GW to strategize for global future

The University will focus on four progressive themes to anchor its academic investments over the next decade, including a spotlight on international expansion.

As GW maps out a 10-year strategic plan, the University will examine its future in global education, policy and governance, interdisciplinary work and strengthening citizenship.

The themes, drawn up by an eight-member executive committee of faculty and administrators over the last four months, represent the groundwork of what University President Steven Knapp has called his top priority this year.

“The way to think of this is that these are broad themes, based on our strengths and weaknesses, that we think we can use as a foundation of becoming truly great in the next 10 years,” Provost Steven Lerman said.

The University first will look to expand its reach globally to attract international students and increase its presence abroad.

Lerman said one possible outcome of the new committee investigating how to expand globally would be to recommend a large increase in international students at GW – a number that has fallen behind some market basket schools. At Boston University, for example, 16 percent of the freshman class is made up of international students, while 7 percent of GW’s freshmen hail from other countries.

Competitors are also developing international degree-granting campuses, like New York University’s Shanghai site and Yale University’s Singapore campus.

In fortifying its policy and governance programs, Lerman said the University is looking to build on existing strengths, especially in health, education and law.

“It’s one of the things we can move from truly good and well-known to truly great in,” he said.

The Science and Engineering Hall, set to open in 2015, will help the University become a leader in science and technology policy, Lerman said. Though the $275-million science and technology hub is not specifically mentioned in the four themes, it is “woven into the charge questions” of the plan, he added.

The building’s design – which emphasizes open lab space for collaborative research – also complements the strategic plan’s next theme: innovation through interdisciplinary work.

Other models for interdisciplinary studies include the ongoing development of a sustainability minor that crosses programs from environmental studies to biology and the potential for coordination in health care-focused education among experts in health, law and economics.

The strategic plan will also focus on citizenship, a theme Lerman said he was hesitant to include because of the word’s broad definition.

“It’s a modern translation of George Washington’s original vision for our University, trying to move from a vision of bringing together people who saw themselves as citizens of states to see themselves as citizens of a country,” Lerman said.

In drafting the four themes, Lerman said the committee looked toward where the University had a comparative advantage among its competitors in higher education.

“We’re trying wherever possible to play strength on strength. Playing catch-up is really hard. If you’re behind in a particular field, it’s really hard to become more leading,” Lerman said.

But administrators have admitted playing catch-up is necessary as the University looks to bulk up its research portfolio, which has barely cracked the top 100 schools in National Science Foundation rankings. Amplifying research was highlighted as one of the goals in GW’s last strategic plan.

The strategic plan’s thematic document is still “in the copy editing stages” and will be released this week, Lerman said. Four committees of students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the Board of Trustees will tackle “charge questions” over the next four months designed to provoke debate about the University’s path.

“We want to give them some bold questions that are provocative and we want people to think about,” Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman said. “We want people to debate big questions that have consequential outcomes for students and the way we learn on campus, as well as the research that’s done here.”

Those committees of 10 to 20 faculty, staff, students and alumni will outline more specific goals for the strategic plan and outline metrics for them.

The final strategic plan will be unveiled in October. The last strategic plan was written in 2002. Since then, all 10 deans of the University and all but two of the seven vice presidents have turned over.

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