Dean for Graduate Students
During the past year, the Graduate Students Office (GSO) increased the level of its strategic collaboration with the Communications Office in order to accelerate the development of products and other intermediate outcomes from the engagement described more extensively last year. Barrie Gleason, Director of Communications, remained "on loan" for the year; but her involvement increased from 25 percent time to 75 percent time, as the GSO identified a number of key business objectives on which to push forward.
The Dean's team for the communications and business strategy work included Barrie Gleason, Associate Dean Blanche Staton, and the Dean. However, our efforts this past year have relied on our success in supporting the ongoing involvement of numerous collaborators across MIT, individuals and groups who have committed counsel and resources to help improve the GSO's services for graduate students while also addressing specific interests of their own operations. Such enlightened mutual support and assistance reflected the essence of the "collaborative leadership" model espoused and implemented by the Dean and by Executive Vice President John Curry. In the prior academic year, AY1999, the Dean participated in the collaborative leadership workshop that was co-facilitated by Executive Vice President John Curry and Director of Organization and Employee Development, Margaret Ann Gray. This was followed by the Dean leading a second workshop, which brought together approximately twenty collaborators to develop specific, mutually beneficial projects and to negotiate responsibilities for their implementation. That effort produced the collaborative projects that were described in last year's report. Those projects moved forward during the past year and will be reviewed below. The Dean plans to hold a third workshop in the fall of 2001, to review and celebrate the ongoing work and to thank participants for their trust and involvement.
An important product that was developed and completed in the past year was the Quick Reference Guide to GSO services and staff. This long-awaited document has been printed and distributed to graduate administrators this past year. For the coming fall term, copies will be made available during orientation week for all incoming graduate students, and additional copies will be placed in each graduate residence hall.
The proposed new GSO web presence took major steps towards completion. In collaboration with the Publishing Services Bureau, the GSO hired web designer Kyong Choe and programmer Robert Wilt for technical assistance in developing the new web site. June 2001 was the initial target date for completion of Phase 1 of the site, an expanded and more functional administrative web facility (as opposed to a facility focused on outreach to prospective students). However, by the beginning of the past summer term, it became clear that re-organizing and bringing additional clarity to information in the Graduate Education Manual would require more time. Thus, the target date for the web site's on-line debut was revised to September 1, 2001. Future revisions of the manual will incorporate rules, regulations, and policies that are currently distributed among several other publications, including Policies and Procedures, the Faculty Policy Manual, and the MIT Bulletin. We expect to bring together all of the information relevant to graduate students, resolve discrepancies, and provide some explicit rationale for existing graduate policies and procedures. This information resource will be maintained on the web.
In the past year, the Dean's team completed additional focus group discussions with faculty, students and alumni/ae, for a total of seventeen groups over the past two years. Information from these sessions was analyzed to distill and articulate a set of themes or messages that we believe characterize critical aspects of the graduate experience at MIT. Rather surprisingly, many of those statements were focused internally as messages to the internal audience about ways to further enhance the graduate experience. Others were directed towards strengthening MIT's ability to attract students into our graduate degree programs.
The Dean's team submitted an article to the Faculty Newsletter describing the nature of the GSO's communications and business strategy work over the past two years. An important focus of the article, "News from the Dean," was to emphasize the growing need to build and maintain graduate communities on campus. Later during the academic year, Technology Review published an article on the GSO's efforts to reach out to graduate students.
In May, Deans Colbert and Staton, along with Barrie Gleason, were invited to give a presentation on the GSO's communications agenda at the spring meeting of the "Ivy League Plus" association of graduate deans. A key idea discussed in the meeting was how the development of a communications strategy can help to reposition and strengthen the role of the graduate school in university affairs. Also emphasized was the essential role of strong and effective collaborations across reporting lines as a means of enhancing the impact of the graduate agenda and solidifying long term support for graduate student needs.
In a series of five workshops held throughout the fall term 2000, Dean Colbert and Professor Steven Lerman (Director of the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives and former Chair of the Faculty) inaugurated Grad School 101. Co-sponsored by the Graduate Student Council, the series is directed primarily at entering graduate students, to give them practical guidance about basic survival issues as they proceed towards their degree objectives. Among the topics covered were developing effective advisor-advisee relationships, funding options and resources, issues for international students, and doctoral versus master's degree considerations. The series was very well received, and will be repeated in the fall term 2001. The GSC has posted seminar materials on its web site, for broader availability. As the seminar series develops, the topic outline will be augmented with references, additional topic notes, and links to other relevant information. Over time, we expect that graduate students will use the Grad School 101 material to self-educate about basic survival issues and be better able to negotiate the graduate education process.
