MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXV No. 1
September / October 2012
I. Graduate Student Housing Difficulties
II. Response to MIT 2030 Concerns
III. edX Front and Center
IV. 25th Anniversary of the FNL
edX: Hostile Takeover or Helping Hand?
Comings and Goings
Concerns Over Affordability
of On-Campus Housing
New Strategic Directions for DUE
From Imagination to Impact: Empowering Graduate Students to Create the Future
Survey Says: Faculty Happy But Stressed
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Alumni Association Seeks Traveling Faculty
Nominate a Colleague for the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program
Request for Preliminary Proposals for Innovative Curricular Projects
Thanks and some reflections
From the 2008 and 2012 Faculty Survey
Printable Version

From the Dean for Graduate Education

From Imagination to Impact:
Empowering Graduate Students to Create the Future

A Five-Year Strategic Plan

Christine Ortiz

As I joined the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education (ODGE) in August 2010 and began to appreciate the extent and significance of its ongoing work, it was important to me to hear directly from the constituencies that the office serves while developing strategic priorities. I therefore carried out an extensive “listening tour” during which my admiration for our students, faculty, and staff grew ever deeper. Both individually and collectively, the quality, diversity, and spirit of our community are truly awe-inspiring.

In the past two years, I have observed the optimism of the Society of Energy Fellows for contributing to the future health of our planet; the momentum of Graduate Women at MIT’s leadership conference; the Goodwin Medal awardees’ remarkable talent and passion for teaching; the creativity of multidisciplinary student teams impacting underserved communities in the Ideas Global Challenge; and the startling silence of the MIT Electric Vehicle Team’s converted 1976 Porsche battery electric vehicle. I have read fellowship nominations detailing graduate students who are redefining paradigms, solving fundamental decades-old problems, creating artistic beauty, and pushing forward the frontiers of their fields in bold new directions. I have witnessed the dedication of our staff in supporting, listening, and comforting many in our community during times of tragedy.

Clearly, graduate education at MIT is thriving like never before; it is central to the mission of MIT and vital to maintaining our leadership status as a world-class research university. Together with the ODGE team, I embraced the work of defining a strategic plan to support this enterprise.

What we heard

During the strategic planning process, faculty raised the interrelated issues of competitiveness in graduate student recruitment, in the context of increasing global competition; the need for additional and flexible graduate fellowships; the cost of research assistantships charged to grants; current and expected reductions in federal funding; as well as a desire for improved diversity and an inclusive campus climate. Graduate students expressed a desire for increased interdisciplinary interactions; a need for multi-use, 24-hour campus spaces; enhanced mentoring / advising and interactions with faculty; increased and greater awareness of personal support resources; an acceptable standard of living and affordable housing; as well as the ability to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle in a time where productivity expectations continue to increase. All constituencies, in particular staff involved in graduate education, emphasized the detrimental effect of the numerous and inefficient graduate admissions platforms. Lastly, and more recently, MITx online education initiatives have stimulated conversations across the Institute on their impact and strategic potential to enhance residential education.

Our Mission and Vision

The ODGE team was pleased to use the large amount of information collected during the listening tour to inform our strategic plan. Our mission involves service to individual graduate students, programs, and Schools in order to make graduate education at MIT empowering, exciting, holistic, and transformative. Our vision represents an evolution beyond the classical isolated apprentice model to a graduate community of scholars whose members are ever more intellectually and socially engaged, valued, interactive, and rapidly connected to resources, information, each other, the Institute, the nation, and the world. While our final strategic plan comprises five distinct themes, I will describe three broad areas most relevant to faculty, as well as some progress to date in each of these areas.

Our Priorities and Activities

Promoting Educational Innovation and Excellence
As a key priority, ODGE is creating a robust support infrastructure for graduate programs and students with the goal of increasing and diversifying fellowship support. These efforts will include dedicated staff; outreach to granting organizations; identification and dissemination of information on new funding sources; development of a comprehensive electronic database; personalized guidance for graduate student fellowship applications; as well as collation and distribution of departmental best practices. Over the past few years, ODGE has contributed to the acquisition of a diverse set of new graduate fellowships and this initiative will further amplify these efforts.

Programmatically, ODGE will support and develop new mechanisms to promote educational innovation and enhance cross-departmental and cross-School graduate student interactions.

Current examples of support include the Ideas Global Challenge, Systems and Computational Approaches to Life Sciences (SCALeS) Seminars, and the MIT-China Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum.

Administratively, the ODGE will strive to ensure that all graduate students participate in Responsible Conduct of Research training in collaboration with the Office of the Vice President for Research. A Committee on Student Entrepreneurship has been formed to examine current activities, best practices, and policy considerations for students engaging in entrepreneurship activities, co-sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education. Additionally, the ODGE Website has been dramatically upgraded to highlight graduate student accomplishments in articles and video profiles called “Student Snapshots” which will grow to encompass students from each department over the next few years.

