Most Influential Students: Hallie Thompson

Doctoral student Thompson brings fresh success to GPC.

Graduate Professional Council President Hallie Thompson has a problem.

“I have this problem where I really care about a lot of things and it’s hard to balance between caring about so many things,” she said.

In addition to her recent re-election as GPC president, Thompson found herself one step closer to her dream of feeding the world.

Thompson, a fourth-year doctoral student in plant sciences, has been analyzing a dataset that suggests her research on the response of corn’s adult root systems to drought conditions will eventually enable farmers to grow better, more plentiful crops.

In addition to conducting three different research projects, Thompson has spent the past year leading GPC in the direction of innovation, progress and advocacy on both a local and national level.

Recently, Thompson and the GPC surveyed graduate students about their specific needs. The results are expected soon, and Thompson said she hopes to use those results to advocate for graduate students, from getting better student housing to improving the nighttime bus routes.

Campaigning for students

In November, Thompson directed the 28th annual National Association of Graduate-Professional Students Conference, where she was elected as the director of Legislative Affairs.

“It’s a challenge,” Thompson said. “I’m in charge of coordinating fly-in events at Washington D.C., submitting responses to letters and different legislation and advocating GPC’s platform nationally on the Hill.”

Thompson has also spent much of her time as president advocating for GradsHaveDebt2, a national campaign aimed at educating students on the loan problem in the U.S.

One year after subsidized loans were taken away from graduate professional students, current GPC Director of National Affairs Jesse Kremenak founded GradsHaveDebt2 in 2013.

“It turns out that 77 percent of the profit that’s made off of loans issued for the 2014-15 school year is made off of graduate professional students — even though we account for 13 percent of the borrowing population,” Kremenak said.

Since its launch less than two years ago, GradsHaveDebt2 has been highlighted in Time, The Atlantic, Smithsonian, The Hechinger Report and POLITICO — achievements Kremenak directly credits to Thompson.

“I know that if it wasn’t for her support and her lubricating everything and ensuring that we could actually do these things, we wouldn’t have had these big accomplishments,” Kremenak said. “We’ve been able to develop a culture of setting those outlandish goals and having the groundwork and the support to actually be able to accomplish that.”

Coordinating with undergraduate leaders

Because subsidized loans are currently in the process of being taken away from undergraduate students as well, both Kremenak and Thompson are striving to educate all students on the nationally expanding loan problem — a goal Thompson plans to reach by coordinating advocacy efforts with the Missouri Students Association.

Although Thompson recognizes the importance of dual student governments, she said she hopes to expand her “organic relationship” with current MSA President Payton Head during her second term by keeping each other in the loop and scheduling meetings.

“We have two governments … because graduate and professional students represent a population of students that are very diverse and represent a lot of different interests,” she said. “But it’s also important for us to work together because a lot of things … we collaborate on are for the best interest of everyone.”

Because Kremenak has held his position of director of National Affairs for three years, he said he has been able to see the impacts Thompson has had on GPC firsthand.

“Our relationship with MSA has grown tremendously as a result of Hallie’s efforts and I see that improving dramatically in her next term,” he said. “I would love to see more collaborative projects between GPC and MSA … and I know that Hallie is pushing us in that direction.”

Improving public relations

Kremenak also said that Thompson has made GPC more transparent to her constituents — a goal she set for herself from the start of her presidency.

In an interview last July, Thompson told The Maneater that one of her main goals for the year was to work on public relations for GPC. Now that her first term as president is almost over, it’s clear that she did in fact manage to “start the ball rolling.”

“We actually created a new position this year, which is the director of communication,” Thompson said. “We used to have a director that was just for programming and publicity, so we split that position.”

The director of communication works directly with Thompson and the GPC vice president and is responsible for writing news releases. The National Affairs Committee continues to work on national policy with regard to graduate students.

Although Thompson said she is “extremely satisfied” with what her team has been able to accomplish in a year, she still plans to focus on improving public relations even more during her next term.

“We are excited to have someone specifically working on Twitter and Facebook, making those events and getting the word out,” Thompson said. “We are going to be really working hard on doing things digitally (in order to make) sure we’re hitting all the different places that we can catch people.”

Moving forward at MU

Thompson said the continuity of her presidency will put her at an advantage in regards to efficiency because she will already have a rapport with all the administration and faculty.

Despite her excitement to continue onto her second term as GPC president, Thompson has not forgotten why she is here at MU. In fact, she said she plans on stepping down from many of the committees she’s involved with on campus in order to focus more on her research, which she said has been going “very well.”

As a scientist, Thompson said she naturally loves the tiny details involved with being GPC president as well as the personal growth that comes with leadership roles.

“I think having a year under my belt as president and being able to really experience what it’s like to succeed, to fail and to have ‘meh’ moments is all a learning process,” she said. “You figure out where you fit in and where your strengths are. I’ve learned quite a bit about myself, and that’s a success in itself.”

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