Dean for Graduate Students
The past several years have been an exciting time to be dean for graduate students at the Institute. As I've negotiated my way around all the construction, potholes, and assorted flotsam associated with new residence halls, athletic facilities, streetscapes, and refurbished academic plant, it sometimes seemed that the excitement never ceased.
Along with the vibrant campus renewal and the strengthening of MIT's research and academic infrastructure, are revitalized approaches to student life and learning at both the undergraduate and the graduate level. In some ways, this is to be expected for undergraduates, since we tend to consider in a very centralized manner our formal and informal relationships with the youngest members of this community. At the graduate level however, we have always and will continue to rely heavily on the individual departments and research areas as the central axes along which graduate student experiences are shaped.
Still, something has changed—from the perspective of the young men and women coming to graduate school and from the perspective of our faculty and staff who work with them. Aspects of that change have been the focus of the dean's agenda for a number of years, but always bear some repeating for emphasis. The graduate students who enroll here continue to expect the highest quality faculty, programs, and facilities but also want to have genuine support to achieve a balance between the traditional expectation of how they will live and work, and their own concepts of how those elements should be structured. For many, their academic and cocurricular lives and activities are significantly coextensive, informing one another through the widening network of personal and professional contacts made in their living places, their research spaces, and their academic venues. This break from the past is real and has fostered a welcome shift in the way we view the graduate experience at MIT and how we address our students' needs.
In the long run, how well and how honestly the Institute responds to student needs in the wake of this shift will determine whether and how firmly those future alumni/ae will remain engaged with institutional concerns along with the more traditional and parochial ones of their departments. This is especially critical given the reality that, within a few years, the majority of living alumni/ae will have graduate degrees only from MIT. Thus, those who leave MIT believing that the overall experience here was a good one are more likely to support institutional priorities with their time and resources.
For the past several years, this annual report has featured highlights of the year's successes in improving the graduate experience. Some activities are the province of the Graduate Students Office (GSO), while others engage the collective energies of a number of offices which share responsibility for graduate students or for student life.
It is with a measure of satisfaction, pride, and anxiety that I review the past year and anticipate some themes for our work going forward.
Engaging Graduate Alumni/ae
Working with the Association of Alumni and Alumnae, the dean planned and implemented a series of receptions and presentations focused on graduate alums. The dean was hosted by the alumni clubs in Washington, DC in May 2002 and New York City in January 2003. The quick response to email invitations and strong attendance indicated the level of interest in involvement in the life of the Institute.
In organizing these events, MIT's Alumni Association has placed itself on a cutting edge of a profession that is traditionally oriented towards undergraduates. This departure, which is being observed by our peers, is not merely in response to the reality of graduate demographics here, but also represents a shift in the organizational focus of the association. Across the country, graduate alumni are largely discounted or even ignored as serious prospects for contributions. These engagements, and the increased participation by graduate alums in the ongoing campaign, demonstrate that a largely untapped constituency awaits its call.
The dean expects to complete one or two more alumni club visits in the 2004 academic year.
In the past year, the dean continued his advocacy role by adopting business practices to ensure good communications; by framing the discussion about the graduate experience at the institutional rather than local level; and by committing resources to do the work in a thorough and comprehensive manner. With the editorial staff of the Technology Review, the dean helped shape the November 2002 article on "The New Graduate Student," which articulated themes about the needs of today's students entering MIT's graduate programs. That article was followed by another published in the February 2003 MIT Faculty Newsletter, which offered a progress report on the dean's agenda.
An important milestone was the online publication of the Practical Planning Guide for admitted graduate students. In the coming year, the guide will be redesigned as a web-based resource with links to appropriate sites. Print publication will be reduced to a token level for selected distribution to international addresses. The transition has proven to be more complex than anticipated, requiring that the project evolve in stages.
The GSO also updated its web site by publishing Graduate Policies and Procedures, replacing the out-of-date, print Graduate Education Manual.
Student Life Programs
Beginning with the fall term 2002, a new student life fee provided a source of funds earmarked for student life programs. The portion of those funds allocated to the Graduate Students Office was intended to expand current program efforts and to establish new efforts to improve the lives and experiences of graduate students.
