From the Dean for Graduate Education
From Imagination to Impact:
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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.
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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