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By Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek

Even during challenging economic times, we’re making progress on key strategic goals by adding as many as 77 new graduate assistantships and fellowships in just this past year.

Graduate students contribute significantly to our research and teaching mission. Our proportion of graduate students to undergraduate students is significantly smaller than the ratio found at both our peer research universities, and comparable flagship state universities. Offering competitive assistantships and fellowships is critical to recruiting talented students who will contribute to our knowledge-based economy.

As we plan for anticipated budget reductions, we must work to sustain support for graduate programs and take creative approaches for meeting this and all strategic priorities.

Through private dollars, and by reallocating existing funds and partnerships for new revenue sources, we’ve been able to add the following:

  • Twelve new slots for top graduate students in science and engineering through the recently announced UTK-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distinguished Fellowship program. Recruiting is now under way and the deadline to apply is Feb. 1
  • An additional $800,000 in support from the UT Athletic Department for graduate stipends. The funds allow each college dean to create new slots or enhance existing positions for both master’s and doctorate students, depending on the college. The new $1 million revenue stream for the academic programs of the campus was made possible through the new television contract with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and ESPN, and we thank UT Athletics for their support for our goals. This funding will eventually create 40 new graduate slots. Because of the timing of receiving the new funds, most deans chose to supplement existing positions, with plans to create new slots in subsequent years. The additional $200,000 from athletics went to support our student success efforts and the new Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center.
  • Twelve new fellowships spread among all the colleges through the new J. Wallace and Katie Dean Fellowship Fund program. This one-time allocation will provide four years of funding for the students, with each college matching the private gift through a fee waiver or existing grant or contract. While students will pursue specific degree programs, they will be mentored by faculty, who encourage interdisciplinary connections, international collaboration and scholarly training.
  • Thirteen new fellowships for doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences through the new Newton W. and Wilma C. Thomas Graduate Fellowships program. This one-time allocation will allow the campus to support 13 additional graduate students in the incoming class of Fall 2010 over and above existing totals in these areas. These students will receive four years of guaranteed support, and will not have a teaching obligation during their first year.

In this strained economy, we’ve seen a surge in applications for our graduate programs, as people look to broaden their skills or change career paths. Providing opportunities and funding for top notch students will ensure that we grow our graduate programs to the maximum benefit of the university.