The dean established a selection panel of four students and three staff and issued a request for proposals from the MIT community to enhance the graduate experience. The dean's panel, convened by Barrie Gleason, director of communications, and supported by Heather Fry, assistant to the dean, evaluated two rounds of proposals that included 50 submissions. Of those, 23 were funded.
By requesting proposals from the MIT community, the dean has gathered important information about the nature of community and how to make such an elusive concept operational and concrete. Successful proposals included providing outdoor furniture for the underutilized courtyard at Ashdown House, funding receptions and art discussions for graduate students at the List Gallery, and expanding intercultural activities during the month of Ramadan. Another highly successful proposal sought to strengthen the sense of community among the many physically separated students in the Department of Physics. Other funded proposals included building conflict resolution skills within a science department, establishing a monthly forum on race and diversity, introducing a pilot mentorship program for first-year graduate students, and capturing graduate life at MIT on video. It is expected that some of these successful activities will become institutionalized and their funding eventually budgeted in the normal manner.
Beyond the review and funding of proposals, the work of the dean's selection panel accomplished a number of things. It established a working definition of community as providing venues and opportunities for what have been dubbed "priceless encounters." The panel's work has also promoted better understanding of what our graduate students want and need as positive components of their experience at MIT. The proposal process spurred a new and broader dialogue about the nature of community among graduate students. Most valuable for the dean, however, was the creation of an effective mechanism for gathering fresh, creative ideas for new graduate life programming.
The collaborative leadership network (c-network) convened by the dean took a step forward during the past year with a series of brown bag lunches, a venue that provided opportunities for network participants to better understand the roles, approaches, and programs that exist across the member offices that touch upon the lives of graduate students.
During the year, Dean Staton and director of communications Barrie Gleason interviewed each network member and developed a working plan that was formalized in October 2002. The plan captured shared business objectives which, in turn, informed the GSO's strategic action plan. Details of the collaborative business plan were available on the GSO's web site for c-network participants.
Late last year, the dean published an interim report on the development and accomplishments of the network and shared that information with network members' senior officers.
Looking towards the 2004 academic year, several significant challenges are on the agenda. Health care and related concerns loom large, with three aspects of particular concern to graduate students and to the dean. Across the nation, our peers have seen dramatic increases in the number of undergraduate and graduate students with serious mental health problems. MIT is no stranger to problems of this sort, but the severity of the problems and the time involved at all levels to help affected students has consumed increasing amounts of time and energy. Our challenge will be to play a useful role in the implementation of recommendations from the Mental Health Task Force.
Another challenge going forward will be reacting and adjusting positively to the decision of the Supreme Court concerning the use of race in admissions to programs in higher education. How we reshape or recast our outreach, admissions, and support programs to address that decision will determine our ongoing effectiveness in achieving and maintaining a diverse community. It remains clear that we need to be nimble yet steadfast in our determination to keep the paths to opportunity as open as possible. MIT's bold stance and assertive support for the appropriate use of race as one of a number of criteria in admissions decisions should hearten the community about the value of diversity for living and learning at this institution.
An ongoing challenge will be to maintain our support for the presence of international students in our graduate programs and in the larger MIT community. As the operational problems of the SEVIS reporting system subside, we should be able to discern more clearly whether stringent homeland security oversight of visas has slowed applications or whether there is any chill in the willingness of our programs to admit foreign students.
Finally, pressures regarding the availability and affordability of graduate housing will continue to challenge our ability to compete for the best students. High costs in the greater Boston area drive student demand for partially subsidized, on-campus accommodations and discourage prospective students; at the same time, capital concerns constrain the Institute's ability to add new, more affordable rooms. Moreover, implementation of the Senior Segue Program, a stopgap measure that places up to 150 undergraduates in graduate dorms to relieve overcrowding, now appears to have no end in sight.
In the past several years, MIT has made remarkable strides in understanding and responding to the community needs of graduate students. New resources have broadened the options for programs and services, sent the right signals of concern and responsiveness, and informed the conversation about how we improve the graduate experience at MIT. Still, new challenges have emerged, some of which threaten the pace of this forward movement and some of which remain among the normal panoply of issues that a graduate school must face. We look forward to the coming year with optimism and with the expectation that growing trust, more effective collaboration with allied offices, and more effective involvement of our graduate students will help us to develop some optimal solutions and approaches to the challenges ahead.
