Dean’s Message

As we draw near to the end of 2012 and take part in this season of thanksgiving and holiday excitement, I wanted thank all the faculty and staff who teach and support our graduate student body as well as the students themselves who have chosen Western Michigan University as their place of study. We are looking forward to the new year and the continued advancement of graduate education. If your financial situation allows, we would be honored by a donation in support of our efforts. We are hoping to grow financial assistance for graduate students as well as to support new initiatives to position ourselves as a destination of choice for graduate education.

May this holiday season be filled with many opportunities to make lasting memories.

Susan R. Stapleton, Ph.D.

Dean, Graduate College
A photo of Dr. Susan Stapleton, Dean of the Graduate College

Meet Our New Graduate Ambassadors

The Graduate College is proud to announce the formation of the Graduate Student Ambassador Program, which has come to fruition with twelve Graduate Student Ambassadors for Fall 2012 and Spring 2013. The twelve students were selected from over 40 applicants. They will function as outreach ambassadors for the Graduate College and the Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC).

A photo of our new Graduate Ambassadors meeting Graduate College Staff members

All the students who were chosen are expected to draw on their own experiences as graduate students to help prospective and current grad students at WMU. They are a highly motivated group of students, involved in many activities besides their school work, so they come to the job with a full understanding of the responsibilities and rewards of this leadership opportunity. There is at least one student representing each college at WMU and their role is complex. They are expected to represent Western Michigan University, GSAC, and the Graduate College as well as their college or area to current and prospective students.
They meet bi-weekly for informal gatherings to share knowledge and ideas, but their formal role is demanding. They attend recruiting events with Mr. Tony Dennis, Director of Graduate Student Recruitment and Retention. They hold office hours to meet with students from their colleges and/or programs who have questions about graduate study in general or more specific questions about issues they may be having. While sometimes students like to be able to have a student to talk to, which is the genesis of the program, the Graduate Ambassadors are trained to refer sensitive issues back to the Graduate College or to the appropriate unit. They give campus and community tours to prospective students and answer questions to the best of their ability, based on their training and personal experience, regarding admissions, registration, graduation, and theses and dissertations, as well as navigating departmental culture, planning their graduate careers, and balancing school, work and family. They are expected to attend all GSAC meetings. All twelve will be blogging for the Graduate College on The Grad Word, and keeping up with social media to promote the Graduate College and GSAC and to communicate with current and prospective graduate students. Each has also been assigned a university-wide committee to serve on as well.
The Graduate Ambassadors for 2012-2013 are Ms. Jessica Bell, of the Occupational Therapy program in the College of Health and Human Services, and Ms. Stephanie Boltrick, an MSW student who will serve in the area of Veterans and Military Affairs. Mr. Robert Brown, MS in Accountancy, represents the Haworth College of Business; Ms. Ashley Butterfield, a Speech and Language Pathology MA student, will be serving in the College of Health and Human Services, and Mr. Ryan Clark, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering represents the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Also serving as Ambassadors for 2012-2013 are Ms. Cindy Cross, M.A. student in Music Therapy, representing the College of Fine Arts and the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences and Ms. Kristin Everett, Ph.D. student in Evaluation, Measurement and Research, who will represent the College of Education and Human Development. Ms. Jamie Gomez, M.A. student in Anthropology, is serving as Ambassador in the College of Arts and Sciences in the area of social and behavioral sciences. Ms. Denisha Griffey, a Ph.D. student in Geosciences, will represent the College of Arts and Sciences in the area of mathematics and sciences. Finally, we have Ms. Josie Wells, M.A. in Public Administration, who will represent our off-campus and Extended University Programs, Mr. Benjamin Williams, an M.A. student in Family and Consumer Science representing the College of Education and Human Development, and Mr. Tiantian Zhang, Ph.D. student in Biological Sciences, who will serve international students and the Haenicke Institute for Global Education.
The Graduate College is very proud to welcome these outstanding student representatives. They have all shown initiative in contacting deans, chairs, graduate directors, and staff members to introduce themselves, setting up their office hours, asking questions, and planning their bi-weekly informal meetings to get to know each other better and learn more about what the Graduate College and Western Michigan University have to offer prospective and current students. If you have any questions for the graduate ambassador who represents your college or area, please call Carson Leftwich at the Graduate College at (269) 387-8212 for contact information.

