penn State. I can help you in navigating these types of situations with insurance of maintaining confidentiality if you request it and as allowable by the Penn State policies.
While, of course, it's a very difficult time for students, especially those students who are graduating and seeking employment, right now, the Office of Graduate Educational Equity Programs is going to be sending out a survey. This is one option that we have. This survey is going out across our listserv. If students don't have access to our listserv but would like to fill out the survey, it's email@example.com is our email address. In this survey, we're planning on collecting information with regards to sort of remote social activities as well as professional development for our students that we can offer. In addition to this information, Dr. Sarah Ades has been in contact with the Career Services, and they've offered one-on-one counseling with students with regards to their careers. Dr. Ades is also working with Career Services to host a number of workshops as well as professional development that will be offered at a later date.
Absolutely. In fact on Thursday, April 2, the Graduate School released guidance that major Graduate Council time limits have been extended, most by a full year. Of course, to be clear this is to provide extra time as needed, not a requirement that students must take a year longer.
In the eyes of an I-20, there is no such thing as a conditional I-20, so you have to be admitted to receive an I-20. So, the first thing we strongly encourage all of our graduate students who are thinking about going on to a Ph.D. to do is to go to your departments, go to your program advisers, and have that conversation now. Many of you have been wonderfully successful in your graduate work. Many of you will be admissible to your Ph.D. opportunities, and we certainly encourage you to have those conversations. If you apply and your program admits you, then our colleagues in international student advising can quickly process an I-20 for you. So, that's a really wonderful question, and I want to give a very positive answer. I will just give this one caveat, and that is that every single international student has a slightly different arrangement from every other and so it's very, very important that you go to iStart and that you fill out an e-form called Submit a Question. And that question can go straight to an adviser in our International Student Services, and they can come back to you with an answer and help you with your very individual circumstances. Of course, you can also call the 814-865-6348 number, and they'll be delighted to help you there as well. So, the message is please go and explore the opportunities with your doctoral faculty and advisers, and know that the International Student Services are available to assist you with the I-20 as soon as you're admitted.
As announced earlier this week, Penn State will hold its spring 2020 commencement ceremony via livestream on May 9. The virtual ceremony will recognize all Penn State undergraduate students and all graduate students in the Penn State Graduate School. The College of Medicine, Dickinson Law, Penn State Law, and Penn College will manage their own celebrations and communicate directly to their graduates.
Spring 2020 diplomas are currently scheduled to be mailed June 22.
Once all Spring 2020 grades have been posted and all requirements complete (e.g., master’s thesis accepted), students may request a letter of certification from the Graduate School attesting that all requirements have been completed, and the degree is scheduled to be conferred.
The University, the Graduate School, and our colleges and graduate programs are highly invested in our graduate students’ education and training, and are committed to doing everything possible to help our students complete the advanced degrees that brought them to Penn State. Graduate students appointed to assistantship support packages this spring semester will receive their full support as reflected in their Terms of Offer appointments, keeping in mind that the final spring stipend payment is disbursed in May.
With respect to the fall, at this time it is premature to predict any long-term impacts as the situation remains driven by the pandemic, and we will need to wait to see how this complex public health crisis evolves. The University will continue to assess, and we will continue to communicate in a transparent manner.
Federal funding agencies have not given any indication at this time that external graduate student funding, such as fellowships or traineeships, are impacted in the short term, and Penn State continues to actively engage its students through remote formats. The Graduate School Office of Fellowships and Awards Administration has been in contact with Program Officers for major fellowship programs for specific guidance. Should we receive information that any changes may or will occur to specific student support for centrally administered external awards, we will be reaching out to impacted students directly.
Please see the information available on the OSVPR/OSP website for more details pertinent to many funding agencies.
There are three basic types of leaves of absence available to graduate students: short term, extended absence within a semester, and leave of absence for an entire semester. For a short-term absence of less than 3 weeks, there will be no break in enrollment or financial support and the health insurance will be unaffected. Students who take leave of absence for the entire semester, will not be enrolled and therefore not eligible to purchase the student health insurance. One note is that if a student is supported by an assistantship, fellowship or traineeship during the spring semester and has opted into the student health insurance program, their health insurance should extend through August 12.
The situation with students who need to take an extended absence of more than 3 weeks within a semester is more complicated. In such cases, students will need to consult with their assistantship, fellowship, or traineeship providers to determine if this support can be continued during the absence. If yes, health insurance coverage will continue. If the support package will not be continued, then students will have the option to pay for the remaining insurance premiums to keep their insurance coverage.
There are many parts of this policy that depend on the circumstance particular to a given student so students considering such requests should consult with their graduate programs about taking a leave of absence. I (Sarah Ades) am also happy to answer questions from any student or graduate programs about leaves of absence.