Financial and Support Services
GSO staff have worked hard to accommodate new financial and support responsibilities over the past year. Just some of these efforts include:
- Documenting policies and procedures for medical leave, as they continue to evolve
- Aligning the efforts of the administrative offices that contribute content in order to publish a PDF version of the Practical Planning Guide on the Admissions web site; laying the groundwork for a comprehensive online publication next year
- Creating new business processes to distribute and track funds distributed from the student life fee pool of funds. In part, this work has supported the dean's request for proposals for enhancing the graduate experience from the MIT community.
- Accommodating significant increase in work to administer graduate fellowships. Between last year and this, the GSO accommodated the following increases in fellowship awards: Hertz Foundation, from 13 to 19; Howard Hughes Medical Institute, from 20 to 30; National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowships, from 80 to 92; and the National Science Foundation Fellowships, from 202 to 249.
Programs and Services for Graduate Students
With the opening of the Sydney and Pacific graduate residence, the GSO had an opportunity to contribute to the training of the team of student leaders charged with dorm governance. In two workshops of three hours each, the associate dean presented tools and behaviors to help students design, lead, and participate in effective, results-driven meetings. More than 50 students participated in the workshops.
On September 19, 2002, the GSO sponsored its annual reception to welcome new graduate women. Approximately 60 students and 15 administrators and faculty came together to enjoy this informal opportunity for graduate women to connect with one another, get to know women faculty and administrators, and hear about Institute resources that are available to them. Representatives from the Ombuds Office, MIT Medical, Counseling and Support Services, Campus Police, and the Office of Career Services were among those who spoke briefly about the various ways in which the Institute supports graduate women students. The president and CEO of Mentornet, an e-mentoring network for women in engineering and science, was on campus for a business meeting and stopped by to greet the new students, inform them of the benefits of Mentornet, and encourage their participation.
The Graduate Women's Group (GWG) continued to thrive throughout the academic year with lunch discussions held in the Cheney Room every two to three weeks. Lynn Roberson, of Counseling and Support Services, and associate dean Blanche Staton led the discussions that centered on issues and concerns raised by the students, and encouraged them to support each other and build relationships across departments. In order to accommodate students who expressed a strong interest in connecting with other graduate women but whose schedules precluded participation, several mid-afternoon dessert hours were held. In addition to the gatherings, the GWG email list provided a vehicle for sharing information on career opportunities and topics related to graduate student education and life. At the request of students, the email list has expanded to include more than 150 graduate women, as well as a handful of alumni who remain committed to the group. After several discussions with students about the dearth of women in engineering and science, the GSO invited Dr. Christine Cunningham, director of the Center for Engineering Educational Outreach at Tufts University, to speak to the GWG. In addition to presenting her views on gender issues in science and engineering, Dr. Cunningham shared her personal career academic experiences.
Over the past year, several departmental women's support groups have formed, and students have offered to assist in planning GWG's events for the next academic year. In all cases, efforts have been led by graduate women who have, over time, been enthusiastic members of the group. These students extol the importance of a supportive network and are reaching out to other women.
Support for graduate students of color continued to be a priority on the GSO's agenda for enhancing graduate student life. Associate Dean Staton has served as the primary resource and advisor to students and organizations such as the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) and Black Alumni at MIT. This past fall, the GSO provided both planning and financial support for the BGSA's premiere "Building Our Community" forum. The purpose of this initiative was to bring together minority graduate students, faculty, and administrators, to share the perspectives of the minority community through the discussion of relevant issues, concerns, needs, and goals. The desired outcome was to identify strategies to facilitate the achievement of individual and community goals. More than 50 people attended, and the energy and enthusiasm were felt by all. "We must do this at least once a year," was the resounding sentiment expressed throughout the evening. It was an invaluable opportunity to begin to build bridges and benefit from the social, intellectual, and professional capital within MIT's minority community.
The forum known as the Power Lunch continued to attract 25–35 students each month. More than a social gathering, this longstanding GSO event has become a sanctuary for graduate students of color. Some students have come for moral support and positive reinforcement to soothe the sense of isolation and intimidation; all have come for the conversations, interactions, and presentations that promote career, personal, and scholarly development. The Power Lunch has inspired students in at least two departments to create their own networks to develop their potential for success in their research and coursework.
