Strategic Plan Update

February 14, 2019

Dear Members of the Spider Community,

I am writing with an update on our community’s success implementing our strategic plan. Our collective efforts to date have been impressive, and I’m delighted to share a report of our progress with you.

I will provide a representative overview of the significant activity across our schools and programs, highlighting a few of the initiatives under each pillar that underscore how our strategic plan is strengthening our University. The progress represented below (and which will also be reflected on the plan website) is, as you know, all in addition to the work everyone in our community does every day to ensure our fundamental excellence. It would not be possible to accomplish our further aspirations if it were not for the shared purpose and collective contributions of all faculty and staff.


Academic Excellence

At the heart of our enterprise is an unwavering commitment to providing every student with the knowledge and skills they need to live lives of purpose. To that end, we have launched a number of initiatives to advance our vibrant intellectual community.

  • Our institutional investment in the creation of the Office of Scholars and Fellowships continues to yield impressive results, including the record eight Fulbright Scholars selected in 2018 and 15 Fulbright semifinalists for 2019, the University’s first Schwartzman Scholar, and continued success with Gilman awards. This week, the University was among the 11 institutions in the country included on the list of U.S. colleges and universities that produced both the most Fulbright U.S. Students and Fulbright U.S. Scholars in 2018–19.
  • Many faculty are actively engaged in faculty development initiatives this year. The Teaching and Scholarship Initiative, a cross-school effort to design a faculty development program that supports excellence in teaching and scholarship, issued its report this month, a key step toward a plan to be implemented in the 2019–20 academic year; the Inclusive Pedagogy Cohort, which has engaged faculty across disciplines to explore innovative practices in excellent teaching and to help ensure an educationally inclusive experience for students of all backgrounds, will offer a summer training program to share findings with the broader campus community; and the Program on Academic Leadership continues this semester with its offerings designed to equip faculty for leadership at all levels of the University.
  • To ensure our curriculum provides students with the best possible preparation, the General Education Curriculum Review Committee has been consulting extensively with colleagues to assess the current curriculum and exploring the experience of students and recent graduates, in anticipation of presenting its assessment report at the March Faculty Senate meeting.
  • With strong leadership from faculty and Deans, we are bolstering areas of academic strength. Our Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship initiative is supporting faculty experimenting with creative approaches to collaborative teaching and has launched the UR Innovation Fellows program, through which students will develop ideas for enhancing CIE at Richmond while participating in an international fellows program organized by Stanford University. In response to increasing demand across majors for entrepreneurial coursework, the Robins School of Business has introduced an entrepreneurship minor, available to interested undergraduate students from Arts & Sciences and Leadership Studies majors, and more than 20 students are already engaged. We have also created a new Ethics Suite in Jepson Hall, which will serve as a hub for teaching and ethics-related initiatives; have been successfully securing generous gift funding for our Integrated Inclusive Science initiative, including support for additional summer research opportunities for our students; and based on strong interest across our schools, are exploring opportunities in data science.
  • Much has been accomplished with respect to enhancing the first-year experience of our students. The Richmond Endeavor, our innovative living-learning experience for first-year students, is in its pilot year, with 60 students participating in four communities. We are poised to expand the program to six communities (96 students) in fall 2019, and to 14 communities (224 students) in five years. These communities forge vital relationships among peers and with professors, equipping students to make the most of their UR experience.
  • In addition, the First-Year Experience Advisory Committee (approximately 20 faculty, staff, and students) has begun developing a “signature first-year experience,” focusing initially on enriching New Student Orientation, academic advising, peer mentoring, and integration of all first-year experience components.


Access and Affordability

To realize our aspirations for the University and remain true to our values, we must also continue to open the door of opportunity to talented students from all backgrounds and experiences and ensure that they have a pathway to a Richmond education regardless of their financial circumstances. We have taken a number of steps to help all families better understand the affordability and value of a Richmond education. In addition to becoming a founding member in December 2016 of the American Talent Initiative, a cohort of institutions dedicated to expanding the number of talented low- and moderate-income students who enroll at the nation’s top colleges, we have:

  • Implemented MyinTuition, an innovative online tool used by highly selective universities to allow students quickly and easily to access information about the projected cost of college and make decisions about affordability. In the first two months it was available at Richmond, more than 1,100 families completed their estimates, which we hope will help them realize that Richmond is an affordable option.
  • Joined The Coalition, a diverse group of 140 colleges and universities, in a shared commitment to making college a reality for all high school graduates by providing free online tools to aid in the college application and admission process.
  • Became a founding partner of the College Board’s Environmental Context Dashboard, a pilot program that will give us a deeper understanding of the context of an applicant’s background and experiences. We know that grades and test scores alone do not tell the whole story about an applicant, and this tool will further enhance our Admission staff’s understanding of student achievements.

We see the results of these and other efforts in our notable — indeed record-breaking — success with respect to applicants for our first-year class. The application pool for the fall 2018 entering class represented a 19% increase over the previous year’s application total and resulted in another entering class of notable academic quality. For the fall 2019 entering class, even before last month’s Regular Decision application deadline, the University had received approximately 12,300 applications, surpassing the 12,000 mark for the first time. Academic quality continues to climb, with increases in the average test scores and GPAs.


