President G. P. “Bud” Peterson wants alumni to read the newly finalized 25-year strategic plan, study the 10 institutional initiatives and ask themselves what they can do to help make Georgia Tech even better than it is today.
“Georgia Tech is a very fine institution, but we can’t sit still. We have to continue to move forward. There are tremendous opportunities that lie ahead of us, but we have to work hard and think carefully in order to try to take advantage of them,” Peterson said.
Tech’s president said he got the big ideas he sought during “days of engagement” held on campus early this year and through the many town hall meetings and online submissions.
“The engagement of the campus community has been better than I could ever have hoped. We had 700 people at the opening discussion last September, and the input and suggestions have not let up.”
But the bold moves suggested do not appear in the final 25-year strategic planning document, formally released during a presentation by Peterson to the campus community at the Ferst Center for the Arts on Aug. 31. The omission of specific actions and metrics was intentional. In a letter from Peterson that fronts about 20 pages outlining Tech’s strategic vision, he explains that the plan is to serve as a request for proposals — RFP.
He said some strategic plans consist of massive lists of concrete goals, steps and metrics, but these tend to be tactical rather than strategic. “What we wanted to do was to ask, ‘What do we want Georgia Tech to be? What is our vision?’ Then open it up to the community and say, ‘Help us achieve our vision.’”
Peterson wants Tech to be “the very best institution it possibly can. I want us to push to the very limits of our capabilities — push our students, push our faculty, push our alumni so that they can continue to achieve great things.”
Beginning this fall academic and administrative units will be submitting their ideas that describe the strategies that they propose to use to meet the goals outlined in the plan, as well as metrics that define success. In addition, work is under way on 10 Institute-wide initiatives, big steps that in many cases cross disciplines and are innovative approaches that emerged from the strategic planning process.
Progress already has been made on several of the initiatives, Peterson said, including becoming known as an institute for innovation; exploration of the role that technology could or should play as it relates to law; preparation of students for global leadership; and the creation of an experimental — or X — college.
Regarding the X-College, he said, “If we believe that most of the really important discoveries are going to occur at the interfaces between traditional disciplines, then why in the world would we continue to educate students in just the traditional disciplines? Why wouldn’t we say, ‘Let’s allow students some flexibility and freedom in establishing their undergraduate degree programs’?”
That flexibility could mean fewer required classes. “For example, last year one of our engineering programs had 120 credits required. They had one free elective — three credits,” Peterson said. “Maybe we start with a group of honors students and say, ‘We want to give you the freedom to explore and design your own program.’ This would allow students to have a bioinformatics degree program before bioinformatics exists. Or a nano/bioengineering degree program before that curriculum exists.”
Peterson hopes to have the first X-College students enrolled as early as the fall of 2011.
The strategic plan sets forth five overarching goals designed to help take the Institute to its 150th anniversary in 2035. The goals are both short and long term. The strategic plan is designed as a living document that is flexible, changing through time to accommodate changing circumstances and anticipate and respond to needs in the future.
“For example, the X-College would be one of the strategies falling under the goal to sustain and enhance excellence in scholarship and research.We could perhaps start with the honors program. If it doesn’t work, we’ll tweak it,” Peterson said.
One goal is to expand Tech’s global footprint and influence to ensure it is graduating good global citizens.
“How will we know when we get there?” Peterson asked. “Maybe we require an international experience for every student who graduates. Does that guarantee that you’ll have good global citizens? No. Could it help? Probably. If you compare two institutions, one that requires an international experience for every student before they graduate with an institution that doesn’t, which one do you think will be more likely to have good global citizens that understand the global nature of the world that we live in? Probably the one that requires it. One-third of our graduates already benefit from an international experience. We could build on the leadership position we already occupy.”
He thinks the goal of relentlessly pursuing institutional effectiveness will be the most difficult to meet. “You can talk about it. You can wave your hands a lot. You can say, ‘We’re already doing this.’ But how, for a 10-year period or even a five-year period, do we continue to focus on improving the way we do business and what we do at Georgia Tech?
“You get hung up in the day-to-day doing of things. It’s hard to step back. One of the things I encourage people to do is take time to think long range or creatively,” he said. “Every once in a while I like to have meetings where the ground rule is we can’t talk about anything we can solve in the next six months.”
