The University Record, September 13, 1999

Grad students among ‘most imaginative’ in world, dean says

By Theresa Maddix

Kerry Larson, senior associate dean of Rackham, emphasized the importance of being proactive at the New Graduate Student Orientation. ‘Multiply your contacts,’ he said. ‘Seek out interactions.’ Here students browse through the information offered by a few of the more than 45 resource fair participants. Photo by Paul Jaronski
Graduate students received a warm welcome and a wealth of advice during day-long events at New Graduate Student Orientation Sept. 3 at the Rackham Building.

“You are among the brightest, most imaginative and original thinkers in the world,” Graduate School Dean Earl Lewis told students. “My challenge to you is to think of yourselves as change agents,” charged with figuring out “the boundaries between what is traditional and what has to be new and innovative.”

President Lee C. Bollinger told the students, “You have a place in this university and we want you to claim it.” Michigan, he said, is a great public university for several reasons:

  • Its large scale makes it possible to get fresh perspectives from a variety of disciplines.

  • It is one of the few large public universities located in a small community.

  • It has a “highly supportive” nature.

  • It has strong traditions that provide constant reminders that “other people have created and sustained” its rich environment.

    Provost Nancy Cantor shared a piece of her academic background, admonishing students to not “give in to the notion that you are the only one who has no idea what’s going on and everyone else is totally is charge. Everybody believes that everybody else has a handle on what they’re doing, where they’re going, and virtually nobody actually experiences that.

    “You are, in fact, an exceptional group. You know an enormous amount about what you’ve come to study but you know that you don’t know [everything] and that is the thing we really want to cherish.” She told students they should not only “get outside their intellectual skin and really try to challenge, but also should take in what the different perspectives are.”

    Ann Arbor Mayor Ingrid Sheldon welcomed students to the city and provided some practical tips on avoiding parking tickets—taking the bus, biking or walking to campus.

    Her remarks sparked surprise in Francisco Martinez, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, who said afterward, “I didn’t know they were so strict about parking.” Martinez’s enthusiasm wasn’t dampened, however. “It is amazing. The School is Ann Arbor; Ann Arbor is the School.”

    During a panel session on “Transitioning into Graduate Studies,” current graduate students and University staff came together to provide more information about the graduate student experience.

    Patrice Dickerson, a doctoral candidate in sociology and a coordinator of Rackham’s Interdisciplinary Summer Institute, was particularly eloquent, sharing her “6 Fs to avoid failure”:

    1. Friends—Sounding boards that can be relied on.

    2. Faculty—A member of the department with shared interests.

    3. Family—The support of family is the greatest support to have.

    4. Faith—Belief in a higher power or belief in why people are who they are.

    5. Fitness—Exercising even when the workload is heavy.

    6. Fun—Making time to do the enjoyable.

    With these elements, Dickerson told the students, they will be able to make it through the points when they “doubt their intelligence, creativity and sanity.”

    Student Services Assistant Dorothy Marschke emphasized administrative aspects of success, urging students to “Stand beside yourself as your own master. Be your own impresario.” Marschke’s suggestions for self-guidance included:

  • Using the graduate staff—“We look upon ourselves as connectors.”

  • Focusing on “interdisciplinarity, a word you’re going to hear a lot.”

  • Presenting or re-presenting one’s self to faculty.

  • Finding colleagues.

  • Being highly effective time managers.

    Following the panel and an information-packed morning, afternoon sessions focused on Health Care, Navigating the Financial Maze, Social Activities and A Conversation with the Dean.

    With so many activities, the day seemed overwhelming at times. But the new students took the abundance of information in stride. This was what they came for. After the first session, when asked why she chose to attend orientation, Laura Gonzalez said, “Sometimes you don’t know about the resources you have around you.”