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    Lesson Two – Campus-wide Involvement
    Lesson Two – Campus-wide Involvement

    The active involvement and support of faculty and staff across campus—including those outside of academic affairs—are critical to the success of any initiative and are particularly pivotal in efforts at enhancing institutional culture and establishing new student support programs. Whether the graduate enterprise is decentralized to the department or college level, or whether it is centralized at the graduate school level—or a combination—it is vital to have the underlying support for institutional change provided by faculty and by staff in offices that serve students.


    The importance of having strong campus-wide involvement cannot be over-emphasized:


    Ownership by faculty of the entire range of decisions involving improving the graduate student experience makes it more likely that changes will filter down to all graduate students in all classrooms and labs. Faculty participation must be present at all levels and stages—recruitment, admissions, orientation, mentoring, institutional policy-making, and the development of departmental procedures. Lack of widespread faculty involvement will limit the impact of initiatives put in place to foster diversity and student success.


    A key to successfully shepherding most doctoral students to graduation is, first, recruiting and admitting students who “fit” well with existing faculty’s research interests. In many graduate programs faculty are involved in the recruitment and admissions processes; but in some programs recruitment is left to the graduate school, and admissions is handed off either to administrative staff or a very small faculty admissions committee. When faculty are involved in the recruitment and admissions processes—and these decisions are not relegated to a departmental administrator or committee-of-one—it may be easier to see that the doctoral students brought into their program are appropriately matched to the faculty who are expected to serve as mentors. Much research on doctoral student retention points to the importance of effective faculty mentoring, and this involvement ensures that mentoring begins even before the student enrolls in a program.


    Because of the one-on-one apprenticeship-learning model that is typical of traditional graduate programs, the way the mentoring system is conducted is critical to student success. To bring about successful change, faculty must be willing and committed to making adjustments to the traditional graduate training experience characterized by the one-on-one mentoring relationship. These adjustments include working with other faculty and staff; including the student’s entire doctoral committee in the mentoring process; sharing information on the student’s progress; ensuring that the student has the foundation, skills, and knowledge to be successful in graduate school; and being open to the idea of students spending constructive time with other students. Faculty must see their mentoring as part of their core responsibilities as members of the graduate faculty.


    Changing the culture of graduate education to be more supportive and welcoming may also lead to an increase in talented domestic students pursuing academic careers who are now opting for other careers or professions. The academy has often been the loser in the battle for the crème de la crème of college graduates. Industry provides the enticements of higher salaries, generous fringe benefits, bonuses, and free on-the-job training. As academic departments face retirements and the need to replace departing faculty, they must emphasize the competing benefits available with an academic career. The first step is to make the experience of graduate education a positive and successful one.


    Professional and support staff play an important role in developing a supportive campus environment. Staff across campus are in a key position to enhance student engagement and success. Professional and support staff in the financial aid, student billing, student registrar and records, counseling, health services, student affairs, housing, and admissions offices are essential to fostering an atmosphere of helpfulness, courtesy, tolerance, and efficiency. Their ability to establish and adhere to policies and procedures that facilitate good customer service cannot be overlooked. They must be involved in developing diversity initiatives and regularly trained to be sensitive to the often complex needs of graduate students generally, and especially those with needs atypical of the prevailing campus culture.


    The graduate school must take the lead in coordinating the modification of campus-wide support systems to meet the needs of graduate students—needs that are typically very different from those of undergraduates. The design and provision of on- and off-campus housing, student co-curricular events, computing services, student accounts payable procedures, mental health services, and career counseling for the wide variety of graduate students should reflect the unique requirements of this population. The marketing of campus services and alumni relations should be targeted to a constituency significantly different from undergraduates. The challenge is to go beyond fostering a mood of support and inclusiveness to actually changing the campus systems that profoundly affect the academic experience of graduate students.


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