Recruitment: MIT's Summer Research Program
This year's efforts were focused on rethinking recruitment strategies. This was due in part to the increasing pressure from government agencies to increase the number of graduate students of underrepresented minority backgrounds, as well as to capitalize on an infusion of new, enthusiastic faculty who share an interest in this effort. Designed as a collaborative leadership project within the GSO, this project included goals for increasing faculty involvement in recruitment efforts and their role in identifying, placing, and mentoring MIT Summer Research Program interns; and documenting these activities over the year.
The GSO has seen an increase in activity on the part of faculty involved in recruitment efforts, and in some areas, an increase in the number of underrepresented minority graduate students in the departments they represent. Coordinating staff resources in covering events nationally does more to increase the visibility of MIT's programs; cost sharing for these efforts lowers overall expenses.
The 2003 summer program also felt the support of the more collaborative approach with regard to identifying, admitting, and placing students, primarily in the School of Science, where the Department of Biology led the way. Students were identified through the open application process as well during specific school visits. In a few instances, departments took the initiative to identify students, funding, and placements; in return the GSO offered administrative and programmatic support.
Other efforts between MIT and outside constituents continued as well. The Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professorate is entering its last year of the initial project. This collaborative effort across several institutions to recruit students to graduate school has assisted the GSO in expanding its outreach to students nationwide by promoting the Institute as one of several schools in the northeast concerned with the success of underrepresented minority undergraduate and graduate students.
Despite the successes, obstacles to effective outreach efforts remain, for example, differences in the levels of participation, financial commitment, and marketing materials that describe MIT's departments and programs. Prospective students and their administrative and faculty advisors notice the differences among departments in how they engage students. Because many of the concerns are tied to faculty availability, few solutions—other than increased faculty involvement—have been identified.
Plans for the upcoming year include:
- Documenting the exploratory efforts for collaborating with faculty on recruitment efforts
- Expanded recruitment efforts; encouraging faculty to promote the idea that MIT is an interdisciplinary learning environment for the benefit of the department and the Institute
- Increased synergy among summer program partners (Howard Hughes Medical Institute, MIT Genome Project, HST, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, SERL); coordinated plans for interns, the calendar of events, print and web communications, and selection of mentors
- Ongoing refinement of a recruitment strategy
The mission of the International Students Office (ISO) is to help MIT's international student population to fulfill 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 US, provides support for their dependents, and promotes their interaction with and integration into the MIT community at large. In addition, the ISO advocates for increased awareness of issues salient to the international student.
Coping with new federal regulations dominated the work of the ISO. The new Department of Homeland Security (DHS), together with the attorney general and the Department of State, began implementing a vast array of new security measures that impacted MIT's newly admitted international students as well as continuing students.
On July 1, 2002, a new higher level of visa security clearance called "administrative review" was implemented. Consular officials now have the option of sending the entire visa application to Washington, DC, for special review with federal agencies such as the FBI, CIA, and DHS. Approximately 100 students were subjected to this level of security review, but most managed to arrive by the end of September 2002. A handful of students, mostly from the People's Republic of China and Iran, and in sensitive fields such as nuclear engineering, physics, and electrical engineering experienced delays of six months or more.
On September 11, 2002, Immigration rolled out the first phase of the National Security Exit and Entry Registration System (NSEERS) program. Foreign national males between the ages of 16 and 45 in the US who were citizens or permanent residents of six countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, and the Sudan) were required to report to Immigration in Boston and submit to fingerprinting, photographing, and hour-long interviews. From October through January, 19 more countries from the Middle East and Northern Africa were added to the initial list. While MIT has approximately 150 students from these designated countries, the program also applies to those who were born in one of the countries, though now holding citizenship from another country. Student dependents had to report as well. Approximately 300 members of the MIT student community were designated special registrants under the government's NSEERS program. The ISO staff counseled and assisted nearly all of these individuals.
From October through December, the ISO conducted informational meetings and workshops for offices and departments around campus to inform the community about reporting requirements mandated by the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the new government tracking system slated for implementation on January 30, 2003. SEVIS would require the reporting of 19 student events, such as admission and registration. It was imperative that the MIT community understand the urgency for providing correct information for each international student. Among others, the ISO met with the Registrar, Student Financial Services, Admissions, Student Employment, Risk Management, Information Systems, Counseling and Support Services, MIT Medical, the Committee on Discipline, and the Dean for Student Life.