Meet Jennifer Wendling Holm

Jennifer Wendling Holm is one of the last staff members graduate students meet in the final months before they graduate. As coordinator of theses and dissertations in the Graduate College, Jennifer is responsible for reviewing and clearing these culminating works, putting on formatting workshops to help students make sure these works meet WMU guidelines, and assisting students with scheduling and announcing their oral dissertation defenses. Jennifer revises and shepherds between 30 and 45 dissertations and 25 to 35 theses through the system each graduation period.
a photo of Jennifer Wendling Holm, Coordinator of Theses and Dissertations

It is a lot of reading and editing in a short period of time, so organization and time management are of the utmost importance surrounding graduation periods. She understands where the students are emotionally and academically at this final stage in the educational process and tries to make it as smooth as possible by being accessible to them, answering their questions, encouraging them and lending a sympathetic ear when needed. She finds it quite rewarding to see them through to the end. One of her goals is to make sure they leave the University on a high note, with scholarly theses and dissertations and a good feeling about WMU. In addition to reviewing theses and dissertations, Jennifer handles the graduate faculty nomination forms, committee forms, permission to elect forms, extend time to degree program forms and is the MIGS liaison officer for the University. She crafts the commencement copy for doctoral candidates, provides data regarding awards of doctoral and master’s candidates to University Relations and doctoral numbers and information to the Registrar’s Office.
Jennifer earned a bachelor’s degree in English from WMU and was hired full time as assistant to the vice president of research in 2000. In OVPR, her duties consisted of finding funding opportunities for the School of Social Work and various other disciplines, creating reports for the VP of Research for Carnegie Classification, writing correspondence and editing documents for staff, assistant editor for the WMU Research Magazine and Web author. Jennifer moved to the Graduate College as assistant to the dean in 2003. She was named to her current post in January 2005.
Prior to her employment at WMU, Jennifer enjoyed an assistant manager position at an independent bookseller, Bookbinder’s Bookstore and Café, near campus in Kalamazoo. She also spent a year traveling in Greensboro, North Carolina and Richland, Washington, visiting family and writing short stories. Jennifer takes pleasure in volunteering in the Kalamazoo area. She is a tutor for the Kalamazoo Literacy Council and will resume hosting a Senior Book Club at Wyndham West Retirement Community in winter 2013. She has been a student of yoga since 1996 and enjoys reading, writing, walking, hiking, kayaking and sailing.

The Physics of Changing Course: From the Materials Lab to the Medieval Institute

Deciding to move from the sciences to the humanities as a graduate student is not necessarily common or easy, especially for disciplines as substantively and methodologically distant as physics and medieval studies.

For graduate students Jill Bjerke and Luke Chambers, the attraction of medieval studies—the fascinating history of iconic kings and queens, the adventure of medieval romances and epics—was a force too strong to resist.

a photo of graduate student Jill Bjerke

Jill, who earned her M.S. in Physics from Wake Forest University, had been interested in the Middle Ages and historical fiction since she was a child. During her master’s program, she happened upon the brochure for the International Congress on Medieval Studies, a massive conference held every year in Kalamazoo (of all places!) and hosted by WMU’s Medieval Institute. Fascinated by the hundreds of sessions on topics ranging from ale-brewing and iron-smelting to semiotics, gender theory, and medievalism in gaming culture, Jill decided to give the conference a go. During her first visit to Congress, she attended a session on Angevin and Plantagenet warfare, and watched as the room erupted in a debate over medieval military tactics. The experience turned out to be a decisive one for Jill. Watching these scholars argue passionately with each other over 700 year-old warfare made her realize that, yes, people do this for a living, and that she could as well.

a photo of graduate student Luke Chambers

Luke also traces his fascination with the Middle Ages to his childhood, when his mother read to him from Beowulf and from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. After a winding academic path through interdisciplinary studies, math, and medieval literature, Luke found himself completing undergraduate degrees in Physics and Math at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Feeling a pull to return to the medieval (along with some disenchantment with future career choices in his field) Luke took a semester of Latin at the University of Minnesota, then applied to and was accepted to Western’s Medieval Studies M.A. For him, the structures of languages provide a familiar link to his background in mathematics. Luke observes that, in both math and linguistics, “you have to recognize sets and groupings… though, in the long run, languages aren’t strict, technical things.”

