Initiative Two: Preparing Students for Tomorrow’s Challenges

Above all else, the purpose of universities is to educate students, and no university’s strategic plan would be complete without addressing the education of its students.  UTD’s student body is one of its strongest assets.  The University must provide a strong liberal arts education as well as a variety of educational opportunities inside and outside the classroom that will empower students not just to learn but to become leaders in the world of tomorrow.  UTD must also strongly support  both excellence and inclusion and, therefore, must play a leadership role in meeting the needs of all of Texas’s citizens in a time of unprecedented change in demographics and increasing diversity of the State’s population.

Action 2.1: The Education of Leaders

The global economy has shifted from a resource-driven economy to a manufacturing-driven economy and is now becoming an information-driven economy.  Knowledge and information, and the management and development of knowledge and information, are increasingly becoming the resources that form the basis for commerce and social infrastructure.  To meet the region’s and world’s changing needs, UTD must identify new fields of study and must create innovative and coherent curricula that will prepare students to enter the workforce and to be ethical and principled leaders at every level.  These leaders will face global challenges, and the education they receive at UTD must have a problem-solving orientation that prepares them to overcome those challenges and to take responsibility for their actions.  UTD will, therefore, augment its current educational programs by expanding upon, rounding out, and interrelating existing Schools and programs to enhance student understanding of the interconnected nature of human existence.  Additionally, UTD will create an innovative, efficient, interactive Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, designed to help faculty provide the very best teaching possible by means of clearly defined outcomes and assessments, and the Career Center will proactively work to place its students in the best employment opportunities available. By embracing a value-added, learning centered approach to education and by providing an environment where concerned, ambitious students and faculty can work cooperatively to create innovative solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, UTD will offer its students the opportunity not only to serve the community but to improve the world in which they live.

Action 2.2: Living-Learning Communities

Learning does not take place in the classroom alone.  UTD must work to develop a living-learning environment.  The establishment of living-learning communities focused on student and faculty interests will greatly enhance the overall experiences of the students and will foster lifelong learning.  These communities can also promote partnerships with industry and charitable institutions.  Such communities will be established by the Office of Student Affairs on the basis of focus groups of concerned stakeholders, surveys of students and faculty, and interviews of students and faculty.  In the meantime, advisors will be directly associated with the students’ living spaces; faculty members need to be identified and associated with residential life, beginning with the freshmen and eventually advancing to all undergraduate classes.  Faculty participation in open mic nights, fireside chats, study groups, etc., will also be promoted; and where possible First Year Experience freshman university orientation seminars will be held in the clubhouses in the apartments.  The Community Outreach Office will serve as a valuable resource for the living-learning communities and will help identify opportunities for the students and the faculty to get involved in community efforts through internships as well as volunteer activities.

Universities are defined by the people who comprise them.  Excellence in education is only achieved with outstanding undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and faculty.  To succeed, UTD must establish successful programs of recruitment and retention at all levels, which will involve resources (scholarships, fellowships, and endowed chairs, for example), recognize and reward excellence (awards and other forms of recognition), expand active people-to-people engagement (recruiting and placement services, for instance), and establish a proactive institutional culture of attracting and retaining the very best people.  As UTD continues to grow, student and campus life will be given a high priority at UTD.  The cultural, professional, and social organizations on campus must be supported and empowered, and their efforts must be publicized.  The Student Government Association, the Multicultural Center, the Mercury, Radio UTD, the Student Union and Activities Advisory Board, and Greek life will play increasingly important roles in invigorating the intellectual and cultural climate of the campus.  Sports at the intramural level and at NCAA Division III level will be enhanced with the goal of strengthening the impact of sports for UTD’s student athletes and the University’s broader community of students, staff, and faculty.  Although virtually all the nation’s leading public research universities participate in Division I, UTD does not plan to develop a Division I athletics program in the next five years but leaves open the longer-term question of Division I athletics for a future date after extensive university-wide discussion and deliberation.  At this time, UTD will focus on high-quality sports programs at the Division III level, as do outstanding private academic institutions such as the University of Chicago, MIT, and Emory University. 

Action 2.4: Enhancement of Diversity and Inclusion

The State and Nation are being transformed into far more diverse places where no one ethnic group will comprise a majority.  This development, coupled with the increasing globalization of nearly all activities, makes it clear that future success will hinge on being able to engage a broad, diverse spectrum of people, cultures, and ideas.  Special attention needs to be given to recognizing, enhancing, and celebrating diversity.  A vigorous diversity program will be initiated and coordinated by a university leader, such as a Vice President for Diversity.  Diversity and gender equity must be encouraged at all levels of UTD, throughout the hiring, recruitment, and admissions processes, and in the curriculum where appropriate.  Perhaps most importantly, UTD must establish a culture that welcomes and celebrates diversity, and prepares all its constituents to engage and succeed in an increasingly diverse state and nation.  UTD must play a leadership role in meeting Texas’s challenges as it endeavors to close the gaps during a period of significant changes in the State’s demographics, making special efforts to include all qualified students and to assure timely graduation.  Specific metrics will be developed and periodically integrated into broader goals of the UT System to ensure that component institutions, including UTD, help to meet the needs of the State.  The goal of this initiative will be the creation of a community that actively and vigorously supports its many diverse stakeholders—faculty and staff and students alike—and that promotes campus culture of inclusiveness, openness, and understanding. This endeavor will require serious conversations about sometimes controversial issues, but UTD cannot shy away from tackling socially challenging issues and must promote a thoughtful, learned dialogue from a range of perspectives in order to prepare its students for success and global leadership in tomorrow’s world.  

 

Updated: May 1, 2012