During this time, given the current circumstances with the pandemic, graduate student financial support packages, which include the stipends and the health insurance subsidies, should continue through the end of the semester, even when graduate students aret on leave, barring any exceptional extenuating circumstances. And the other key piece of information is that the premiums that are paid for the insurance during the spring semester actually apply to the full coverage year, so your insurance will last through August 12th.
A visa, per se, is just a travel document that ensures that you're allowed entry into the United States. Once you're in the United States, you're legal status as a student or a scholar in the United States is actually related to other documents. That might be your I-94 marked DS, or it could be a valid I-20 or DS-2019 along with your valid passport. You don't need to leave the United States when your visa expires or to renew your visa. Even if you want to change your F and J status, you can probably do that from within the United States. So, we strongly encourage you to talk to our international student and scholar advisers before you think about travel, especially at this point in time. What I'd suggest you do is go to iStart again and go to the Submit a Question e-form. But, again, the expiry of your visa is not the critical issue here. The critical issue is are you maintaining that other documentation, so do let us help you with that.
Deferred grades (AKA “DF”) are available when, “...work is incomplete at the end of a semester because of extenuating circumstances (GCAC 401- Grading System)". A DF provides additional time after the semester formally ends so that you can complete the work and receive an appropriate grade based on your level of accomplishment. If you have fallen behind because of the current situation, you should speak with the course instructor to request a DF so that you may have additional time to complete work. We have asked the Graduate Faculty to be flexible under the current extraordinary circumstances.
As we think about the summer, first, we will be getting some guidance out soon. We have a group that is working very hard on figuring out the best strategy for summer course delivery, and I would say that what we're thinking about is how to take everything that we have learned from the spring semester and our experience with synchronous delivery, couple that with everything that we know through many years of World Campus experience in asynchronous delivery, and really leverage both of those to the maximum benefit of our students and the University. So, I anticipate what you will see emerge in the summer is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous delivery designed to really support our students in the best way possible. And we should have, I'm anticipating, within days there will be information and guidance coming out from the University about our directions for the summer.
The University does not make the decision as to who is and is not eligible for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act, and the state will need to clarify to whom the provisions of the CARES Act applies. We do not have any information as yet.
A clarification regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) for employees is that graduate students, including those who have received support packages such as assistantships, are not eligible, but should refer to graduate student leave policy GSAD-906 Graduate Student Leave of Absence, and Management of Graduate Assistantships, Fellowships, and Traineeships for Graduate Students with an Approved Leave of Absence – Guidelines
The University encourages all individuals who may have been exposed to the virus to take precautionary measures like quarantining for the recommended 14 days. Should symptoms surface or persist, please seek medical attention. For students enrolled in the Student Health Insurance Plan, UnitedHeathcare Student Resources offered information regarding policy changes to ensure that members continue to receive top-notch care.
From First Risk: All costs for COVID-19 testing at approved locations will be now be waived, as well as any copays, deductibles, or coinsurance costs associated with physician’s visits for COVID-19 testing.
- Member cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatment will be waived through May 31, 2020. Additionally, any referral requirements for COVID-19 testing or treatment will be waived as well.
- For any policies with an exclusion for services in their home country, the exclusion will be waived for the remainder of the 19-20 policy year.
- Between March 31, 2020 and June 18, 2020, UHCSR will waive costs for in-network telehealth services, for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related visits.
Graduate students should discuss whether their research is considered to be essential with their research advisers. At this time with the stay-at-home order in Pennsylvania, all non-essential research should not be continued on campus even while maintaining social distancing in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Students should be continuing their research remotely with activities such as data analyses, proposal or paper writing, and reading and reviewing the literature in their discipline. Advisers should be continuing with group meetings and periodic check-ins with students to help guide these activities.
At a macro level, much will depend on the position of the U.S. government, and currently the U.S. Department of State is monitoring COVID-19 with the intention that we will return embassy and consulate staff around the world to their posts as the conditions allow. Of course, that's going to be flexible in timing, and I think we can anticipate a situation where, depending on the COVID-19 transmission, some countries open up earlier than others. But that said, we do expect the embassies and consulates to reestablish visa appointments when it's safe to do so. We do also anticipate there will be some backlogs, so it'll be very important to watch those consulate and embassy websites as we move along. Of course, here at Penn State, we remain committed to a residential offering for all our students this fall semester. However, like our government, there's such an impact around COVID-19 right now that we really have to monitor this carefully, all the while recognizing considering the global mobility of our international graduate students. And so we're currently evaluating multiple alternative and novel ways of continuing remote learning while also planning for a residential experience. That way, we believe we can give you the very best academic offering possible as the time allows. These discussion, of course, will continue, and they're dynamic in nature, but please do let us help you individually if you have specific timelines or specific issues related to the fall semester that you would like to discuss. And yes, go to the iStart and fill out that Submit a Question e-form.
