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2019 Five-Year Review

Submitted by Karen P. DePauw, Ph.D., Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education

I.      Overview

The Virginia Tech Graduate School is responsible for170 Master’s and Doctoral degrees in academic disciplines and interdisciplinary including the PhD, EdD, Master of Arts and Master of Science, 12+ discipline specific masters (e.g., MBA, MIT, MFA and MEng), 30+ accelerated undergraduate/graduate programs and 50+ graduate certificates offered through eight colleges and throughout the commonwealth.

As Vice President and Dean, I have the responsibility and budgetary authority over all operations of a centralized Graduate School, including admissions, academic progress, academic program development and review, alumni relations, data analysis, development and fundraising, digital initiatives and technology enhancement, inclusion and diversity efforts, engagement initiatives, enrollment management, fellowships and assistantships, global initiatives and international programs, graduate honor system, graduate policies and procedures, international student services, interdisciplinary graduate programs, recruitment and retention, student activities and support services, and transformative graduate education (TGE) initiatives. In addition, I serve as an advisor to several graduate students organizations including the Graduate Student Assembly, Alpha Epsilon Lambda (AEL – honorary society for graduate students), the Interdisciplinary Research Society (IDR) and the Academy for GTA Excellence (VT_GrATE). The Graduate School employs a ataff of 58 individuals on the main campus in Blacksburg and VT’s urban campus located in Falls Church in northern Virginia who are critical to the accomplishment of Graduate School goals and aspirations.

II.       Facts, figures and key accomplishments since 2013 Facts and figures

Although total enrollment has continued to decrease since 2013 in keeping with the national trends, the descriptive data by percentages as remained relatively consistent:

  • ~70% in Blacksburg/Roanoke, ~15% at extended locations and ~15% virtual
  • ~45% doctoral students and 55% master’s students
  • ~ 12% underrepresented and underserved students (slight increase)
  • ~30% International students from 100+ countries
  • Increased admission percentage from 35% to 45%
  • Yield remains consistent at ~47%
  • Time to degree at 5 years for PhD and 2.5 years for master’s
  • Graduated 450+ PhDs per year and 516 last year (top 30 in the nation)
  • Admitted ~2000 per year but graduated 2000+ per year
  • Increased the number of GTAs but decreased the number of GRAs
  • Snapshot from survey of earned doctorates (2017) and comparison among peers
    • 60.7% male (55% peer comparison)
    • 56.8% U.S. citizens (64.5% peers)
    • 69% white (70% peers)
    • 47% in academe post-graduation (47% peers)
  • Annual tuition remission program ($5 million), unfunded tuition scholarships ($21 million), graduate assistantships ($4 million) including Graduate School Doctoral Assistantship (GSDA) program, Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs (IGEPs), Dean’s Diversity Assistantships (DDA), and the Cunningham Doctoral Scholar Assistantships annually.
  • Annual university scholarship and fellowship awards over $200,000 in fellowship stipends (internal) and external scholarship and fellowship programs from National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, National Physical Science Consortium Fellowship, Fulbright Scholars Program, GEM Consortium Fellowships, Southern Regional Education Board Fellowships, Vietnam Education Foundation Scholarships, Vietnam International Education Foundation Scholarships and more.

The major accomplishments of the Graduate School since 2013 include the following:

  • Implemented holistic admission process and as a result, we have been invited to speaker and serve on national panels (e.g., CGS, ETS, NAGAP) to share our efforts.
  • Established a plan and successfully implemented of use of iThenticate for ETD submission starting in Summer I, 2018
  • Enhanced and expanded programs offered through the Office of Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion (ORDI) including Diversity Scholars, Diversity Ambassadors, Connect Lunches with many social identity groups, Bouchet Society inductees, and the annual HBCU/MSI Research Summit and partnerships with HBCU/MSIs
  • Worked closely with CGS&P to secure approval of ethics requirement of all graduate students (first in the nation) and the inclusion and diversity requirement for incoming graduate students (first in the nation). As a result, we have been invited as a speaker at national conferences (CGS) and consultant to U.S. graduate schools
  • Supported unique and very strong IGEP programs, with more than 300 students enrolled, over 250 participating faculty, and over $200 million in active research projects annually
  • Initiated the individual interdisciplinary PhD (iPhD) program and admitted 7 graduate students to date. The first will graduate in 2019
  • Enhanced data collection and analysis through revised exit survey, post admissions services survey, graduate student climate survey and interdisciplinary thinking survey
  • Successfully implemented child care options of Little Hokie Hangout (LHH) and family support; monthly luncheons capped at 50 attendees
  • Initiated the Academy for GTA Excellence to advance and reward teaching excellence by graduate students; inducted members, associates, and fellows
  • Continued to offer nearly 100 programs for graduate student throughout the year including Week of Welcome (1000+), GTA workshops (600+), orientations (750+) and Graduate Education Week (1500+) that reach more than 5000 students annually.
  • Re-opened Room G as a Health and Wellness space after renovations and complete refurbishing in collaboration with Hokie Wellness and SECL.
  • Developed and implemented the Disrupting Academic Bullying initiative
  • Invited and joined the Life Sciences consortium in 2018
  • Organized and hosted the successful three-day conference on the role of the Graduate School and the places, spaces, services, and collaborations it takes to support the unique needs of graduate students in 2018; conference continues in 2019 (with co-sponsors) and will move to another Graduate School in the region for 2020 and beyond
  • Provided quality services to international students including Walk-in immigration advising sessions (~5000 annually), virtual immigration check-in and other processing requests in Blacksburg and Northern Virginia
  • Successfully implemented several digital initiatives (Electronic signature system, Synapsis, Contract system, Hobsons and currently transitioning to SLATE)
  • Continued to improve Graduate Honor System and assisted with the development of the honor system constitutions for CVM and VTCSOM
  • Celebrated 10 year anniversary of the Graduate Life Center
  • Continued to offer successful Transformative Graduate Education courses reaching 250+ students annually. Findings of exit survey include 95% of TGE participants felt well prepared for career goals
  • Continued to offer the highly successful and visible Global Perspectives Program (GPP) (14 years) in Switzerland (Italy, France) with graduate education summit at U.S. Swiss Embassy. Assisted in the development of and taught the Transferrable Skills Course for University of Basel annually for the past 5 years.
  • Developed a Global Perspectives program (3 years) with the University of San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and established a partnership including the 21st Century Faculty initiative for USFQ faculty (now called SHIFT); hosted 3 visits by faculty from USFQ to VT in summer.
  • Established the Outstanding Faculty Mentors program to recognized outstanding faculty mentors from each college and interdisciplinary program.
  • Invited speaker or panelist at regional (e.g.. CSGS), national (e.g., CGS, ETS, NAGAP) and international conferences (e.g., European University Association EUA-Council on Doctoral Education); DePauw awarded the inaugural Debra Stewart award for outstanding leadership in graduate education in 2016

III. Strategic Narrative for the Graduate School

The Graduate School has assumed a leadership role by undertaking initiatives toward helping the university achieve the goals and aspirations for graduate education articulated in the Plan for a New Horizon 2012- 2018, Beyond Boundaries and Destination/Strategic growth Areas. As such, our efforts continue to focus on graduate education with the Beyond Boundaries thematic areas of student preparedness, the campus of the future, and the global land-grant mission in addition to the three of the four cross cutting concepts of strategic research, VT- shaped learning, and Advance/InclusiveVT. The priorities and goals set by the Graduate School seem to fit quite well with the thematic areas and concepts of Beyond Boundaries and DA/SGAs. Below are the Graduate School’s goals, which have evolved over the last ten+ years and seem to be very well aligned with the key university strategic objectives.

Beyond the administrative support and services provided university-wide, the Graduate School is actively engaged with the Colleges for development and delivery of disciplinary academic programs and the interdisciplinary graduate education programs. The efforts of the Graduate School provide both the coordinated administrative services (recruitment, admission, immigration, graduate catalog, academic progress, Institutional Plan for Graduate Education, tuition remissions, and more) and initiatives that complement and enhance the academic programs (TGE coursework, diversity fellowships, IGEPs, and more). We are actively engaged in supporting international cooperative programs and degree plans, which are lead by faculty members and colleges. We have continued to partner with colleges on degrees and fellowships (e.g., Shandong University 3+2, VSU, COE New Horizons Scholars, Cunningham Fellowships).

Although it was not called VT-shaped student, the Transformative Graduate Education initiatives (established in 2003) and the Graduate Life Center (established in 2005) have focused through a combination of academic (disciplinary, interdisciplinary) and professional development programs on shaping the graduate experience of Virginia Tech students. The programs offered through TGE compliment the disciplinary education provided in the departments/programs.

Relatedly, the IGEPs promote disciplinary depth along with interdisciplinary breadth in areas of crucial societal importance and enhance the student preparedness for the workforce. Each year we have added to the TGE initiatives and strengthened the affirming environment (GLC and beyond), which represents our comprehensive, inclusive, adaptive approach to supporting student success.

