By Elizabeth Labiner
Robert Robbins is nearing the end of his first year as President of the University of Arizona. One of the new President’s most important directives has been to launch discussion of the new Strategic Plan. In a recent interview, he explained where graduate students fit into that plan. Robbins sees graduate students as inherently vital to the university on multiple levels: “It’s part of our mission to educate and prepare the next generation of world leaders, and graduate students are an important part of that, both in their own work and in instructing undergraduates. Plus, a great deal of the research work at the university is actually done by graduate students. They’re an incredibly important part of the university enterprise.” Robbins also notes the innovation, economic contributions, and community that graduate students foster on campus.
In light of the essential role of graduate students, Robbins is particularly keen to ensure that their funding needs are met: “We must, in allocating the budget of the university, make sure that there are funds available for teaching stipends and for faculty grants that will fund graduate research assistantships.” He also sees graduate education and work as central features in the university’s next fundraising campaign. Robbins hopes to make graduate funding a priority when distributing campaign resources. “When we present the plan to the board in November,” he says, “I’m hopeful that you’re going to see a large part of that going to graduate scholarships and stipends.”
While the budget of the university as a whole and graduate students in particular are a major focus for the President, Robbins is directly engaging with individual students and their research as well. This past week, he was one of the judges for the Grad Slam 2018 finals. He is extremely excited by the projects undertaken by graduate students, particularly as they look forward to new advances in technology and society. Robbins explains,
There’s so much change across many fields happening quite rapidly, and our graduate students are on the cutting edge of these advancements. The problems they’re addressing are complex and shifting, and these students are already thinking about not only the technologies and careers of the future, but also the legal, ethical, and social questions that will arise with them.
Part of this change, Robbins observes, involves looking to opportunities beyond the academy. While training for academic careers is an important feature of graduate programs, Robbins hopes to expand graduate student experience and training to include many career paths outside of the university.
One possible way to foster wider experiences is through graduate internships, an exciting possibility in which companies hire graduate students and pay their stipends in lieu of an on-campus assistantship position. “Partnerships with companies and community groups could really help us educate our graduate students in a more effective and efficient manner,” Robbins enthuses. The President already has experience building this type of program; his work in Houston was highly collaborative and emphasized partnerships among a number of institutions.
The Graduate Center is excited to work with President Robbins on all aspects of graduate education and support. We share with him an investment in the myriad successes of our graduate student community.