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New Strategic Plan Maps Out How to Move UMD ‘Fearlessly Forward’

Months in the Making, 10-Year Document Declares Bold Ambitions Grounded in University’s Values, Provost Says

By Chris Carroll

Students sitting outdoors on campus

More than 500 people directly provided input, ideas and feedback on the development of the university’s strategic plan, with hundreds more participating in community forums, Senior Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice said.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

The University of Maryland yesterday rolled out its new strategic plan, “Fearlessly Forward,” emphasizing commitments to collaboration and innovation, diversity and inclusion, and solving grand challenges.

Subtitled “In Pursuit of Excellence and Impact for the Public Good,” the plan couples a focus on serving humanity with confidence that Terps have both the smarts and the drive to tackle many of its biggest problems. It lays a path for the university’s future with a destination where UMD’s profile soars and the world is a far better place.

University President Darryll J. Pines launched the planning process last spring, and Senior Vice President and Provost Jennifer King Rice, who was elevated from College of Education dean in August, immediately began leading a widely inclusive process that sought the opinions of many campus community members. She chatted with Maryland Today about how the plan came together.

What would you like everyone in the UMD community to understand about the new strategic plan?
Perhaps most importantly, this plan emphasizes the positive impact of our work on communities, our state, the nation and the world—whether it’s our research, our teaching or our service. This plan is heavily grounded in a set of shared values or guiding principles that are woven through all of the goals and objectives in the plan. These guiding principles are: excellence; diversity, equity and inclusion; impact; innovation; collaboration; and service to humanity. Finally, there is a place for every member of our community in advancing our vision of inclusive excellence and impact.

Can you discuss its creation?
An inclusive and transparent process was central to the development of this plan. In addition to data on trends at UMD and in higher education more generally, the process was informed by broad input from many members of our university community. Over the past six months, over 500 people have directly provided input, ideas, and feedback in various ways: We had six planning committees that included faculty, staff, students, administrators, and community leaders. In addition, we commissioned a special “catalyst” committee to help push those committees to think big and develop bold ideas. There was also a steering committee that included campus and community leaders.

We conducted interviews and focus groups to collect information from a wide range of stakeholder groups, and hosted a number of community forums. Counting all of these individuals, the number of people who participated in the planning process extended far beyond the 500 people I just mentioned to closer to 1,000.

One theme that becomes apparent is a sense of optimism about UMD’s future. What’s behind that?
The incredible potential of our university to have a positive impact on society is a vision that both President Pines and I share. We both agree there is a future for our university that is outward looking, focused on the contributions that we can make for the good of humanity. The pillars in the plan—reimagining learning, taking on grand challenges, investing in people and communities, and partnering for the public good—are all very hopeful, optimistic statements. We purposely didn’t put them in the future tense—“we will”—because we’re already doing excellent and impactful work in many of these areas. This strategic plan will build on that strong foundation to expand and amplify that work.

The plan returns repeatedly to ideas like making the world better, fairer, more democratic. Can UMD actually build a unique identity around such aspirations?
That’s exactly what we hope to do. We feel very strongly about our identity as a modern public flagship land-grant research university. The president’s focus, and mine as well, is on addressing humanity’s grand challenges from a place of creativity, discovery, inquiry and research. We’re also a place of teaching and learning, and of bringing people together to consider diverse perspectives. The diversity of our community is our strength, integral to our vision of inclusive excellence. When you put all that together, I think we are uniquely positioned for the kind of impact we can have on the world. If we can unite around that vision, I think the potential of our university is endless.

While this was a huge group effort, as you mentioned, is there a part of the strategic plan to which you feel most personally connected?
I’ve focused my academic career on equity, and how to structure education policies to address disparities in opportunities and outcomes. Our strategic plan presents an opportunity to think about the role of our university in the K-20 education ecosystem and the implications for the public good. Developing stronger partnerships with Maryland K-12 schools is something I care a lot about, and some of the related questions around social injustice, economic inequities, even threats to our democracy, are not unique to an education policy researcher like me. Partnering with schools will help us recruit and support an excellent and diverse student body, and ensure that higher educational opportunities are available to all. This education focus feeds my soul, and is important for our university as a whole, so these elements of the plan certainly have my thumbprint on them.

How does the plan get implemented? What’s next?
This plan is a living document that charts a broad course for our future, and we hope unifies our university community around a set of principles and goals. Specific initiatives will be launched in the weeks and months ahead—some from the provost’s or president’s office, but many will come from deep within the organization, where great work is already happening that aligns with our plan.

It’s important to recognize that we’re all going to need to be part of this work, and that we address critical enablers that need to be in place to succeed. There are eight of them, and they include things like leveraging our location near the nation’s capital, strengthening campus infrastructure and cultivating effective external engagement. We will also need to support a culture of collaboration across units to address the interdisciplinary grand challenges before us.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.