Grad students get valuable experience in assistantship program

April 9, 2024
By: Rebecca Cross

As a senior in high school, Mikayla Wilcox already knew she wanted to help people. When she was looking at colleges, she was drawn to Worcester State’s 4-Plus Occupational Therapy Program that would allow her to complete her master’s degree in as few as five years, but she was even more impressed with what she heard from the department chair. “The head of the Occupational Therapy Department said something about how occupational therapy was all about helping people make things possible, and that caught me,” she says.

She is now in her final year of the program and has a graduate assistantship in the President’s Office, working with Presidential Student Ambassadors (PSAs). The position was a good fit for her strengths. “I’ve always been someone who’s pretty organized,” she says. “I like planning activities and getting to work with different people. This position gave me an opportunity to work with a lot of different students: athletes or those who were more involved in music and theater or those really involved in clubs—people I wouldn’t normally get to interact with.”

Although her work in the President’s Office is different from what she’ll be doing in occupational therapy, she is developing a number of skills that she’ll be able to apply in her professional life, including planning, teamwork, communication, and providing instruction and coaching in fun and interactive ways.

“Occupational therapy is very client centered, and this is very person centered,” she says. “I try to gear my activities with the PSAs towards them. It’s a skill that’s very helpful with occupational therapy.”

The graduate assistantship program provides opportunities for 35-40 graduate students every year. It is not a work study; rather, students have professional-level responsibilities—often in the field of their degree—in a variety of academic and administrative departments across the university.

Students can apply every April that they are an accepted student. Students who apply submit a resume and choose three positions they are interested in and rank them in order of preference. Based on their applications, they may be invited to interview, but an interview is not a guarantee of receiving a placement. “It’s a competitive process,” says Sara Grady, associate dean of Graduate Studies and Professional Development.

Applicants are matched with mentors, faculty or staff who will supervise the graduate student during their assistantship. Most assistantships are for one year, so students have to reapply for another year’s placement.

Graduate Assistant Christina Dwyer. Photo by Colin Joyal ’24

Christina Dwyer, who is in her final year of the Education Specialist in School Psychology graduate program, is also seeing the benefits of the graduate assistantship program. She is in her third year as a graduate assistant for the Education Department.

The projects she has taken on during her assistantship include creating instructional videos on processes such as registering for MTELs or applying for licensure for Education Department students, creating and sending out monthly newsletters from the Education Department, and developing an online library of resources available to Education Department students.

Dwyer says she was excited to be working within the Education Department since she is training for a career in that field. She has since discovered there are many benefits to the position. “Being a graduate assistant allows you to work on campus and collaborate with many other students and professionals while developing important skills along the way,” she says. “I have had the opportunity to work on various projects and form professional connections with many people in the Education Department. Not only has it been a wonderful job opportunity, but it has allowed me to become a more active member of the campus community.”

She will be applying for jobs after graduating in May. “The collaboration, organization, and leadership skills I have been able to further develop during my time as a graduate assistant will be helpful as I begin my career as a school psychologist,” she says.

Grady calls the graduate assistantship program “a win-win.” “I get emails from our mentors often saying the assistant is invaluable,” she says. As for students, she says, “Many see the fee waiver and stipend as the compensation, but I would say the professional skills building and potential for networking are just as valuable.”

Top Photo: Graduate Assistant Mikayla Wilcox works with Presidential Student Ambassador Colby Sprague in the President’s Office. Photo by Colin Joyal ’24

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