We understand the concerns of students who are close to completing their doctoral degrees.
We will be looking at the thesis/dissertation submission deadline for the summer as we get closer to the date. We anticipate being able to provide a little flexibility as we did in the spring.
However, it is important to understand that those deadlines are set so that all post-submission processing can be completed in time so that degrees can be conferred at the end of the semester. With all processing taking place at staff members homes rather than the office, it is not quite as efficient as normal, but we will certainly do what we can.
New graduate students should reach out to their specific graduate program for more information about offers of wage appointments for the summer. Summer appointments for continuing graduate students are being submitted at this time.
That is an important and complex question and is impossible to predict at this moment as it depends on the status of the outbreak at the time, as well as the financial impact on the local and national economies; the University; and federal agencies and private companies supporting research (among others). The Provost has established several groups that are looking at this and related questions in depth, with the goal of minimizing the impact to the greatest extent possible.
In some cases, those clinical hour requirements are set by external accrediting bodies or licensing bodies and so those are not under the purview of the University. Our leaders in those programs have been in touch with those agencies to determine what kind of flexibility they might provide, and students in such programs should talk to their program heads. For other cases, those requirements are established by the particular graduate program as part of that program to ensure that the students get all the knowledge, skills, and attributes necessary for success in their field, and so in cases where it's a program requirement, as mentioned before, we've asked programs to be flexible and to do that in the context of not delaying student graduation but ensuring that students still do meet their program objectives so they can be successful when they leave the University and take on their careers.
First, I would like to applaud our graduate students who have reached out and offered to help in generous and selfless ways with this public health crisis. It is especially meaningful that they are looking to bring to bear their disciplinary expertise and graduate training to find solutions, and as with any complex and pressing problem, this will take a trans-disciplinary approach, including from life science fields, computational sciences, social and behavioral sciences and more. There are opportunities to help across all of these and the best way to explore this is by contacting the directors of a number of Penn State’s research institutes. In particular, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences — with support from the Materials Research Institute, the Social Sciences Research Institute, the Institute for Computational and Data Science and the Institutes for Energy and the Environment — issued a request for proposals for projects that will utilize Penn State’s unique research strengths to contribute to the global coronavirus response. If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to reach out to the follow individuals:
- Elizabeth McGraw (Director, Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Jenni Evans (Director, Institute for Computational & Data Sciences email@example.com)
- Susan McHale (Director, Social Science Research Institute firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Clive Randall (Director, Materials Research Institute email@example.com)
- Andrew Read (Director, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Tom Richard (Director, Institutes of Energy and the Environment email@example.com)
The rate for the Penn State Student Health Insurance Plan or SHIP, has not been approved yet by the PA Department of Insurance, so I cannot give any details at this time. However, I can share that the premium rate submitted reflects only a modest increase in the cost of the premium for graduate and professional students for the Fall 2020/Spring 2021.
It’s also important to note that the University does provide a generous subsidy of the Student Health Insurance Plan premium for all University-appointed graduate assistants, graduate fellows and graduate trainees, that covers 80 percent of the premium for Individual coverage and 75-76% for students with dependents, which helps to reduce the impact of this modest increase. The Plan design also reflects modest out-of-pocket costs for all students enrolled in the SHIP.
It is our expectation that all graduate faculty will follow the guidance from the University, the Office of the Sr. Vice President for Research, their colleges and the Graduate School and provide flexibility and appropriate accommodations for their students with respect to identifying and adapting assistantship activities that can be accomplished remotely, to support their graduate students’ continued progress toward meeting their degree requirements. Should problems arise, students are encouraged to discuss the situation with their graduate program head and/or the Associate Dean for Graduate Education in their academic college (or equivalent for those in an IDGP) as outlined in the Avenues to Address Graduate Student Concerns guidance.
Students with a concern related to their adviser of their assistantship research, teaching, or other activities who do not wish to consult directly with their adviser, graduate program leaders or college administrators may contact Dr. Sarah Ades (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Associate Dean for Graduate Student Affairs in the Graduate School, who is the ombudsperson for all graduate students across the University. Any graduate student may contact her to report and/or discuss an issue, with the assurance of maintaining confidentiality if requested and as allowable by applicable policies and laws.
Graduate programs and faculty advisers need to provide flexibility for their graduate students during this time. Graduate assistantships are provided as part of a financial support package, and hours of assistantship activities are not recorded. Advisers of graduate students who may not be able to complete the average number of weekly hours of assistantship activities for their appointment during a certain period (e.g., several weeks) during the semester appointment should be flexible in accommodating the opportunity to meet the student’s needs and accomplish the activities within another period during the semester, but extensive hours cannot be banked or saved for future semesters.