Given the extreme urgency of the systems-based issues identified with graduate admissions and their importance to graduate recruitment, aggressive and early action was taken, driven by faculty task forces and committees. Currently, we are in year two of a three-year transition plan to the new, more efficient online platform “GradApply” developed by Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professors Frans Kaashoek and Robert Morris; enormous improvements have already been realized.

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Supporting the Whole Graduate Student
This second broad theme area focuses on graduate student personal support and professional development. Over the past several years, requests to the ODGE for outreach, advice, referral, or other assistance related to personal and academic matters have increased significantly from students, faculty, and administrators, and we have been hard-pressed to meet the need. Happily, in July 2011, staffing for graduate student personal support was increased with the addition of an assistant dean for graduate education, which has allowed us to more efficiently and effectively manage the increased volume, reduce waiting, and spend the time needed to be most helpful to those who seek advice and assistance. Our priorities in the area of personal support include compiling a detailed needs assessment from survey and focus group data, creating new mechanisms to connect graduate students to resources, and increasing outreach and resource awareness to academic departments. We will work in collaboration with various groups, such as Community Wellness at MIT Medical and Student Outreach and Support under the Dean for Student Life, to focus on areas of conflict resolution, cultural sensitivity, and mental and physical wellness. To support our efforts internally, we are implementing an electronic student case database for improved tracking and administration of support, advising, and leaves of absence.

In addition to creating original knowledge at the frontiers of the field, today’s graduates also need the ability to recognize its meaning in a broader context, and to possess a more extensive skillset in order to act on this new knowledge for the benefit of society.

Hence, it is becoming important to provide professional development opportunities in order to prepare students for a range of career paths. Our activities in this area have included co-sponsoring the new “MIT-Imperial Global Fellows Program” with the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education; the launch of a new Professional Development Video Portal, or PRO-DEPOT; and the formation of a Task Force on Graduate Student Professional Development. The Task Force is reviewing desirable skillsets in various disciplines and employment sectors and identifying core competency areas, and will provide recommendations for formulating a comprehensive and coherent set of offerings to all MIT graduate students.

Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Campus Climate
MIT is incredibly rich in its diversity. We have students hailing from every state in the nation and 101 different countries, from a broad range of economic and cultural backgrounds. In the last five years, MIT has experienced encouraging increases in the domestic diversity of its graduate population in terms of gender and ethnicity, due to collective efforts across the Institute at every level. We must continue to amplify our recruitment efforts to increase the applicant pool and yield of under-represented minority (URM) students.

Accordingly, we have begun to deepen our engagement with partners in minority serving institutions. This past winter the ODGE hosted a “Deeper Engagement” workshop at MIT which generated new ideas and strengthened connections with our partners that will move us closer to our diversity goals. We are expanding the reach of our “Grad School Clinic” to include an online version that supports undergraduates in planning their academic trajectories in order to be strong graduate school candidates, thereby strengthening our pipeline. We have increased Institute-level fellowship support with the goal of enhancing diversity, and garnered financial support for the MIT Summer Research Program (MSRP) for another five years.

Simultaneously, it is imperative that we foster a nurturing, caring, and inclusive campus environment in order that all graduate students are able to excel and achieve their academic personal and professional goals; climate is a critical factor in retention, time-to-degree, and academic excellence. We have formulated a tri-level approach to climate which includes: 1) cohort and community building through a series called “Critical Conversations” which facilitates the understanding, articulation, and exploration of multiple backgrounds and experiences; 2) “bridging activities” more closely connect students with their labs, departments and the Institute; and 3) institutional-level activities, for example, celebrating accomplishments, emphasizing the positive correlation between diversity and excellence, and promoting student engagement at the Institute level.

The Changing Path Ahead

Now is one of the most exciting times in history for graduate education at MIT. Higher education stands at a historical moment in time where dramatic advances in computation, communication, and instrumentation are opening up transformative possibilities in education that could not have been imagined even a decade ago. The majority of our initiatives above involve online components integrated with physical programs and activities, and I am optimistic that MITx will provide further opportunities to enhance residential graduate education in the areas of recruitment; building intellectual, collaborative and cross-disciplinary networks; graduate student engagement with alumni; innovations in teaching and research; professional development; and support of preparation and academic milestones (e.g., qualifying exams, laboratory training, etc.). The ODGE strategic plan will surely evolve over the coming years in response. MIT is taking a leadership role in all of these emerging areas in graduate education to maintain its status as a world-class research institution. Clearly it will be an exciting, challenging, and, ultimately, rewarding journey ahead.

I would like to extend my gratitude to all who participated in the listening tour; to the ODGE Faculty Advisory Board; and to Chancellor Eric Grimson and President Rafael Reif for their great intellectual contributions and financial support, both of which were critical in the development of the strategic plan and new initiatives. I would like to acknowledge President Emerita Susan Hockfield and former Chancellor Phillip L. Clay for their input, support and guidance. I would also like to thank the Graduate Student Council for their participation and collaboration, and ODGE Communications Officer Heather Konar for contributions to this article.  Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the Office of Institutional Research for their extensive work in compilation and analysis of relevant data used in the development and presentation of the strategic plan. Our full strategic plan is available online. I would be happy to receive comments and suggestions via e-mail.

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