March 20, 2023
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The next levels of success

Harpur College offers variety of graduate education programs

Physics professor Louis Piper, center, with graduate students Jatinkumar Rana, left, and Linda Wangoh. Physics professor Louis Piper, center, with graduate students Jatinkumar Rana, left, and Linda Wangoh.
Physics professor Louis Piper, center, with graduate students Jatinkumar Rana, left, and Linda Wangoh. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

With more than 1,100 students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees in two dozen programs, Harpur College of Arts and Sciences prepares scholars for life beyond Binghamton University.

“You cannot have a research university without doctoral programs,” Dean Elizabeth Chilton says. “(Graduate) students are a major part of the production of knowledge: They often work with faculty — and in many fields, faculty do team-based projects. Undergraduates benefit because they are often closer in age to (graduate students) who become peer mentors. Graduate students at a research university do a lot of teaching, both formal and informal.”

Harpur College has offered doctoral education since 1965. The variety of master’s and doctoral programs range from traditional offerings such as English, history, political science and biological sciences to distinctive programs both old and new — biomedical anthropology, translation studies, and Asian and Asian American studies.

Recent growth can be seen in departments such as economics and mathematical sciences, which have added a 4+1 accelerated master’s program and a master’s degree in applied statistics, respectively, in the past year.

Emphasizing graduate studies and increasing graduate enrollment have been a priority for Binghamton University since President Harvey Stenger proposed a “20 by 2020” initiative in January 2014. “In my experience, there are few accomplishments that are as challenging and ultimately as rewarding as completing an advanced degree,” Stenger told master’s and doctoral students receiving their degrees during 2017 Commencement ceremonies. “To reach this point, you have shown that you possess intellectual rigor that enables you to see the world through the lens of your discipline. This is a unique accomplishment that you will carry throughout your life.”

With its breadth of graduate programs, Harpur College appeals to students from near and far.

Clara Barnhart, a creative writing doctoral student from Unadilla, N.Y., returned to the area to pursue her master’s and PhD after receiving her undergraduate degree from Champlain College in Vermont. In 2017, Barnhart received a Graduate Excellence Award for service and outreach.

“I liked that Binghamton offered some of the craft elements that you get from an MFA program, but it is also a rigorous study,” she says. “I also wanted to come back to this area and contribute. I’ve stayed (for five years) because I feel a sense of belonging in Binghamton.”

Across the world in Turkey, Mert Moral, MA ’15, PhD ’17, received his bachelor’s degree in political science and his first master’s degree in international political economy from Turkish universities before he was encouraged by his advisor to apply to American schools.

“Turkey provides a good education, especially in a few schools,” he says. “However, this is a cutting-edge education, especially in terms of political science.”

Moral was drawn to Harpur College because of the Political Science Department’s unique research style.

“Almost everyone in this faculty does quantitative work, so they have a very specific approach to the study of political science,” says Moral, a 2017 recipient of the Graduate Excellence Award for research.


The new Master of Arts in Applied Liberal Studies (MAALS) will help Harpur College students — and other liberal arts students — answer the question: What am I going to do with my degree?

The three-semester master’s program, which will be housed in the Graduate School, is the first in the nation to deliver applied liberal arts studies for traditional students at the graduate level. The initial cohort of students began this fall.

“This is rethinking liberal arts education at the graduate level for the 21st century and developing new avenues for these students,” says Beau Brammer, administrative director at the Graduate School and director of the MAALS program.

The program comprises three semesters of work plus a summer session; students will take six courses (advanced communication; financial prac- tices; information technology for professionals; navigating cultural differences; professional practices; and research methods) and complete two internships and a capstone experience.

“I think this is likely to be a valuable program for many recent graduates,” former Graduate School Dean Susan Strehle says. “This is focused on a set of advanced skills that employers want and students feel they don’t have. This program can take our great Harpur undergraduate (students) and open doors for them.”

The first cohort of students also started this fall in a dual-degree program between Spanish (Harpur College) and social work (College of Community and Public Affairs).

The dual master’s degree will enable students to acquire linguistic and cultural competency as well as professional social work skills to work with Hispanic communities in the United States, says Ana Ros, associate professor of Spanish in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.

“While the language and linguistics courses offered in the Spanish MA will allow students to communicate effectively with clients from different regions and backgrounds, the culture courses will help them obtain a thorough understanding of the historical, political and social processes that have shaped Latin America’s present, with a special focus on relations with the United States,” Ros says.

The program developed when Spanish faculty members learned that many of their students wanted to use their language skills and cultural competence in areas besides teaching and translation.

“They wanted to be able to use their training to make a difference in the lives of individuals and communities,” Ros says. “Considering that Spanish is the second-largest spoken foreign language in the United States, and with the constant growth of the Hispanic and Latino population, a joint MA with (social work) seemed the best career path for these students. Social work received the idea enthusiastically.”


Harpur College graduate students also benefit from the external funding abilities and development skills of faculty members and administrators.

In April 2017, Harpur College received a five- year $1.6 million grant to train the next genera- tion of alcohol researchers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) grant funds research into alcohol’s neurological effects on population groups such as adolescents, as well as preventative treatments for alcohol abuse.

The funds will be used to support four psychology graduate students and two post- doctoral fellows, with each trainee remaining on the training grant for one to two years. The trainees will work with faculty members across

disciplines that include behavioral neuroscience, clinical psychology and the doctoral program in the College of Community and Public Affairs.

“The goal is for our trainees to emerge at the forefront of research in alcohol and addictions with state-of-the-art knowledge and skills that they can apply to understanding the develop- mental roots of alcoholism and addictions,” says Linda Spear, distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Developmental Exposure Alcohol Research Center (DEARC).

Spear received the grant with fellow professors Terrence Deak, J. David Jentsch and Lisa Savage. “For post-docs, one goal is to help them obtain permanent faculty or research positions where they can establish active research programs that continue to address critical addiction problems faced by our communities,” Spear says.

Harpur College displayed its commitment to helping graduate students explore future opportunities by presenting “A Careers Conference for Professional Humanists” in April 2017. The daylong event brought together students, faculty, alumni and staff for workshops, panel discussions and networking.

The conference, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was organized by Florenz Plassmann, associate dean for graduate studies and research; Kevin Boettcher, research development specialist for Harpur College; and Courtney Ignarri, administrative coordinator of graduate affairs.

Their goal was to engage faculty, students and alumni in conversations to identify opportunities that will help doctoral students succeed.

“This seemed to be a great way to get alumni back to campus,” Plassmann says. “Because we invited a lot of alumni who graduated from our (doctoral) programs who have jobs outside the academy, we were able to show students former peers who have made the successful transition to nonacademic jobs. There is a life beyond the academy.”

Besides providing career advice, the conference helped humanities students understand that what they are learning today will prove beneficial tomorrow, Plassmann says.

“For many PhD students, it’s hard to know what kind of skills they have acquired in their PhD program beyond writing a dissertation,” he says. “How do their activities at Binghamton translate to a job outside the academy? Going through a PhD program teaches you how to gather information, write well and explain complex relationships to others. These are skills valuable in a wide range of careers.”

Katie Ellis, Julia Carmel and Elyssa Diamond contributed to this story.

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