Here and Next update: implementation progress, new initiatives and more

and | Senior News Editor and Junior News Editor

Washington University continues to implement the initiatives of its ten-year strategic plan, Here and Next, into its programming, courses, and research opportunities. The University announced the strategic plan last October and has since made progress in planning and structuring its new vision.

Here and Next is a “globally informed, community-driven vision for academic distinction,” according to the University’s website. The plan intends to “mobilize research, education, and patient care to establish WashU and St. Louis as a global hub for transformative solutions to the deepest societal challenges.” 

To achieve this goal, the University has tasked about 40 committees to work on initiatives that align with the strategic vision. Vice Provost for Educational Initiatives Jennifer Smith said that the University has many initiatives planned, including a School of Public Health, increased investment in environmental research, and further focus on engaging University students with the St. Louis community.

The University is making efforts to ensure that Here and Next is fully realized, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Beverly Wendland said. 

“It’s been six months since we’ve been formally in the implementation phase [of Here and Next],” she said. “We want to actually [fulfill] the plan, which involves marshaling a whole new set of efforts, people, and time.”

Wendland said that students and faculty will be able to track the University’s progress on Here and Next initiatives through publicly shared information.

“We have partnered with the Brown School [of Social Work]’s evaluation center to establish metrics and accountability standards,” Wendland said. “We want to share those [measures] and hold ourselves accountable in a public way to meet our goals.”

Due to the large amount of preparation and planning that goes into launching a strategic plan, many initiatives are still in the “pilot phase,” according to Wendland.

Smith stated a lot of the work being done is currently more idea-generation and strategic planning focused. She said strategic planning is necessary to create actual change through the wider banner of Here and Next.

“Strategic planning helps us to emphasize certain themes and content areas,” Smith said. “Then we make suggestions about ‘here are ways we think that could happen’ and then actually get into implementation.”

The University’s Assembly Series has been a major focus to increase the University’s global reach and raise awareness about Here and Next.

“We are trying to beef up the Assembly Series and expose the speakers to the WashU community,” Wendland said. “The WashU community gets to benefit broadly from the presence of speakers.”

Although many professors have yet to integrate Here and Next initiatives into their courses, Wendland said that professors will have academic freedom to teach anything they want.

“Our faculty has control over what they teach,” Wendland said. “We create opportunities for faculty to engage in or add something to their course.”

One such example of an initiative that will change learning in many classes is the St. Louis Hub, which is in the process of being developed.

“[The St. Louis Hub] will focus on research, education, and [medical] practice with a community-based approach,” Wendland said.

Smith said that, while no plans are formalized, an example idea of an initiative the University could implement is a class similar to college writing in that it is required for first year students. She also said the faculty would be granted flexibility for their curriculums, but focused them on civic engagement.

“[Administration tends] to say like we would like to see more classes on civic engagement,” Smith said. “We would probably have a definition of what that means to us. If there was a ‘civic engagement class,’ there would still be a ton of faculty flexibility to interpret and build the themes into their own classes.”

Another new initiative under the strategic plan is the Undergraduate Education Commission led by Smith.

“[The Commission] is looking at how [we can] position our students for the best success in a quickly changing world,” Wendland said. 

Smith and the committees under her are working on a “roadmap” for WashU education to “empower students to leverage knowledge and skills within and across disciplines to make a meaningful impact, nurture civic dialogue and engagement so students can work productively across difference,” Wendland said.

In terms of potential initiatives, Smith stressed the importance of collaboration and crossing disciplines. She said that there have been discussions of experimental ideas in relation to interdisciplinary work, such as expanding certain Beyond Boundaries courses.

Smith also said that administration is invested in making interdisciplinary study more reasonably achievable for students. This is connected to a broader key component of Here and Next and its tenant of innovative learning and teaching.

“McKelvey has ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accreditation,” Smith said. “[And to do this] you have to do certain things that require a ton of classes. But, not all engineering schools have all of their degrees ABET-accredited. Could we offer options that give students a bit more flexibility?”

With Here and Next, the University aims to set itself apart from other universities and make an impact, Wenland said. 

“A lot of people are really excited about the ambition of [Here and Next],” she said. “We have an obligation, as one of the leading institutions of hiring learning, to really make an impactful difference in our community and in the world. That is what this plan is about.”

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