School of Arts & Sciences moves forward with signature initiatives 

and | James Ellinghaus and Lydia Sidrys

The School of Arts & Sciences continues to make progress on planning and implementing what they have deemed “signature initiatives” as part of their updated strategic plan— a decade-long agenda to “build a top University.”

The web page for the initiatives says they will “build on existing strengths to create exciting and transformative new ventures,” though most action items are still in the planning stage. The school hosted a “first look” fair for community members to learn more about the initiatives on Wednesday Sept. 14.

Arts & Sciences announced the initiatives last spring, along with several other changes to the strategic plan. At the time, Provost Beverly Wendland stated that the University would begin implementing the outlined changes during the Fall 2022 semester and continue to do so for the next decade.

The eight initiatives were created to strengthen the Arts & Sciences Strategic Plan, with each one tying into one or more of the six strategic pillars: Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures, Transdisciplinary Institute in Applied Data Science (TRIADS), Program in Public Scholarship, Center for the Literary Arts, Living Earth Collaborative 2.0, Center for Quantum Leaps, Undergraduate Program in Global Health, and Literacies for Life and Career.

Vice Dean of Research Deanna Barch served as the strategic planning co-chair for the signature initiatives alongside Abram Van Engen, the Dean’s Fellow for Educational Innovations. 

According to Barch, creating the initiatives was a team effort for the Arts & Sciences faculty and administrators.

“We had a big team of people who were involved,” Barch said. “Creating the plan was really a community-wide effort. There were a lot of town halls, surveys, outreaches, and meetings for generating ideas to elevate Arts & Sciences.”

The strategic initiatives cover a wide range of disciplines and interests. Many of the initiatives are focused on the advancement of research at the University, such as the Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures. 

“[The Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures] is a framework for people to write proposals for funding to try new transdisciplinary research and teaching programs,” Barch said.

The Transdisciplinary Institute in Applied Data Sciences (TRIADS) initiative also supports research between areas of study to address social issues.

“[TRIADS] is not a project itself, but rather a conduit to help faculty come together around new research projects that are focused on applied data sciences,” Barch said. “Data science can be used to answer big questions about government, economics, sociology, and other subjects.” 

The Center for Quantum Leaps initiative is focused on quantum technology and how it can be applied to uses in biomedical and life sciences, from nuclear power to drug testing.

Other initiatives are geared towards public service and community collaboration.

The Program in Public Scholarship initiative seeks to translate the University’s work to the general public through collabing with local organizations, creating jobs and internships, and teaching innovative courses.

The Living Earth Collaborative 2.0 initiative similarly aims for the University to partner with local groups involved in biological and environmental issues.

“The Living Earth Collaborative is focused on conversation and education about sustainability and ecological ideas,” Barch said.

The Undergraduate Program in Public Health initiative will roll out a global health major, focusing on how environmental and racial factors play into health outcomes and patterns observed across the world.

All eight of the signature initiatives  facilitate interdisciplinary learning. The Literacies for Life and Career initiative, for example, promises to incorporate information that is applicable to relevant jobs and life experiences into courses across departments.

Erin McGlothlin, Co-Director of Literacies for Life and Career, said that the initiative will have a wide impact.

“[Literacies for Life and Career] will touch every Arts & Sciences course, student, advisor, and faculty member,” McGlothlin said. 

Selected faculty members will meet throughout the Fall 2022 semester to work on the rationale for the initiative and determine the specific literacies that will be featured.

“We have engaged 10 faculty members from Arts & Sciences to be Literacy Fellows who will define the literacies,” McGlothlin said. “They have already met and begun their work.”

After defining the literacies, early adopters will test the efficacy of the initiative through existing courses. Eventually, the literacies will be implemented throughout all first-year courses and beyond.

“At the end of the 5-year timeline, [Literacies for Life and Career] will factor into all Arts & Sciences courses,” McGlothlin said.

Though each initiative has its own committee and schedule, all are on a three-year planning and testing timeline. Many have not reached the testing stage. 

“We hope for all [of the initiatives] to start this year,” Barch said. “However, we need to see if they are working and if they achieve what we hope that they will. We think a three-year timeline is a good assessment period.”

New initiatives are also underway, but the University has yet to announce any of them.

Junior and environmental analysis major Lauren Bruhl has not heard about the Living Earth Collaborative 2.0 yet, but sees it as an interesting an initiative for the University to take.

Bruhl said that the Living Earth Collaborative 2.0 could allow for more students studying environmental analysis or majors in similar fields to engage with the material in a unique way. 

“I definitely would be interested in learning more about it [the Living Earth Collaborative 2.0] and think that it would be a great initiative for WashU,” Bruhl said. 

As the year unfolds, students can expect to hear progress updates on the signature initiatives. 

“This is a particularly exciting time to be at WashU,” Barch said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how things unfold over the next few years.”

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