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A History of the McDougal Graduate Student Center

Building Graduate Community from Isolation at Yale

As a graduate student, your world centers on your laboratory, the library and classes in your department. You may feel isolated from other students and the rest of the University.  You may not have a place of your own on campus, or activities or events to let you meet other students who share your interests or background outside your program. In 1996, the McDougal Graduate Student Center was created to address these issues - to build community, provide services and offer a home-away-from-home to Yale's graduate students.

A Graduate Student Center?  Student-Focused Services led by Students and Staff

The idea of a graduate student center began from conversations among prospective donors Alfred McDougal and Nancy Lauter and then Yale President Richard Levin and Graduate School Dean Thomas Appelquist. After seeing a “graduate student center” on a university wish list, all became convinced that they could create a multi-purpose space specifically for graduate students, with programs run by and for graduate student fellows themselves. There were few models for such a “graduate student center” at US universities, so Yale chose to experiment with formats and structures that could work best here. This innovative spirit continues at the McDougal Center and Graduate Student Life today, as staff and fellows continually adapt services and activities to meet changing graduate student needs and interests.

Alfred McDougal '53 and Nancy Lauter - Book publishers and generous donors

The McDougal Center is built on books, which is fitting for a graduate student center. In 1995, a generous gift from the McDougal-Lauter family made the idea of a community building space and graduate student-focused services a reality. Mr. Alfred McDougal (Yale College 1953, English) was co-founder and chair at McDougal, Littell & Company, a publisher of elementary and high school textbooks, and his wife Ms. Nancy Lauter was senior vice president of sales and marketing. In 1994 they sold their company to Houghton-Mifflin, prompting the family to wish to make a significant gift to Yale. 

A Center Serving Graduate Students at Yale since 1997

After announcing the gift to the Graduate School in 1995, Dean Appelquist appointed a student-faculty-alumni planning committee. They began their work by selecting the Common Room of the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS) and nearby first floor and basement administrative space as the best and most central location for a space for all graduate students. The committee, under the leadership of then Yale Psychology faculty member, now President, Peter Salovey (1986 Yale Ph.D.), started planning the proposed programs and facilities, and selected new staff to develop the initial events and services. The renovations installed an enclosed glass entryway, created new multi-purpose meeting rooms, and restored the historic Common Room. With renovations completed, the McDougal Center opened to the graduate student community at an official dedication celebration in October 1997.

The McDougal Center Common Room  - “The Graduate Student's Living Room at Yale” restored

The heart of the McDougal Center is the restored Common Room - with its architectural treasures of a painted plaster ceiling, carved stonework, wooden paneling, and etched glass windows now meticulously restored to their original 1932 luster. The Common Room's artwork in the windows and ceiling depicts the traditional arts and sciences fields of study, but now the room is equipped with WiFi, power outlets, and USB ports, boasting comfortable furniture for studying, eating, and socializing over an espresso. Graduate students and their guests use the McDougal Common Room for informal socializing throughout the day, in the evening and on weekends. The Common Room space is enhanced by the addition of the Blue Dog Cafe, a coffee bar run by student baristas. Other Center rooms in HGS offer multipurpose meeting and event spaces, and offices for fellows, staff and the GSA, or graduate student government, established in 1997.

Innovative Program Offices Serving Graduate Students

Since its beginning, the McDougal Center has supported graduate students by providing space, professional staff, targeted programs and activities, and involved students, including McDougal Graduate Fellows who plan events to build and serve their community. The McDougal endowment gift provides funding for the ongoing programs and over fifty part-time McDougal Student Fellows in 5 offices, making the McDougal Center perhaps the only endowed graduate student center in the nation. As of 2014, the Center offered a comprehensive set of co-curricular and professional development programs for graduate students, and many programs for their spouses/partners and children.

McDougal Center Timeline

1996 - McDougal Center & Graduate Student Life ​office established, first director appointed; renovations for Center spaces at HGS undertaken

1997 - McDougal Graduate Student Center at Yale dedicated, first fellows appointed

1997 - Graduate Career Services established, first director appointed

1998 - The Graduate Teaching Center created, first director and fellows appointed

2001 - Office for Diversity and Equal Opportunity (ODEO) established as a collaborating partner office of the McDougal Center; first director appointed

2007- Graduate Writing Center established and first director appointed

2014 - McDougal Center Graduate Student Service Programs reorganized and expanded - Writing and Teaching become part of new Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

2014 - Graduate Career Services combines with Yale College Career Services to create new Office of Career Strategies (OCS), offering expanded services for non-academic career options