Jill too concedes that there’s quite a disciplinary distance between her original research in Physics (nanotechnology and materials science) and her current work in Medieval Studies. However, she hopes that classes in paleography (the study of ancient writing) will help her to bridge the two disciplines. A mix of history and science, paleography presents the opportunity to study manuscripts and “the materials background of writing,” according to Jill. She says she’s often been curious about putting manuscripts under the microscope in the same way that she studied the composition of steel in her master’s program, yet doing so would involve cutting the medieval vellum, destroying the manuscript and losing a rare and tangible piece of history.

Making the transition from a scientific field to the humanities, Jill feels that the greatest challenges have been an increased reading load and acquainting herself with a new discipline’s writing style. Learning to write for the humanities, Jill says, “you have to pay attention to word choice, sentence structure, style… writing for the sciences is much more succinct, clear, and simple.” Luke agrees, describing different methods of persuasion in each field: style and rhetoric vs. reporting data and interpretation. Jill says that her focus now is on the writing process and establishing a voice as a historian, a much different task than writing in the sciences. As for her new reading load, she feels like she’s gone back to the beginning of school—a “new school,” as she puts it—and since the character of her work has changed so drastically, she’s not burned out yet.

Likewise, though Luke acknowledges that graduate study is a considerable commitment of time and resources, he chose to pursue his interests in medieval languages and literatures at Western because “you can’t learn as much as you’d like to learn about old languages as an undergrad,” and, as he observes, “if you want to understand the past, you have to be able to read the languages of those cultures.” As he explains, the history of language and literature tells us a great deal about our own culture: “Old English is the source of our own language, and Old Norse had a strong influence on English culture and language as well, due to their common mythology and the history of the Danish invasions of England.” Luke’s own research interests reveal the intersections of language, text, and culture. His Master’s thesis will explore the classical source material for the 13th-century Icelandic Trójumanna saga (Saga of the Troy-men), a text which adapts and recombines material from the Latin matter of Troy as well as Ovid’s Heroides. In addition to his research in Germanic languages and literatures, Luke, a third-year Master’s student, is also one of the Medieval Institute’s graduate instructors for MDVL 1450: “Heroes and Villains” of the Middle Ages.

Now in the second year of her M.A. in Medieval Studies, Jill balances a full workload of courses, as well as working as a graduate instructor for MDVL 1450. Last year, her classes ranged from classical and medieval Latin to medieval “Art and Devotion” to a course on the “Rulers and Regions” of France, England, and the Low Countries. The last of these classes provided another decisive moment for Jill, when she realized that every text on the syllabus for “Rulers and Regions” was one that she would have picked up on her own. Her lifelong love of history and enthusiasm for this course material gave her the knowledge that, despite the fact that she doesn’t have an academic background in history, she’s not a “fish out of water” here and that her decision to change fields was a good one. Her current research interests center on Richard the Lionheart and his political career, including his involvement in the Crusades. Jill speaks passionately about Richard, his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his global wanderings: “Richard I is everywhere. He’s King of England, yet has extensive holdings in France. On Crusade he goes to Sicily, Cyprus and the Holy Land and gets captured by the Duke of Austria on the way home. He’s a gateway into many regions of medieval Europe. And, of course, he turns up in the Robin Hood legends as well!” Jill’s excitement about this legendary king and her field makes it clear that, whatever she may have sacrificed in her disciplinary shift, it’s been worth it to her.



Video: Jill Bjerke on Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine

The Institute currently enrolls 22 graduate students, each with widely varied research interests. In addition to Jill’s and Luke’s research in late medieval English history and Germanic  languages, our medievalists are interested in topics including monasticism and anchoritism; medieval Bohemia and Central Europe; women, peasants, and Islam in the Byzantine Empire; medieval and Renaissance drama; and medieval economies, among other areas. In addition to physics and mathematics, our current students have undergraduate backgrounds in philosophy, history, varied languages and literatures, music education, film, international relations, political science, psychology, and classics. With graduate students coming from far afield to pursue their research passions at the Medieval Institute, and graduate instructors sharing their lifelong “medieval fascinations” with students, it seems that Medieval Studies is in good hands at WMU.

