Yale Bulletin and Calendar

November 15, 2002|Volume 31, Number 11














The common room of the McDougal Graduate Student Center features carved wood paneling, a fireplace and a painted ceiling.

In Focus: McDougal Center

Facility offers resources and a
gathering place for graduate students

The McDougal Graduate Student Center is celebrating its fifth anniversary this fall.

To mark the occasion, the Graduate School will host a reception on Friday, Nov. 15, 4:30-6:30 p.m., in the common room of the center, located in the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS), 320 York St. The entire Graduate School community is invited to attend.

The McDougal Center came into existence as part of Yale's changing approach to graduate education, notes Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield. Traditionally, Ph.D. programs at Yale and peer institutions offered scholarly and scientific training that was organized around academic departments and programs, while the administrative offices of the Graduate School primarily handled admissions, registration, financial aid and dossier service.

About six years ago, the Graduate School began to expand its mission and to provide a broader range of services to its students, including career guidance, wellness programs, community service, social events and cultural activities. To promote a sense of community, the school introduced innovations, like the matriculation ceremony welcoming new students, which has now become a tradition. The Graduate School's academic units, once only loosely connected, were encouraged to interact more closely.

One of the most significant efforts to promote a sense of community was the creation of the McDougal Center, which was dedicated on Oct. 25, 1997. Alfred McDougal (Yale College Class of 1953) and his wife, Nancy Lauter, funded renovations to a space within HGS and established an endowment to support programming.

"The big issue was that graduate education is very department-driven, and students are often isolated in their departments with no sense of being part of a larger community," notes Peter Salovey, the Chris Argyris Professor and chair of psychology, who chaired the committee that turned the idea for a student center into a reality. "Our challenge was to transcend those barriers and provide a place where graduate students could come together for social and academic reasons."

Salovey recalls that the planning process was "a model of collaboration" among students, administrators and faculty, and that the donors encouraged the committee to be creative and ambitious in its thinking. The result is a multi-faceted facility that is designed to enrich graduate student life socially, intellectually, culturally and professionally.

"The McDougal Graduate Student Center has had a transformative effect on the Graduate School experience at Yale," says Hockfield. "The center has inspired and encouraged programs and a culture that encourage fellowship and professional development. I don't think anyone could have predicted how rapidly and how profoundly the McDougal Center would benefit the graduate student experience at Yale."

The neo-Gothic common room is considered the showpiece of the McDougal Center. Before 1997, it was a private sitting room for residents of the HGS dormitory tower, and its doors remained locked most of the time. Now open seven days a week till 11 p.m., the common room resembles a 19th-century club, with carved wooden paneling, etched windows, carpets, a stone fireplace and deep leather chairs. When the ceiling was cleaned of generations of soot during the renovations process, intricately painted scenes depicting the history of Western civilization were revealed. To meet contemporary needs, the common room also houses the Blue Dog Café and offers newspapers, computer ports and e-mail kiosks.

The center's Program Room, 119 HGS, features state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment for computer-based presentations and space for workshops, meetings and lectures. Downstairs, the McDougal Center houses a computer cluster, a child-friendly recreation room, the Graduate Student Assembly office and additional work areas.

The Student Services corridor includes offices for the McDougal Fellows and teaching consultants; Student Life, directed by Lisa Brandes; Graduate Career Services, directed by Mary Johnson; and the Graduate Teaching Center, directed by Bill Rando. The professional staff and student fellows in these offices collaborate closely to conceive and carry out programs.

The Graduate Teaching Center predates the McDougal Center. Originally called Working at Teaching, it was a peer-led program created by graduate students to help them become effective teaching fellows. Five years ago, an experienced professional was hired by the Graduate School to work with students and academic departments to strengthen teacher training.

"While the Graduate Teaching Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, we have experienced our most significant growth over the past five years," says Joseph Acquisto, a teaching consultant who is pursuing a Ph.D. in French. "Our contribution is to provide a variety of ways to train graduate students to become confident and effective teachers and to recognize the important role that teaching plays for them here at Yale and beyond. ... We try to encourage dialogue about teaching and its role in the life of a scholar."

McDougal Fellows help plan social and cultural events with the Office of Student Life, and professional events with Graduate Career Services. This year, the fellows are running activities ranging from the Jurassic Jam (a dance party at the Peabody Museum) to the Winter Formal, theater outings, community service projects, professional development programs and writing workshops. A literary magazine and a book group are two of this year's new activities.

The offerings at the McDougal Center continue to expand. As Brandes notes, "Five years ago, we could never have imagined the variety and depth of programs that the McDougal fellows have created and sustained each succeeding year. ... They have changed the face of graduate student life at Yale."

Brian Dineen, a graduate student in economics who is this year's McDougal Fellows coordinator, says, "The McDougal Center and the McDougal Fellows build bridges between different departments within the Graduate School, and between the graduate students and the wider Yale and New Haven communities."

"The McDougal Center has done an amazing job of providing resources for all aspects of graduate student life," adds psychology student Mariann Weierich, who is in her third year as a McDougal Fellow. "Over my years as a fellow, I've watched the number and quality of the programs increase due to the continued support of Fred McDougal and the energy and enthusiasm of center staff and fellows."

The center's namesake, McDougal, sums up it up this way: "It's been enormously satisfying for us to see how much the center is growing, how well it's working. My wife and I are thrilled. ... There's no end to how good this could get."

-- By Gila Reinstein


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