In “Imagine It Forward,” William & Mary alumna Beth Comstock ’82 writes: “We must become ‘change ready’ — that is, fearless, perpetually ready to reenvision, rethink and redesign whatever we do, whatever we are.” The challenges of pandemic brought us here: reenvisioning and redesigning, as individuals and as a university, how we deliver on our abiding commitments and mission.
William & Mary became change ready in this year of necessity. Gains have been faster than we could have imagined, and hard won. As we renewed our focus on the university’s longer-term future, we took stock of what it means to be change ready by choice, going forward. The first questions that we engaged this spring, as we restarted strategic planning, were open and exploratory. What should we carry with us, sustaining the momentum gained under pandemic? What should we lay aside?
Where We Were: Pre-Pandemic Planning
Readers of this column will recall that William & Mary began strategic planning by coming together to craft our first-ever statement of values and by revising our mission and vision. In Phase II, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee scanned the national landscape of higher education in three core mission areas: Teaching & Learning, Research & Innovation and Flourishing & Engagement. Last March, we pressed pause on strategic planning to focus on our community’s immediate needs under pandemic.
Where We Are Now
We can all take pride in the ways the Alma Mater of the Nation has grown and adapted under pandemic. More than a year later, our commitment to staying Healthy Together has mitigated the spread of COVID-19 and sustained our mission. In my last column, I wrote about lessons learned: flexibility, innovation and humility. Our faculty and staff transformed their work with skill and dedication. Our students committed to each other and to our town. Generous alumni, families and friends supported these new resiliencies.
Our March Community Conversation restarted Phase III of strategic planning by exploring what we have learned, during pandemic, about the most urgent challenges and promising opportunities that lie ahead. We invited our far-flung community to join in to assess areas that showed great potential under pandemic: career pathways, internships and new degrees in key areas of strength at William & Mary such as data sciences and integrative conservation.
The feedback gleaned so far is generative:
- Nimble collaborations broke down preexisting silos at William & Mary: We know how to draw on wide-ranging expertise in small, effective cross-disciplinary teams.
- A deeper understanding of holistic wellness sharpened our focus on flourishing for staff and faculty, as well as students.
- Tools for remote collaboration catalyzed new research opportunities nationally and internationally.
- New teaching modes reaffirmed W&M’s value as a highly personal, face-to-face institution and faculty reimagined their curricula to advance belonging.
The success of William & Mary’s pandemic response has taught us we can take swift, decisive action to advance shared goals, despite great uncertainty. Three principles that guided us over the past year prepare us to act boldly, post-pandemic:
- Values drive action.
Our shared values are our north star and this year, we took steps to deliver on them more fully. W&M launched a new Inclusive Excellence framework aligned with the Commonwealth’s One Virginia Plan. Our schools reimagined service in an expansive sense, gaining new capacities while supporting our communities. The committee for the Asian Centennial at W&M is imagining a university-wide commemoration in 2021-22.
- Whole-university approaches speed work.
Pooling resources from across the university elevated our game in just about every arena. Our new Democracy Initiative, for example, brings together experts and curricula from across campus — forging new partnerships and convening conversations that bolster democratic values and civil debate.
- The challenges are real but surmountable when we are all in.
Lasting solutions to complex and longstanding challenges require unity and commitment. In March, W&M launched a campaign for athletics called All In. Together, we aim to chart a more sustainable and more equitable future for W&M Athletics and for the university as a whole.
W&M Through 2030
I take pride in William & Mary’s response to one of the greatest worldwide challenges of the past century. We have adapted and supported one another, and we have learned that we can persevere in extraordinary ways. I know that everyone reading these words has done the same: adapted, persevered in the face of loss and challenge and brought each other wisdom, hope and pride along the way. We conclude our strategic planning process this summer in the spirit of adaptation, perseverance and abiding focus on sustaining our mission for the future.