February 9, 2014

SKORTON: Update on the GPCI

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In these Cornell Daily Sun columns I usually write about undergraduate education. But it is also very important, especially at Cornell, to focus on graduate and professional students, who make up a third of Cornell’s student population and are critical partners in faculty research, scholarship and creative activity; in the teaching and mentoring of undergraduate students; and in outreach to the broader community.

Graduate and professional students at Cornell pursue degrees in more than 90 graduate fields and in professional schools in Ithaca, in New York City and elsewhere. Most recently, Cornell NYC Tech has joined the graduate education options at Cornell.

From that variety of programs comes a wide range of career paths. The prospects for those pursuing advanced degrees have changed over the past decade due to the realities of the job market and the interests of students themselves.

Throughout the University, in Ithaca, at Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Cornell NYC Tech and beyond, there is a new emphasis in graduate and professional education on collaborating with industry, promoting innovation and encouraging entrepreneurship. These changes have accelerated with the opening of the Belfer Research Building on our New York City medical campus, where students will learn, among other things, about how basic research is translated to drug development through interactions with the newly established Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute. The theme of the integration between science and medicine is emphasized at the Weill Cornell Graduate School and also through the new Weill Cornell Medical College curriculum that will be rolled out during the next academic year.

All these changes, and the varied interests and needs of our students, suggest that we need to renew our focus on graduate and professional student education and life.

In 2007, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly presented a vision statement to Cornell’s senior leadership and the Board of Trustees for a Graduate Community Initiative to address the needs of these students. While many issues were addressed, the global financial crisis slowed our ability to act on several of the worthwhile ideas put forward, especially those with larger costs.

I am grateful to the GPSA for renewing its efforts to bring the interests of graduate and professional students to the attention of the campus. The Graduate and Professional Community Initiative (GPCI), which was unanimously approved by the GPSA last March, is providing a welcome and carefully conceived framework for strategic discussions between the GPSA and the university administration.

An executive committee, co-chaired by Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy and Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth, is providing guidance and coordination in moving the GPCI forward. It has just formalized working groups to address the eight priority areas identified in the GPCI and to build on progress that has already been made across the university.

Here is a brief update on where we are, our plans for the future and the leadership of the working groups:

1. Graduate and professional student center:  A GPCI working group, co-chaired by Jan Allen, associate dean for academic and student affairs, and Sarah Wicker, associate dean for administration in the Graduate School, is working with the Big Red Barn Advisory Board to enhance the operation of the Big Red Barn for graduate and professional students. In addition, the Big Red Barn will undergo renovation, including better climate controls, next summer.

2. Career Resources: Anne Poduska, graduate and international student career advisor, and Kimberlee Swartz, associate director of engineering career and cooperative education services, co-chair the working group charged with making the offerings of Cornell Career Services more accessible and valuable to the graduate and professional student community. As part of this effort, the Graduate School and Cornell Career Services have created a position that supports graduate students pursuing non-academic careers as well as international students, who make up 45 percent of Graduate School enrollment.

3. Mental Health and Wellbeing: Greg Eells, associate director of Gannett Health Services and director of counseling and psychological services, is chairing a working group to provide appropriate resources targeted to graduate and professional students, including improved resources for coping with work-related stress and for physical fitness. We continue to offer drop-in counseling sessions and counseling groups for graduate and professional students. Beginning next summer the Office of Graduate Student Life will include on its website listings of fitness activities that are free and open to the University community.

4. Diversity and International Students: Sheri Notaro, associate dean for inclusion and professional development at the Graduate School, and Adriana Rovers, associate director for programming services in the International Students and Scholars Office, co-chair a working group for international students, students of color, female students and LGBTQ students. We’ve also created an English Language Support Office to provide conversation and writing support groups, acculturation activities and other services for international graduate and professional students. A search for the inaugural director of the office is underway.

5. Family Services: Janna Lamey, assistant dean for graduate student life at the Graduate School, chairs a working group seeking to better address the needs of students with spouses, partners and/or children. As a first step the Office of Graduate Student Life has created a website for students with families that provides information on services and resources available.

6. Housing: Barbara Romano, director of residential and event services, chairs this working group, which will focus on the supply of University housing for graduate and professional students and support for those students who live off campus. New in 2014 will be the inclusion of off-campus housing as an option in the housing brochure distributed to every newly matriculated graduate student.

7. Transportation: The GPCI offers recommendations on better parking options for graduate and professional students, improved public transit options and ways to disseminate information. Helen Steh, manager of transportation services, and the new director of transportation services will co-chair this working group.

8. Sense of Community: Amanda Shaw, executive director of student services at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Jan Allen co-chair a working group charged with helping to create a stronger sense of community. New programs, such as a writing boot camp, already are assisting students in building academic skills while also meeting peers across diverse graduate fields. Going forward, the working group will seek additional opportunities to promote meaningful interactions and interdisciplinary collaboration across the broad graduate and professional student community and improve integration and communication across departments and units.

I am heartened by the efforts currently under way. I look forward to the output of the working groups and intend to work with Dean Knuth, Vice President Murphy and Provost Kent Fuchs to realize as many of the aspirations put forward in the GPCI as resources allow.

I invite you to keep abreast of these initiatives and to share ideas with the GPSA, the executive committee of the GPCI and the various working groups that are moving the initiative forward.

David J. Skorton is president of Cornell University. He may be reached at [email protected]. From David appears bi-monthly this semester.