All spring assistantship appointments will be fulfilled through the end of the semester, including teaching assistantships. As indicated, summer appointments are being made, including those in support of the instructional mission, and as determined by colleges/departments/graduate programs.
Any restrictions or allowances with respect to graduate assistantships funded by federal agencies or private sector (e.g., industry) grants and contracts are determined by those sponsors, and University guidance provided through the Office of Sponsored Programs reflects those agencies/sponsors’ terms.
For research assistantships sponsored by extramurally funded grants and contracts, the Office of Sponsored Programs within the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research has provided guidance in their recent FAQs, outlined on research.psu.edu/covid. Students should discuss their research assistantships with their adviser and/or the PI of the project on which they are engaged in research activities.
As the University continues to fulfill its educational mission, there are no plans to refund tuition. Graduate students are encouraged to work closely with their adviser to identify available resources or determine ways to change or modify their research and dissertation plans in such a way that they can make the most progress while remote. If you have concerns that are not able to be addressed by your adviser, please contact your graduate program head or College Administrator for Graduate Education (typically an associate dean for graduate education). Alternatively, you may reach out to Dr. Sarah Ades, ombudsperson for graduate students in the Graduate School.
You should work with your own insurance provider on what would possibly be covered.
Graduate students should consult with their graduate program regarding their terms of offer.
According to the University Libraries website, “Due to the closure of our library locations, the Interlibrary Loan department is no longer able to request physical materials or provide scans from materials on site. They are still committed to providing resources. At this time, they can continue to request chapters or journal articles for you. Please use the book chapter/article request form in your ILLiad account to request materials.”
Please check the libraries website for information regarding book returns. The libraries have currently extended due dates to May 31 and has asked that you not return books while the libraries are closed. If you must do so, then you can drop them off at the book return drop sites. Books can also be returned by mail at the address listed on the libraries website.
Recognizing that several individuals (international and domestic) traveled abroad and domestically during spring break, the University has ensured the safety of all students by adhering to the Stay at Home order issued by the Governor. Moreover, the University encourages all individuals who may have been exposed to the virus to take precautionary measures like quarantining for the recommended 14 days. More information is available on sites.psu.edu/virusinfo/faqs/#travel.
The Graduate School does not have a formal process set up at this time to address such appeals. We would encourage all students in such a position to address issues like this should they arise with the academic administrator for their college.
Students should visit this webpage: https://housing.psu.edu/leasing-process and contact the White Course Housing Office with questions.
Students can complete this form: https://housing.psu.edu/sites/housing/files/lease_agreement_release_form.pdf - page 2, check the FINANCIAL hardship and provide relevant information and provide to the housing office for review.
This is really a question for those who have applied to Penn State for admission in FA 2020, and refers to an agreement among virtually all research-intensive graduate schools that the earliest they can require an answer to an offer of financial support is April 15 – this gives applicants a chance to fairly weigh all their offers.
There are no restrictions on how long a program can wait for a decision after April 15, so there is no need for an extension.
Graduate Seminars should be treated the same way as all graduate courses. The Graduate School has asked programs to provide flexibility so that student progress toward degree is not negatively impacted.
We have provided blanket exceptions to conduct all benchmark examinations remotely as of March 16, 2020, and those exceptions remain in place. The Graduate School urges graduate program leaders to work with their students who have upcoming examinations to ensure that the conditions of remote examinations support the student’s success. We believe that the digital tools available (Zoom, Teams, Examity, etc.) provide the necessary resources to conduct high-quality oral or written examinations remotely.
However, if the student does not believe they can be successful under the condition of the examination, they should contact the associate dean for graduate students in their college, or Dr. Sarah Ades, Associate Dean for Student Affairs.
Most programs have made their decisions by now. For students offered graduate assistantships or fellowships, those decisions may need to be revisited (for example, deferral of admission to a later semester) if the physical distancing recommendations are still in force and students cannot come to the campus.
For graduate students who are international students (not of U.S. citizenship), currently still physically in State College or United States, and under Research Assistantship, will there be any hindrance or implication to (a) being enrolled for Fall 2020, and (b) continue receiving Research Assistantship for Fall 2020/Spring 2021 period?
Your status as a student or scholar in the United States should not change and so we encourage you to continue your studies and enroll for the fall semester. If you are continuing in a research assistantship, please confirm that arrangement with your program advisers. Again, at all times you can reach out to DISSA through an eForm in iStart called SUBMIT A QUESTION or call if you prefer call 814-865-6348.
Colleges and graduate programs are asked to prioritize helping their continuing students to complete their degrees, including identifying resources and flexibility in modifying or refocusing the thesis/dissertation research to make progress remotely. If additional time for degree completion is necessary, students should communicate early and discuss with their adviser and graduate program to determine what may be possible within the department/program or college.