Developing Lehigh's new strategic plan

Developing Lehigh’s New Strategic Plan

Community input guided the direction of the plan, which was designed to be flexible.

Lehigh’s new strategic plan, Inspiring the Future Makers, is built on community and flexibility. In the development phase, university leadership continually sought input and feedback from individuals affiliated with Lehigh and the larger community.

A Foundation Built on Community Input

The planning process was designed with care to engage a wide range of community members through multiple modalities. The comprehensive and transparent process engaged students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the broader community. These ongoing conversations, which occurred from summer 2022 through spring 2023, distilled Lehigh’s priorities into a focused plan that will allow the university to pivot as necessary.

Twenty five percent of the community (more than 2,400 individuals) engaged in a total of 105 sessions, offered in-person, online, and hybrid: 74 percent of faculty participated; 52 percent of staff; 17 percent of undergraduate students; and 14 percent of graduate students. To supplement these sessions, a web-based idea portal was created to provide individuals a method of sharing ideas and feedback at any time.

“We wanted to offer the community as many options to participate as possible, and provide different avenues to access to the conversation,” said Chris Cook, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Initiatives, who noted that the amount of community engagement was a distinction of the process. “The portal allowed us to continue this conversation asynchronously; regardless of whether a person was ‘in the room’ or not, their voice mattered.”

We wanted to offer the community as many options to participate as possible, and provide different avenues to access to the conversation.

Vice President of Strategic Planning and Initiatives Chris Cook

Cook noted that the portal yielded an invaluable amount of data through the ideas and feedback of community members. A qualitative analysis was conducted to understand the value and insights of conversations held in that space.

Although the plan will be implemented after their time at Lehigh, undergraduate and graduate students were eager to engage in the conversation.

“We saw that the student body is well-connected and cares deeply for the university and for the community,” Cook said. “The Lehigh of the future is important to them.”

Leia Barnes ’24 echoes that sentiment. Through her position on Student Senate, she was one of the first undergraduates to learn of the plan’s creation and to have the opportunity to take part in the development phase.

“I participated in sharing ideas, contributing via the portal and by encouraging other students to add their input,” said Barnes. “I am excited to see how students’ voices were taken into consideration. It was important to have my voice heard because I see many sides of Lehigh and how they interact. Even though I will not be here to see the end product, the goal for any student is to be safe, happy and educated.”

Developing Lehigh's strategic plan

Overall, community reception of the hybrid format was positive; there was clear enthusiasm for the opportunity to be part of the conversation and contribute. The process also doubled as a learning experience as community members heard ideas and recommendations from colleagues and peers across the university.

“I very much appreciated the approach of engaging in conversations with a vast number of colleagues from various colleges and disciplines,” said Terry-Ann Jones, deputy provost for undergraduate education and professor of political science and Africana studies. “As we sought to identify innovative and exceptional proposals for expansive and poignant research, this strategy gave us insight into our colleagues’ scholarship, which then enabled us to encourage collaboration. The process was decidedly inclusive and democratic.”

Tim Uhrich, a 2021 graduate of the Flex MBA program and associate director of operations for undergraduate programs in Lehigh’s College of Business, first learned of the strategic planning process via email, and made a point to attend some of the community events in fall 2022. Following that, he remained engaged via the idea portal.

“I enjoyed talking about ideas, listening to what others suggested and discussing opportunities for the university to grow and improve,” Uhrich said. “Dynamic organizations require robust mechanisms for honest feedback to flow and forums for the discussion of new ideas. My hope was not only to be an active participant, but to advance the conversation about how feedback channels at the institution could be strengthened moving forward.”

An Ambitious Approach to Yield Impactful Results

The planning process was designed to be fast-paced and focused ; having been completed in an academic year, the development phase was structured methodically to facilitate continual conversations and maintain momentum.

“While [the development phase of the plan] was conducted in a short period of time, it was radically transparent and inclusive,” Cook said.

Developing Lehigh's new strategic plan

More Than a Decade in the Making

Lehigh’s last comprehensive strategic planning process was completed in 2009, resulting in the plan Advancing our Intellectual Footprint. A few years later, university leadership unveiled Path to Prominence, which focused on growing enrollment, expanding faculty, and establishing the College of Health. The process of developing Inspiring the Future Makers was informed by these previous processes.

