I was proud to tell my colleagues around the country about all of the opportunities and resources that we have available at the U of M… it gave me the chance to view the institution through a different lens. We have everything here.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Welcome Back to Dean Henning Schroeder

Henning Schroeder in DC

As the University of Minnesota gears up for the 2014-2015 academic year, we welcome back Henning Schroeder, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Education, from his year-long appointment as the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)/National Science Foundation (NSF) Dean-in-Residence.

As Dean-in-Residence, Schroeder was responsible for sharing with NSF his viewpoints and practical experience as a senior administrator at a research university. In addition, he commnicated with graduate deans across the country – as well as the broader science community – about his perspectives on graduate education and NSF’s role.

In his position, Schroeder facilitated a dialogue between NSF and the graduate community through various conferences, webinars and workshops; developed a collaborative website to help students apply for graduate research fellowships; began preparations for a workshop on measuring outcomes of international experiences in graduate education; and took part in outreach activities at the national and international level to advance the role of graduate education in training the future STEM workforce for careers inside and outside academia.

While Schroeder contributed his knowledge and experience to NSF and CGS during his year as Dean-in-Residence, he is also bringing back with him new ideas, energy and expertise that he’s eager to share with the U of M. Acting Dean Sally Gregory Kohlstedt commented that, in effect, Schroeder’s time in Washington, DC, allowed him to gain new insights, reflect on the nature of graduate education nationally, and envision fresh opportunities here.

One of his most interesting discoveries, Schroeder says, was how differently people define graduate education.

“I noticed that in many discussions in Washington, DC, all post-baccalaureate degrees including professional degrees in law or medicine seem to get lumped together,” he says. “There’s this perception that graduate study is all about the benefits to the individual student and that we’re throwing money and resources at students so they can find better-paying jobs.”

Schroeder worries that this may erode support for graduate students. “I heard very little discussion about how the research that they’re doing is advancing fields and how they’re creating new knowledge that has the potential to benefit society immensely.”

To that end, Schroeder wants to revisit how we think about – and talk about – graduate education.

“Yes, it is important to provide career preparation and professional development resources for our students. We have to make sure that they can find jobs – whether in academia or industry – and it’s critical that they have the resources to do this,” says Schroeder. “But if we only emphasize what students are getting – and ignore what they are contributing – then those who are in a position to support graduate education may not view it as a common good.”

Schroeder says he’s excited to help explore possibilities for masters and doctoral students to pursue their research in collaboration with businesses, nonprofits, or government.

“There is a strong movement at NSF to support ‘internships’ for graduate students while they are still in their program. In my view however, these activities need to be tied to and benefit their research project, particularly in the case of PhD students. It should be a win-win situation for the student and the company – as well as the academic home institution. With all of the Fortune 500 companies here in Minnesota, so many excellent nonprofits, the capitol right next door in St. Paul – it’s a great place for students to get ‘real world’ experience, create collaborative opportunities for their research, demonstrate the value of their education and improve their job prospects. I believe there is a wide array of possibilities for the U, potential future employers and federal funding agencies to interact when it comes to improving the graduate education experience.”

Schroeder is also eager to explore and promote the benefits of international experiences for graduate students as part of a joint NSF/CGS initiative that was started during his term as Dean-in-Residence. An international student himself and a higher education administrator in both the U.S. and Europe, he is convinced that being exposed to different cultures, different research methods, and different educational systems has lasting and significant effects on a student’s success. The issue, he says, is that the benefits of international study and research experiences are difficult to measure. “The funding agencies and the politicians would like results within six months of a student’s return to justify the investment, but some of the effects and benefits to the taxpayer may not be visible for 10 or 20 years. The reforms in higher education that happened in Europe during the past decade only came about after a critical mass of graduate students, postdocs, and faculty had gone abroad, most of them to the U.S., and came back to their home countries inspired with new ideas."

Schroeder is interested in examining longer-term indicators of success, which are often difficult to capture by conventional quantitative metrics. “Measures and metrics are important – but there are outcomes that need narratives rather than numbers to be fully appreciated.”

In addition to his work with the Graduate School, this fall Schroeder will also begin a two-year term as Chair of the Graduate Deans Group of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC). A consortium comprised of Big Ten institutions, the CIC’s mission is to generate opportunities for students and faculty, share expertise, and collaborate on innovative programs.

Schroeder says his first order of business upon his return will be to re-acquaint himself with the Graduate School staff, as well as the many new deans, associate deans, faculty members and staff who have joined the University during the past year. “It’s like starting a new job – I’m looking forward to catching up on all of the activities of the past year and hearing about what’s new,” he says.

Although he enjoyed his year with CGS and NSF, Schroeder says he looks forward to returning to Minnesota and to the Graduate School. “I was proud to tell my colleagues around the country about all of the opportunities and resources that we have available at the U of M… it gave me the chance to view the institution through a different lens. We have everything here.”

Dean Schroeder returns to the Graduate School on September 2.