A. Key strategic objectives

1. Implement and enhance the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative.

The Future Professoriate, Global Perspectives, Citizen Scholar, Diversity and Inclusion in a Global Society, Ethics, and Communicating Science courses and programs are well developed and continue to be enhanced and sustained. Some progress was made on the development of the Career Professional options through the GRAD 5314 course and additional programs and workshops offered by Graduate Student Services Office (GSSO). The Graduate School partners with the Library every semester to offer panel discussion on open science movement. Effective Fall 2019, the Graduate School will add the Inclusion and Diversity and the Career Professional graduate certificates to our offerings. Nearly 700 graduate students have been awarded the Future Professoriate graduate certificate. The Graduate School rolled out the Disrupting Academic Bullying initiative, developed a website with detailed information and conducted multiple information sessions, workshops and departmental seminars. In addition to disrupting academic bullying workshops, we offered many workshops and seminars more broadly focused on creating affirming, ethical and inclusive environments for graduate education.

All TGE programs including the new additions are clearly aligned with Beyond Boundaries thematic areas of student preparedness, campus of the future and the global land-grant as well as the university cross-cutting concepts of VT-shape learning and inclusiveVT. As a part of the TGE initiative efforts, we will continue to enhance the programs offered through Graduate Student Services Office (GSSO) and the Office of Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion (ORDI). We will continue to share the TGE and Graduate Life Center programs with CGS colleagues and international universities desiring to develop and implement 21st C Faculty programs (e.g., University de San Francisco de Quito). For the first time (after multiple requests from colleagues), we organized and hosted successful three-day conference on the role of the Graduate School and the places, spaces, services, and collaborations it takes to support the unique needs of graduate students.

  • We added TGE specific questions to the exit survey and received the following results:
  • 31% of survey respondents indicated they participated in 1 or more TGE Initiative
  • 75% of students who indicated they participated in any TGE initiatives feel extremely well, or very well prepared for what they are doing next.
  • 79% of students who indicated they received the PFP certificate feel extremely well, or very well prepared for what they are doing next.
  • 68% of students who indicated they did not participate in any TGE initiatives feel extremely well, or very well prepared for what they are doing next.
  • Students who participated in the PFP Certificate felt the most well-prepared for what they are doing next.

2. Support and enhance interdisciplinary graduate education through Interdisciplinary Graduate Education programs (IGEPs) and Individual Interdisciplinary PhD (iPhD).

The Graduate School supported and continues to enhance the existing 14 IGEPs plus several IGEP-similar programs and 7 students into the iPhD program. These provide educational experiences through which the graduate students (and faculty) can enhance their “interdisciplinary thinking” and explore the “wicked” research problems that require interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork. Annual activities and accomplishments include:

o   Two well received IGEP receptions, brown bag discussions, and more

o   IGEPs offered their GRAD 5134 course

o   IGEPS, continue to develop graduate certificates (e.g., Water, HCD, Remote Sensing, Disaster Resilience

o   IGEP continues to serve as an effective tool for recruiting a broad range of students across disciplines focused on IGEP-themed education and research. This past cycle, 33 new students joined the 12 IGEPs (excluding GBCB and MACRO). To date, 96 IGEP-affiliated students have graduated from Virginia Tech. IGEP students have been recipients of numerous national and international awards, including Graduate Student of the Year from the WATER IGEP.

o   IGEPs have been markedly successful in attracting external funding. New grants awarded this cycle total $84.4M, with several having a duration of the next 3-5 years. Major interdisciplinary educational awards include a $3.6M Partnership in International Research and Education (PIRE) affiliated with VT SuN and a $3M NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) awarded to the DR group.

The IGEPs provide positive examples and best practices for the further development of the Destination/Strategic Growth areas (DA/SGAs). Using the IGEP model, we assisted with the development and launching of the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) program which enrolled its first students for Fall ’18. Throughout the year, we have also encouraged the DA/SGAs to consider the IGEP model. The IGEPs are naturally aligned with strategic research, student preparedness, and VT shaped learning. Interdisciplinary graduate education can also be aligned with new academic programs (e.g., certificates, degrees) to be offered in NCR.

3. Review and update the portfolio of graduate education programs (e.g., accelerated programs, degrees, badges, certificates).

The Graduate School has the ultimate responsibility for graduate education (e.g., accelerated programs, certificates, degrees) throughout Virginia Tech regardless of location. In this capacity, the Graduate School continues to work closely with the College Deans for graduate education opportunities in Blacksburg, NCR, Roanoke, and the new Innovation campus. Several new or revised graduate degrees, graduate certificates, accelerated degrees and other curricular changes. Recent examples include the following:

  • Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), an umbrella life science program (like IGEP)
  • Extension of the MA in Data Analysis and Applied Statistics to NCR
  • Accelerated SPIA program with Wuchang University of Technology
  • Accelerated 4+1 Masters in Urban Resource Planning
  • Accelerated programs with partner universities (e.g., VSU, Hollins)
  • Additional graduate certificates including Nuclear Science, Technology, and Policy; Arts Leadership; and more
  • New degrees or major revisions: MS in Nutrition and Dietetics; Neuroscience PhD; Master of Urban and Regional Planning
  • Clarification of graduate degrees (MA, MS, and professional degrees)
  • Initiated conversations about the creation of micro-credentials (badges)

