Annual Report 2020-2021

In a year like no other, the Graduate School worked to transform the ways we support graduate students and postdoctoral associates. From recruiting to alumni relations and everything in between, the global pandemic required new academic policies, new digital workflows, and new strategies for connecting with the community. A brief annual report cannot fully capture the breadth and impact of the work done by such deeply dedicated professionals in the Graduate School, but the highlights we share here are a tribute to the entire team. They did more than simply pivot; they collaboratively advanced what we do and how we do it.

A Message from the Dean

As I reflect on a year defined by the ways the pandemic has affected our personal, academic, and professional lives, I am impressed by the resilience of our staff, faculty, and students. Despite the isolation of quarantines and social distancing, we came together as a community to support one another, and in doing so found new ways to connect, share, and collaborate. I am grateful for the dedicated Graduate School staff and our campus partners for their efforts to adapt and innovate in support of those we serve.

For context, the Graduate School provides the administrative framework for 307 programs (83 doctoral, 157 Master’s, 67 certificate) and a wide range of support services for about 10,000 graduate students and over 500 postdoctoral associates.

Enrollment and completion data from reports.umd.edu (click the image to enlarge)

The University of Maryland and the Graduate School are deeply committed to inclusion and equity in graduate education. Despite our noteworthy efforts over the years, we recognize that there is still a great deal of work to be done with regards to diversity, representation, and timely degree completion. In pivoting to a fully-online approach, this year the Office of Graduate Diversity & Inclusion (OGDI) engaged prospective applicants in a week-long open house series, and offered another 50 virtual recruitment sessions for particular interest groups (e.g., McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program).

Knowing that financial disparities are a barrier to taking the first step of applying to graduate school, we issued over 1,500 application fee waivers to eligible URM program participants, a three-fold increase from the previous admissions cycle. Building on a wide range of retention and support services, new initiatives this year included our Social Justice & Equity Reading Group and Graduate Student Circles that focused on fostering a more inclusive campus climate. We also assisted graduate programs in their recruitment and retention efforts, matched college and department enhancements of financial support for exceptional applicants, and provided $50,000 to support diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and programming across campus.

The Graduate School also provided over $7 million in critical funding and competitive awards to recruit and support world-class students and recognize excellence in scholarship and service.

This year presented unprecedented financial challenges for many students who might not have been able to remain enrolled without emergency assistance. We partnered with the Office of Student Financial Aid to help get over $9.8M in federal relief dollars to graduate students and modified our own budget to provide an additional $222k to support international students who were ineligible for federal funding. We also initiated a program to provide $2.7M in tuition remission funds to international students who had been offered assistantships but were unable to enter the US due to COVID. The Graduate School provided a total of over $483k in fellowships to doctoral students whose dissertation research was delayed (awarded Fall 2020 through Fall 2021), with additional matching contributions from the Office of the Provost and graduate programs.

This word cloud reflects the narratives provided by students requesting emergency support.

We cannot lead effectively if we do not listen. In Spring 2021, we partnered with all 12 academic Colleges and Schools to administer the Graduate Student Experience in the Research University (GradSERU) survey. The GradSERU results, which feature a 30% response rate (more than double the 2018 administration), will inform strategic investments and initiatives to achieve excellence in every aspect of the graduate student experience. Throughout the year, the Graduate School also hosted various town hall meetings and OGDI listening sessions, met regularly with the Graduate Student Government and the Graduate Advisory Council, and provided Ombuds support to students needing guidance and advocacy.

Graduate and postdoctoral study can sometimes feel like a lonely pursuit and the Graduate School funds the Office of Graduate Student Life to provide a broad range of social and recreational events and gatherings. We also host our monthly GradTERP Exchange, offering graduate students a unique opportunity to develop professional communication skills, share their scholarship, and engage in conversations with an interested and engaged audience in a relaxed atmosphere.

The community extends far beyond College Park, and this year the Graduate School launched online groups on TerrapinsConnect for Master’s, and doctoral, and postdoctoral alumni and organized three regional events with hundreds of alumni attending to network and discuss ways in which they can connect with and support current students and postdocs. We are deeply grateful to all of the alumni who participated in these events, spoke on alumni panels, and gave generously to support current students and postdoctoral associates.