Following a site visit by Immigration in December 2003, the ISO became "SEVIS compliant" the following month.
In December, the chancellor and the dean for graduate students cosponsored a series of homeland security briefings across campus, at which ISO staff presented information related to homeland security issues. These evening meetings were born out of concerns by senior administration that the MIT student community, both domestic and international, needed venues in which they could ask questions, vent frustrations, and discuss the new SEVIS mandates. The briefings were well attended and they provided opportunities for senior administration to voice their support for the international community. Content from the question-and-answer exchanges was later published on the ISO's web site.
Under normal circumstances, the ISO spends the fall term reflecting about and evaluating the previous international admissions and orientation season, and the staff consider new programming and refinements to established programs. This important work sat on the back burner this year in order to keep the community informed about new federal mandates and ensure compliance.
In January 2003, the ISO was consumed with the impending SEVIS implementation. All new and current students entering the US after January 30, 2003, had to be issued new SEVIS-generated immigration documents (Forms 1-20 and DS-2019). With February admissions looming and with many current students traveling abroad during Independent Activity Period, the ISO was confronted with the task of using a flawed system. Because the batch interface mode for SEVIS was not yet operational, ISO staff who were authorized and registered to use SEVIS, had to enter data for each individual who needed a Form I-20 (or DS-2019) in Real Time Interactive mode.
In the spring of 2003, the ISO's efforts were focused on the August 1, 2003 deadline, by which date all students and their dependents (new, current, and alums still on MIT documents), had to be entered into SEVIS, well over 4,000 entries. With the war in Iraq looming, with a burgeoning international admissions pool, and with a current student pool that would be traveling and working far afield in the summer of 2003, the ISO began the daunting task of SEVIS entry early. In early February, the office held weekly sessions with graduate departments, and met one-on-one with each currently registered international student. By the end of May 2003, most current students were in SEVIS. The SEVIS Batch Interface became functional at that time so many of our September admits could be processed into SEVIS through the batch mode.
In early summer 2003, the Departments of State and Homeland Security issued a new mandate, requiring all first time visa applicants to be formally interviewed by a consular official before a visa could be issued. Another new regulation required that new students could not enter the US more than 30 days before the start of classes. These regulatory developments would ensure extensive visa issuance delays across the board. The ISO braced themselves for the resulting complexities for September admits throughout June and July 2003.
By July 31, 2003, MIT and MIT's international student population were SEVIS compliant.
The ISO continues to provide the routine services outlined below.
The ISO supports the admissions process by enabling international students admitted to MIT to secure their visas, arrive in a timely fashion, and to receive a cultural and legal orientation to life in the US and at MIT.
Thus far, 9/11 and its aftermath has not slowed international graduate (or undergraduate) interest in and application to the Institute. On the contrary, graduate departments continue to see increases in the number of foreign national applicants. International students admitted for 2003 (approximately 700 in graduate programs, 100 undergraduates) continue to face a new array of security measures, delaying their visa issuance and subsequent arrival to MIT. Though there have been some delays and a few visa denials, the vast majority of admitted and returning students are getting here.
Graduate admits from the People's Republic of China (PRC) faced extraordinarily rigorous scrutiny at the US Embassy and Consulates. Many newly admitted PRC students had visas delayed and even denied. The ISO continues to spend an inordinate amount of time walking through the visa interview process with admitted PRC nationals by phone or via email.
All three Iranian admits were denied student visas. Ostensibly, like the Chinese, the reason offered by State Department officials was immigrant intent; however, Iran's designation as a state sponsor of terrorism may be the real reason.
Visiting students continue to tax the ISO from both a legal and an advising perspective. They often arrive with little or no notice and in inappropriate immigration status. Since visiting students also must comply with SEVIS, past problems with legal status may be alleviated in the future. Visiting students rely on the ISO for advice since they compete with regularly enrolled MIT students for physical space in labs and departments and experience difficulties finding accommodations in the Cambridge area.
This year, fewer MIT students applied to the Cambridge-MIT Alliance (CMI); MIT will host 29 international CMI students compared with last year's 51. The CMI program did send a dozen or so special graduate international students to the Institute during the 2002–2003 academic year. The ISO prepares special immigration documents to accommodate the unique aspects of this program as well as a customized immigration orientation program. Though these internationals are full-time students at Cambridge University in the UK, they are not all UK citizens. Some come from countries now subject to enhanced scrutiny. Despite the short-term, fully-funded nature of the CMI program, these participants fall under the same federal mandates as regular international students in MIT degree programs.