In collaboration with the MIT Women's League and the Spouses and Partners at MIT, the GSO held the second Celebrating Graduate Women event designed to recognize the presence of women graduate students. The event was held in Lobby 13 and drew a crowd of several hundred students, along with faculty and administrators. It appears to be an effective tool to promote networking among graduate women and to build a greater sense of community among them.
The collaboration with Admissions on a graduate admissions database, begun in the prior year, produced a set of data fields that were added to the Admissions database. These fields permit the GSO and the departments to better track the effectiveness of GSO recruitment activities. With these fields, applicant contacts can be tagged in the database and information recorded that might help departments with their admissions decisions. The GSO will now be able to discern which contacts from recruitment trips have led to admission offers.
Ongoing discussions with staff of the Alumni,-ae Association led to a number of national and international focus group discussions to gather alumni/ae views about graduate education and graduate community at MIT. Dean Colbert met in Hong Kong with one group. Other group discussions were held at the Alumni Leadership Forum last fall and with a group in New York City.
The GSO continued its discussions with the communications team in Resource Development to ensure that campaign publications reflect the graduate student experience.
Over the past three years, graduate women students have come to view the Graduate Women's Group (GWG) of approximately 50 members as an essential source of support for graduate women. Moreover, graduate administrators and counseling and support staff across the Institute have increasingly referred to this group those women students who either need to feel more connected to other women or seek a "safe place" to unburden. Throughout the academic year, the biweekly informal lunch discussions brought together women graduate students across disciplines to share world views and gain insight into their own lives. These women, representing diverse cultures and professional interests, have embraced and been enriched by their differences. The lunch discussions were student directed, and topics ranged from the challenges of balancing personal or family life and work to strategies for communicating effectively with lab supervisors and peers and managing conflict. Typically, approximately 20 to 25 students participated in the discussions, which were facilitated by the Associate Dean for Graduate Students and a program administrator from the Office of Counseling and Support Services. Occasionally, administrators from offices that provide important services to students were invited to provide information to and get feedback from the students. This year, in response to repeated expressions of interest from GWG participants, the GSO sponsored a workshop on financial planning for women. Ms. Sheila English of Solomon Smith Barney delivered a powerful two-hour presentation on money, investing, and financial planning to 35 graduate women. Participant evaluations of the presentation clearly indicated strong satisfaction with the event and a desire for similar workshops in the future.
This past year, the GSO experienced a significant increase in student attendance at the Power Lunch, a monthly series of luncheon seminars. Twice as many graduate students of color, for whom this forum is intended, took advantage of opportunities for professional and personal development. In addition to the traditional seminar themes such as managing advisor relationships, preparing for qualifying examinations, and managing stress, two investment experts from Prudential Securities gave advice on "Building Your Future and Creating Wealth." Additionally, Dr. Clarence Williams spoke about his book Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT 1941-1999.
In collaboration with the Family Resource Center and Spouses and Partners at MIT, the GSO sponsored the Graduate Moms Group, informal lunch gatherings that provide an opportunity for graduate women who have children to begin to build relationships with each other, share experiences and insights, and learn about resources of particular benefit to them. Throughout the year, the Dean and Associate Dean met and corresponded with graduate women who are parents to assist and support them in identifying, prioritizing, and articulating their unique issues and concerns.
The GSO continued to sponsor the annual Welcoming Reception for New Graduate Women and Students of Color
to introduce new graduate women and students of color to peers and to resources on campus. Participation by administrative and student service offices increased, with twelve operations involved this past year.
The GSO invited two well known speakers to campus to augment the Grad School 101 series and to offer their unique views on how to achieve success in graduate school. Dr. Howard Adams, former executive director of the GEM Fellowship Program, spoke to a diverse graduate audience on "Negotiating the Dissertation Maze," and to an exclusively undergraduate audience on "Why Graduate School." Following his presentations, Dr. Adams spent an entire afternoon meeting individually with students
Dr. Calvin Mackie, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Tulane University, shared his views on the "Road to Success" as it pertains to succeeding in graduate school.
