The University Record, December 17, 1996

Cantor: Grad students are a 'unique link to the future'

By Jared Blank

Nancy Cantor sees graduate students as a unique link to the future---a group that has ties to present faculty members and undergraduate students.

The dean of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies discussed the importance of graduate students as agents of change across the University at last week's Senate Assembly meeting.

She called graduate students a "pipeline to future diversity." While approximately 14 percent of tenure-track faculty at the U-M are members of a minority group, about 23 percent of graduate students---to some extent, future faculty members---identify themselves as part of a minority group. Cantor views those who do not enter academe as a "conduit" to non-academic sectors.

The Graduate School has made a concerted effort to recruit underrepresented minority students by recruiting at historically Black universities, through summer research opportunities for undergraduates and by offering fellowships for minority students.

Once students are on campus, Rackham has been working to create a sense of community for graduate students. For example, Cantor said that she has been in close contact with the Housing Division to assure that graduate students have an opportunity to take advantage of the living-learning communities that are being created in University housing. "Living-learning communities offer opportunities for graduate students to play the role of mentor or role model for undergraduates," Cantor said. "Graduates students are an important piece of connective tissue to undergraduates---not just as GSIs (graduate student instructors)" but also as mentors.

The Graduate School also has held workshops for students who are trying to balance their academic studies with raising a family. "Balancing work and family is as critical and burdensome for graduates students as it is for faculty," she added.

For present faculty members, graduate students can be viewed as "partners in interdisciplinary ventures that create new ideas," Cantor said. The School has worked to bring faculty and students together to "seed new ideas" through the Evenings at Rackham programs and seminars presented across the disciplines. The School also is creating "secure homes"---including monetary support---for students involved in interdisciplinary studies.

Cantor also said that the Graduate School is helping graduate students confront the new realities of employment, that they may need to look outside academe for work. "Issues about what kind of career opportunities there really are becomes paramount," she said. For example, the School has programs to introduce students to alumni networks so they can explore "non-traditional" careers.

"It's especially important to value the unifying collaborative goals that Rackham has played and should play increasingly in the future," she said. "Ultimately we (the faculty) will benefit from the new realities the students will help to produce."