Source: UTK News | Release | October 20, 2020

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Professor Mary Dzon’s graduate English class gathered for a socially-distanced outdoor discussion.

The Graduate School at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, hasn’t let the pandemic stop it from having record enrollment and increased interaction with students.

“We’ve worked hard to meet the needs of our students in the era of COVID-19,” said Dixie Thompson, vice provost and dean of the school. “Our online orientations for new graduate students and graduate teaching assistants this fall allowed us to interact with them in greater numbers than ever before.”

Overall enrollment of graduate and professional students also is on the rise, Thompson said, with more than 6,300 students enrolled in post-baccalaureate programs at UT this fall—up from 6,100 last year.

Fully online master’s and doctoral programs are growing in popularity, Thompson said, with 19.4 percent of UT’s graduate students enrolled in distance education programs compared to 16.3 percent last year.

“We’ve seen growth for several years now, so the demand for fully online education and training is strong,” she said.

Two relatively new online programs have seen strong growth this fall: a global supply chain management program in the Haslam College of Business and a strategic and digital communication program in the College of Communication and Information.

Steven Westbrook is enrolled in the supply chain management program and takes classes from his home in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Convenience-wise, it can’t be beaten,” Westbrook said. “My class meets live once every two weeks but otherwise is recorded, which is great for flexibility. It’s allowed me to continue working full time while still getting the benefits of going to class.”

Westbrook said that even though he doesn’t travel to Knoxville, his online classes provide him with a sense of community.

“There’s definitely a camaraderie between classmates,” he said. “And UT does a great job of enabling that through the community web portal where you can take part in discussions and breakout groups.”

Kelly Wiggins of Alcoa, Tennessee, is in the master’s program in strategic and digital communication, and said both the content and the flexibility in learning attracted her to UT.

“This program looks across all elements of the communications field and integrates them into one degree, which is exciting,” Wiggins said. “And being all online is so helpful if I need to travel or if I need to be somewhere else, especially with the COVID-19 situation we’ve been in this year.”

“I looked at other master’s programs, but UT gave me a place to really grow,” she said.

Professional development outside of standard classes is a critical element of postgraduate education, Thompson said. “We have switched many of our professional development activities online, and that’s given our students opportunities that might not have been available if we relied solely on face-to-face activities,” she said.

New opportunities to gain research experience are on the way for graduate students in STEM fields, Thompson said, with the Oak Ridge Institute at UT. “This will be an important addition to our research mission, creating even stronger relationships with our partners at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and expanded opportunities for our students to collaborate in cutting-edge research.”

For students aiming to one day teach at the university level, Thompson said, UT offers specialized online training. “The Graduate School provides a lecture series we call Best Practices in Teaching, which gives an introduction to different aspects of the teaching profession,” she said. “It’s always been in person with different speakers, but this year we’re offering it totally online.”

“The Oak Ridge Institute at UT will be a great career-building opportunity for our graduate students in STEM fields, creating even stronger relationships with our partners at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and expanded opportunities for our students to collaborate in cutting-edge research.” Dixie Thompson, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School

To assist current undergraduates in preparing for graduate school, UT’s Center for Career Development and Academic Exploration is hosting a series of informational events this month.

“About a quarter of our recently graduated students tell us they want to pursue graduate school or continuing education, so we’re working to help them be successful,” said Stephanie Kit, executive director of the center. “We’re highlighting the services we offer this month, but students considering grad school can come to us year-round for assistance.”

For more information on graduate and professional programs, visit the Graduate School website. Learn more about Graduate and Professional School Prep Month at the Center for Career Development and Academic Exploration website.