At the time of this writing, we are preparing the Grounds for the University’s most joyous occasion, the Final Exercises that mark the end of the academic year and the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of our graduating students. In spite of the challenges we have faced, this academic year has been exciting because we have seen the strategies that we identified in the Cornerstone Plan begin to come alive in our University.
Student leadership is a prominent feature of the plan. This year, the first cohort of 25 students enrolled in the new Meriwether Lewis Institute for Citizen Leadership. During the spring semester they participated in Professor Tom Bateman’s course titled “Leadership across the Disciplines,” which examines leadership from a variety of perspectives in business and the humanities. This summer, the students will participate in a six-week program covering a broad range of topics, including communication and public speaking, team building, budgeting and group projects. Their work this summer will prepare them to embark on a two-year field-based independent study of a leadership issue.
Our new pan-University Data Science Institute is preparing graduates to work on the cutting edge of data analytics, storage, security and ethics in business and government. This summer, the inaugural class of 48 students in our Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) program will complete their degrees through the Data Science Institute. This fall, we will enroll 52 new MSDS students from a pool of about 400 applicants.
UVA was one of only five universities awarded the 2015 Senator Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization. This award, named for the late Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, recognizes outstanding achievements in global education. For example, our Global Studies major debuted this academic year, with 150 students enrolling in the program’s first year. We expect 225 students to become Global Studies majors this fall, and 250 by 2016. Through our new Global Internships program, about 60 of our students will participate in internships this summer in at least 13 foreign countries. These and other programs are products of the Cornerstone Plan’s mandate to strengthen the University’s global presence and international activities.
Many new programs have arisen from our “total advising” initiative and our focus on improving career services. We expanded the number of College Advising Seminars from 45 last year to 61 this year. First- and second-year students had the opportunity to take a new class called “Collect, Select and Reflect,” which allowed them to build electronic portfolios they can use to apply for internships, study-abroad and research opportunities, jobs, and graduate and professional schools. Other students enrolled in a new course called “Liberal Arts and the World of Work” to learn how a liberal arts degree can lead to multiple career avenues. Just after graduation, we will hold our Fourth-Year Career Summit to help new graduates hone skills that are necessary for career success. They will develop practical strategies to find and apply for jobs, refine their interviewing techniques and develop an action plan for job seeking.
All of these programs are new, and all of them have sprung from the Cornerstone Plan. As we approach the University’s third century, we know that a new century demands a renewed and reanimated university—one thoroughly grounded in our distinctive history and traditions, but intently focused on the future. Constant reinvention is necessary in universities to keep up with the rapid pace of new knowledge development, discovery and innovation in the 21st century.
Thomas Jefferson understood this truth back in 1805 when he wrote, “Science is progressive. What was useful two centuries ago is now become useless … What is now deemed useful will in some of its parts become useless in another century.”
Keeping pace with rapidly changing times is not the only challenge we face. American higher education has reached a watershed moment as colleges and universities, especially the nation’s public institutions, face a daunting combination of pressures that include erosion of government funding, demands for greater affordability, intensified focus on efficiency, and so on.
Some colleges and universities will not survive these challenges. Some may cease to exist. Some may slip into mediocrity. The ones that survive and thrive will do so by naming a well-defined set of priorities and pursuing those priorities with vision, vigor and passion.
The more than 10,000 alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, Board of Visitors members and others who helped create the Cornerstone Plan gave us a blueprint for the University’s future, and now we have begun building that future. The stakes are high. Our aspirations are higher.