As every new program and alliance has its own admission idiosyncrasies, the ISO has become proficient in applying legal admissions requirements to new realities. Given the current budget and staffing limitations, it will be challenging to meet these demands over the next few years if the nation's war on terrorism escalates.
Advising remains a core responsibility of the ISO, now more than ever. Thousands of students have received advice on immigration procedures and regulations for traveling, employment, and change of visa status, through individual appointments as well as more sophisticated use of the web and email. While ostensibly seeking expertise because INS regulations require it, students also come to the ISO with concerns about cultural adjustment and worries about political tensions back home. Mental health issues, domestic violence, and academic honesty continue to be areas of great concern for international students.
As in the past, advisors continued to visit students who have been hospitalized, comforted students grieving the loss of a loved one back home, and intervened on behalf of troubled students with immigration officers, consular officials, and other government agencies.
Some of the advising burden on the three full-time advisors may be alleviated since the position of coordinator for the Host Family Program will be devoted to advising half time.
All international students, regardless of age, degree program, or familiarity with life in the US, undergo a period of cultural adjustment. Through the extensive use of the web and email, incoming students are now able to address many of their practical concerns before arrival in the US. Once students arrive on campus, the ISO provides individual and small-group orientation sessions to all incoming internationals, daily from mid-August to mid-September. In fact, the ISO is legally required to provide immigration information to all new students and to verify that they are in appropriate legal status. Complementing the required orientation were a number of social events open to the entire international community, including coffee hours, and presentations by the Medical Department, the Libraries, and Campus Police.
Host to International Students Program
The Host to International Students Program has provided new students with supportive emotional and social ties to the MIT community. Coordinator Kate Baty retired in June 2003. Her replacement, Kerry Tucker, will continue to run this important welcoming program. Although the position is now half advising, the program has a strong infrastructure in place and will continue to provide a formative experience for participating internationals.
In its fifth year, the International Freshman Mentor Program matches incoming international freshman with upperclassmen before they arrive. The relationship between student and mentor begins 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. The ISO will seek ways, financial and other, to support and expand this invaluable program.
Independent Activities Period
The ISO offered and sponsored workshops of special interest to international students during IAP. Two workshops covered the laws regulating 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. Other presentations addressed visa options when student visa eligibility ends, federal and state tax filing requirements for international students, and new travel requirements.
The next few years promise to be challenging ones for the ISO. We expect further restrictions as the federal government strengthens and expands the infrastructure deemed necessary to combat global terrorism. MIT's substantial international student population will be subject more than ever to stringent scrutiny as they embark upon their academic careers at MIT.
We will strive to ensure that the new integrated internal database runs smoothly and be prepared to work with the evolving SEVIS system. We will keep abreast of new legislative activities and executive orders, informing the community and tracking the impact on current and incoming students. We will train new advising staff so they are proficient in the new federal requirements that impact MIT and foreign nationals pursuing academic programs here. Equally important will be the counseling expertise of the ISO staff as we work toward making international students feel welcomed and valued in the MIT community, as well as in the US at large. With strong leadership, teamwork, and sustained commitment by the Institute (both financial and otherwise) to MIT's international students, we look forward, even in these most difficult times, to providing the best possible service to ensure the well being of our international students
As the representative body for MIT's graduate student population, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) works closely with the Graduate Students Office, dean for graduate students Ike Colbert, dean for student life Larry Benedict, chancellor Philip Clay, and other administrators to improve graduate student life. The GSC also collaborates with administrators, student organizations, and student leaders to address the needs and concerns of the graduate student body. In the past year, GSC has worked towards this mission through numerous initiatives, which fall under five broad topic areas:
- Improved communication
- Increased MIT-wide collaborations
- Improved first-year experience
- Greater outreach
- Maintenance and improvement of existing initiatives
Administered by Information Systems and funded by the dean for student life, the Graduate Student Life Survey allowed a direct look at the factors that contribute to the quality of the graduate student experience.
