You are here: American University President Announcements The Path to Impact: Implementing Our Changemakers Strategic Plan

American University
Washington, DC

Memorandum September 19, 2019

AU Community
Sylvia M. Burwell, President
The Path to Impact: Implementing Our Changemakers Strategic Plan

Launching the Changemakers for a Changing World Strategic Plan in January was the first step in a dynamic five-year journey to transform American University. Today, I want to update you on where we are on that journey – the progress we’ve made so far, and the new teams that will help us keep moving forward.

The launch of this plan was a moment to celebrate the conclusion of months of hard work by our community. At the time, I said that this plan “…builds on our strengths—it draws on who we are and what we do, and it channels all of that into what we’re going to accomplish over the next five years, and what kind of university we’ll become.” Here at American University, that future we seek is rooted in our proud tradition of producing changemakers as well as changemaking scholarship that together make a positive impact in our local communities and around the world.

Nine months after our launch, I am pleased to share with you where we stand on our Changemaker journey and the exciting opportunities on the horizon. Many of you are already hard at work. Faculty, students, and staff across the university are transforming our vision into action, and throughout campus, you can see the future of American University taking shape.The strategic plan is built on three overarching themes – Scholarship, Learning, and Community – and features 9 key imperatives in each area that guide our thinking and focus our work.


  • Imperative 1: Invest in areas of strategic focus that enhance understanding and have the power to make an extraordinary impact on our world.
  • Imperative 2: Grow sponsored research and expand faculty-student research collaborations.


  • Imperative 3: Provide a first-rate student experience that promotes access, thriving, retention, and graduation.
  • Imperative 4: Excel in providing traditional and emerging forms of education to promote lifelong learning.
  • Imperative 5: Focus on learning for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students that prepares them to engage in the world.


  • Imperative 6: Lead and model inclusive excellence.
  • Imperative 7: Work with the Washington, DC, region to be a responsive partner.
  • Imperative 8: Form and expand partnerships to leverage our strengths and extend our reach.
  • Imperative 9: Improve how AU works to cultivate a work environment that enables our faculty and staff to thrive.

We are proceeding across each of the imperatives, and throughout all of this important work, we are consistently focused on the plan’s key outcomes – improving retention and graduation rates, achieving operational excellence, enhancing AU’s reputation, and diversifying and growing revenue. As we take each new step, we bolster these critical areas that are so vital to our future.

Our efforts in each category are led by Strategic Imperative Teams. These diverse, multidisciplinary teams feature faculty and staff from across the university and are engaging students and alumni. Each team combines unique skills and expertise particular to the Imperative, empowering us to look at challenges and opportunities from all perspectives and take action that aligns to our goals and desired outcomes, while also providing professional development opportunities for those who serve on the teams. The structure also helps us engage the community throughout the implementation work because this was a plan built from our community.

The teams are driving change in each category with a focus on delivering clear, measurable results over the course of the year. As their implementation work continues to accelerate this year, I wanted to highlight just a some of the areas where we’ve already made significant progress on implementing the strategy over the last nine months:


  • As we update our infrastructure and support system for sponsored research, we are creating new opportunities for our faculty and students. In FY 2019, AU received over $33 million in externally funded grants and contracts, the largest amount received in the university’s history. 

Inclusive Excellence

  • Our work to increase faculty diversity and support inclusive teaching continues to yield results. In fall 2019, 46% of new tenure-line and 31% of new term faculty identify as people of color. 
  • The new Defending the AU Dream Initiative supports legal services for college-age students with DACA and other immigration-related matters at AU and other DC area institutions.

Working in Washington

  • We launched the Digital Technology Credential with Capital CoLab to help undergraduate students develop the skills they need to compete in today's economy and foster a broader talent pipeline for employers across the region.
  • A partnership with Arena Stage brought ten talented artistic directors to campus for a first-of-its-kind Intensive Program to support their work and advance their training.
  • The first class of Sine Institute Fellows, including former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslem, Washington Post Columnist Ruth Marcus, and Playright Karen Zacarias, brought together great thinkers from the public and private sectors with our students and faculty to uncover new policy solutions.

How AU Works

  • Our HR team launched the “Reinventing Hiring” initiative, which is designed to improve the hiring and onboarding experience both for applicants and for individuals at AU who are hiring new staff. This set of projects is improving and diversifying our applicant pool, utilizing new tools to improve efficiency, upgrading the on-boarding process, and implementing new job architectures that will enhance equity and career opportunities.

And that is just for starters. We will provide regular updates on our progress and opportunities for engagement as we move toward the first anniversary of the strategic plan in January 2020. You can visit the Strategic Plan website for further information and your comments and suggestions are always welcome via

Fellow Changemakers, I am excited to be on this journey with you.