Friday, July 31, 2015

Graduate College Dean John Keller

On March 3, 2015, John Keller delivered a campus address on the state of graduate education at Iowa.

Keller, who serves the UI as Graduate College dean and associate provost of graduate education, spoke about today’s educational climate and the value of graduate-level research and creative work.

Graduate education matters

Citing examples campus wide, Keller points to specific innovations that have been the result of graduate education at Iowa, including automobile safety, better K-12 education, improved city planning, and research to aid the hearing impaired.

Graduate education makes a positive impact locally, at the state and national levels, and internationally. In fact, graduate education has never mattered more. “Finding innovative solutions to many of the greatest challenges facing the nation and the world in the 21st century will depend upon having a highly skilled workforce,” says the Council of Graduate Schools in its 2010 report, The Path Forward.

Graduate education lies at a key intersection between undergraduate learning and professional life. Graduate students go on to become the next generation of faculty, researchers in many industries, leaders of non-profit organizations, creative thinkers, and more.


All universities offering graduate programs face a range of pressures that could, over time, compromise the sustainability of graduate education. National and international economies have suffered in recent years, which has meant reductions in funding for higher education. Employment trends shape career options and the job market.

“The rate of change is challenging historical traditions and views,” says Dan Reed, vice president for research and economic development at the UI. “Survivors control their own destiny,” he says.

We have huge opportunities to define who we are and what we do as a student-centered AAU university. How do we approach these opportunities? We look to creative thinkers, like Albert Einstein, who said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”


This university has a track record of innovation.

For example, we were the first to accept creative works as the thesis requirement to satisfy degree completion (MFA, DMA, etc.). We are top in the nation with five dissertation prizes. Our interdisciplinary doctoral programs foster collaborative work that leads the way in new research areas.

At the Graduate College, we are building on our record of successful innovation by:

  • Focusing on a student-centered approach to optimal career preparation for a diverse student body
  • Supporting students’ work to solve complex problems
  • Fostering collaboration to incubate real-world innovation
  • Sustaining programs of distinction through nimble anticipation of state and national knowledge needs and job market realities

Call to action

Our strategic plan calls us to come together to make curricular innovations, harness intellectual synergies, and use our funds strategically to prepare and advise students based on projected market demand for our graduates.

Society’s most pressing and complex problems can be solved best through interdisciplinary efforts that prompt us—urge us—to create, communicate, research, critique, and illuminate to help us see the world differently. From new vantage points, with collaborators from various fields, our students reimagine our world; they become an incubator for real-world innovation.

Graduate education at Iowa is moving beyond teaching students a set of skills. Our goal is to give graduate students a solid foundation in their field PLUS the abilities in critical and malleable thinking they need to imagine, construct, and utilize fruitful collaborations.