Hats off to graduate and professional students

04-04-2014

Graduate and professional students are a critical component of higher education. While their work is often exciting, it also is sometimes grueling—a sort of apprenticeship that requires a great deal of commitment and energy. But equipping oneself to make a difference in a changing world is well worth the effort.

Applications to graduate schools in the United States grew at an average annual rate of 4.5 percent in the decade between 2002 and 2012, rising across the board but most steeply in the health sciences. American graduate schools today enroll more than 1.5 million students, about six out of every ten of them at public institutions, according to a study by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examination Board.

Such growth comes even as some challenge the value proposition of higher education, including that of post-graduate education, despite employment and earnings data that indicates those with higher-level credentials earn substantially more than those without.

But post-graduate education isn’t just a personal benefit. It is an essential component of our nation’s higher education system and, thus, its economic competitiveness. It is where many of tomorrow’s leaders are formed and where society’s big problems begin to be tackled.

Universities across the country salute these important students with Graduate Professional Student Appreciation Week (GPSAW). The National Association of Graduate-Professional Students established GPSAW in 1993, and more than 25 states have supported the recognition week with official proclamations. This year's GPSAW is April 7-11, but MSU is hosting events sponsored by the Council of Graduate Students (COGS) and other university organizations from April 2 to11.

At Michigan State, more than 11,000 graduate and professional students—nearly a quarter of our student body—were enrolled last fall. Many hold teaching assistantships that enable them to contribute not only to the education of undergraduates, but also to the work of their faculty and staff colleagues. Many are research assistants, helping advance the frontiers of their disciplines as they gain investigative experience.

Our graduate and professional students bring perspectives and passion to their work, some of which is reflected on the Spartan Ideas website alongside posts from faculty and staff. A vigorous culture is nourished by on-campus organizations, including COGS, the Council of Medical Students, and the Student Bar Association. Beyond campus and in the great, wide blogosphere, graduate student support and celebration is part of the lively Gradhacker website, which traces some of its roots to MSU.

Michigan State’s Graduate School is the foundation of post-graduate study here, but as it has grown over time, it has found itself dispersed across different locations on campus. As Michigan State provides a supportive, scalable undergraduate student experience through our residential colleges and the MSU Neighborhoods initiative, our Graduate School deserves its own space. To fulfill that purpose, one of our most venerable buildings, Chittenden Hall on West Circle Drive’s “Laboratory Row” is being renovated.

Built in 1901 as the Dairy Laboratory, Chittenden was home to the Department of Forestry between 1913 and 1966 but has stood vacant since 1999. Construction on the $6.2-million renovation project started last year and is expected to be substantially complete by the end of this summer. It’s very timely, as the Graduate School observes the 20th anniversary of its current organizational form this year.

The renovated Chittenden will provide program, study, and workshop space, as well as offices for the Graduate Student Life and Wellness program, PhD Career Services, the Teaching Assistant Program, COGS, and other administrative offices. The stately structure is ready for a new life, and the Graduate School will bring just that as we recognize the important contributions of graduate and professional students at Michigan State University.

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