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Provost Ritter Discusses Graduate Education at Syracuse University
Strong graduate programs are a key part of the University’s success as a Carnegie R1 institution. SU News sat down with Provost Gretchen Ritter to hear her views on graduate education.
Q: How has your own experience in mentoring graduate students helped to shape your vision for graduate education at Syracuse University?
A: Graduate students are a critical part of every university that values research and creative work. I have worked with graduate students as a professor, as a director of graduate studies and as an academic dean. My personal experience is that mentoring and collaborating with graduate students makes me a better scholar and teacher.
Working with graduate students ensures that I am always learning, and I know many of my colleagues would agree that our graduate students often prompt faculty to evaluate new approaches and perspectives. One of my top priorities is high-quality mentoring of graduate students. Ensuring that our graduate students are challenged, supported and ultimately successful makes every part of the university better.
Q: Syracuse University is home to excellent online graduate programs, primarily at the master’s level. How do you view the importance of online education in the graduate space?
A: We have a robust portfolio of outstanding online graduate programs, with more than 2,000 students enrolled across the University. We know from experience that access to well-designed online graduate programs help students to advance in their fields of interest.
Many students at the master’s level are working professionals who want to earn a graduate degree on a part-time basis. Their real-world perspectives can enrich the graduate school experience for their peers. Others are not able to move to Syracuse, but still have access to the outstanding faculty and key advantages of our graduate programs.
I am excited about the range and quality of the online graduate programs and credentials that the University offers–and expect that there will be more to come in the years ahead. They will continue to broaden Syracuse University’s reach and impact.
Q: Why are Ph.D. programs critical to the University’s mission, both as a research university and as a top university for undergraduate education?
A: Ph.D. programs are critical across multiple dimensions. The University has many highly ranked doctoral programs that bring distinction to the University and train highly accomplished independent scholars.
It’s hard to understate the role of Ph.D. students in a top-tier research university like Syracuse. They are a critical part of our research and creative ecosystem. In collaboration with our outstanding faculty (and often post-doctoral students), doctoral students can make important original contributions to their fields. They also train to become excellent teachers and student mentors. Undergraduate students, in turn, benefit from the mentorship and expertise of our graduate students.
Q: What is the role of terminal master’s degrees like the M.F.A. at a research university such as Syracuse?
A: Master’s of fine arts degrees, whether in creative writing, performing arts or the visual arts, are key credentials for individuals who want to expand their creative practice or who want to teach in their area of expertise. Creative artists learn from other creative artists, and their work enriches the university experience for everyone that is part of the community.
Q: The Graduate Student Organization is quite active at Syracuse University. Can you speak to the importance of the GSO partnership with the Graduate School dean and others campus leaders in terms of elevating excellence in graduate education?
A: I have been very impressed by the GSO. I think it’s critical for the graduate student organization to partner with the graduate dean and other administrative leaders to advocate for expanded opportunities for graduate students.
Hearing directly from our students about their needs helps us in our efforts to find solutions to common issues like dissertation completion, summer funding opportunities, and–as we saw recently–relief funding for students whose progress was slowed by COVID. I look forward to working closely with the GSO to continue to enhance the graduate student experience.
Q: If you could give Syracuse University graduate students one piece of advice, what would that be?
A: Look for opportunities to meet people and have experiences outside of your core discipline. I once heard a vice president for Google talk about how valuable it was for him that he completed a graduate minor in English literature while he was pursued a Ph.D. in computer science.
Syracuse University is rich with opportunities to network, collaborate and experience the full range of what a great research university has to offer. Go to a performance, walk through the art museum, attend a lecture outside of your field. You will be glad that you did.