Members of Michigan State University’s 153rd graduating class have now joined the ranks of a worldwide Spartan alumni network more than 500,000 strong. Some will pursue advanced degrees, and most will embark on careers. I’m confident that this new generation of Spartans will be welcomed and that they are positioned for success.
I often have opportunities to talk with business people, legislators, parents and others about what today’s graduates need to succeed and what we at MSU are doing to prepare them for a world that is different than the one in which most alumni came of age.
Many of the world’s top employers look to MSU for talent. One way we know what employers are seeking is the annual survey from MSU’s College Employment Research Institute (CERI). Armed with feedback from the employer community, CERI is an advocate for redefining what skills a prepared graduate should possess.
As always, college graduates must be deeply steeped in their major disciplines, and they need the work ethic for which Spartans are known. But more than ever, graduates also need to be able to move confidently in a world in which collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, global awareness, and an appreciation of diversity are not only valued but essential to success.
Experts in the information technology industry were the first to characterize this as “T-shaped talent,” in which the vertical bar represents deep specialized knowledge and the horizontal bar represents the kinds of skills that pave the way for effectively applying expertise.
So how do we instill these T-shaped attributes? One way is to provide students with high-impact learning experiences that require them to solve real-world problems. Study abroad is one way MSU provides such experiences, and we’re a national leader. Research is another way. At MSU, each year about 10,000 undergraduates work side by side with faculty on research projects.
Then there are service-learning opportunities, which now involve some 21,000 students annually. We also stress interdisciplinary studies, another hallmark of T-shaped thinking. Our entrepreneurship programs are yet another example, as we tap students’ passion for innovation and the opportunity to establish careers on their own terms.
While these kinds of experiences have long been part of the MSU student experience, we’re approaching development of T-shaped talent with greater intention across curricular and cocurricular programs.
What do students who have taken full advantage of these kinds of MSU experiences and resources look like? You’ll meet some of them in this issue of the magazine. The students featured in this year’s President’s Report are making the most of opportunities to customize their undergraduate experiences. Titled Inside Out, the online report includes videos and a documentary that take an in-depth look at the Spartan student experience. I encourage you to explore it at msu.edu/insideout.
Others at MSU who exhibit T-shaped attributes include many of our engineering students who present practical projects at MSU’s Design Day and those who take it a step further by forming entrepreneurial teams and pitching their business plans at competitive local and national events. This spring one of our student teams was awarded $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy for a business plan founded on MSU technology.
The last few months have included milestones in many areas of endeavor at Michigan State, including the groundbreaking for the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams and continued top rankings for a number of our academic programs. Let’s also count our most recent Spartan graduates among those success stories. Spartans Will.
Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D
President, Michigan State University