The Graduate College at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is honored to be the 2023 recipient of the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) Award for Excellence and Innovation in Graduate Education. This award recognizes outstanding contributions to graduate education. The Graduate College was selected for creating and implementing a new approach to graduate student orientation, called GradMAP, developed under the leadership of Emily Wuchner, associate director of Student Experience.
"Orientation is such an important time in the lifecycle of graduate students, and I'm so proud of the work that we do to help our students feel at home at Illinois. So many people in the Graduate College have contributed to the success of our orientation programming, and it is wonderful to see those efforts recognized on such a large scale," says Wuchner.
GradMAP began as a way to meet the orientation needs of Illinois’ diverse and growing graduate student body and move away from the traditional concept of orientation as a day- or week-long in-person event during which students are introduced to an often-overwhelming array of campus resources. Instead, GradMAP, reimagines the very idea of orientation, offering a suite of resources that provide new graduate students with a comprehensive first-year experience in the form of webpages, newsletters, videos, handouts, and a set of Canvas modules.
An interconnected suite of materials, GradMAP ensures content is available to be consulted as needed and is organized thematically to offer clear and relevant guidance at appropriate stages of a graduate student’s orientation. In addition, timely communications are sent throughout the first year not only to flag key deadlines and introduce relevant service units, but also to prompt reflection and guide students in setting themselves up for success. Discussion spaces provide opportunities for graduate students to connect, network across disciplines, and share resources. The impact of GradMAP has been to lay bare key components of the “hidden curriculum” of graduate school, including how to find good mentors, how to build community, and how to communicate research effectively to different audiences.
Much of the content included in GradMAP is based on interactions with students through one-on-one meetings, new student presentations, and feedback solicited from SAGE (Students Advising on Graduate Education), the Graduate College’s student advisory board. We relied on these opportunities to listen for concerns and unmet needs that may warrant a change or addition to our orientation resources.
Additionally, GradMAP includes an online toolkit with resources that departments can easily incorporate into their own pre-semester or first-year orientation activities. Working closely with departments to understand their needs has been essential in growing the GradMAP toolkit. For the past two years, we have hosted an annual summer “orientation meetup” for departmental staff to exchange best practices. It was our departmental stakeholders who conveyed that they wanted to bring other campus partners (such as the Writers Workshop, the University Bursar, Student Health Insurance, and the Library) to their orientation presentations, but given the number of graduate programs we offer, that was not always possible.
"The Graduate College is immensely proud to receive this award and grateful to Emily Wuchner for her vision, hard work and dedication," said Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, dean of the Graduate College.
Visit the GradMAP resources at https://grad.illinois.edu/gradmap/welcome. For more information, contact the Graduate College.