This past summer, the MIT Summer Research Program celebrated its fifteenth year of operation. With twenty participants and one guest representing fifteen schools nationwide, the program once again experienced great success. The program's guest was recommended by faculty in the Media Laboratory, who identified a talented intern through their network of colleagues. Nineteen faculty members representing thirteen departments, laboratories, and centers participated in the program. Many of these faculty hosts have previously served as mentors and continue to offer their support and encouragement to cohorts of summer interns. We are grateful for their ongoing commitment to the program.
Because of significant new developments in financial and student support systems, it has become increasingly important that GSO staff be cross-trained in a number of operational capabilities. The goal is to have at least two staff who are proficient in areas essential to day-to-day operations in the central office. Thus, during the past year, financial administrator George Brennan trained both Heather Fry and Ed Ballo to monitor cost objects via the SAP system. George is a member of the SAP Users Group and attends meetings regularly. He has also been involved in usability testing. We are now more confident of the office's ability to carry out its essential functions when there are illnesses or absences due to vacations or personal emergencies.
Overall, the Fellowships Office had a productive and busy year, with frequent and effective interactions with graduate administrators regarding a significantly larger group of students coming to MIT with competitive, prestigious fellowships and grants. The challenge ahead will be in further strengthening those interactions and in continuing to provide timely, efficient, and effective services to a growing number of fellowship recipients.
In the past academic year, the number of National Science Foundation Fellows enrolled at MIT increased dramatically, from 202 in AY2000 to 291 in AY2001. This represents the largest number of NSF Fellows ever enrolled at MIT and maintains the Institute's status as one of the most sought after graduate schools for winners of these competitive awards.
During the past year, MIT also saw an increase from six to 12 in the number of students holding the Jacob Javits Fellowship.
A major highlight of the year was the increase in National Defense Science and Engineering Education Grant (NDSEG) Fellows, nearly doubling, from 24 to 46.
The Fellowships Office continued to work with Professor Lori Breslow to provide a fall workshop for new teaching assistants, and with Fred Crowley to provide tax workshops for graduate students. These ongoing services remain popular and well attended.
The Graduate Student Council (GSC) had a productive and successful year addressing graduate student needs. Several initiatives begun by previous GSC officers came to fruition, with the assistance of administrators across the Institute and with the collaboration and support of individual deans, officers, and student-group leaders. These successful initiatives have resulted in the development of new programs and the enhancement of continuing programs to build and maintain a strong graduate community at MIT.
Financial support from individual deans and offices has continued to be critical to the success of GSC activities. However, we recognize that the Institute cannot meet all of the funding needs. Still, the GSC was able to increase substantially its funding of graduate student groups and activities through the Funding Board, the Personal Development Series, and the Travel Grant Program. This increase resulted from the highly successful MIT Career Fair 2000.
The GSC welcomed Emmi Synder to the administrative office. Emmi serves as the GSC's new financial administrator and has responsibility for financial transactions and for additional support to student coordinators. Through her work, the GSC will be better able to advocate for graduate student needs, to more effectively interact with internal and external supporters, and better coordinate the organization of events.
Near the end of the past academic year, three significant activities occurred, which point to future initiatives on which the GSC might focus:
- The Committee on Student Affairs met to discuss how to make MIT a better place for students. While its initial focus was on undergraduate life and learning, its interest shifted to include graduate students. This was a welcome occurrence, emphasizing the need to address graduate student concerns in this area.
- The Medical Department established a focus group for undergraduate and graduate students to collect input about improving its services for all students.
- A group of graduate students participated in the drafting of a "student bill of rights," a project initiated by undergraduates that dovetails with the GSC's interest in revising the statement of "Rights and Responsibilities of Graduate Students."
- Accomplishments this year included the following:
- Stipends were increased by approximately six percent during the past year, with significant input from GSC officers.
- The availability of graduate housing is scheduled to increase with the ongoing development of 224 Albany Street as a residence hall. The GSC has worked with administrators to establish the rent structure.
- Improvements were recommended and implemented in the graduate housing lottery.
- The Saferide route was expanded to cover additional locales where graduate students live.
