Even with a successful track record that extends nearly 200 years, the University of Virginia cannot afford to stand still in the rapidly evolving world of higher education, President Teresa A. Sullivan said during remarks to the Faculty Senate and University community on Monday.
“It’s a good time for us to ask, what will U.Va. become in its third century?” she said. “This is the question at the heart of our strategic plan.”
The University is on the front edge of implementing its new five-year “Cornerstone Plan” designed to build on existing strengths and identify new opportunities that will distinguish U.Va. from its competitors in the years ahead. The Board of Visitors in November approved the overarching priorities of the plan – known as the “pillars” – and work has begun on refining and implementing specific initiatives that emerge from the 15 strategies supporting the pillars.
Those five pillars are:
- Strengthen the University’s distinctive residential-learning culture;
- Build programs in research, scholarship, innovation and the creative arts;
- Create educational experiences that deliver new levels of student engagement;
- Assemble and support a distinctive faculty; and
- Wisely steward the University’s resources, including its human resources in the faculty and staff.
“The plan is organized around the theme of leadership,” Sullivan said, adding that the leadership will occur at the student, staff and faculty level, but also at the institutional level. “Our relatively small size and tight-knit residential culture – our emphasis on faculty-student interaction and the values of honor, diversity, service and self-governance – make this University a natural incubator for leadership.”
During the meeting at the packed Harrison Auditorium, Sullivan was joined by Don Brown, the William Stansfield Calcott Professor of Engineering and Applied Science and the founding director of the Data Science Institute, and Everette Fortner, leader of the University’s reimagined career services efforts, in a question-and-answer session.
The new institute and the work of a new Career Services Council represent two of the earliest outcomes of the yearlong process that led to the development of the new strategic plan.
Brown said the new Data Science Institute emerged from the faculty level as the University began exploring the depth of U.Va.’s expertise on “big data” across disciplines and then developed ideas on how the University could capitalize on that expertise in ways that other institutions have not. The Data Science Institute is one of several specialized institutes that will be emerging in support of Strategy 4, which calls for the University to leverage talent and new faculty hiring opportunities to focus research on intellectual and social challenges in which it can have the most impact.
The institute will offer instruction and conduct research across disciplines that include computation, science, law, engineering, mathematics, statistics, commerce, social science, humanities and more. It embodies U.Va.’s aspiration to meet growing national needs in the complex and rapidly expanding field of data analytics, storage, security and ethics – also known as “big data.”
Fortner explained progress made to date in building out a concept known as “total advising,” a new approach to student advising that advances the strategic plan priority of strengthening the residential learning experience. Such advising would involve upgrading the quantity and quality of academic advising, including career counseling, and establishing connections between students and alumni mentors.
In response to audience questions, Fortner described scenarios in which students would have a single place to go to begin exploring multiple career-path options through teams of advisers. That early-stage assistance could lead to exposure to “career clusters” that provide even more guidance, followed perhaps by summer experiences that give more opportunities for students to learn about the options ahead.
Sullivan said students consistently have identified advising as the top area in which they would like to see the University improve in student services.
In closing, Sullivan invited members of the University community to continue their engagement with the strategic plan and to collaborate across disciplines. She encouraged a search for efficiency, a reaffirmation of U.Va.’s obligations as the commonwealth’s flagship public institution, and continued commitment to the core values that have guided life and learning here for so many years.
“At the same time, let’s be willing to set aside old ways of thinking and old ways of doing things when we discover new, better ways,” she said, “just as Jefferson set aside the old ideas of what a university should be, and made a new University out of his wild imagination.”