Winter 2019 Issue

Moving Forward Together

By Katherine A. Rowe
William & Mary President

William & Mary's 326-year history is impressive. Through wars and depredations, William & Mary has risen to national recognition as a premier institution of higher education. Our path has been full of turns, some swift, some long. Along the way, William & Mary has changed in order to sustain and realize what we value most.

That approach to change has long inspired me: in the process of transformation, we discover and clarify shared values; via transformation, we deliver on those values. I have had this mantra at front of mind this semester as — together with many members of our community — I have explored William & Mary’s aspirations for the future. In a series of open, town hall–style conversations, along with web and social media forums, we have been “Thinking Forward.” Our conversations focused on three core mission areas: knowledge, work and service.

Early takeaways from our “Future of Knowledge” conversation

Our September conversation, “The Future of Knowledge: Teaching, Research and Learning,” filled the Integrated Science Center auditorium. At one point, I asked faculty to reflect on what is changing in their disciplines. It was a profound moment when more than one colleague — from the humanities and the sciences — answered, “Everything.”

Faculty described with excitement how the student body is changing to reflect the commonwealth and the nation. Our students are more diverse and bring with them a wider array of experiences and preparations. They arrive with worldly concerns and tech-savvy habits of living and of mind.

Teaching practices evolve as faculty explore how to improve student learning. In undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, faculty may “flip the classroom” using new technologies, to focus time on meaningful, high-impact activities. Across all schools, the curriculum is increasingly problem-based and collaborative. Many courses engage students in international and community-based initiatives, and hands-on research.

Insights gathered from “The Future of Work”

As we discussed how to ensure William & Mary graduates will thrive in the future, the community emphasized the increasing complexity of our working lives. Our students must graduate with expansive skill sets. Recent alumni in every profession emphasize the need for more experience gathering data and analyzing it critically. All stress the value of thinking and communicating exceptionally well, in a global context. Four essential capacities stand out in their comments: tolerating ambiguity, reflecting deeply, appreciating cultural differences and lifelong learning. Employers emphasize all of the above.

“Current students will need to be able to adapt to future changes — that requires flexibility of mind and the ability to continue to learn new skills,” one alum reported. “Critical thinking skills will be crucial here.”

By some estimates, within a decade, half of the jobs students graduate into will be entirely new. Our alumni will reinvent and reimagine their roles many times during their careers. Learning how to manage change and solving problems collaboratively: these are the success factors many emphasize in feedback sessions.

Many students arrive at William & Mary as fluent users of digital communication tools, yet hunger for the sophistication required to navigate them as professionals and engaged citizens. Graduates who can confidently relate data and emerging technologies to deep domain knowledge in a humanistic way will be valued in every organization. This work invariably requires effective team-building and collaboration. The advantage goes to those who question their own assumptions, disagree respectfully and appreciate skills and experiences that diverge from their own.

Exploring the “Future of Service”

Students, faculty, staff and alumni value William & Mary as a place that forges deep, human connections. Our commitment to the idea that “you belong” is an important and lovely aspect of this community that all seek to strengthen. Such intentional inclusive- ness sustains the decades-long bonds we forge with each other and with the university.

Alumni play a special role in the future of service: mentoring and opening opportunities for graduates. The entire community shares a desire to change the world for better, viewing a William & Mary education as the launch pad for positive action in every sector of society. During a listening forum, one group asked, “How can we develop graduates who run toward challenge rather than retreat away? Who challenge people, circumstances and ideas that divide?” Many spoke of cultivating grit and confidence, empowering our graduates to tackle the world’s toughest challenges.

Continuing the conversation: playback and feedback

Having heard these themes, and more, from William & Mary, I have started to reflect them back. Opportunities for playback and feedback ensure that we listen well. So, between now and my Inauguration on Charter Day, I welcome alumni sharing your further reflections. We will continue to update as we chart together the next turns in William & Mary’s path.