Nine graduate programs received 51 state-funded supplemental research assistant positions for 2008 in the Graduate School’s catalytic enhancement of doctoral programs.
 
The idea is for the state money to serve as a catalyst to attract other funding and expand the number of quality graduate students.

Programs/Positions OK’d for 2009 and 2010 Funding  

*  Anthropology, 11 positions
*  Chemistry, 5 positions
*  School of Earth and Environmental
   Sciences and School of Economic
   Sciences, 6 positions
*  College of Engineering
   and Architecture, 8 positions

*  Molecular Plant Sciences,
   8 positions
*  VCAPP and Neuroscience,
   3 positions
*  Physics and Astronomy,
   5 positions
*  Institute for Shock Physics,
   1 position
*  Veterinary Microbiology and
   Pathology, 4 positions.
Funded through a special budget allocation from the state Legislature, the 2006-2007 cycle of the program cost $1.2 million. The second cycle in 2008 is expected to cost $825,062.
 
“The state has invested these funds specifically to increase the enrollment and graduation rates of our best Ph.D. programs,” said Howard Grimes, dean of the Graduate School at WSU. “For us to maintain these funds, it is critical to award the departments that are investing in a catalytic increase in their Ph.D. enrollments. It is a powerful resource to use strategically to build excellence.”
 
“It’s very unusual,” said Karen Klomparens, dean of the graduate school at Michigan State University.
 
Klomparens, who served as an external reviewer during the first cycle of allocations, said this is the only state Legislature that she knows of that has made supplemental funds available to increase graduate education.
 
“It shows their interest and understanding of graduate education and research and its impact on economic development.”
 
David Kramer, chair of WSU’s molecular plant sciences (MPS) graduate program, said his program will receive eight state-funded positions, up from six positions received in the last funding cycle.
 
Over the course of the past two years, MPS increased its graduate enrollment from 24 students to 36 students. This year, he said, the program has made offers to 17 students.
 
One major factor, Kramer said, was creation of an accelerated research Ph.D. program that focused on encouraging faculty to actively recruit highly motivated students directly into their research programs instead of entering a yearlong rotation.
 
Another huge recruiting tool, he said, is the integrative plant sciences retreat held each spring semester for prospective graduate students.
 
This year, in conjunction with the new supplemental RA positions, MPS plans to create a global plant sciences initiative to enhance the program further, Kramer said.
 
The initiative has several components, but the centerpiece is a plan to create a national and international center for education and outreach. Working with faculty at WSU and other select institutions, graduate students would help create and distribute Web-based seminars on the most up-to-date issues, methodologies and knowledge available in plant sciences.
 
Tori Byington, director of graduate planning and assessment for the Graduate School, said 26 WSU programs applied for the state-funded RA positions.
 
Common to the nine funded programs was a specific plan to increase both the quantity and quality of graduate education by recruiting more highly qualified graduate students and then providing them with enhanced opportunities.
 
The funded proposals also had specific plans for how the additional RA positions would be used to leverage other funds and enhance the reputation of the university.
 
Byington noted that this year the majority of the programs that received funding are interdisciplinary in nature or have some aspect of interdisciplinary work woven into the proposal.
 
While that was not a stated requirement to receive the funds, the interdisciplinary nature of the proposals seemed to increase their ability to recruit a higher number of excellent students.