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Online calendar improves communication between Rackham school, administrative staff

Communication between the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and the departments that support graduate programs within the University just got easier with the online Rackham Administrative Calendar (RAC).

Live since October, RAC allows departments to see a cumulative gathering of dates and deadlines without having to put forth a tremendous effort, says Monique Washington, director of Graduate Student Services.

The calendar, which covers an 18-month time span, will serve as a resource tool by compiling important dates and deadlines relevant to the major processes within student servicesacademic records and dissertations, admissions, fellowships and recruitmentalong with information from the dean's office. This is especially useful for the many staff members who work in several, or all, of the processes.

"When they are trying to juggle so many processes with different dates, this can help them manage priorities," Washington says. "I see this as a planning tool to guide staff in knowing what needs to be done when."

Content within RAC came from three layers of input: Rackham staff members; the Rackham advisory committee, made up of representatives from the
schools and colleges with Rackham programs; and department staff members not on the advisory committee. The advisory committee also approved the final product for use.

The staff's input included the addition of administrative information such as dates of workshops held for staff members, and for chair and deans meetings.

"We did have a number of staff from the department look at the calendar and indicate that it was extremely helpful," Washington says.

"The staff has said this is a great thing," says Michelle Spornhauer, a student services associate in political science, graduate admissions and financial aid, and chair of LGRAD, an organization of Graduate Student Services Staff in LSA.

Spornhauer says staff can use RAC as a tool for recruitment and orientation of graduate students. "We can use it to coordinate recruitment weekends around Rackham events, and it also helps in orientation weekend to let the students know about workshops and events on campus," she says.

While RAC is intended for administration staff, its design makes life easier for students as well. "Students will primarily benefit by the staff knowing what needs to be done," Washington says.

"It is like a cascade effect," Spornhauer says. "It helps departments help students to help themselves." Spornhauer also points out that because it is on the Web, RAC is accessible and convenient.

RAC is part of a larger Academic Unit Initiative between Michigan Administrative Information Services (MAIS) and Rackham. The overall goal of the initiative is to review the admissions process for graduate students and streamline it, Washington says.

"This was a 'quick win' in terms of improving the communication of activities, deadlines and dates," Washington says.

Another large part of the initiative is to identify ways to help administrative staff use M-Pathways more effectively. LSA, the School of Education and the School of Public Policy have expressed an interest in working with Rackham on this project.

Although the primary purpose of RAC is not intended to focus on the use of M-Pathways, it does have some information that triggers people to use the pathways system, Washington says.

While feedback has been positive so far, Washington says, "this is a work in progress, and we are still making adjustments and taking recommendations."

Despite the possibility of future changes, Rackham and MAIS have been successful in their initial attempts to improve communication with RAC. "I think Rackham is doing a great job," Spornhauer says. "It does its best to disseminate information to the departments. This is one more way they can do that."

The Web site for RAC is http://www.rackham.umich.edu/Department/RAC.html

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