“For the first time, students are hiring college to do something for them. This wasn’t true for my generation.” said Dr. Brendan Kelly president of the University of West Georgia.“ We are entering a new time in higher education,” said President Kelly. I had the pleasure of interviewing him last week after the unveiling of UWG’s Becoming UWG strategic plan.
This plan will guide all of the university’s decision making until 2026. While the plan prepares for the next generation of students, it will have an effect on current students. The three pillars of the plan are placemaking, relevance, and competitiveness. They were born out of three hundred hours of discovery sessions that 1,300 students, faculty, staff, alumni, community leaders and other stakeholders participated in.
“[The pillars] started as a basis for thinking, and led to places that the institution was going to lean in,” said Kelly. “Students today are emerging from a new time. We want to make sure that we’re relevant to them.” The priority of relevance pertains to how the university will connect students to the outside world.
“[We want to] make certain that students experience continuity of place,” said Kelly. “Sense of place matters. [We want to] make sure that when people encounter UWG, it’s special.”
Kelly emphasized the importance of created space when discussing placemaking. He included intentionally creating tradition, events with positive, memorable experiences, and making sure that students remember their connections with the university and their memories made here.. “Intentionally connecting alums to current students creates those critical bonds,” said Kelly. All of these building blocks add up to create a “holistic sense of community”. He highlighted mentorship, giving anecdotal evidence of his own experiences with students at UWG.
“[We are] always answering the question of how well we match up to the expectations of the industry. [It’s] different for each discipline. We’re going to answer that question all the time to constantly get better,” said Kelly when asked about competitiveness. This is essential for UWG to keep up with the growing demands of the workforce on this generation. “Higher public education has evolved. The mindset is different. Companies now depend on higher education.”
“Education should be constantly evolving over time,” said Kelly. “Academic programs have a call for action, discussion, and ambition. [They] adapt over time.” Kelly said this approach gives the university time to advance, answer important questions, and redirect accordingly when other institutions are unwilling to.
Students, both current and future, might be wondering what this plan will change for their experience at UWG. Kelly said that the momentum center is the first example.
“The hardest part of what you’re doing here should be what you’re doing in class, not running around for a payment issue.” Additionally, he wants to create more spaces like the patio outside of the campus center that invite students to connect with each other. Parking is another problem that he wants to solve for students.
“Few of us would buy a house if the garage was half a mile away.” He emphasised spaces for community several times, stating that at every turn, we should be finding a new way to connect with people.
Overall, Kelly and those involved in creating the strategic plan seem determined to make UWG a “first choice university” in the coming years.
“Choice changes all the time,” said Kelly. “Being first is a standard that is set.”
Photo by UMC