Postscript:

WMU’s Medieval Institute (LINK: www.wmich.edu/medieval) is known worldwide as the home of the International Congress on Medieval Studies (LINK: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/congress/index.html) , which brings thousands of medievalists to Kalamazoo every May, and offers a Master’s program in Medieval Studies (LINK: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/academics/ma-program.html]. The program is also well known for its Richard Rawlinson Center for Anglo-Saxon Studies (LINK: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/research/rawl/index.html) , and houses Medieval Institute Publications (LINK: http://www.wmich.edu/medieval/mip/index.html) . The Institute has over thirty affiliated faculty members from the departments of English, History, Theatre, Comparative Religion, Japanese, Spanish, Classics, German, Art, Music, and University Libraries.

Louise Schuster 91 – Awarded Second Master’s Degree

Louise Schuster got the surprise of her long life when Dean Susan Stapleton of the Graduate College at Western Michigan University showed up at her door to deliver Mrs. Schuster’s third diploma. At 91 years of age, Mrs. Schuster had already earned a Bachelor of Science in 1968 and a Master of Arts in 1969 from Western. She had also completed coursework toward a Master’s degree in Literacy Studies through 1980, but had never gotten that degree. With only imaged transcripts from 1962 through 1980 to work with, some detective work was needed.

A photo of Louise Schuster being presented her diploma by Susan Stapleton, Dean of the Graduate College

Enter Mallory Bourdo, Academic Auditor in the Registrar’s Office and Lauren Freedman, Professor in the Department of Special Education and Literary Studies, College of Education and Human Development. They combed through Mrs. Schuster’s records, evaluated her credits, and found she had enough credits to receive a Master of Arts in Literacy Studies. With the help of Carrie Cumming, Senior Associate Registrar, and Stacey Doxtater, Graduation Auditing Supervisor, a decision was made to issue a diploma for June 2012. Mallory worked with the family, especially Mrs. Schuster’s granddaughter, Darcy Kelly, to make sure Mrs. Schuster would receive her diploma, and between all parties they agreed to have the diploma hand-delivered to Mrs. Schuster in her Sturgis home by Dean Susan Stapleton. Mrs. Schuster knew she would be receiving a diploma, but did not know it would be delivered to her home with pomp and circumstance. With her family surrounding her, Louise Schuster finally received her second Master of Arts and her third diploma, in its ceremonial cover, made possible by her hard work and the efforts of Western Michigan University faculty, staff, and administrators.

2012 Fall Campus Visitation

The 2012 Fall Campus Visitation took place in November, with eleven students visiting from universities in the South. Each year the Graduate College’s Tony Dennis, Director of Graduate Student Recruitment and Retention, recruits promising students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM), as well as the social, behavioral and economic sciences (SBEs).

a photo of potential future students visiting the campus of W M U

This year the students met with the Graduate College staff in the morning of Friday, November 9, then went on to a panel discussion with faculty members Mark Orbe, Communication, Dave Louis, Educational Leadership, Research, and Technology, and Mary Z. Anderson, Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology. Panel members discussed graduate school and faculty expectations and planning one’s graduate career. At an informal luncheon, students interacted with faculty members, talking about mentoring, graduate education and departmental culture, working in research groups, the importance of disseminating one’s research to the community, and broadening participation with collaboration across disciplines.  After lunch, student visitors went to their respective departments, where they had a chance to get a tour, meet faculty and administrators, and find out more about their departmental culture and resources. The student visitors, their college of origin and their program interest at Western Michigan University are Mr. Jeremy Donnell, from Jackson State University, Physician Assistant program; Ms. Mikaela Pitcan, University of Florida, Counseling Psychology Ph.D.; Ms. Jana Bailey, Jackson State University, Science Education MA; Mr. Darryl Jefferson, Jackson State University, Health Informatics, Physician Assistant, or Public Administration; Ms. Alannia Mosley, Dillard University, Counseling Psychology; Ms. Lisa Landry, Dillard University, Clinical Psychology; Ms. Ana Stepney, Dillard University, Sociology with a concentration in Social Work; Mr. Randall Willis, Oakwood University and University of Alabama in Huntsville, Applied Mathematics; Ms. Kayla Williams-Rawlinson, Oakwood University, Counselor Education MA; Ms. Keila Miles, Oakwood University, Biological Sciences; and Ms. Candace Farrell, Oakwood University, Applied Mathematics.

