Wednesday, July 30, 2014

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ImagineUVA Offers New Ways for Students To Shape University’s Future

University of Virginia students have new forums – both physical and virtual – in which they can help assess the University’s operation and shape its future.

“ImagineUVA” is an initiative created by students involved in the strategic planning process, launched this academic year by President Teresa A. Sullivan.

The group unveiled a Facebook page and Twitter account Tuesday to give fellow students a chance to weigh in on the issues and questions that will be central to the University’s future operation. ImagineUVA will also host an April 11 public forum for students.

“We wanted to create an easy-to-use forum for students to share their opinions with the strategic planning committee,” said Lansing Lee, a second-year law student. “We realized that because students are busy, but do have important ideas, social media is the best place to make that conversation happen.”

The Facebook page will prompt student discussion with posts that raise questions about University issues, Lee said. The first post, which went up Tuesday, asked students about U.Va.’s use of technology and how it might be improved.

“We’re planning on starting a new topic probably every two or three days that will raise a direct question to the student body,” Lee said. “We hope that will generate some ideas and opinions.”

Students can tweet to @Imagine_UVA about issues they see on Grounds – or possible solutions – and follow the account to keep up with the strategic planning process as it unfolds, said Katharine Sadowski, a second-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The University is in the midst of developing a strategic plan that will guide its operation in coming years. As part of that effort, seven working groups are each assessing an important issue, including what it means to be a public university; resources; streamlining; student life; synergy; technology; and faculty recruitment, retention and development.

ImagineUVA is made up of the student members of each of those working groups, who will help funnel resulting student feedback into the strategic planning process. The strategic planning steering committee is on pace to submit a draft plan this fall to the Board of Visitors for approval. 

Each working group held a public forum to solicit community feedback, but using social media and the ImagineUVA name might help draw in students who otherwise wouldn’t participate, Sadowski said. Both Sadowski and Lee serve on the Synergies Working Group.

“We’re trying to move away from the ‘strategic planning’ label, because students may not always connect to that,” she said. “We think it’s a constructive campaign to get student responses about what they’d like to see within U.Va.”

To that end, the Synergy Working Group also recently met with the leaders of student organizations – both graduate and undergraduate – which Sadowski said was helpful to the group. A location hasn’t yet been set for the April 11 public forum, but it will represent another chance for students to weigh in, and should offer a different format than previous open forums, she said.

All the student feedback – both in-person and virtual – will help inform the University’s future, Lee said.

“If part of U.Va.’s mission is educating the next generation, then students are the ones who have the most direct experience with whether that’s working well or not,” he said. “I think it’s important and helpful to hear from the people who are experiencing the U.Va. classroom. I think it’s also really nice to hear from students, because they are particularly plugged into the technological advances that may end up affecting the way the University runs and does its work.”

Organizers also hope ImagineUVA can build into something that survives the strategic planning  process and becomes a permanent fixture at the University and a conduit for future students to help influence the institution.

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