Revamped Graduate Office Unveils New Services, Technology

SOCORRO, N.M. December 15, 2010 -- New learning spaces, smart classrooms, graduate seminars, peer mentoring, linked courses, fellowships and career workshops. These are just a few of the initiatives the new Center for Graduate Studies is promoting.

One priority of the Title V program is to create a sense of community at New Mexico Tech.

Thanks to a $2.8 million Title V grant received in 2009, Tech has embarked on a five-year plan to upgrade, improve and redesign the offerings for graduate students.

The university established a steering committee to design a plan for the Graduate Office as part of the grant-application process. That ambitious plan includes nearly a dozen initiatives to make the graduate student experience more wholesome, inclusive and successful.

“We’re creating a support system,” Title V director Christy Neill said. “New graduate students come in and they feel alone and they are unsure of themselves. We want to provide a foundation and a community.”

The program includes several mentoring and tutoring programs. The peer mentoring program connects undergraduate upperclassmen with student in the master’s of science for teachers program. That program is designed to help bachelor’s students make an informed decision about grad school and also help them make the transition.

The Center for Graduate Studies has funding to create "learning spaces" on campus.

“The best way to get positive outcomes is through peers,” Neill said. “I felt like that in my graduate program. ‘What did I get myself into?’ I was praying that I’d make it through.”

She earned her master’s in professional and technical education through the Eastern New Mexico University.

“Peer mentoring will provide a support system and a sense of community,” she said.

Another new program is professional mentoring. Graduate students will have a mentor who is not on their thesis or dissertation committee. The mentor will help a student make decisions about careers, classes and life.

Neill said she is especially impressed with the willingness of the faculty and staff to participate in initiatives like the professional mentoring.

“Tech has a level of engagement that isn’t seen at most institutions,” she said. “The level of engagement is par excellence. At a lot of universities, they’ll get the money and dabble with a program to keep it going with minimal compliance. Here, people really care to make it successful.”

This fall, the Center for Graduate Studies introduced linked courses, which is similar to the undergraduate First Year Experience track. For physics students, they have an option of taking Dr. Sharon Sessions’ class in Quantum Mechanics, paired with English 589, taught by Dr. Steve Simpson. The two instructors link the curricula to demonstrate how communication skills are an important part of science. A large part of the English 589 course is presenting a scientific paper, learning presentation skills, language skills and public-speaking.

“I think our students don’t have a lot of opportunities to develop those skills and they have to learn on the fly,” Sessions said. “This has been a fantastic experiment. Even though we won’t be linking this class next time, I’m going to adopt those assignments to teach graduate students how to express themselves.”

Sessions said scientists benefit from learning public-speaking and communications skills

“If they are involved in research and go on to a career in research, they have to be able to communicate via journal articles and conference presentation,” she said.

Dr. Warren Ostergren, chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department, has linked English 589 with the Graduate Seminar course.

“In the past, we haven’t had much focus on communications at the graduate level,” he said. “This has been an outstanding experience. These linked courses have given them the opportunity to focus on an area of communication that’s important to them. Our students appreciate the value of it.”

The Title V grant also has a technological component. The Center for Graduate Studies is spearheading the effort to add Smart Classrooms to academic department. The grant calls for six new high-tech, interactive, multi-modal presentation modules. Not only will these new Smart Classrooms allow development of more distance education classes, but faculty will have additional capabilities to capture notes, incorporate new media into the traditional lecture format.

A few other new features and services from the Center for Graduate Studies.

  • The Thesis and Dissertation Boot Camp in January: intended to create an environment conducive for grad students who need intensive writing time.
  • Fellowships: minorities and low-income students can apply for funding in return for volunteer work through the Center. This is especially designed to help grad students stay in school during the summer months when funding is less available through academic departments. A call for applications for 2011 fellows will be issued in February.
  • Language Skills: The Center is offering English as a Second Language for international students and English for Academic Purposes for all students.
  • Career Workshops: Speakers in the fall 2010 semester have focused on ethics, career choices, research and other topics.
  • Banner Workflow: This new online module will allow students to complete required university documents from one computer without visiting every office on campus.
  • Learning Spaces: Each graduate program will have a special graduate lounge

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech