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Q&A with Rackham Dean Mike Solomon

As he steps into his full-time role as dean of Rackham Graduate School, Solomon discusses the school's unique opportunities, its commitment to DEI, and his advice for students.

What do you see as Rackham’s greatest strength, both for students and for the programs with whom Rackham works?

Mike Solomon: Rackham’s greatest strength is its sole focus on graduate students and the centrality of their experience to the University of Michigan and its mission. Rackham students pursue advanced studies and training. They work side by side with faculty to discover and create new knowledge, and they also engage in our educational mission through their vital role in teaching our undergraduates. As alumni, they use these skills to advance our society. Through Rackham's focus on graduate education, we support students from application to graduation and beyond. We assist graduate programs and faculty in this important work by collaborating and partnering with them. And we can help by offering experience and know-how that spans the campus, since Rackham students pursue their studies in every other school and college in the university.

What are some ways you hope to continue to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the Rackham community?

MS: I'm proud of how graduate faculty, students, and staff have been deeply engaged in DEI work at Rackham, and I know we are committed to the ongoing effort that's necessary for all members of the Rackham community to thrive. Rackham helps prospective students from diverse backgrounds understand that they can realize their educational and professional goals at U-M by supporting campus visits in which they engage with departmental faculty. We create community for Rackham Faculty Allies to come together to create and test new ideas that directly address inclusion and climate in graduate programs, and Rackham Faculty Allies now work with Student Allies to advance these plans. We also offer resources to faculty and students alike about advising and the mentoring relationships that are so critical to graduate students' success and their sense of belonging. And we support Rackham’s student groups—Rackham Student Government, Students of Color of Rackham, and Graduate Rackham International—as they express and pursue their own visions of DEI on campus. In the year ahead, Rackham will continue its commitment to DEI by growing and improving such successful student-support programs as our professional-development DEI certificate, the Summer Research Opportunity Program, and the Bouchet Honor Society. We will also explore ways to enhance Rackham staff climate, and we will collaborate with campus partners to create additional opportunities for sexual harassment and sexual misconduct training and education for graduate students.

The other part of your title is vice provost for academic affairs–graduate studies. Could you talk a bit about what that aspect of your position entails?

MS: Graduate programs at Michigan include both Rackham programs and the professional-degree programs, examples of which include the master's in public health and the master's in social work, in addition to medical education and law. I think there’s tremendous potential for these programs to learn from each other, and I look forward to developing ways to generate those connections. Two examples are the participation of some of the professional graduate programs in the Faculty Allies initiative, and the provost office’s investment in campus-wide work with minority serving institutions as part of its DEI initiative. One aspect of my responsibilities that many people aren't aware of is that I have the privilege of working with the campus cultural collections, which include the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the Bentley Historical Museum, the Clements Library, and Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

Having spent almost a full year as interim dean, what's one of the first things you want to undertake as dean?

MS: Rackham is unique in its relationships with so many communities on campus. By that, I mean not only programs in widely different fields, but also the students, faculty, and graduate coordinators from those programs with whom we work so closely. Thus far, I have enjoyed tremendously the opportunity to meet and chat with people across campus—these cross-disciplinary conversations about graduate education and scholarship have been truly rewarding. Over the summer, I would like to get out to hear more views on what we want to do and where we want to go as a first step in a planning process that will engage the broader campus community. These conversations are really helpful as we together chart a course about the future of graduate education, especially given all the change we currently see in higher education.

What’s one piece of advice you would share with an incoming Rackham student?

MS: I would recommend that any student seek out and benefit from all the interdisciplinary and cross-program opportunities that our campus faculty and students offer. From interdisciplinary workshops to Rackham student organizations, professional-development activities, certificate programs, and more, graduate education has so much to offer that can complement the deep learning that students accomplish in their programs. Taking advantage of both the depth and breadth of educational opportunities can help students realize their personal, educational, and professional goals.

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