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A Transformational Moment


Photo­graphy by
Jeff Watts

collage of students at commencement, in the science lab and volunteering

In January, AU unveiled a bold strategic plan that will shape the future of the university over the next five years. Changemakers for a Changing World represents our commitment to advancing knowledge; fostering intellectual curiosity; building community; and empowering lives of purpose, service, and leadership.

At AU, change is in our DNA, says President Sylvia Burwell. “We are taking that core of who we are and applying it to a world of change, opportunity, and challenge.” 

The plan is the culmination of 18 months of work by more than 1,000 AU community members, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and the Board of Trustees. 

“Everyone has their own lens through which they see the university. They see opportunities, they see challenges, they see our identity,” says Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, dean of the School of Education and a member of the Strategic Planning Committee. “It was important to have diverse perspectives . . . and for the strategic plan to touch every corner of the university in a meaningful way.” 

The plan focuses on three themes—scholarship, learning, and community—with nine strategic imperatives to guide our progress:

  • Scholarship AU will develop areas of strategic focus that draw on fields where we already excel—fields where our expertise crosses schools and disciplines and that hold promise for the future. We will establish centers and pursue endowed chairs across a range of disciplines. Imperatives include: investing in fields like health, data science, security, and social equity that can have a profound impact on our world; and growing sponsored research and faculty-student collaborations.
  • Learning AU will continue to embrace the highest-quality teaching while exploring new frontiers. We will expand opportunities for lifelong learning that are more flexible, personalized, and accessible. Imperatives include: offering a first-rate student experience that promotes inclusion, thriving, retention, and graduation; providing traditional and emerging forms of education; and preparing students to engage in the world. 
  • Community AU will build and strengthen ties with internal and external communities. Imperatives include: leading and modeling inclusive excellence; partnering with Washington’s people and institutions; forming and expanding partnerships that leverage our strengths and extend our reach; and cultivating a work environment that enables faculty and staff to thrive.

The plan also includes four outcomes for monitoring success: improving retention and graduation rates, achieving operational excellence, enhancing AU’s reputation, and diversifying and growing revenue. 

Over the next two years, AU will invest $23.5 million in the plan, which its architects see as a living document—open to discussion, interpretation, and evolution. 

“It’s not meant to be put on a shelf and observed. It’s a starting point for what is inevitably a dynamic process over the years,” says trustee and committee member Jeff Sine, SIS/BA ’76.

“Through this strategic planning process, we have been asking ourselves, ‘Who are we? What distinguishes us as a university?’ Essentially, we are creating a common language, a common vision for the future,” Holcomb-McCoy says. “In many ways, this is a process of becoming.”