Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


December 9, 2002

Wihl: CGS award a benchmark for grad school

By Michael Terrazas

Last week the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) bestowed its prestigious Distinguished Dissertation Award to Bryan Ritchie, a 2001 PhD recipient in political science from Emory, for his dissertation that analyzed the importance of integrating technology into the political economies of Southeast Asia.

For Gary Wihl, acting dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the award signifies more than just a recognition of excellence for one of the University’s doctoral alumni; Wihl said an honor of this kind—the first such award CGS has bestowed upon an Emory graduate student—is an objective measure of the graduate school’s rise in stature.

“As a peer-reviewed, national competition among all the graduate schools in the country, the award demonstrates that graduate students at Emory are producing examples of the best research in their fields,” said Wihl, who accompanied Ritchie to Washington for the Dec. 5 ceremony in which he received the award. “The dissertation is the defining characteristic of the PhD degree and signals the capacity to make an original contribution to knowledge within one’s discipline.”

Ritchie now is making original contributions at Michigan State University, where he is in his second year as an assistant professor. But the somewhat unorthodox former Emory doctoral student—the Thai-speaking Ritchie spent 10 years as an executive in the computer industry before beginning graduate work—said his experience at the University positioned him well for the scholarship he’s produced.

“From the day I arrived, both my department and the graduate school contributed significantly to my success in several ways,” Ritchie said. “First, the faculty in the department were extremely accessible; even faculty not on my dissertation committee were extremely willing to read drafts of my work and provide important direction and inspiration. Colleagues from other universities have told me the same was not true of their graduate school experiences.”

Ritchie also cited staff support and direct financial assistance as two big valuable factors in his time here. “The graduate school took what seemed like a personal interest in helping me secure outside funding,” he said. “Without this help, I could not have returned to graduate school, nor, I am convinced, would I have received Fulbright-Hays funding, which allowed me to take my family to Southeast Asia for the final stages of my research.”

“Working with Bryan was the kind of experience for which a teacher can only hope,” said Richard Doner, associate professor of political science and Ritchie’s advisor. “He brought to the project a rare combination of analytical acuity, methodological strengths, foreign language competency and personal skills necessary for a year of fieldwork in three countries.”

But beyond the laudable work of a single doctoral student, Wihl said he feels the CGS award—along with other major developments such as a recent $10 million Lilly Foundation grant to the Candler School of Theology and a $2.5 million NIH grant to the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences—is a harbinger of the kinds of contributions the graduate school can make, both to Emory and to the rest of the academic world.

“It is an understatement to say Emory is going through a period of transition right now,” Wihl said. “This period of transition presents an opportunity for the faculty and administration to take a careful look at what defines the University as a doctoral, research institution.

“The capacity to produce doctoral research in a large number of fields defines Emory as a member of a select group of universities,” he added. “A graduate school with a strong voice in research priorities and development would have the capacity to lift the whole University.”