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Graduate Studies takes bold steps to prepare students for success

Faculty evolves as changemaker, working with campus partners to enrich graduate education and student services
August 25, 2015
Junaid Kahn works at FGS as a graduate student assistant. Kahn and other graduate student assistants help students with everything from answering program questions, to finding important information, to helping submit a thesis. They can also refer graduate students to one of FGS’ specialists who have expertise in understanding policy, regulations, enrolment processes, and award applications. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Staff in the Faculty of Graduate Studies, based in Room 213 of the MacKimmie Library Tower, help grad students manage their programs while overseeing awards and funding. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary  

Quietly but surely, the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (known as FGS) is taking bold steps to change the landscape of graduate education.

In the past FGS was mostly known as an administrator, a faculty of registration for the university’s 6,000 graduate students. and an upholder of quality, ensuring the university’s graduate degrees meet high standards. These still remain core responsibilities for the 31-person faculty, which includes associate deans, program managers, awards and records officers and specialists. Each day FGS staff help students manage the administrative components of their programs. They also oversee $30 million in awards and funding for domestic and international students.

But in the last few years, FGS has evolved into more — as a facilitator for change, working with campus partners to enhance and enrich graduate education at the university.

Focus on serving students

Consider these achievements: A year and half ago, the University of Calgary became one of the first institutions in North America to introduce a supervisory development program for graduate supervisors. At the same time, it’s also fine-tuned an online interactive progress report created in 2010  the first of its kind in Canada — to enable students to track their achievements and share feedback. And in another unique move, FGS has enlisted student ambassadors to connect with other graduate students, helping them to find resources and training they need to succeed in future careers.

Guiding these and other actions is a renewed focus in FGS on serving students. “We’re not here just to be an enforcer of rules, but to provide the leadership, training and support students need to achieve their academic goals,” says FGS Dean Lisa Young.

At the heart of the change for Young and others in the faculty is a growing realization that, as student needs change, so must graduate education.

Taking a leadership role

“We’re entering new territory. Graduate education is developing in a way to prepare students to not just find work in academic professions but also for the private and public sectors. Ultimately we want to improve the student experience and outcomes. To do that, we must take a holistic approach — one that provides more support to both students and faculty,” she says.

All of these developments mean that FGS must take a strong leadership role through new programs and services. Certainly, the growing number of students taking part in My GradSkills workshops, and the strong commitment of supervisors to the award-winning supervisory development program, are signs to FGS leaders that its recent initiatives are headed in the right direction.

Young says the new programs are closely aligned with the university’s drive for excellence.

“In addition to attracting quality graduate students, we want to ensure excellence in supervision and academic training for our students. Our aim is that every graduate student should have a positive, successful experience at the university.”