A conversation with Twyla Cummings

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A. Sue Weisler

Twyla Cummings

What was your graduate education experience like and how did it prepare you for your role today?

Cummings: I worked full time while pursuing both my master’s and doctoral degrees. This required discipline and focus. Although challenging, pursuing an advanced degree while working at a very high-stress job definitely helped me develop strong managerial and strategic skills. Graduate school provided the foundation and the tools needed to conduct quality research. Having both my graduate degrees in the areas of business and management has definitely influenced my research agenda and my career direction. I started my professional career as an ink development scientist never anticipating a transition into management and strategic planning and definitely not academia. However, this career transition and the positions I have held along the way have prepared me for my current leadership role.

With RIT placing a greater emphasis on conducting applied research, how does your office support graduate students and faculty in this capacity?

Cummings: One of the primary ways that the Office of Graduate Education (OGE) supports research endeavors is by helping prepare graduate students to engage in scholarly research through programming focused on topics such as effective library research, conducting a literature review and how to present research outcomes. OGE routinely notifies students and their advisers of research funding opportunities and offers a mentoring/tutoring session on how to apply for an NSF Fellowship Grant. OGE also provides a platform for the dissemination of their research through signature events held during the annual Graduate Education Week.

What areas are most important to you as dean?

Cummings: I believe the most important areas are to: (1) ensure that RIT realizes its vision for graduate education, which involves academic excellence and enriching the student experience, (2) advocate for students and their needed resources, (3) work to enhance, expand and invigorate the university’s graduate student research agenda and (4) foster a sense of community among graduate students, graduate faculty and the staff that support them.

RIT’s strategic plan states that “RIT will enlarge its graduate portfolio through adding professional and research-focused programs in STEM fields, the humanities, social sciences and arts, increasing the graduate population by 30 percent.” What is your office doing to try to reach this ambitious goal?

Cummings: Something of this magnitude cannot be done unless all of the key stakeholders are involved. Therefore, a graduate enrollment taskforce (GET) has been formed and charged by the provost and me to work on this strategic initiative. The GET is focused on growth in the following areas: select existing programs with high demand, new programs, online programs in new markets and alternate/flexible delivery models, such as edX Micromasters pathways.