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Home » Discover Rackham » An Impact Unlike Any Other

Last year, we marked the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Rackham Building. Around that time, I came across a book that was put together nearly as long ago to outline the diverse endeavors made possible by the Horace H. Rackham and Mary A. Rackham Fund. It struck me how, in so many ways, the Rackhams’ beliefs are still strongly relevant to graduate education at Michigan today. They believed in: 1) the importance of research and scholarship to improving American society and the world, 2) the importance of Rackham Graduate School to catalyzing and shaping that work, and 3) the importance of private support to help our students reach their full potential.

Of course, as much as some things seem the same, many more have changed. Our students today enjoy a wider array of career paths to which their training and scholarship can be brought to bear to advance society, the nation, and the public good. More than ever, they need to be able to communicate the impact of their research not only to peers, but also to public audiences. And it’s critical for them to demonstrate an ability to engage in and contribute to a diverse workplace.

In that light, I offer this overview of the state of the graduate school, with an emphasis on some of the initiatives Rackham has launched in the past year to fully prepare our students to thrive in their studies, research, and careers. In ways big and small, none of these undertakings would have been possible without your generous support.

Professional and Academic Development

At Rackham, we actively engage in providing resources and programs to assist our students in their academic and professional development to help them fulfill whatever their future aspirations may be. And we know from our own program data that well over half of those who leave here with a doctorate will end up working in a capacity other than as a faculty member. Our master’s degree holders also enter a range of careers—from contributing in public policy, to creating tech start-ups, to research and development roles in Michigan industry and beyond.

We were therefore thrilled to create a new, embedded position in partnership with the University Career Center to assist graduate students, particularly doctoral students, in their career exploration. The coordinator of graduate student career advancement role is designed to provide career coaching, advising, and programming for Rackham students, along with connections to employers and employment opportunities via the career center. It also assists graduate students in understanding the transferability of their academic coursework and supports students who are negotiating acceptances to launch their professional careers.

Internships can also be excellent opportunities to connect academic and research experience with career aspirations. To that end, this year Rackham has introduced new spring/summer internship grants that will fund a supervised practical experience for up to 12 weeks to provide insights into career opportunities for doctoral students in bioengineering, biological, biomedical, or health sciences programs. These internships can take place in industry or government, academic, or other nonprofit settings. This new program complements our already robust efforts to create internship opportunities for Rackham students in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.

This spring will also see our second annual Ph.D. Connections conference, a daylong event with more than 30 professionals from an array of fields, designed to help doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows envision connections between their training and career paths beyond the academy. This joins our existing “What’s Next?,” “Designing Your Life,” and other regularly offered workshops on career development topics for both master’s and Ph.D. students.

Engaging Across Campus and Beyond

As approximately 40 percent of Rackham students are located on the North Campus of the university, last summer we launched a new initiative aimed at connecting them with Rackham staff and student peers through a series of themed, weekly events. The goals of Rackham North are to create professional networking opportunities and a sense of community for North Campus students across departmental boundaries, to foster interactions between students so that they can envision interdisciplinary research projects, and to address needs and challenges that are more strongly felt by students in North Campus programs. North Campus graduate programs span a range of disciplines, including architecture, design, engineering, music, fine arts, and urban planning.

Looking off campus, this year Rackham is set to launch a two-year pilot Summer Program in Public Engagement and the Humanities, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. During the summer pilot program, humanities faculty and graduate students will collaboratively explore, learn, and practice skills to present their research while aiming to narrow the gap between humanities and general audiences. A small group of six faculty and six graduate students will spend eight weeks during the summer learning the tools of public communication, exploring why it matters specifically to the humanities, and implementing their new knowledge and shared understanding to specific projects that integrate research and engagement. The project will grow in the future from this initial cohort.

The Summer Program in Public Engagement and the Humanities adds to Rackham’s growing and evolving commitment to public scholarship and academic and professional development. The former Arts of Citizenship program became the Rackham Program in Public Scholarship in 2015 and now features a slate of four core programs: the Institute for Social Change, a four-and-a-half day introduction to public scholarship for up to 25 students; Public Engagement Fellowships, which have also been supported by Mellon and place students in nonprofit and educational organizations to use their research skills on various projects for public audiences; Public Scholarship Grants, providing four to five awards annually of up to $8,000 for student-led projects with community partners outside the university; and the Engaged Pedagogy Initiative, an eight-session training during which graduate students learn how to create a community-based learning course. The generous philanthropy of Rackham alumni has allowed us to expand the number of fellowships and internship experiences we offer in this space.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

We are now beginning year three of Rackham’s DEI Strategic Plan, which we are executing in concert
with the university’s central plan. We know that diverse viewpoints make teams better at solving problems, and we also know that students who feel included in their program complete their degrees and report positive outcomes. For these reasons, advancing DEI is essential work of the graduate school.

A few highlights of our progress thus far include our ongoing faculty workshops on Graduate Admissions for Excellence and Diversity. These workshops use research to analyze the practices of faculty-led admissions committees, and to show them the value of holistic admissions practices. We have also continued to work directly with faculty to improve the quality of faculty-student mentoring relationships through the Mentoring Others Results in Excellence— or “MORE”— committee. And our Faculty Allies program engages faculty directly in the climate and inclusivity of graduate programs. This program includes a Student Ally component through which graduate students work collaboratively with faculty and receive Rackham support to advance DEI in their programs.

Last year, we began a DEI Professional Development Certificate designed to prepare graduate students to work in a diverse environment while fostering a climate of inclusiveness. In its pilot year, 174 students from 13 U-M schools and colleges applied for the certificate, and the program was recognized as one of the year’s unit spotlights for U-M’s 2018 Strategic Plan Progress Report.

Also last year, we created the position of Rackham’s first Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) coordinator, with the aim of promoting interactions across campus with our MSI partners to benefit both them and U-M. Last fall, Rackham co-sponsored a full-day disciplinary hub in which representatives of select U-M academic programs and their MSI colleagues from eight different institutions came together to work collaboratively on shared goals and interests.

These are a few examples of our DEI efforts to date, and I am proud of the ways in which Rackham students, staff, and program faculty have committed to this work. I also take pride in the fact that one in five Rackham students is a first-generation student, and that we continue to be a national leader in Ph.D.s awarded in each U.S. minority group. However, we acknowledge that there is still much to do, and we are constantly developing new ideas and implementing best practices. Under the guidance of Assistant Dean Ethriam Brammer, who joined Rackham last February to lead our DEI initiatives, we are receiving feedback about Rackham programs and their strategic direction through the creation of the Rackham Diversity Advisory Committee.

A Legacy of Commitment

Your continued support helps us expand efforts like these to enrich the Rackham student experience. Your gift has the potential to make an impact unlike any other at U-M, as Rackham students pursue advanced studies, research, and training in every school and college in the university. They work side by side with faculty to discover and create new knowledge, and they also engage in our educational mission through their vital role in teaching undergraduates.

Your gift can help them every step along the way, from the day they first walk in the doors of the Rackham Building for orientation to the moment they walk back through as graduates ready to help shape our world.

Our building is a testament to Rackham’s legacy of donor support. Thank you for recommitting to that legacy by making a gift today.

Mike Solomon
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs—Graduate Studies