- The GSC allocated $1,000 to the Technology Children's Center scholarship fund to enhance affordable child care for graduate student families. The added funds raised the scholarship fund to approximately $10,000.
- The Grad School 101 seminar series was initiated, co-facilitated by Dean Colbert and Professor Lerman.
- A new program was established to provide additional mentoring to international students.
- The GSC completed its Institute-wide study of advising and delivered its report on best practices to various audiences, including the Academic Council and the faculty lunch meeting.
- The TechLink Committee was established with the School of Management, and several large events were executed. Among the most significant was the "Hacklink 2000 Iron Chef Party," which was coordinated to include visiting prospective graduate students.
- The MIT GSC was honored with two national awards at the annual National Association of Graduate and Professional Students (NAGPS). Moreover, four members of the GSC were elected to leadership positions in the organization.
- Numerous physical improvements were implemented in the GSC office, making it a more pleasant and effective place to work.
The mission of the International Students Office is to help the international student population at MIT fulfill their academic goals by providing services and support programs that facilitate adjustment to a new academic and cultural environment. The office assists students in maintaining their legal status in the United States, provides support for their dependents, and promotes their interaction with and integration into the MIT community at large. In addition, the ISO interfaces with all MIT offices, advocating for awareness in the community of issues salient to the MIT international student.
Development of the ISO integrated database in order to comply with the l996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) continued to be a major area of focus during the 2000-2001 year. While the ISO continued its routine work with respect to legal admission, orientation, advising, and programming for international students, all efforts were set against the backdrop of the impending implementation of the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS, formerly known as CIPRIS). In addition to complying with federal mandates, an integrated database will also allow the ISO to streamline and even eliminate some of its more routine, labor-intensive tasks, thereby affording the office the ability to expand and improve its services.
The ISO continues to play a pivotal role in Admissions, which enables international students admitted to MIT to secure their visas, arrive in a timely fashion, and be both culturally and legally oriented to life in the US and at MIT.
This year, graduate admits from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) faced unusually rigorous scrutiny at the US Embassy and Consulates. A majority of newly admitted PRC students had visas denied on first and second attempts. The ISO spent an inordinate amount of time walking through the visa interview process with admitted PRC nationals by phone or via email. MIT faculty consulted us frequently as they drafted appeal letters to consular officials for their students whose visas were denied. (Peer institutions across the country experienced the same trend in PRC student visa denials during the spring and summer of 2001.) Ultimately, with extensive intervention on the part of ISO staff, we were able to get all but two of our PRC admits into the US in F-1 student immigration status.
Admission numbers continue to increase steadily, with the M.Eng. programs and the visiting student category especially appealing to foreign nationals. Visiting students have been a particularly thorny group to handle from both a legal and an advising perspective. They often arrive with little or no notice, and frequently with inappropriate immigration statuses. The ISO has a clear procedure in place but because agreements are often made between the inviting faculty member and the individual prospective visiting student, critical legal steps can be overlooked, creating serious immigration fallout. On the advising side, visiting students have come to us because they have had problems competing with regularly enrolled MIT students for physical space in labs and departments. They have difficulties finding accommodations in the Cambridge area since they are not entitled to on campus housing. Issues have also arisen with respect to the unresolved library fines and medical bills of visiting students.
The inaugural group of 33 Cambridge-MIT Alliance (CMI) students arrived on campus during the summer of 2001. The ISO prepared special immigration documents to accommodate the unique aspects of this program, in addition to designing a customized immigration orientation program. CMI students will be required to attend this session prior to registration at MIT. According to Associate Dean Margaret Enders, CMI expects to expand its number of participants substantially each year.
As every new program and alliance has its own admission idiosyncrasies, the ISO has become proficient in applying legal admissions requirements to new realities. OpenCourseWare and other new distance learning initiatives will undoubtedly have unique immigration and advising ramifications for the Institute.
Advising remains at the core of the ISO's responsibility to the international student. Thousands of students have received advice on immigration procedures and regulations for traveling, employment, and change of visa status. By individual appointment, as well as through the use of increasingly more sophisticated web site and email, prospective students, admitted students, current students, and graduated students (who seek our counsel long after commencement), the three advisors have been kept busy providing legal and personal advice. While ostensibly seeking ISO expertise because INS regulations require it, students also come to the ISO with underlying concerns about cultural adjustment and worries about political tensions back home. In this important advising role, the ISO is a place to seek technical information, clarification, advice, comfort, and even protection. Mental health issues, domestic violence, and academic honesty continue to be areas of great concern for our international students. It is imperative that the ISO find the resources and staff time to develop programming around these critical issues.
