Growing the graduate student experience

Faculty advocate group brings UND School of Graduate Studies to the next level in student support

UND graduate students (left to right) Chioma Onwumelu, Makinde Omojiba and Aerin Spade enjoy he Graduate Welcome Event, put on by the UND School of Graduate Studies, on Aug. 21 at the Memorial Union. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

UND graduate students (left to right) Chioma Onwumelu, Makinde Omojiba and Aerin Spade enjoy the Graduate Welcome Event, put on by the UND School of Graduate Studies, on Aug. 21 at the Memorial Union. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

As a partial solar eclipse passed above UND’s Memorial Union on August 21, hundreds of graduate students inside had their eyes trained on other things.

Their new academic path. Their new student colleagues. Their new uneclipsed future.

First-year MBA student Aerin Spade joined a table with other new and returning students at the Graduate Welcome Event, a social affair with information on graduate workshops, a resource fair, food, games and giveaways.

“It gives us a chance to get to know new people – people in our program and maybe outside of it as well,” Spade said, glancing around the packed ballroom. “It also allows us to get familiar with the processes. For those of us who are new to grad school, everything is new and different from our undergrad.”

The event is just one of many ways the School of Graduate Studies is helping its students find their place and succeed at UND.

Last year, soon after Grant McGimpsey added the role of Graduate School Dean to his Vice President for Research & Economic Development duties, he approached Associate Dean Chris Nelson with an idea: bring together graduate faculty representatives from all Colleges into one advocacy group charged with making the grad school experience better.

They’ve come to informally refer to themselves as The Gradvocates.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion about what’s important to graduate students and what’s important to incorporate into the graduate student experience,” McGimpsey said. “From an academic perspective, our programs are excellent. But there are additional elements in the graduate educational experience which, when combined, help our graduate students be successful during their programs and after they leave the University.”

The committee currently comprises faculty advocates from across university. They meet weekly to discuss graduate school-specific concerns brought to them by students or other faculty – anything from housing to health insurance.

“The meetings are also devoted to new programs, including professional development for graduate students, as well as what kinds of things should we be doing, how to do them and how to work best with graduate students,” Nelson said.

Last year, UND Vice President for Research & Economic Development and head of the School of Graduate Studies Grant McGimpsey approached UND Associate Dean Chris Nelson with an idea: bring together graduate faculty reps from all of UND's Colleges to make the graduate student experience better. The group is informally referred to as "The Gradvocates." (Above) Nelson talks with graduate students in mathematics, Hans Musgrave and Paige Relling, during the School of Graduate Studies' recent welcome event. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Last year, Grant McGimpsey, who serves as dean of the School of Graduate Studies, approached Associate Dean Chris Nelson with an idea: bring together graduate faculty reps from all of UND’s Colleges to make the graduate student experience better. Today, that group refers to itself as “The Gradvocates.” (Above) Nelson talks with graduate students in mathematics, Hans Musgrave and Paige Relling, during the School of Graduate Studies’ recent welcome event. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Personal and professional 

The events and workshops that rise out of the Gradvocates meetings are designed to meet several goals, including promoting graduate education, increasing grad student satisfaction, and a growing request – professional development opportunities.

“This is a concern at more and more grad schools across the country, so as you would expect, it’s a concern of our graduate students as well,” Nelson said.

“That’s very important to our group, to make sure that students have a voice,” said School of Graduate Studies Director of Marketing & Communication Naomi Hansen – a graduate student herself. “We don’t want to make decisions for graduate students. We seek input through one-on-ones, surveys and through discussions at our events, asking what is important to them, creating programs to meet their needs and scheduling them at times that fit their schedules.”

The graduate advocacy group has helped create development events like Graduate Research Achievement Day (GRAD) in March and the Three Minute Thesis competition in April, with another planned for January. It’s additionally planning at least five workshops in the coming year focusing on pedagogy, grant writing, effective professional communication, interdisciplinary collaboration, and research philosophy, methods, and ethics.

The Gradvocates are also intent on improving the student experience with social opportunities like last week’s Graduate Welcome Event and the coming “Weekend in Winnipeg” – a bus tour planned in conjunction with the UND International Center.

An enhanced student experience includes a support system, and when new graduate friends can’t help, faculty representatives can step in as point people. Nelson noted that moving from undergraduate to graduate education is often an anxiety-laden process.

“Policies and procedures aren’t necessarily what they think of when they come here. What they’re focused on is their research goals and their employment goals,” he said. “So having people there to assist them through the policies, the procedures, the paperwork, the steps to degree – all of those things – becomes necessary.”

University support

While The Gradvocates are tackling goals at the student and College level, McGimpsey believes their work is laying a foundation for even larger objectives.

“Goal Three of the UND Strategic Plan is focused on delivering more educational opportunities both online and on campus,” he said. “It is clear that in our changing world, the largest group of potential students – and our best opportunity for delivering more opportunity – is at the graduate level.”

Nelson added that the graduate faculty advocates often discuss how they can support action items of the Strategic Plan, such as further developing graduate education, finding program growth opportunities and driving toward Carnegie R1 research status.

“They understand the importance of graduate education to the University, and they want our graduate programs to be successful and well-subscribed,” McGimpsey said. “Having a group of faculty who are really enthusiastic and are actually leading the development of graduate education is really important. I’m excited about that.”

For students like Aerin, that enthusiasm and leadership may be just what’s needed to help her settle in to her next scholarly stage.

“It’s all new to me,” she said. “It’s helpful to have somebody that you know you can reach out to.”

 Graduate students and faculty with questions, concerns or ideas can contact these College representatives:

Graduate Faculty Advocates
Aerospace – Ron Fevig  ronald.fevig@UND.edu
Arts & Sciences – Robert Neumann  robert.newman@UND.edu
Business and Public Administration – Xaver Neumeyer xaver.neumeyer@UND.edu
Education – Katherine Terras  katherine.terras@UND.edu
Engineering – Surojit Gupta  surojit.gupta@engr.und.edu
Health & Medical Sciences – Thad Rosenberger  thad.rosenberger@med.und.edu
Humanities & Social Sciences – Chris Nelson  chris.nelson@UND.edu
Nursing – Rashid Ahmed  rashid.ahmed@UND.edu

 

Share this post: