Efforts to improve undergraduate education at Washington State University are beginning to yield results. Now the university wants that success replicated for graduate education.

Faculty members have been crucial to the gains — they’ve vied for undergraduate teaching, learning and assessment grants; conducted pertinent research; and/or made recommendations as members of the President’s Teaching Academy. Now faculty will employ that initiative and effort for graduate education improvements.

At the recommendation of Graduate School Dean Howard Grimes, the president and provost have established the WSU Graduate Education Commission. The primary objective, according to Grimes, is to foster a universitywide dialogue on how to increase the quality of graduate programs and the graduate student experience at WSU.

“Building a reputation is hard work, but we will benefit from this work for decades to come” he said.

“The commission provides an opportunity to position WSU at the forefront of thinking about graduate education,” said Provost Robert Bates, noting that, within the PAC-10, Stanford has begun a similar initiative.

“Improving student quality and programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels has tremendous potential to enhance the academic reputation of Washington State University,” he said.

Reputation and responsibility
“Since the overall reputation of a major research university is, to a large extent, the product of joint faculty and student endeavors, the challenge of producing a road map for the future will be one that all faculty and students are committed to and pleased to participate in,” said Norman Lewis, director of the Institute of Biological Chemistry and member of the new commission.

“In any major research university, an essential component of education is the unwavering commitment by its faculty, individually and collectively, to provide the best training environment possible for graduate students and in helping them in their subsequent placement after they graduate,” Lewis said.

In addition to what they take with them from WSU, graduate students also contribute to the university, Grimes said. They add diversity. They free up faculty time by teaching some lower division classes, and they contribute to faculty intellectual pursuits and job satisfaction as research assistants and colleagues.

But compared to its peer universities, Grimes said, WSU has a low percentage of graduate and Ph.D. students. He laments the loss that means to WSU — the benefits mentioned above and also the boon that a large number of productive, high quality Ph.D.s brings to the reputation of a research university.

“It’s important for faculty to see for themselves that we need more and better Ph.D. and graduate students,” Grimes said. “I want to work with the commission to create a road map for reaching these goals.”

So does Richard Shumway, professor in the School of Economic Sciences and commission co-chair. “Despite tight budgets, I’m convinced the administration and faculty are serious in their commitment to high quality graduate programs,” he said. “I look forward to working with colleagues on this commission to address issues that will enhance graduate education at WSU.”

Goals and methods
The charge to the commission includes these goals:

• Position WSU to deliver the highest quality programs to graduate students.

• Attract outstanding and diverse students into these programs.

• Function as a university “think tank” identifying the key elements to achieving this success.

To achieve these goals, the commission is asked to:

• Assess the current situation in graduate education by collecting data and feedback from faculty, graduate students and other university sources.

• Examine the projected career paths of WSU graduate students and evaluate that information in relation to the education WSU is providing.

• Look at cultural factors that impact graduate education, such as stipend levels, health insurance, training opportunities and interdisciplinary efforts.

• Provide a written synopsis of findings and recommendations for action to the provost and president for implementation by the Graduate School and graduate programs throughout the university.

Grimes said he is hopeful this will be accomplished by the end of fall semester 2005.

More particularly, the commission is asked to:

• Articulate a vision for enhancing graduate programs in the next five and 10 years.

• Review the range and nature of graduate programs and recommend enhancements.

• Examine enrollment data in colleges/departments and make recommendations for five- and 10-year targets.

• Determine whether WSU graduate programs address the professional paths that modern graduate students are pursuing or if new programs should be developed.

• Consider the possibilities and structure of expanded multi- or interdisciplinary graduate programs.

• Identify barriers to enhancing graduate programs and recommend appropriate changes to the institutional infrastructure.

A collaborative effort
Members of the commission include:

• Co-chairs Richard Shumway, professor, School of Economic Sciences, and Orlando Taylor, dean of the Graduate School at Howard University.

• Faculty: David Bahr, associate professor, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering; Don Bender, professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and director of the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory; Wendy Brown, professor, Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology; Cynthia Corbett, associate professor, College of Nursing, Spokane; Tom Dickinson, professor, Department of Physics; Don Dillman, deputy director, Social and Economic Sciences Research Center; Len Foster, associate professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology; Stergios Fotopoulos, professor, Department of Management and Decision Sciences; Carol Ivory, professor, Department of Fine Arts; Norman Lewis, director, Institute of Biological Chemistry; Mike Morgan, associate professor, Department of Psychology, WSU Vancouver; John Nilson, director, School of Molecular Biosciences; Bill Pan, chair, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences; Susan Ross, associate professor, School of Communication; Joe Valacich, professor, Management Information Systems; Kelly Ward, assistant professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology.

• Administration: Sally Savage, vice president, University Relations; Karl Boehmke, executive director, Budget Office; Mike Tate, interim vice president, Equity and Diversity; Howard Grimes, dean, Graduate School.

• Graduate and Professional Students Association representative DaVina Hoyt.• Graduate Studies Committee representative Dawn Shinew, assistant professor, Department of Teaching and Learning.