As in the past, advisors have continued to visit students who have been hospitalized, comfort students grieving the loss of a loved one back home, and intervene on behalf of troubled students with immigration, consular officials, and other government agencies.
All international students, regardless of age, degree program, or familiarity with life in the US, undergo a period of cultural adjustment. They and their dependents require information about their new surroundings, culture, and community. We have devoted a special section of our web site to incoming international students, updating it frequently. Through the extensive use of the Web and e-mail, incoming students are now able to address many of their practical concerns prior to arrival to the US. Once students arrive on campus, we have provided individual and small group orientation sessions to all incoming internationals, daily from mid-August to mid-September. The ISO is in fact legally required to provide immigration information to all new students and to verify that they are in appropriate legal status. We have expanded this mandated orientation to include overall orientation to Boston and MIT culture. Complementing our required orientation were a number of social events open to the entire international community. These events have included coffee hours, presentations by the Medical Department, the MIT Libraries, and Campus Police. Orientation culminated with an international student panel, a faculty panel, and the International Open House. The ISO continues to be solely responsible for Undergraduate International Orientation, with some support from the Academic Resources Office and the freshman orientation staff. The ISO staff and international upperclassmen worked together this year to welcome new students with events such as a pancake breakfast, a Boston "Duck" Tour, an international barbecue, and a cross-cultural workshop. We hope to secure funding to augment this type of programming in the future. Our events were so personally appealing that a significant number of domestic incoming freshmen attended.
Host to International Students
The HISP has remained vital in providing new students with supportive emotional and social ties to the MIT community. Kate Baty, coordinator of the program, has been tireless in her efforts to develop and implement new programs and events. In addition to the traditional "welcome barbecue" for new students and their host families, Kate and the ISO staff organized potluck dinners for students and host families, which encouraged and solidified cross-cultural relationships within the MIT community. Kate continued to be actively involved with the International Freshman Mentor Program, which matches incoming international freshman with upperclassmen before they arrive. The relationship develops between student and mentor, with airport pick up and a bevy of social activities and mentor-organized programming during the first few months after arrival. The Mentor Program has been staffed and organized entirely by volunteer students, along with volunteer co-founder Paulette Schwartz. As we begin the third year of the program, we have found that the original protegees provide the program with a pool of committed mentors for the new incoming class, a true testament to the success of the program. The ISO will seek ways, financial and other, to support and expand this invaluable initiative.
The ISO continued to offer and sponsor workshops of special interest to MIT international students during IAP. Options for internships and employment in the US have always been of great concern. Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook presented two workshops covering the laws that regulate the employment of F-1 and J-1 student visa holders as they relate to jobs at MIT, summer internships off campus, and employment possibilities after graduation. A prominent Boston area immigration attorney presented an informative talk on future visa options when student visa eligibility ends. MIT's Assistant Controller Fred Crowley once again presented a critical workshop about federal and state tax filing requirements for international students. All of these IAP workshops were extremely well attended, with some oversubscribed.
In January 2001, Danielle Guichard-Ashbrook was named Associate Dean and Director of the International Students Office. Maria Brennan was named Assistant Director. Sandy Lo was hired to fill the permanent third International Student Advisor Position in the ISO. Kate Baty has ably continued as Host Family Coordinator and also provides personal counseling and support to many undergraduate internationals. Carlene Green-Paul serves as the critical support staff administrator for both international undergraduate and graduate admissions. During the 2000-2001 year, we were finally able to secure a full-time receptionist position for the ISO. This position, filled ably by Anita DiMarco, has been absolutely critical for the welcoming and efficient delivery of our services to the public. Andrew Wang, our Technical Support Specialist, in addition to providing the ISO with superb technical expertise, is also taking on an advising role due to the increasing number of international students who need immigration guidance. Joycelyn Thompson, our seasonal admissions support staff whom we share with the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was particularly helpful this year in processing a variety of immigration documents and support letters.