Dear Friends and Colleagues,
As the new Dean of the Rackham Graduate School, I am very excited to work with graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni to continue to innovate and improve graduate education and to recruit the best scholars to the University of Michigan. I am so pleased to be a part of the broader Rackham community that encompasses more than 8,000 master’s and doctoral students in 18 schools and colleges. I am proud to be associated with our 112,000 alumni around the world who represent some of the most respected and accomplished researchers, educators, industry leaders and policymakers.
Graduate students are a core component of the intellectual environment at U-M, creating the critical mass that unifies Michigan’s scholarly and academic strength. Our new class of 1,752 master’s and 936 doctoral students is one of the best and most diverse ever at the University of Michigan. It is composed of 44% female students and 40% students from countries outside the U.S., from all over the world. Of the U.S. citizens, 20% of the students are identified as underrepresented minorities. We are breaking new ground and embracing new levels of diversity among students, faculty and staff. This collision of cultures and experiences is a tremendously valuable part of the graduate student experience, and one that is a core value at Rackham.
There have been many positive changes in graduate education at U-M in the past decade, including: a decrease in the time it takes to get a graduate degree, an increase in the completion rates, an increase in funding for doctoral students, and an increase in the diversity of the graduate student community. Despite the national discussion about the difficulties of obtaining jobs after graduate school, the U-M Ph.D. placement data are very positive: 10 years after graduation 44% of U-M doctoral graduates have tenure or tenure-track positions and 21% have jobs in business.
My goal is to build on these successes and to continue to identify and recruit the best students to our graduate programs, with a particular focus on increasing the diversity of the student body. We are also focused on advancing our professional development programs to provide students with the experiences and tools needed to successfully compete for jobs in academia, business, government and elsewhere. Finally, we are seeking to provide additional graduate student support, including financial support, support for academic endeavors including interdisciplinary activities, and support for health and wellbeing.
I proudly served as the chair of the Chemistry department for the last ten years, and in that capacity I worked with many postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates from a wide variety of backgrounds, and this work has been transformational. I have mentored more than 40 doctoral students in my research group. This experience has taught me that no two students have the same strengths, values and aspirations for the future. Each student has a different set of assets and weaknesses and an individual learning curve. Now, as dean of Rackham, I hope to enhance comprehensive services for graduate students that meet the greater needs of our disparate body of graduate students.
Many of the ideals and successes at Rackham mirror my work in the Chemistry department. I developed new policies and practices to build a diverse and welcoming community that transformed faculty hiring and retention. I have been passionate about improving the campus environment for women in science. The result of these efforts has been a dramatic change in culture and composition of the department, one that I’m proud to say continues today.
U-M President Mark Schlissel prioritizes graduate education, saying “Graduate students are the heart and soul of the University.” I echo that sentiment and am excited to lead the Rackham Graduate School and build on the deep, rich foundation developed over the last century of graduate education at U-M. You will hear more from me in the coming months as we continue our journey together to advance and support graduate education at U-M. I look forward to working with you!
Carol A. Fierke