The strategic plan looks ahead 25 years, in part, so that money doesn’t cloud blue-sky thinking. “If you do a three- to five-year plan and you have great ideas, then somebody says, ‘How are we going to do that? We could never afford that,’” Peterson said. “We can do anything in 25 years. All of a sudden you’re thinking, ‘Wow, what could we really do?’”
Peterson believes that launching Tech’s new strategic vision and plan during challenging economic times is both appropriate and opportunistic.
“When times are difficult, you are in a unique position to advance. Tech has proved that time and again in the past, and it holds true in business and industry as well,” he said. “Designing a plan for focused, strategic leadership in targeted areas will allow for prudent use of resources now and in the future. It will also help us continue to provide outstanding education and research as we lead in improving the human condition in Georgia, the U.S. and around the globe.”
Beginning this fall, academic and administrative units and other auxiliary enterprises like the Alumni Association will be asked to identify ways they can help achieve the goals outlined in the plan, Peterson said. “I think everyone is going to see a way they can help somehow, but it won’t be the same for everybody.”
As an example, Peterson said perhaps graduates could help enrich the student experience through expansion of the Alumni Association’s mentoring program.
“What I’d like is for the alumni to read this and for them to ask the question of themselves: ‘What can I do?’ And it’s not all about giving money. A lot of times I’ll talk to employers, and they’ll say, ‘What can I do?’ And my response is, ‘The most important thing you can do is hire our graduates, because if our students are getting great jobs, we’re going to get great students. And if we get great students, we’ll get great faculty,’” he said.
“If Georgia Tech can achieve a portion of these five goals, this will be an even more special place than it already is,” Peterson said.
Read the strategic plan at gatech.edu/vision/.
Be among the world’s most highly respected technology-focused learning institutions.
- Enrich the student experience.
- Innovate in instruction methods, course design and curricula.
- Develop the campus and its neighborhood as a vibrant live-work-learn-play environment.
Sustain and enhance excellence in scholarship and research.
- Strive to be the best in teaching, research and application.
- Lead in targeted reputational areas.
- Support faculty-led initiatives for transformative interdisciplinary research.
- Demonstrate relevance and vitality by investing in faculty and infrastructure.
Ensure that innovation, entrepreneurship and public service are fundamental characteristics of the Institute’s graduates.
- Establish world-class initiatives to serve Georgia Tech, the state and other strategic national and international partners.
- Innovate in how we incentivize and support commercialization.
- Serve in state, national and global leadership positions.
Expand our global footprint and influence to ensure we are graduating good global citizens.
- Expand the world’s footprint at Georgia Tech.
- Extend and leverage Tech’s impact around the globe.
- Embrace and support globally engaged students.
Relentlessly pursue institutional effectiveness.
- Continuously improve all support functions and processes.
- Implement a performance-based management system.
- Develop an entrepreneurial financial model reflecting best practices of both private and public institutions.
- Prepare students for global leadership. By knitting together all of the entrepreneurial leadership programs on campus, the Institute will prepare alumni to rise to the top ranks of their professions and create a culture in which organizations routinely turn to Georgia Tech for their senior leaders. Goals already established within this initiative include the development of an interdisciplinary minor in leadership studies, the creation of a living-learning community focused on leadership development for freshmen and a leadership portfolio project for undergraduate and graduate students.
- Be the Innovation Institute, including an institutional culture that values innovation and an innovation curriculum coupled with real world experience. Catalyze entrepreneurial faculty/student interaction with investors, alumni and the business community.
- Create an experimental college, the X-College, to serve as a venue in which students could customize their degrees.
- Pursue globally significant grand challenges using our campus and region as a test bed for research and application.
- Explore the role that technology could or should play as it relates to law to produce graduates who are well versed in international intellectual property, commercialization, bioethics, international law and the aspects of law as it is influenced and shaped by technology.
- Expand and enhance current programs dealing with technology and policy. The School of Public Policy will be tasked with assessing and recommending how the Institute could leverage its leadership in technology with its strengthening programs in policy-related disciplines.
- Create a virtual Georgia Tech campus. Use the evolving environment as a test bed for research in agile education and in exploring cognitive models for enhancing learning.
- Explore collaborative partnerships, initiating renewed and visionary planning with metro partners to create a live-learn-work-play community.
- Provide an educational guarantee. The Institute will explore the possibility that any graduate could take a course in person or online on a space-available basis.
- Establish best business and administrative practices, including a new institutional approach to intellectual property. This includes best-in-class financial systems and processes to ensure the most efficient and effective allocation and use of resources and exploration of a new institutional approach to intellectual property.