The University Record, September 11, 2000

New grad students welcomed

By Theresa Maddix

Graduate Student Orientation featured a resource fair in the Michigan League Ballroom. Students milling through received information, candy and other freebies from more than 45 booths. Participants ranged from the Ann Arbor Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to U-Move Fitness. Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services
In a day designed to welcome new graduate students to the University, President Lee C. Bollinger, Provost Nancy Cantor, Ann Arbor Mayor Ingrid Sheldon, Graduate School Dean Earl Lewis and Lewis’ imaginary friend provided opening remarks at Graduate Student Orientation Sept. 1 in Rackham Auditorium.

To paint a picture of the information he wanted to impart to new students, Lewis relied on a fictitious conversation with his “friend.”

To his friend, he provided statistics on this year’s entering class:

  • Students come from 47 of the 50 states.

  • Students come from 50 countries, from Argentina to Zimbabwe. Most international students come from India (112), followed by South Korea (96) and China (87).

  • The oldest entering graduate student is 64 and the youngest is 18.

  • Approximately 14,000 students applied with about 12 percent of applicants enrolling.

    Many entering students, Lewis noted, are “wondering and worrying about fitting in, belonging, achieving. It is important to know you are not alone. Faculty, staff and other students are all an excellent resource but it is the responsibility of each student to understand how to get the kind of mentoring that validates them as full human beings.”

    Bollinger spoke of his time in graduate school as “a period of life I remember with enormous fondness.” He went on to give students an overview of current campus issues, highlighting the Life Sciences Initiative, the Commission on the Undergraduate Experience, the University’s strengths in the arts and humanities, the upcoming naming of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a soon-to-be formally announced fundraising campaign.

    “This institution really does pull you in,” the president said. “You have a bond that’s worth building on.”

    Cantor advised students that “there are an enormous number of possibilities out there. We encourage you to be a part of the University community.” She urged students to think of the broader experience, saying, “Graduate students represent a real bridge between the University and the larger community.”

    Relationships are an important piece of graduate school, Cantor said. “Rackham plays an active role in helping you learn to negotiate other significant relationships you ought not to forget about.”

    Mayor Sheldon introduced the city of Ann Arbor, the “host community to the University of Michigan,” describing it as a “vibrant downtown,” with many parks, a “wonderful public school system,” a low unemployment rate and a progressive solid waste collection program. Sheldon encouraged students to become a part of Ann Arbor during their time at the University.

    Graduate students also participated in the welcome. Steve Raash, electrical engineering and computer science, introduced the Graduate School’s student government, encouraging participants to become involved and get to know each other. Chavella Pittman, psychology, presented the Students of Color at Rackham organization, an active organization dedicated to aiding minority students.

    A panel on “Transitioning into Graduate Studies” was moderated by June Howard, associate dean of interdisciplinary initiatives and associate professor of English. Howard was joined by doctoral candidate Jennifer Karlin, industrial and operations engineering; doctoral candidate Josette Banks, clinical psychology; and Ph.D. student Ron Grover, mechanical engineering.

    Karlin told students to purchase a winter coat—“It gets cold and it snows” and to become friends with their departmental secretaries, saying, “Secretaries can make or break your career.

    “This is your career,” she said. “No one else is going to do it for you. You need to know why you’re here. You need to know what you want—and that’s usually the hardest part.”

    Grover compared graduate school to an investment, noting that students can tailor their programs to suit their interests, that it’s important to be aggressive and that students need to diversify their portfolio by trying out many options. For Grover, finding an adviser who “works for you” is crucial. “As with any investment,” Grover cautioned, “it takes time for it [the graduate school experience] to mature.”

    Banks reflected on what she wishes she would have known as she entered graduate school. “No semester will be as terrifying as your first semester,” she said. To make a positive transition, she suggested students find associates from different fields and with different lifestyles. She also emphasized the need to take time for oneself.

    Howard wrapped up the session laying out the difference between the undergraduate experience, in which one acquires knowledge, and the graduate venture, in which one creates new knowledge. She wasn’t specific, however, about how these processes occur.

    “Everyone comes from a different set of experiences,” Howard said. Her experience, coming from Antioch, a small liberal arts college, was vastly different from that of fellow students coming from large universities. Students, she said, should “think about what is different for you in order to make the transition.”

    She encouraged the students to listen to all of the graduate school advice given and to compare it with all the other advice they received. But, she added, “advice should be listened to, not followed.” Graduate students must find their own paths.