Much has changed in the world, the community and the landscape of higher education since then. The current strategic planning effort was structured to help shape Lehigh’s course over the next decade, identifying areas critical to research and our educational mission where Lehigh can innovate and lead, building on the university’s unique strengths.

The foundation for developing the current plan included assessing achievements and goals of the last plan. In spring 2022 , a working group of faculty and staff was established to review the process undertaken in 2009, as well as progress made in the interim. With those findings, the working group created a Phase Zero report and shared the findings with the Lehigh community.

The Phase Zero report identified significant progress and occasional missed opportunities; however, the working group discovered that successes that originated from the plan were not always identified as a direct result of the plan. One goal established early for the current plan was conducting a more thorough audit of data and results, and directly relating them back to the goals and initiatives of the plan.

Following the Phase Zero report, in August 2022, the university debuted Our Future, Our Lehigh, the next phase in drafting a fresh, innovative strategic plan.

Our Future, Our Lehigh identified four themes: Education With Purpose, Lehigh User Experience, Research for Impact, and Smart Growth. Cook said that those themes were tested with approximately 100 people in late summer 2022 to solicit feedback and gauge if the themes resonated. Cook explained that there were originally five themes; after consulting with members of the community, one theme was omitted and one was revised.

According to Cook, individuals in various leadership roles such as Faculty Senate, Employee Relations Advisory Committee (ERAC) and other governing groups were engaged with university leadership following the release of the Phase Zero report.

“We invited people to ideate on big topical ideas that we should consider discussing,” Cook said. “The result was the four themes of Our Future, Our Lehigh.”

Also integrated into the plan were five throughlines: diversity, inclusion and equity; global; operational excellence; place; and (fiscal and environmental) sustainability. These throughlines signaled Lehigh’s commitment to these priorities.

No idea that was brought forward was too bold for consideration.

Vice President of Strategic Planning and Initiatives Chris Cook

Working groups were assembled for each theme and led sessions, gathered community input, assisted in planning campuswide forums and collected data. The advisory council scheduled regular meetings to hear from the working groups and learn what feedback was received from the larger community.

By January 2023, the working groups had prepared reports that synthesized ideas collected during campus sessions. They were made available for community commentary.

From this data, topical themes began to emerge that informed a set of goals to guide the final plan: make it new, make it different, and make it together. To support these goals, a set of initiatives were created as a foundation. The initiatives were not intended to be associated with a specific goal; rather, each initiative has the capability to support multiple goals.

“The goals embody all that we do,” Cook said. “To really see Lehigh make it new, make it different, make it together means that we are engaging with each other and our community while we are being innovative, looking beyond barriers and connecting in ways that help us solve problems in areas where we can do our best work. The goals also serve as an indication of where we will invest. The goals are our strategy, and the initiatives are how we are going to make it happen.”

A draft framework of the plan was released in February 2023. A survey conducted later that month collected responses from campus participants in the community forums. Results from this survey indicated that support for the initiatives that were eventually laid out in the draft framework of the plan was high. Respondents indicated their support of each initiative was between 63 and 88 percent.

Inspiring the Future Makers

Inspiring the Future Makers

Most university strategic plans are goal-based and examine the future of a campus from a broad view. Inspiring the Future Makers does that, but also delves deep to address what the community collectively wants and needs.

“No idea that was brought forward was too bold for consideration,” Cook said. “The ideas collected resulted in a plan that was designed to be bold, and to push the envelope in the areas of Ph.D. transformation, interdisciplinary education and to ensure that the university can truly have a significant impact on both students and higher education in general.”

Although the plan debuted in June 2023, university leadership plans to continue dialogue with the community.

“The plan calls for us to stay fully engaged,” said Cook. “It calls for us to build community. As the implementation is a multi-year process, we have been called upon to provide opportunities for further engagement, and hear feedback from the community. I’m hopeful that enthusiasm from fall 2022 will be carried forward as we implement this plan.”

After a year of conversations, listening, ideas, and strategic thinking, the end result is a plan that embodies Lehigh’s distinctiveness while preparing the university for a bright future. Inspiring the Future Makers will advance the university for the next decade and solidify Lehigh’s reputation as a leading national research university.

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