A Plan for a New Horizon

by Charles W. Steger '69

Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger '69

"The future will be characterized by geopolitical and geo-economic transition, an accelerated pace of globalization, and structural shifts caused by technological innovation."

The sentiment expressed above opens our dialogue in the next iteration of the university's strategic-planning process. Technology applications and globalization are rapidly changing our patterns of life, business, and education.

Many shy away from formal long-range planning. Many in the academy place little stock in the process. Yet, I have found few documents, few processes, more important to the overall health of the institution than the collective brainstorming and communal commitment embedded in a formal plan for our future. It is an invaluable exercise to engage the entire university community and give voice to people outside of formal leadership roles to help guide the future of the institution.

Most importantly, strategic planning guides decision-making in good times and bad, particularly in terms of resource allocation. Twice since I was appointed president, the state has slashed our budgets precipitously. In each instance, the deans, vice presidents, and department heads relied on the common themes of our six-year plans to make investment decisions about Virginia Tech's future.

Long-range plans provide guideposts, not a blueprint, for the future. Our mission and core functions change little over time. However, how we implement our roles can change significantly in just six years' time. Although the previous plans called for emphasis on certain life-science research sectors, for example, we never identified the establishment of a school of medicine or human-health research institute. Yet, that life-science emphasis has radically broadened the institutional research portfolio.

Thus, I encourage you to spend some of your time with the university's Plan for a New Horizon ( Our vision for the future of Virginia Tech is far-reaching and dynamic:

We will be characterized by increased engagement in many dimensions throughout the international arena, including undergraduate and graduate education and research partnerships.

We will continue expansion of graduate education, particularly in the STEM-H disciplines (science, technology, engineering, math, and health).

We will look to create special "faculties" in the health sciences and in computational/informational sciences.

We will continue to invest in a comprehensive educational portfolio in which the arts, humanities, business, and social sciences have an essential role in individual and social transformation.

Undergraduate education, characterized by a "hands-on, minds-on" philosophy, will connect real-life experience with academic concepts through actual research experiences or experiential learning. Indeed, we believe that knowledge creation at the undergraduate level helps to differentiate a Virginia Tech education.

In the interests of efficiency, adaptability, and global competitiveness, we must consider new combinations of majors and minors and encourage students to double-major. E-learning must be an important component of such a strategy.

We have identified certain themes to undergird our research and outreach expansion—security, resilience, health, and sustainability. In much the same way that "discovery domains" informed the last strategic plan's research portfolio, these themes will inform business, industry, and policy-relevant research.

Most importantly, we strive for excellence and must continue to stress quality in our students, faculty, and institutional performance. Our marketplace is worldwide, just as the nation's businesses compete globally. Our programs must be among the best as compared to those around the world.

Your alma mater remains strong, and in a year marking the 150th anniversary of federal legislation creating land-grant universities, we are well positioned to continue the tradition of preparing committed and engaged graduates who are ready to change our world.

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© 2012 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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