Back to School
Students are flocking to UT Arlington's 105 graduate programs in record numbers. Their reasons are as varied as the degrees they're pursuing.
Attorney Meredith Lyon’s job at the City of Dallas requires more than a law school education. She’s a manager, supervisor, teacher, and peacemaker. To boost her performance in all phases, she enrolled in graduate school at UT Arlington, where she’s learning how to make her office run more efficiently and to understand the ever-changing world of public administration.
Ask others why they’re pursuing advanced degrees at UT Arlington, and you get a variety of answers.
Doctoral candidate Sanchali Deb wants to help people and sought out electrical engineering Professor J.C. Chiao for his work on medical devices that save lives. An enticing financial package helped convince Antonio Lopez to pursue a mathematics Ph.D. after earning his bachelor’s degree at UT Arlington. Vitaly Voinov loves the practical approach of the linguistics doctoral program.
By 2018, 2.5 million new jobs will require a graduate degree, according to a report on graduate education released in April 2010. “The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States” calls for state and national policy to increase graduate school enrollment to meet that need.
Whether it’s a laid-off worker seeking new job skills or a professional who wants more knowledge in a field related to her job, thousands are turning to UT Arlington to earn graduate degrees. In spring 2010 a record 6,756 students were enrolled in the University’s 74 master’s and 31 doctoral degree programs.
Phil Cohen, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Office of Graduate Services, is impressed by the growth in number and diversity of graduate students in the past decade.
“From fall 1999 to fall 2009, we increased our overall graduate enrollments by 72.9 percent and our new graduate enrollments by 50.9 percent,” Dr. Cohen said. “From 2001 to 2009, moreover, doctoral enrollment grew from 589 to 969.”
Spring 2010 saw 927 doctoral candidates—81 more than the previous spring. The 2009–2010 academic year brought 126 new students to the program.
Master’s programs grew even faster. Spring 2010 enrollment totaled 5,828 students—803 more than the previous spring. For 2009–2010, the University added 2,685 new master’s students. Nursing and education increased class rolls by double-digit percentages.
Graduate students learn valuable job skills regardless of their discipline, says Donald Bobbitt, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“In graduate school you learn to acquire, organize, and utilize information,” he says. “You learn how to communicate effectively. Critical thinking skills let you quickly get to the most important issues and arguments without getting lost in the noise.”
Earning a graduate degree takes time and money, and UT Arlington has an answer for both. Flexible class schedules, including evenings and weekends, plus award-winning distance learning programs cater to people with busy lives.
Graduate financial aid and scholarship programs help with tuition, research, and living expenses. The Department of Education’s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) fellowship, which Lopez received, helps students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as the STEM fields.
There are no shortcuts to advanced degrees, but a few fast tracks keep students focused. A Bridge-to-Doctorate fellowship takes STEM students straight from a bachelor’s degree to their doctorate. The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a National Science Foundation program, funds the program, awarding full tuition and fees, a textbook and research supply allowance, and a $30,000 annual stipend for two years.
Generous financial assistance, innovative programs, and the opportunity to work alongside nationally recognized faculty drew Lyon, Deb, Lopez, and Voinov to UT Arlington. Many others are following for the same reasons.
SANCHALI DEB DRIVEN TO HELP
Sanchali Deb could have gone to any university she wanted for her doctoral work. Her academic performance in India at Jadavpur University and Siliguri Institute of Technology was stellar. Her work in control systems was exceptional.
She was considering the Ph.D. program at Texas A&M University, but something was missing. She had an unmet passion for helping people. Deb made a phone call to UT Arlington electrical engineering Professor J.C. Chiao, who works on medical devices with a range of health benefits.
When I saw our devices help the stomach move properly, I was so excited and had a warm feeling in my heart. The doctors in the surgery room were also thrilled.
“I told Dr. Chiao that I had no experience but was thinking about doing my Ph.D. work at UT Arlington and wanted to go into what he was doing,” Deb says. “His team is multidisciplinary, and he welcomed me.”
Chiao says the strength of his team is its diversity.
