Lehigh’s strategic planning process hit its halfway mark this week, with more than 200 faculty, students and staff taking part in a campus-wide conversation Wednesday on the working groups’ progress and providing input on the emerging initiatives for Lehigh’s future.
Each of the four working groups that are part of “Our Future, Our Lehigh, an open dialogue on the strategic direction of the university” made short video presentations that highlighted the ideas that have been percolating in discussions and conversations taking place across campus throughout the fall semester. Breakout sessions followed, which allowed attendees to offer feedback and continue the conversations.
“There’s been a lot of campus engagement, a lot of work by the working groups to get to where we are today,” said Provost Nathan Urban, who, along with Vice President of Strategic Planning and Initiatives Chris Cook, is leading the effort.
He said the initiatives that have so far emerged may or may not appear in the final version of the strategic plan, as conversations continue and the working groups evaluate the degree to which the initiatives align with the university’s mission to advance learning through teaching, research and service to others.
“We will look at how big an impact—both breadth and depth of impact—that these initiatives may have,” he said. “Will they affect a lot of people or will they only affect a few people? Will they affect people and activities across campus deeply or will they just be superficial in the kind of impact that they have?
“We will be looking for ideas and issues that build Lehigh’s distinction,” he said. “We can't be, should not be, a university that is just like many others across the country. We want to have certain things that we are known for, that we do particularly well, that we have decided are going to be an important part of Lehigh in all respects—in our research, in our education, in our scholarship.”
He said the working groups also will eventually evaluate capacity and feasibility.
Among the emerging initiatives:
– The working group raised three visions of Lehigh’s future: Providing resources and infrastructure that will help Lehigh meet society's grand challenges of the future; activating Lehigh and its resources year round to leverage underused resources during the summer to spark new opportunities; and putting Lehigh’s lab space and intellectual assets to work with the surrounding community.
– Given Lehigh’s extensive land assets of more than 2,300 acres, the working group said, the Asa Packer Campus could blend more seamlessly with the Southside community; the Mountaintop Campus could become Lehigh’s arts and technology campus as well as a place for innovation through corporate and nonprofit partnerships; and the Goodman Campus could be developed as a model for the integration of health, wellness and sustainability in all facets of life.
Research With Impact
— Having received more than 50 proposals, the working group bucketed ideas, with many of the ideas focusing on health, data science, artificial intelligence and robotics, and computational modeling. A number of proposals focused on reducing health disparities in the population.
— The working group said the reduction and elimination of chronic health disparities are achievable with the right structures in place, presenting an opportunity for Lehigh to excel. The endeavor would involve two facets: to understand the complex contributors to health disparities and to innovate accessible strategies to reduce health disparities.
Lehigh User Experience
– Working together, the goal is to make Lehigh a more user-focused, user-friendly, user-design university, which means putting users first by asking how others experience what individuals create, using tested principles, responding and adjusting to feedback from users, and being open and transparent about the process.
– The working group proposed initiatives that included amplifying the voice of Lehigh’s stakeholders by inviting users to ask questions through a single system that directs them to the right office and enhancing representation on key committees at the university.
Education With Purpose
– Recognizing concerns that higher education is at a tipping point, the working group indicated that Lehigh is serving an increasingly diverse group of learners but its methods, technology spaces and modalities have not kept pace with the diversity of needs.
–The working group is considering a number of initiatives that range from competency-based frameworks to exploratory semesters to experimental education departments. One opportunity would be to embrace universal design for learning across the institution as a way of wedding different modes of engagement, different representations of content, and different opportunities for students to express what they have learned in varying contexts.
The video presentations from each working group have been posted to the Idea Portal. Members of the Lehigh community are encouraged to share their feedback and comments in the portal, using the following criteria:
- The proposal’s alignment with Lehigh’s mission
- The proposal’s breadth and depth of potential impact (global, local, regional, national)
- The proposal’s ability to build Lehigh’s distinction
- Lehigh’s capacity and feasibility to execute the proposal
Cook and Urban said the feedback obtained Wednesday at the event and through the Idea Portal will help further shape proposed initiatives as well as guide the creation of the remaining initiatives. In November and December, Lehigh will offer more opportunities to connect with working groups on focused topics. The initial draft of the plan is expected to be available in February.