As we kick off the new academic year, we face both the continued uncertainty of a pandemic and a forever more hybrid world. The Graduate School is ready to build on recent experiences, learn from the community’s feedback, and partner to advance student wellbeing, success, and professional outcomes in the years to come. It is an honor and privilege to work with such a talented and dedicated team, and I encourage you to learn more about them by visiting our website.

In closing, I am proud of the ways in which we have supported students and programs through the year and am eager to build upon our success and tackle the challenges ahead. If I can be of service, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at graduate-dean@umd.edu.

Steve Fetter, Associate Provost & Dean
Graduate Student Success
The Graduate Pathways

Grounded in empirical data and informed by student input, the Graduate School organizes its work around five pathways to holistic wellbeing and success. Our goal is to provide a framework that helps students and programs see the graduate experience as more than a degree or a discipline, but as a journey that enriches their personal, scholarly, and professional selves.

In addition to tailored workshops throughout the year, the Graduate School’s Invest in Your Success Symposium engaged students and postdocs in a series of workshops featuring sessions on setting semester goals, honing visual designs, virtual networking and presentations, and more.

Orientations & Resource Fairs

The necessity to shift to online orientations enabled us to connect with more incoming graduate students than we ever had with an in-person event, and perhaps as importantly, to connect before they arrived on campus. We created three parallel orientations for doctoral, master’s, and fully-online master’s programs and hosted them on the campus’ Open Learning platform.

  • Over 1,200 grad students completed the online orientation
  • 93% agreed or strongly agreed it was helpful to them
  • 86% said they would return and view orientation resources throughout their first semester

The Graduate School and International Student and Scholar Services partnered to host over 150 international students in two online, synchronous resource fairs to introduce campus partners and give them the opportunity to ask questions.

Student & Program Outreach

To better connect with students, we launched three editions of a new bi-weekly newsletter that presents the five pathways and opportunities to take steps forward on each of them. All enrolled graduate students are automatically subscribed, and we are proud to have averaged a 50% read rate (compared to an industry standard of 23%).

In previous years, we emailed program directors and coordinators a monthly “operations update” email, which was cumbersome to compile, delayed important communication, and had a read rate of only 13%. This year, we transitioned to topical and more timely emails and achieved an average read rate of 70%.

We have also grown our social media presence in promoting events, new jobs, academic opportunities, and student features. If you haven't already, please join us on TwitterInstagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Promoting Mental Health

Recognizing the critical importance of mental health and wellness on student retention and success, the Graduate School created a new Graduate Academic Counselor position to provide resources, training, community gatherings, and confidential consultations and referrals. A critical goal is ensuring that students, faculty, and staff know that support is available from the Graduate School.

  • Consultations with 28 students experiencing mental health crises
  • Outreach to 92 students taking a leave of absence
  • Custom workshops and orientation presentations for graduate programs
  • Over 700 registrations for Graduate Student Circle Sessions
  • Consultations with 10 concerned faculty or program staff

We encourage all faculty and graduate program staff to have a red folder handy and to email gs-counselor@umd.edu to request a consultation or a custom presentation.

The Graduate School Writing Center

The GSWC offers support for graduate students at every stage of their development as academic and professional communicators. With the assistance of distinguished Graduate Writing and Oral Communication Fellows, we foster communication and community while advancing the skills that empower students to share their research, creativity, and skills with the world.

Career Development & Professional Outcomes for Doctoral Students

The economic impact of the pandemic on higher education underscored the critical importance of preparing graduate students to be competitive for the full range of professional opportunities. Indeed, data from our partnership with Academic Analytics shows that over half of doctoral students who graduated in the past twenty years went on to pursue careers in industry, government, and the not-for-profit sectors. You can view the data broken down by graduate program here and we encourage students and alumni to connect with each other in the worldwide networks on LinkedIn and TerrapinsConnect.

