In addition to improving higher education access and graduation rates for undergraduates, the University of Arizona also has among its priorities expanding support for graduate and professional students.
Attuned to the demands and sharply competitive nature of graduate student life, the University has increasingly put into place workshops and support systems designed to attract and retain stronger students, said Andrew Carnie, dean of the UAGraduate College.
"The return on investment is almost immeasurable," Carnie said, noting that graduate students often teach and co-teach undergraduate courses and help faculty bring in grant funding.
"They essentially do the ground work that is necessary to forward the University’s mission," Carnie said. "For example, without graduate students, many of our faculty wouldn't be eligible for the kind of research funding we are able to get."
There remains a great benefit for supporting even those graduate students who do not have teaching or research assistantships, Carnie added.
"They themselves do their own research and publishing paper, attend conferences and participate in collaborations, all of which the University benefits from," Carnie said. "Our mission is furthered because we have these students, and their work helps to increase the visibility and impact of the institution."
Bradley Schmitz, a second-year graduate student studying environmental microbiology, said that in addition to seeking departmental support, students also must also find their social niche for emotional and professional support.
"It is so important for graduate students to meet people outside of their departments and away from their research for healthy stability," said Schmitz, social chair for the Graduate & Professional Students Association, or GPSC.
He found such stability through GPSC, which is another important UA resource for advanced students.
"Getting involved in other aspects of the University and being involved helps," Schmitz said, noting both the academic and professional benefits of networking and community service. "It gives you balance. It's fun, it's enjoyable and helps you to realize what good work is going on."
Georgia Ehlers, who directs the Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement in the UA Graduate College, also emphasized the need for graduate students to engage in service.
"It is really important for graduate students to think in diverse ways about how they are going to use their degree," she said.
"They need to cast their net widely, and that is why it is important to develop core skills – a variety of skills – and also to volunteer in the community," she said. "How do you collect experiences? Networking, going to conferences, signing up for professional societies, giving talks, publishing, providing outreach and making connections in the community."
The range of resources that exist for graduate and professional students include but are not limited to:
For some graduate students, especially those without assistantships, landing funding can be one of the greatest hurdles in graduate school. The Graduate College maintains a newsletter that contains information and notifications for competitive discipline-specific scholarships and fellowships, as well as other funding opportunities.
"There is no other central place on campus where students can get information about external funding, so providing that information is the main purpose of the newsletter," said Shelley Hawthorne Smith, assistant director of the UA Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement. "Hopefully, seeing the wide range of funding opportunities will motivate people to also look for funding on their own."
The newsletter also contains relevant advice on where to find other funding and how to prepare the best application.
The Graduate College is not merely an administrative unit. In addition to GradFunding, the college offers a broad range of direct support for graduate and professional students.
For example, the college manages the service-oriented Peace Corps Coverdell Fellowsprogram. Since 2000, nearly 250 students obtained graduate degrees at the UA while providing a collective 225,000 hours of service and capacity building in southern Arizona. And the UA is the second largest Coverdell Fellows program in the U.S.
The college also supports students for other nationally competitive scholarships and fellowships, such as those granted by the National Science Foundation.
The NSF expects to grant 2,700 Graduate Research Fellowship Program, or GRFP, awards – an additional 700 nationally in 2014. Last year, 75 percent of NSF GRFP awardees from the UA had received support through the Graduate College.
The UA Graduate College provides a variety of support services to GRFP applicants, including regular emails with advice, feedback on essays and invitations to workshops. The college also provides opportunities for personal interaction with current awardees. Registration for the support services is available online.
And new this fall, writing and editing specialists will be available during opt-in workshops for students seeking NSF awards. The first will be held Sept. 12, and registration is available online. Also, it is the second year the Graduate College has hired graduate student editors. The five student editors this year will provide additional writing support for graduate students.
"We have not found many institutions that offer similar services for graduate students seeking funding. An important part of our support program is encouraging people to apply, and the other part is improving their applications," Hawthorne Smith said, noting that several UA departments also offer such support to their students.
"There are a lot of great resources at the UA," she said. "For graduate students looking for funding, one of the best places to start asking questions is often their own academic department."
In addition to support the Graduate College provides, the UA Writing Skills Improvement Program offers both undergraduate and graduate students with individual tutoring and workshops – for free.
The program out of the College of Humanities is the UA's professional writing resource, located at 1201 E. Helen St. The program's staff members also provide tutoring services at various campus locations.
The program's first Weekly Writing Workshop begins Sept. 9. As part of its Graduate Writing Workshops Series, the program also will provide a step-by-step workshop aiding students through their master's thesis or dissertation on Sept. 11 at 4 p.m.
Life and Work Support
Nationally, about one-fourth of all college and university students are parents and, of those, 57 percent are low-income, according to a report released by the Institute for Women's Policy Research in 2011.
In addition to University employees, Life & Work Connections supports those graduate students who are parents and caregivers.
The unit, often in collaboration with others on campus, offers a broad range of support and programming, including consultations and referrals, the Sick Child and Emergency/Back-up Care program and the Child Care Subsidy & Housing Program, among others.
For example, the Parental Leave for Graduate Assistants/Associates program exists for those graduate students who carry a teaching or research position, the University offers a program to aid with familial responsibilities for those who are new parents. Those who take advantage of the UA program are able to take up to six weeks off to care for their child, whether biological or adopted.
"It is still relatively new, and we've had an increase in students participating, which is a good thing," said Dorian Voorhees, assistant dean of the UA Graduate College. "It has really benefited the students."