“We get the best ideas because everyone is coming at an issue from a different point of view,” he says. “That’s part of what makes a great graduate program. To achieve greatness, we need to create synergy.”
Chiao’s research group consists of students from electrical engineering, bioengineering, mechanical engineering, materials science, physics, biology, and psychology, plus collaborators from urology, neurology, neurosurgery, gastroenterology, surgery, and oncology. He also works with 12 clinicians from seven hospitals.
Deb’s decision has led her to develop a miniature gastrostimulator for which she is seeking a patent. It helps cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy and severely distressed diabetic patients with gastroparesis restore stomach motility so they can digest food.
“I was interested in something that had a direct impact on people,” Deb says.
The gastrostimulator works much like Chiao’s sensor that helps people battle gastroesophageal reflux disease. In a 30-minute outpatient procedure, a doctor inserts the device through the throat and esophagus using an endoscope and attaches it to the inside of the stomach. A small controller outside the body wirelessly activates the implant to produce weak electrical impulses that stimulate the stomach tissues to digest food.
“When I saw our devices help the stomach move properly, I was so excited and had a warm feeling in my heart,” Deb says. “The doctors in the surgery room were also thrilled. They started making phone calls, asking their colleagues to come in and see.”
These clinical trials are the beginning of what Deb hopes will lead to a widely used product.
“It would be very rewarding to design something that would benefit people who wouldn’t survive without it.”
ANTONIO LOPEZ BEATING THE ODDS
Numbers speak to Antonio Lopez. When his family moved to the United States from Mexico, he couldn’t understand what his middle school teachers were saying, but numbers made sense. In English or Spanish, two plus two always equals four.
“I noticed in one of my classes that the teacher was saying, ‘I don’t know how you do it. You don’t understand me, but you got it right,’ ” Lopez says of his math homework. His top grades in math resulted in other Hispanic students asking him for help, and he obliged.
Numbers, and his skill with them, helped boost Lopez’s self-esteem and generate positive attention from teachers. And numbers gave him a future—a much brighter one than he originally anticipated.
“My goal was to get my bachelor’s and start working,” the former architecture major says. “I thought there was going to be a lot of mathematics (in architecture) but decided it wasn’t for me. I decided to get a math degree.”
Lopez received his bachelor’s degree—the first in his family to do so—with honors in August 2009. He’s now on the road to being the first to earn a graduate degree.
“When I got a bachelor’s degree, my father thought I would get a job. When I started graduate school, he said, ‘Aren’t you done with school?’ They don’t know what a Ph.D. is, but I explained that you have more opportunity.
“Once I got to know my professors, I knew I could do more. I stayed at UT Arlington because of the faculty and staff. I knew I would get the support I needed.”
The support was there all along, particularly from Professor Tuncay Aktosun and Associate Professor Minerva Cordero. Support on the graduate level includes more mentoring by professors, as well as financial assistance. His GAANN fellowship includes a stipend for living expenses, and he is paid for his graduate assistant job in the calculus lab.
Lopez hopes to do more research with Dr. Aktosun.
“I am more interested in applied mathematics, something that really applies to the real world,” he notes. “I like to do research in differential equations. When I worked with Dr. Aktosun on solitary waves, the main focus was to find solutions using a lot of mathematics.”
At the graduate level, mathematical analogies are challenging Lopez to think beyond numbers.
“You are explaining why this equation is the way to the solution. With analogies, you have to express yourself in language but with numbers, about numbers. You have to understand what they are saying.”
VITALY VOINOV WORD POWER
Vitaly Voinov is a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves kind of guy. That’s one reason he chose UT Arlington for his doctoral degree.
“UT Arlington has a good blend of theory with practice,” he says of the Linguistics Department in the College of Liberal Arts. “I’m into linguistics because you can use that knowledge in many different, practical ways.”
Voinov originally wanted to be an archeologist, the Indiana Jones kind. Then before starting undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, he signed up for a summer archeological dig in Israel. “It’s not as exciting as the movies,” he confesses.
