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June 2, 2004

Purdue appoints history scholar as dean of graduate school

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University officials announced Wednesday (June 2) that John Contreni, history professor and interim dean, will be the new dean of the Graduate School.

John Contreni

Contreni's appointment is subject to approval by the board of trustees at its Friday (June 4) meeting.

"Graduate schools' responsibilities include educating the professors of the future as well as producing leaders in global economic competition and creators of technological advancements," said Purdue President Martin C. Jischke. "Purdue is ideally positioned to move forward and meet today's challenges under the leadership of John Contreni."

Provost Sally Mason said Contreni was selected after an extensive national search. She praised his leadership as interim dean since fall 2002, as well as his career in the classroom and national recognition as a leading researcher in medieval history and culture.

"Purdue's graduate programs are nationally recognized," Mason said. "Under Professor Contreni's leadership, we are looking forward to more national attention as Purdue continues to prepare the global educators and professionals who will shape the classrooms, laboratories and economy of the future."

The Graduate School oversees 64 graduate programs at the West Lafayette campus and 24 graduate programs at the Indiana University-Purdue University campuses in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, the Calumet campus in Hammond and the North Central campus at Westville. Systemwide there are 9,217 students, 7,096 of which are at the West Lafayette campus.

"During the interim, I have personally met with representatives from all the graduate programs at the West Lafayette and other statewide campuses," Contreni said. "These visits affirmed my vision that Purdue's Graduate School can do so much more than just admit and graduate students. There are universal issues that all graduate schools are facing, such as low retention in doctoral programs and a decline in domestic students pursuing graduate degrees. Purdue is already addressing many of these concerns in our strategic plan, and our solutions will help set examples for other schools to follow."

In July the Graduate School will establish an Office of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs to promote and facilitate more cross-disciplinary research.

"Fostering interdisciplinary research is a leading goal in Purdue's and the Graduate School's strategic plans," Contreni said. "We already see great Purdue collaborations, such as the new life sciences interdisciplinary program and the work between the School of Liberal Arts' linguists faculty and faculty in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in studying automatic sign language recognition. Through this office, the Graduate School will support and enhance interdisciplinary academic programs such as these and others that mirror the ever-evolving world of contemporary research.

"Half of the research conducted at universities nationwide is driven by graduate students, so as the university plans to increase its research funding and hire additional research faculty, we will need to make sure that we continue to attract high-quality graduate students to Purdue and more of them. Our efforts will be aimed at more effectively getting the word out about our outstanding graduate programs and to become more competitive with our peers in terms of graduate student support. We also need to address quality-of-life issues in order to expand graduate student enrollment at West Lafayette from 7,096 to 8,500 students in five years."

The school plans to assign an associate dean this summer to develop initiatives that impact graduate student quality of life. Nationally, only about 50 percent of doctoral students complete a degree at the institution where they started, Contreni said. The Graduate School is studying completion rates at Purdue and will use this data to identify positive and negative impacts on doctoral completion at Purdue.

"Growing the number of graduate students also means retaining many of the current students who leave us for non-academic or non-personal reasons," Contreni said. "It will be important to have an individual in the Graduate School who can assist graduate programs in keeping their students connected to Purdue."

In addition to addressing quality-of-life issues, the school will unveil a professional development program this fall to help students prepare for careers.

"Historically, graduate programs often helped prepare students for careers after graduation," Contreni said. "Now, students will also have available in the Graduate School development opportunities that will help prepare them for careers in academia, business and the non-for-profit arena."

Contreni served as assistant dean of Purdue's School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education (now the School of Liberal Arts) from 1981-85, as interim head of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures from 1983-85, and as head of the Department of History from 1985-97. He currently serves on the university's promotions committee.

After serving as department head, he returned full time to teaching and research. Contreni is an expert on Charlemagne and Carolingian Europe. He has written and edited seven books, 21 chapters, 17 articles and more than 140 book reviews. He was elected a fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in Cambridge, Mass., in 2003. The winner of numerous teaching awards, he was among the 225 faculty, past and present, chosen for the inaugural installment of the Purdue Book of Great Teachers in 1999. All were nominated by students and alumni.

He received his bachelor's degree in history from St. Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa., and his master's degree and doctorate from Michigan State University. He joined Purdue's Department of History in 1971.

Since 1929 the Graduate School has conferred more than 58,000 master's degrees and 20,000 doctoral degrees.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: Martin C. Jischke, (765) 494-9708

Sally Mason, (765) 494-9709,

John Contreni, (765) 494-2604,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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