The survey gathered information about a number of topics including demographic information (including spouses/partners and dependants), funding and income, ability to meet expenses, off-campus rents, housing preferences, desire for dental insurance, and childcare usage and costs. Feedback about the survey design was obtained from graduate students, Residential Life and Student Life Programs, and assistant to the provost for institutional research Lydia Snover. The survey yielded a statistically relevant 44 percent response rate. Results were compiled and documented in the Graduate Student Life Survey Summary Report.
With support from student life fee funds, a working group spent the year rethinking and redesigning the GSO's web site. The site's redesign for use by the average MIT graduate student was based on a great deal of usability and accessibility testing. Currently in beta format, the site has as entirely new layout and site map; the new template is robust enough to serve the GSC for years to come.
MIT-wide collaborations were promoted to engage multiple members of the MIT community in collective decision-making efforts. For example, the GSC worked with the Housing Office to set this year's on-campus rents. An ad-hoc subcommittee investigated on-campus rent structures, and members from dorm governments were invited to participate. A full description of the process and results can be found in the Proposal for 2003–2004 Single Graduate Student Dormitory Rents.
The GSC also provided input to the Housing Office regarding the need for a new housing assignment process. A town hall meeting allowed interested graduate students to offer suggestions.
Greater coordination was promoted between student groups at the GSC Funding Board meetings. Organizations sponsoring events or activities with common themes were introduced and encouraged to collaborate.
Improved First-year Experience: Orientation and Beyond
Fall 2002 Graduate Orientation built on the successes of past years' efforts to attract record attendance at all major events. The keynote welcome address featured professor Edward Crawley and Mark Lundstrom in a tag-team presentation that highlighted how to best make use of one's time at MIT.
The Airport Shuttle Program (funded in part by academic departments) and the International Student Mentorship Program (which attracted a total of 180 mentors and mentees) further enhanced the first-year experience. Both programs helped ease students' transition to MIT and Boston.
Outreach to Increase Representation
A GSC Off-Campus Housing task force was formed to engage the majority of graduate students who live off-campus. Projects were initiated to map the geographic dispersion of students to help guide future transportation planning and to create an events fund to build off-campus community.
A "GradPostDocFamily" group was formed to bring together the Institute services that support families. These include MIT Medical, Spouses&Partners, the MIT Center for Work, Family and Personal Life (formerly the Family Resource Center), and the MIT Off-Campus Housing Office. The GSC Family Housing subcommittee was also formed to help identify and advocate for future family housing units.
Rapidly changing visa rules and regulations in a post-9/11 US left many international students feeling isolated, poorly informed, and anxious. The GSC supported the formation of InterLink, a peer support group for international graduate students who compose 40 percent of MIT's graduate student population.
MIT graduate minority student enrollment remains low, and action plans were developed to address the broad landscape of concerns surrounding diversity. Efforts are underway to gather MIT admissions and enrollment data; identify and engage underrepresented minority student groups; determine the extent of current recruitment efforts; and conduct a comparative peer institute study.
Accomplishments: Existing Initiatives
Stipends will increase 4.75 percent (approximately $60) in academic year 2003-2004 for both research assistant and teaching assistants, with the GSC giving significant input into the level setting process. This increase will help offset the rise in medical insurance premiums.
Recognizing the need for affordable dental care, the GSC worked diligently to examine a large number of dental care options for graduate students, including various insurance plans and walk-in options. Through these efforts, the MIT Benefits Office reached an agreement with the Boston University Dental Center that allows for a 10 percent discount for walk-in care.
Professional Development Seminar Series
In collaboration with the Office of Career Services and the Office of the Provost, the GSC organized five seminars educating the MIT community about academic career options. The Professional Development Seminar Series also won national recognition at the 2003 National Association of Graduate and Professional Students conference.
Business and Technology (BizTech) Lectures
Organized by the GSC and MIT TechLink, the BizTech series explored the present day challenges facing both business and technology development. Nearly 100 students participated in the fall 2002 lectures on "Organizational Management" by Dr. Peter Senge from the Sloan School and "Biologically Inspired Electronics" by Professor Rahul Sarpeskar from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
MIT Fall Career Fair
In collaboration with the MIT Class of 2003 and the Society of Women Engineers, the GSC organized MIT's largest fall career fair on September 25, 2002. Over 150 companies and 1,000 students attended the fair.