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An Eye to the Future

Graduate education gets a boost from College Doctoral Fellows program.

By Wayne Lewis
April 1, 2008

Pop quiz: When you think about what makes a great college, what comes to mind?

OK, pencils down. What do we have?

Excellent undergraduate instruction in the liberal arts that equips students to think critically and express themselves clearly. Check. Vibrant student life featuring a host of opportunities for undergrads to explore the world around them. Check. A faculty stocked with scholars and researchers pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge. Check.

But you may have overlooked an important part of the College’s endeavors for almost a century — and currently a major priority: doctoral education that prepares the next generation to continue the tradition of cutting-edge research, innovative scholarship and enlightening education.

USC College Dean Howard Gillman asserted that the creation and transmission of fundamental knowledge is at the heart of any great liberal arts research college and its mission.

“The world can’t thrive without it,” Gillman said. “And graduate students play a key role in this mission. We’re committed to providing the best environment for our doctoral students to grow as researchers and as people, to go forth and promote our mission.”

“Graduate programs at USC have improved considerably in the past decade,” said Elinor Accampo, vice dean of USC College overseeing graduate programs. “It was 10 years ago that we began offering five-year financial support packages to all incoming students. And in that time the College has undergone a major transformation. We’ve hired a large number of distinguished senior faculty who are now attracting the best students from across the country and internationally.”

Building on recent gains, the College Doctoral Fellows program was established three years ago. In the program, fellows receive five full years of support — two years of fellowship and three years of teaching or research assistantship — as well as a summer stipend and a research budget.

The program is designed to compete with other major institutions and persuade promising prospective students that the College is the place for them.

“If we’re going to attract the best students in the country, we need to compete economically,” said Accampo, a professor and former chair of history.

“The dollar amount our fellows receive is competitive with the best programs in the United States,” echoed Mark Todd, the College’s associate dean for graduate programs. “It’s all part of a deliberate mandate to focus on graduate education. We’re hiring the best faculty and giving the best graduate students opportunities to be on the cutting edge of research and to advance their careers.”

The fellowship aims to prepare students for the professoriate. Fellows collaborate to organize Inside the Academics Studio, a themed speaker series featuring College faculty from across the disciplines. Other fellows participate in recruitment activities, helping to bring more top-rate graduate students to USC.

The program comprises a community of scholars that crosses the traditional lines between disciplines. They meet a few times a semester with Accampo and Todd — a chance to get to know one another, as well as to provide valuable feedback about how they’re doing and what the College can do to better support its graduate students.

“Communication with graduate students is one of our most important priorities,” Accampo said. “When graduate students enter USC, they are not only well funded, but they become part of a community. We care about the quality of their everyday lives as well as about their intellectual growth.”

As of the spring there were 29 College Doctoral Fellows, all first- and second-year students, and another class was being recruited. Here’s a look into the lives of three of the fellows — a snapshot of the future of academe.