Thriving and Inclusive University Community

When we welcome new Spiders to Richmond, we want them to know that they have joined an exemplary intercultural community where students, faculty, and staff from diverse backgrounds participate fully in the life of the institution, reach their full potential, and thrive together. To that end:

With respect to providing vibrant social spaces for all students, I received a thoughtful report from a group of student leaders requesting dedicated multiuse, multicultural space, a need that was likewise identified during the strategic planning process. With involvement from many areas of the University, we designated a pilot space in Whitehurst Hall that has undergone preliminary renovations. A team of students and administrators will form an advisory group to help promote and assess use of the space in the pilot phase.

Also central to our thriving and inclusion work is a comprehensive well-being initiative to strengthen and align programs that support both high achievement and a well-balanced life. We are seeing remarkable generosity from alumni, parents, and friends in this area and remain on schedule with planning and fundraising to begin construction on the Well-Being Center this spring. The state-of-the-art facility will serve as a hub for student health, supporting students in a holistic manner and fostering the resilience that will serve them throughout their lives.


Alumni Engagement

The active involvement of alumni in the life of the University is another key to our continued success, and we are pleased to see the strong response to the new opportunities for engagement we have launched.

  • We have created Recent Grad Regional Councils engaging volunteers in five major regions (Richmond, DC, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia) in which many of our alumni live and work. The groups will help ensure continuity of engagement and leadership for Spiders after graduation, and we will continue to add to the number of council members and increase the overall regional activity.
  • We have expanded professional preparation opportunities for Arts & Sciences students through the evolution of the A&S NEXT program, which well exceeded attendance expectations last month, bringing together students, alumni, and faculty for programs that help students begin to translate their Richmond education into rewarding career paths.
  • Last semester, the first-time “Spiders Helping Spiders” weeklong campaign secured impressive support from alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and the senior class for the career opportunity fund, current use financial aid, and a newly created student emergency fund, which offers support for unexpected needs. More than 600 donors participated, 200 of whom were first-time donors to the University; of the alumni donors, 40% had graduated within the past decade. In April, we will hold “UR Here,” the University’s first Day of Giving, which will serve to connect alumni, parents, and the campus community to meaningful philanthropic opportunities with the ultimate aim of making this an annual event that inspires every member of the University community to make a gift in support of the University on that day. These new events are intended to help build a lasting culture of participation in and support of the transformational opportunity we offer our students.
  • This summer, we will offer a new and innovative admission and financial aid information program designed specifically to help alumni and their family members preparing for the college search process — thus leveraging the University’s strengths and expertise to provide a valuable service to alumni. Alumni are also invaluable partners in our student recruitment efforts — attending college fairs and offering informational interviews to prospective students.


Stewardship

To ensure the future health and vibrancy of the University, we must carefully steward our vital resources — the environment on which we all depend, funds for our needs and aspirations, and the faculty, staff, student, and alumni relationships that form the core of our educational model.

With respect to environmental stewardship, we have:

  • Made a commitment to match 100% of our electricity needs — enough to keep the lights on in 2,400 homes — with energy generated by renewable sources, which would result in reducing the University’s greenhouse gas emissions to a level less than half of what they were just a decade ago.
  • Nearly finalized the University’s first Sustainability Strategic Plan, which will guide our efforts to integrate sustainability more fully into our students’ educational experience; foster and support behaviors that promote sustainability; and make campus services and operations more sustainable.
  • Begun work to develop an Eco-Corridor and to restore Little Westham Creek on the campus boundary along the Gambles Mill Trail. Construction is scheduled to commence this spring and will result in realignment and paving of the trail and the creation of a meadow walk.

Our internal process improvement initiative, UR Better, has already yielded results in stewarding our most precious resources — the time and talent of our faculty and staff. This month, we will begin to implement new technology to simplify and improve the travel and expense reporting process on campus. We are also working to streamline and make electronic the system for declaring a major or minor. I hope that faculty and staff will continue to submit suggestions of other ways in which we can improve administrative processes.

Finally, we have continued to make significant investments in our physical plant to ensure our facilities provide the best possible environment and support for learning and student life. With respect to academic facilities, this summer we will complete a four-year $37M renovation to the University’s Arts Facilities located in North Court, Booker Hall, and the Visual Arts Building. We have also renovated and made accessible Richmond Hall and have made significant new investments in the Gottwald Science Center to support new faculty. We have also continued to update our residential facilities, and to ensure our Athletics facilities support both the competitiveness of our D1 programs and the academic success of our student-athletes.

These are just a few of the ways in which our community has come together to build on our strengths and forge our future. As our community continues its good work, we should feel proud of the way we have guided and advanced our institutional priorities. While there is still much to do, we are well on our way to living up to our capacity and promise as a pre-eminent university that educates students for lives of purpose.

Sincerely,

Ronald A. Crutcher