UI set to unveil newest strategic plan called 'The Next 150'

UI set to unveil newest strategic plan called 'The Next 150'

CHAMPAIGN — Fresh off a celebration of its first 150 years, the University of Illinois is looking ahead to the next century and a half in its latest strategic plan.

The vision outlined in "The Next 150" incorporates the same mission and goals in the "Visioning Future Excellence" plan developed under former Chancellor Phyllis Wise, which led to such initiatives as the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, Siebel Center for Design and the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

The new version, to be unveiled today, adds new emphasis on diversity and public outreach throughout and includes a stronger focus on both the arts and data sciences in all disciplines, a revamp of the UI Extension system and a "total rethinking of the way we educate students," so they're prepared for ever-changing careers, said provost Andreas Cangellaris.

"One of the most important goals is lowering the boundaries between majors on campus, providing students the opportunity to prepare themselves in a much more comprehensive way, so they are ready for multiple careers in the future," Cangellaris said.

Overall, the five-year plan focuses on what the UI's land-grant mission should be for the 21st century, a theme pounded by Chancellor Robert Jones since he arrived in 2016.

The chancellor is hosting a public town hall on the plan at noon today at the Illini Union. The full report is available online at strategicplan.illinois.edu.

"The decisions, investments and strategies we support in the next five years will be an important part of the foundation of what this university is going to look like in the next five, 10, 15, 100 and 150 years from now," Jones said. "I think it's an excellent framework for the future."

More than a century and a half ago, the Morrill Act created the system of land-grant universities, Cangellaris said.

"That really is what, in my mind, what we're doing right now," he said. "If we were asked today by the nation, what should be the Morrill Act for the next 150 years, in the context of the public land-grant university, what would we do? How do we reinvent ourselves?"

'Ideas are everywhere'

The next 150 years, he said, should be driven by societal needs and global issues.

"It's food, it's health, it's wellness, it's the sustainability of the planet," he said. "The most important thing is the transformation taking place because of technology.

"So we're going to leverage engineering and technology for the prosperity of the community, for fighting hunger, for making sure that a healthy future for everyone, not only for the privileged, is within reach," he said.

Part of that will be a "democratization of everything," he said, with citizens, students and community members bringing their ideas for innovation.

One of the plan's goals is public engagement, "driven by the belief that at the pace innovation is happening today, we cannot afford to claim that the university owns all of the ideas that will make a difference. Those ideas are everywhere," Cangellaris said.

Under the plan, Extension will focus on "societal grand challenges" in both rural and metropolitan areas, and collaborate with faculty throughout campus for greater impact.

The plan also calls for better connections with local communities and neighborhoods — assessing how the UI's master plan affects surrounding areas and supporting local and minority businesses. Another goal is accelerating the growth of the Research Park and other entrepreneurial activities to establish Champaign-Urbana as the best university-based innovation hub in the Midwest.

"By 2023, we are going to have placed this community on a path to become a quarter-million people by 2030. How do we do that? We do it by making sure that we are identified as the most important economic driver of central Illinois," Cangellaris said.

'Student of tomorrow'

Overall, the strategic plan's four goals haven't changed: fostering scholarship and innovation, providing "transformative" learning experiences, making a "significant and visible social impact," and using current and new resources to fund strategic initiatives.

But diversity and public engagement are two themes that now run throughout, to be "interwoven in everything we do," said Bill Bernhard, vice provost for academic affairs, who led the planning team.

The document also talks about "how we can get groups working together," through interdisciplinary research and teaching, for example, said Staci Provezis, associate provost.

One example: creating opportunities for every Illinois student to have some experience with data science, Bernhard said. A number of colleges are already working together to develop new courses in that area, he said.

"This is an essential ingredient for every student of tomorrow," no matter their career, Cangellaris said.

Jones said the strategic plan is a "road map to the future," helping the campus, colleges and other units decide where critical investments should go. He said the previous plan was one of the best he's ever seen, and he wanted to build on its accomplishments, including a comprehensive new budgeting system for the campus. He asked his planning team to identify new opportunities and focus areas.

"The Next 150" was developed over 18 months, with brainstorming sessions involving more than 700 people across campus. A dozen working groups were asked to flesh out priorities in specific areas and come up with detailed recommendations.

Some build on initiatives that emerged from the previous strategic plan — the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities and the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative, for example, which will be elevated into full-fledged academic centers.

Other initiatives include: expanding cancer research and data-driven agriculture; seeking new partnerships with the Mayo Clinic and others; building on the new Discovery Partners Institute and Illinois Innovation Network; developing a campus center for academic student support; re-examining general education requirements; expanding online courses and continuing education; and encouraging every student to take a capstone course, internship, research project or study-abroad experience.