Dr. Antonio R. Flores

2003 Distinguished Alumni Dr. Antonio R. Flores, M.A. 1977, President and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), traveled to Michigan with his bachelor’s degrees in business administration from Universidad de Guadalajara and in elementary education from Centro Normal Regional, Mexico in the mid-seventies.

a photo of Dr. Antonio R. Flores

Dr. Antonio R. Flores

When he first came to Michigan, he was director of the Upward Bound program at Hope College in Holland. He characterizes himself as “very green” and says he didn’t know very much English and found the U.S. educational system challenging, though he was working in academia. The head counselor at Holland High School suggested to him that Western Michigan University had an excellent program in Counselor Education and Personnel (now Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology). He decided to try it to become more familiar with higher educational practices and counseling skills which he needed for his job working with needy youth. He found that the program, faculty and students were a tremendous help to him in developing his communication and counseling skills. He drove from Holland to Kalamazoo for every class, and completed his master’s degree while working full time for Upward Bound. He found that the skills and knowledge he was acquiring while at Western were applicable every day in his job, so he learned very quickly, improving his skills and his job performance daily. According to Dr. Flores, it was not the typical student experience, as he was working full time and commuting, but he got so much out of it that he felt it was very valuable.

Dr. Flores went on to earn his Ph.D. in higher education administration from University of Michigan and holds the prestigious position of President and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, which represents more than 400 colleges and universities that are committed to Hispanic higher education success in the United States, Puerto Rico, Latin America, Spain and Portugal. In 2012 he marked his 16th anniversary in this position, and is very highly regarded by his peers. The editors of Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology magazine chose him over hundreds of candidates in government, academia, and the corporate world as one of the “50 Most Important Hispanics in Business and Technology.” Hispanic Business Magazine named him one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics in the United States.” He has also received numerous awards for leadership and advocacy for higher education access, equity, and success for Hispanics, the nation’s youngest and fastest growing minority.

Dr. Flores has also chaired the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility (HACR), which is a coalition of the most prominent Hispanic organizations promoting Hispanic leadership initiatives and the equitable representation of Hispanics in corporate America. Along with his many other accomplishments, he is also chair of the ¡Adelante! U.S. Education Leadership Fund. This organization offers leadership and professional career development training to top Hispanic college students. Another initiative of which Dr. Flores is a founding leader is the Alliance for Equity in Higher Education. This is the nation’s first unified voice for the college and career development needs of minority college students and the capacity building requirements of Minority-Serving Institutions.

Dr. Flores also serves on national government boards, including the Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council, the State Department’s 100 Thousand Strong Initiative with China, the 100 Thousand Strong Initiative with Latin America and the Caribbean, and the US Intelligence Community Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion.

When I asked about his days here at Western Michigan University back in the 1970’s, I thought Dr. Flores would barely remember them. But he said, to the contrary, it was a seminal experience and a springboard for him to go on to earning his Ph.D. and to further success in his career. While he no longer has the opportunity to work with many students in his administrative position, he does travel to lots of conferences held by HACU and by other institutions where students are presenting their work, and he makes every effort to interact with students at those venues.  HACU sponsors the largest internship program in the US, with up to 700 students annually, so that is another way he has contact with young people. His favorite part is attending commencements. He says, “Commencements inspire me the most; to see all those happy faces charged up to go out and conquer the world.”

Did You Know?

Students still request hard copies of information! As we sort through requests from recruitment events and answer phone and e-mail inquiries from prospective local, national and international graduate students, we find that many would prefer to have something in writing sent to them rather than look it up online. This is especially true of non-traditional students or students who do not have access to reliable online service or computers.