New McDougal Graduate Student Center at Yale University Designed to Enhance Quality of Student Life

The new McDougal Graduate Student Center, which is designed to foster graduate student life and professional development at Yale University, officially opened its doors in late October. Located on in the Hall of Graduate Studies, 320 York St., the center gives Yale graduate students a place to hear speakers, watch films, hold meetings, participate in career workshops, celebrate cultural holidays or simply get together informally.

It was created through a gift from Alfred L. McDougal, Class of ‘53, and his wife, Nancy Lauter. Mr. McDougal says he made his gift so graduate students, most of whom live off-campus, could have some of the same opportunities afforded to undergraduates through the residential college system.

“I have been greatly enriched by my undergraduate experience at Yale,” he says. “But as I talked to graduate students at a number of campuses, I realized how isolated – and even lonely – the world of graduate students can be. The graduate years are a time when students pursue a more narrow specialization, but a student of French literature, for example, doesn’t cease to be someone who loves to play the cello or soccer or have career concerns. I sensed a real possibility and a need at the University to create a center that could support graduate students in the variety of endeavors that encourage them to be the well-rounded people they are.”

Students serving on the planning committee said their three greatest needs were career advice and planning, a teacher training program and a space in which to hold social, intellectual and cultural events. Even before all of the finishing touches were made to the renovated space, graduate students from across the campus gathered at the center for seminars, weekly Bible study sessions, and a festival sponsored by the Association of Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale.

Directed by Lisa Brandes, the McDougal Center has lounge and meeting rooms, a mobile stage, a large program room with advanced audio-visual equipment, student service and information areas, a computer cluster, the Graduate Career Services and Teacher Training offices, and a Resource Library for Fellowships, Careers and Teaching. The center is also open to postdoctoral fellows, faculty, staff and alumni of the Graduate School, as well as other members of the Yale community.

The large Common Room, which will feature a student buttery serving coffee and light food, is furnished with couches and chairs, a television, a supply of up-to-date newspapers and general-interest magazines, and internet ports for laptop computer hookup. The basement level houses an office for the peer-teaching program called Working at Teaching; several meeting rooms for the teaching fellows; a room where graduate student organizations can meet and store files; an office for the Assembly of Graduate Students; and a locker area.

“For the first time ever, graduate students have a centrally located place of their own, where they can just sit and chat, use the pay phone, make copies, check their e-mail or a web site on the computer, explore fellowship or career options, or hold meetings and other events,” explains Ms. Brandes, who earned her Ph.D. in political science at Yale in 1994. “It’s almost like one-stop shopping. Students have praised the new center for its potential to create a sense of community.”

McDougal Fellows

Isaac Cates, a graduate student in the English department specializing in nature poetry of the Victorian period and the early 20th-century, and Donnasue Graesser, a graduate student in immunology, are newly appointed McDougal Fellows, who receive an honorarium to initiate and plan programs and events at the center. They and two additional fellows – Alex Yang, a graduate student in the French department, and Darlene Gabeau, an M.D./Ph.D. student in neuroscience – have been soliciting suggestions from other graduate students.

Mr. Cates has already organized “McDougal Movies on the Big Screen,” weekly Friday and Sunday night showings of popular films, and is making plans for a series of informal monthly presentations in which graduate students can share their research with their peers in other departments.

“I think the McDougal Center can help give graduate students a sense of the academy as a whole and the connections between the practices of different disciplines,” says Mr. Cates. “Informal student presentations are a nice way for us to be able to talk about our work with other students without feeling that we’re putting our ego on the line, but instead can just learn from each other.”

Ms. Gabeau is attempting to create a more formal channel through which graduate students can volunteer in community service projects in New Haven. She and Ms. Brandes are working with Dwight Hall and Yale’s Office of New Haven Affairs to help the center become a resource for such volunteer opportunities.

More information and a calendar of events are available at the center’s website at

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