In partnership with the University Career Center, the Graduate School offered a cohesive suite of programming, resources, and services to engage students, postdocs, and doctoral alumni in purposeful professional development and career planning at every stage. Despite the pivot to virtual and the inevitable fatigue with Zoom, we saw remarkable growth in campus engagement.

  • 3,500 total participations from doctoral students and alumni (up 79%)
  • 2,240 attendees (up 90%) in 89 sessions including foundational workshops, multipart career exploration and job search cohorts, the Rita B. Leahy Career Series with alumni panels, the Annual Doctoral Career Pathways Conference, and other outreach sessions to student groups
  • 338 enrollees in the updated, online PhD Career Navigator Canvas site (up 141%), which contains 13 modules of vital career development information specifically for doctoral students and postdocs
  • Launched the Doctoral Career Advisory Board and engaged 88 alumni in career panels
  • Introduced Aurora, an online career planning and job search tool for exploring and pursuing careers in and beyond the academy.
Postdoctoral Programming

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs hosted online orientations and workshops for new and prospective postdocs, with over 325 participants. We also welcomed six new Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows, who each bring to their research and teaching the critical perspective that comes from their educational background or understanding of the experiences of groups historically underrepresented in higher education.

Recognizing Excellence in Graduate Education

As noted earlier, the Graduate School provided over $1.5M in fellowships, awards, and grants to recognize and support excellence in graduate education. Although we would have preferred to celebrate in person, we were nonetheless proud to recognize all of our recipients in an online ceremony.

We were also thrilled to host a campus-wide 3MT competition, which challenges students to communicate the significance of their research thesis or dissertation to a non-specialist audience in just three minutes. One finalist from each year advances to the international competition, and you can view the list of winners and their videos on our 3MT page.

Advancing Policy & Operational Excellence

Academic policies must evolve to meet the needs of students and programs, but the pandemic also required that the Graduate School work closely with programs, administrators, and the Graduate Council (which governs policy) to ensure that students could continue to make progress towards degree during a public health emergency. Some highlighted policy updates include:

  • Implementing a new health insurance requirement to ensure that graduate students have adequate protection.
  • Creating a new policy in collaboration with the Office of Faculty Affairs on co-authorship to help graduate students navigate tricky conversations with faculty and to ensure transparency and fairness in how research contributions are represented.
  • Developing a new advisor policy in collaboration with student representatives from the Graduate Council to establish a procedure for changing advisors and addressing potential funding implications.
  • Creating a new policy for transcripting credit for alternative learning from non-accredited institutions offering structured courses and scholarly training to meet students’ interests in pursuing diverse learning opportunities while in graduate school.
Implementing a Next-Gen Admissions System

As the university embarks on its ambitious goal to update the campus’ technical infrastructure, the Graduate School partnered with the Administrative Modernization Program (AMP) to implement TerpEngage, a new admission portal. Powered by Salesforce, the new system will enable the Graduate School to support the diverse application and review processes and realize significant increases in efficiency and information security. Although its first year presented significant challenges in customizing configurations to meet program needs, onboarding program reviewers, and providing technical support for prospective students, we successfully brought the system online and have continued to add functionality and customization features.

Total applications steadily increased from 16,158 in 2018 to 19,702 in 2020
Digital Workflows

In March of 2020, the pandemic forced the University to shift its operations almost entirely online, which meant that the Graduate School had to quickly design and deploy new digital workflows to replace those that had up until this point been managed with paper forms. For example, we partnered with the Office of the Registrar to create new processes for nominating thesis and dissertation committees and for collecting digital signatures on a Record of Examining Committee forms, making us among the first on campus to implement Adobe Sign for a workflow like this. These were not trivial undertakings, and the result was a more modern and efficient approach that also serves to eliminate tens of thousands of pieces of paper from being printed each year.


We’d love to hear from you by email at gradschool@umd.edu or by phone at 301-405-3644.


Photo of the dean by Ceylon Mitchell, photos of graduate students submitted to the GS with permissions, icons on funding infographic from thenounproject.com, workcloud created on wordclouds.com, commencement photo copyright John T. Consoli/University of Maryland, photo of Main Admin and ODK Fountain by Scott Roberts