Professional development: history of higher education in America

The Graduate School is exploring ways to build interdisciplinary communities of graduate students though cohort-based professional development initiatives. These initiatives, which come out of a year-long planning effort that was funded by a “Next Generation” challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, are spearheaded by assistant dean for professional development Amy Pszczolkowski. With support from the Humanities Council, Fordham University Professor Leonard Cassuto’s “History and Challenges of Higher Education in America” seminar launched in October 2017 with ten graduate students representing seven departments.  This informal seminar series takes the long view of higher education in the United States, framing its problems and prospects in historical terms. How did we get here? Where are we headed and why? Where should we be headed? Through participation in the seminar, which met eight times between October and March, graduate students are gaining a deeper understanding of the history and culture of the larger intellectual community which they hope to enter.

Shinjung Nam, a fifth-year graduate student in anthropology, had this to say about her participation in the initiative: “Besides the effect of the German university system and its significance to the formation of other countries' higher educational institutions, almost everything we discussed in class was new to me.”

Seminar participants have included Stanley N. Katz of the Woodrow Wilson School, Anthony Grafton of the Department of History, and Bill Gleason, the chair of the Department of English. "The topics under discussion cover such an important range of issues central to understanding the past, present, and future of higher education that I suspect I've learned as much from the readings and discussions as the students have,” said Gleason.  The learning with graduate students often goes both ways.  “I've learned a great deal from the students themselves, through the questions they raise and the opinions they share,” he added.  “I can't imagine a more productive space, or a more important moment, for thinking about these matters. I wish I'd had a seminar like this when I was in graduate school."

Administrators from across campus have joined the seminar as well, including colleagues from the diversity and inclusion unit in the Office of the Dean Graduate School; Toni Turano, senior associate dean in the Office of the Dean of the Faculty; and Drew Allen, executive director of a new center on campus called Princeton’s Initiative for Data Exploration and Analytics for Higher Education (IDEAS for Higher Ed). Allen was excited to participate in this initiative with graduate students: “It’s not often that we have an opportunity to step back and critically, from an academic perspective, examine the higher education ecosystem in which we play a role,” he said.  “As an administrator who is using data to help uncover new insights about how universities can improve and better fulfill their missions, it was incredibly valuable to have conversations about higher education policies with graduate students who have a stake in the work I’m doing as an administrator.”  

What’s next? Dean of the Graduate School Sarah-Jane Leslie, who attend a session in February on professionalization of graduate students, is a strong supporter of these initiatives: “As dean, I look forward to thinking creatively about how best to provide professional development opportunities to our graduate students. Initiatives such as this are crucial because they engage students in the process of thinking about what those opportunities should be, and how they might be best communicated to their peers.”

Photo by Justin T. Bronfeld