University News

New position increases support for grad students

Associate dean of master’s education seeks to enhance experiences of student body’s fastest-growing segment

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A new position in the Graduate School — the associate dean of master’s education, created last month­­ — is seeking to improve master’s students’ experiences as this segment of the Brown student body becomes its fastest-growing.

Don Operario, associate professor of public health and director of a master’s program in the School of Public Health, is the inaugural associate dean, having assumed the role Feb. 1.

The position has three primary functions: serving as the first point of contact for master’s students with issues or concerns about enhancing their Brown experiences, helping connect offices across campus in supporting master’s students, and supporting faculty members and departments in enhancing master’s programs, Operario said.

The new role “embodies the University’s commitment to these students,” Operario said, adding that he will “advocate, support and … nurture the students and the master’s community to the extent that I can.”

The new dean will help respond to the growing number of master’s students, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15, adding that there are now more first-year master’s students than first-year PhD students. “This is an important group of students for Brown to reach,” Schlissel said.

In the past decade, master’s programs have grown to make up 28 percent of the Grad School population, which in turn constitutes a quarter of the overall student body, wrote Peter Weber, dean of the Grad School, in an email to The Herald.

“The number of master’s students has been growing significantly in recent years,” Schlissel said. “We want to be sure these programs get the same level of help from campus and are at the same level of quality as our PhD programs.”

The short time period master’s students spend at Brown also played a factor in creating the dean position. Since master’s programs range from only two semesters to three years, “if a concern or problem arises, especially in a one-year program, it needs to be addressed quickly,” Weber wrote.

Operario will mentor and advise master’s students, as well as act as a go-between for the Grad School and master’s students and programs, Weber wrote.

The creation of the new dean position also signifies a growing emphasis on master’s education, Schlissel said, noting that in many areas, like computer science and engineering, undergraduate degrees are no longer sufficient for many jobs.

Enrollment in master’s programs has been growing “organically” without much concerted effort by the University, Operario said, adding that his position was a response to that growth and a “recognition of unmet need.”

But President Christina Paxson has said publicly that she plans to grow master’s programs at a faster rate than other components of the Brown population over the next decade, a goal administrators have acknowledged is in part financially motivated.

“More students realize this higher level of education is important for their future career development,” Schlissel said, adding that higher levels of enrollment are also common at other universities.

With more students in master’s programs, the associate dean for master’s education will be able to help departments, faculty members and students determine where growth should occur, Operario said.

“I could be a resource to help them realize how to make that happen,” Operario said.

While the new position addresses an existing need, “it also reflects the University’s plan to enhance a commitment to graduate education with new master’s programs,” Weber wrote, noting that nine new master’s programs have been created since 2002.

The position was created as an early initiative of Paxson’s strategic plan, Weber wrote.

Following the publication of the plan, a committee of graduate program directors was convened to address how to enhance the experiences of master’s students and decided on the necessity of a position created to exclusively address master’s education, Operario said.

Input from master’s students was also reflected in the decision, Weber wrote.