As the Destination Areas (DAs) and Strategic Growth Areas (SGAs) continue to evolve, we continued to stress the number of ways in which graduate education will be incorporated into their structure. These include the following: (a) students pursuing graduate degrees, (b) graduate students serving as GRAs within the DA/SGAs, (c) graduate students serving as GTAs to assist with the educational mission of the DA/SGAs (and providing valuable teaching experiences for the graduate students), (d) offering graduate certificates, (e) exploring accelerated undergraduate/graduate degrees (within and across departments), (f) utilizing the IGEP model for the development of DA/SGAs and (g) developing new degrees as might be desired in the future.

4. Expand data collection and analysis of graduate education

The Graduate School collected and analyzed data about graduate education and shared these with the university community (e.g., Commission on Graduate Studies and Policy, Graduate Program Directors, CARS/CAGS, and more). The data collected include international and domestic applications, admissions, enrollment and academic progress; descriptive demographics; SCH for GRAD courses; assistantships; climate surveys; number of graduates annually and more. These data are available on our website in clear visualization formats which we will continue to improve. Recent examples included the following:

  • Evaluation of inclusive holistic admissions approach
  • Administered the additional student services survey
  • Evaluation of the impact of the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) Initiative
  • Developed survey for interdisciplinary thinking for Fall ‘18
  • Administered the climate survey for the third time in 2019
  • Re-established the Graduate Exit Survey
  • Preparation of data from VT for Life Sciences Consortium

5. Actively encourage and foster an inclusive and globally diverse graduate community

The Graduate School continues to sustain and enhance our inclusion and diversity efforts through the following ways:

  • the efforts of the Office of Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion (ORDI)
  • InclusiveVT initiatives: holistic admissions, creating affirming environment (e.g., disrupting academic bullying), and inclusive Graduate Life Center (welcoming GLC).
  • Expanded our efforts in recruitment of individuals of diverse background and work closely with the colleges to meet university goals
  • Enhanced support initiatives and service programs (e.g., workshops, resources, incoming student survey, ambassador and scholars, social gatherings) for students across their multiple and diverse identities (e.g., underrepresented and underserved, international) – Connect lunches, Diversity Scholars program
  • Explored accelerated programs with HBCUs and MSIs specifically Virginia State University and Florida A and M (FAMU)
  • Expanded and organized the HBCU/MSI Research Summit
  • Secured inclusion and diversity requirement for all graduate education in 2018

An integral part of creating an inclusive and diverse environment and student body, the Graduate School continued to strengthen the academic community:

  • Expanded the child care initiatives with approval of license of Little Hokies Hangout for children from 0-2 years
  • Expanded work-life balance grants to include significant life events; funded approximately 15 per year
  • Partnered with Hokie Wellness to reopen the health and wellness room G in the GLC
  • Secured graduate family housing (and affordable child care) in the Master Plan

6. Advance the use of technology in the Graduate School and in support of graduate education university-wide

For many years, the Graduate School has led the way in utilizing advanced technology in admissions and academic progress across the university. The VT Graduate School has served as a model for other U.S. graduate schools in technological advances and more recently for our communication strategies and use of social media (e.g., blogs, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). The digital admissions and academic progress tools (e.g., admissions, ESS, Hobson’s now Slate) have significantly enhanced our capacity to identify, recruit, admit and graduate our graduate students.

IV. Next steps and concluding comments

In order to achieve its goal of global land grant university, Virginia Tech mast accept the challenge and the opportunity to increase graduate enrollment especially the research degrees (e.g., PhD and master’s) and professionally oriented degrees and to expand the graduate education presence and opportunities in the National Capital region (including Innovation Campus) and throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. We have the capacity to do so.

In 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) issued a report entitled Graduate STEM education for the 21st century that included the following quote:

“Importantly, this report also calls for a shift from the current system that focuses primarily on the needs of institutions of higher education and those of the research enterprise itself to one that is student centered, placing greater emphasis and focus on graduate students as individuals with diverse needs and challenges. An ideal, student-centered STEM graduate education system would include several attributes that are currently lacking in many academic institutions”

The VT Graduate School essentially embraced this philosophical approach in 2003 with the development of the Transformative Graduate Education initiative for all graduate students not just STEM. The strengths of VT graduate education are visible through the following:

  • Strong transformative graduate education (TGE) initiative with focus on preparing graduate students with necessary knowledge, skills, abilities (KSA) for 21st century life and work
  • Inclusive and affirming diverse global graduate education community
  • Strong interdisciplinary graduate education programs (IGEPS) and IPhDs