His interests shifted when a professor compared shards of pottery to morphemes, the smallest linguistic unit with a semantic meaning. For example, “dogs” contains two morphemes: “dog” (canine) and “s” (plural).
Language diversity was already a big part of Voinov’s life. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and brought up in New York City, he spoke Russian at home and English at school, where he studied French and ancient Greek.
He studied theology at a seminary, followed by a related nine-year project in Siberia. While there, he immersed himself in Tuvan, the language of Tuva, a member of the Russian Federation on the northern border of Mongolia.
“Russian is the dominant language there,” he says of Tuva. “Tuvan is not studied much in the Western Hemisphere. There is only one English-language dissertation on Tuvan. Hopefully, mine will be the next.”
He returned to the United States in 2007 with plans to earn a doctorate in linguistics while documenting the Tuvan language. UT Arlington’s linguistics program met his needs, and the financial aid offerings were “very attractive,” Voinov says. He received the Graduate Stimulus Scholarship, which provided $2,500 and allowed non-resident students to pay in-state tuition.
Linguistics Associate Professor Colleen Fitzgerald says Voinov’s work with Tuvan has been an asset to UT Arlington’s language revitalization work with tribal communities in Oklahoma. Why preserve a language when a community takes on a more dominant one, such as Russian or English? Family, Dr. Fitzgerald says. “Imagine if your grandmother spoke one language and you couldn’t understand her.”
The larger family of humanity is another reason. Linguistics can show how people moved throughout time, letting one language merge with another.
After earning his degree, Voinov plans to continue researching Tuvan. He also hopes to help save a distantly related language in Moldova called Gaguz that may become extinct in a few generations.
Voinov’s hands-on attitude does have room for play. He recently won a research poster award. His topic: Words should be fun, using Scrabble as a tool for language preservation.
MEREDITH LYON GATEWAY TO GROWTH
After earning a law degree from Texas Tech and landing a job in the Dallas City Attorney’s Office, Meredith Lyon figured another graduate degree would require one thing she had precious little of—time.
She is the deputy chief prosecutor for Dallas and handles a range of Class C misdemeanor offenses, from traffic issues and animal cruelty to housing code violations. She supervises 16 attorneys, staffs 13 courts, and provides training to attorneys, police officers, environmental health inspectors, and code compliance workers. Every now and then, she prosecutes a case herself.
“We run a very busy shop down here with 12,000 cases a month,” the Farmington, N.M., native says.
“I saw the way things were operating and wanted to make a positive contribution to the city as to how we do business, make it more efficient. I’d been thinking about graduate school for a long time. I heard some wonderful things about SUPA (UT Arlington’s School of Urban and Public Affairs). It finally got to a point of either do it or don’t. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t.”
Evening and online classes have enabled Lyon to maintain her busy schedule.
“The degree programs are so flexible these days. I don’t think there’s a reason you can’t earn a degree. Any time I have a conflict with work, the advisers and faculty have been very understanding. My supervisors have been very supportive. They know this will help me in the long run and help the city.”
Her classes at SUPA already are helping in her day-to-day duties as a prosecutor. She has learned more leadership skills, management techniques, theories on organizational behavior, and especially conflict resolution methods.
“We’re in an adversarial role,” she says of her job as a prosecutor, “so people are not very happy when they come in and handle their citations.”
Her master’s degree in public administration is a solid investment, says Lyon, who is paying for her education without loans or scholarships. “The tuition was affordable enough that I could pay for it myself.”
She hopes to one day work in city management but not stray far from practicing law. For now, she’s enjoying learning with fellow students from a variety of jobs and backgrounds.
“It’s refreshing to get into a classroom and know that the professors truly enjoy the subject matter and enjoy helping you learn the subject and broadening your horizons. They challenge you outside your comfort zone.”
Interested in graduate school?
Attending a UT Arlington Graduate Forum is a great way to explore the possibilities. It’s free, and you can speak with advisers about a number of topics, including graduate programs and admissions requirements. For the latest schedule, see Graduate Forums.
Herb Booth contributed to this article.