Some 200 town hall participants got an update on the Strategic Planning process and a sampling of ideas submitted thus far in a presentation by Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson at a meeting held January 21 at the Georgia Tech Hotel ballroom. President Peterson made his remarks after the keynote presentation by Joe Bankoff, president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center. The event was open to the campus and the community.
President Peterson talked about the importance of campus and community involvement. “We have tried to make sure we continue to be comprehensive and inclusive throughout the entire process,” he said. Since last summer, more than 60 town hall type meetings have been held with students, faculty, staff, friends, and advisory boards. On September 3 planning sessions were held with more than 700 individuals from the campus and community as part of President Peterson’s investiture activities. Over the past several months, workshops have been held with representatives from the Parents Association, the Alumni Association, the Georgia Tech Advisory Board, student groups, and a number of others. Most recently Days of Engagement were held in Georgia Tech classrooms January 20 and 21. To date, more than 1,200 ideas have been submitted.
More than 70 Strategic Planning Steering Committee members representing a cross section of faculty, staff, alumni, and other friends have developed preliminary reports for eight separate themes. Those reports were submitted in December and are now being reviewed by 200 core contributors. They are also available for review by the campus community on the Strategic Vision Web site.
“Many of the steering committee members are here, and I want to thank them for their work in preparing the preliminary reports,” said President Peterson. “We will take the in-depth work from the strategic theme subcommittees and combine that with feedback from subject matter experts, core contributors, open forums with various constituencies, and focus group interviews with various business and community leaders as we start to coalesce these thoughts, ideas, and themes into a cohesive plan,” he said. “The really hard part is the part that lies ahead. It is relatively easy to think creatively and expansively about what Georgia Tech might be. But trying to put that together in some sort of consolidated vision that would result in a look back that resembles something even close to what Joe (Bankoff) outlined will be a real challenge for us.”
Peterson discussed several of the ideas submitted, and carefully noted that they are not necessarily the ideas that will be included in the final plan. “I don’t want you to think that decisions have already been made,” he said. “They have not. These are just samples of the ways people have been thinking expansively to envision what Georgia Tech might look like in 25 years.” Ideas he covered included flexible degree programs; cluster requirements; a focus on leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship; an educational guarantee; national leadership in Intellectual Property (IP); a program to help international graduates remain in the United States, fostering healthcare excellence; and a virtual learning environment.
Flexible Degree Programs
Peterson noted that one of the things that has clearly come out of the strategic planning process is the need for flexible degree programs. “The statement has been made that if we believe that many of the new and exciting fields of discovery that are going to help shape the future are in fact at the intersection of traditional disciplines, then why in the world do we continue to instruct students in a structured, traditional disciplinary format?” he said.
Students could be offered the option of choosing to fulfill a certain number of hours in various clusters, including performance, service learning, or research. As an example, President Peterson said requirements could be met through a team project that incorporates presentation of materials, or a musical, or participation in a DramaTech production.
Leadership, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship
“Another thing that has come through fairly loud and clear in a lot of different ways through the subcommittee reports is the response to the question we have posed, ‘What is it that has in the past, and will in the future, differentiate Georgia Tech graduates from the graduates of MIT and Berkeley and Stanford, and in the future from IIT in Mumbai, Seoul National in Korea, Thsinghua in Beijing?” said President Peterson. “The things that are coming forward are things like leadership, innovation, and entrepreneurship. That leads us to a question: Will a four-year degree in the future be enough to last for a lifetime? I think that’s probably not true. We see an increasing number of alumni who want to come back for a masters’ degree. What if Georgia Tech were to guarantee all undergrads that they could come back the rest of their lives and take any undergraduate course for free on a space-available basis? We could offer lifelong learning.”
National Leader in IP Policy
One of the ideas from the Georgia Tech Advisory Board last fall was that Georgia Tech could become a national leader in IP policy. “No institution in higher education has figured out how to really handle intellectual property well,” President Peterson said. “We spend an awful lot of time pitting our attorneys against each other, fighting over something that may never exist. Maybe we can take a national leadership position in how we deal with IP and set the bar at a level that other people will try to achieve.”
Staple a Green Card
The challenge of helping bright international students remain in the United States after they earn their graduate degrees sparked the “staple a green card” idea. “The idea is an outgrowth of a column Tom Friedman wrote for the New York Times,” explained President Peterson. “He was at an institution watching the PhDs in physics be awarded. Walking across the stage were people named Chang, Lee, Hwang, Patel and Smith. Friedman wrote that ‘Smith saved the day’ and he commented about the fact that we bring in this tremendous amount of talent in our graduate schools and then we make it very difficult for those students to stay in this country and contribute to the economic well-being and the technology development that is so important to our future. Tom Friedman said that ‘Instead of making it difficult for these students to stay in this country, we ought to be stapling a green card to their diplomas when they walk off the stage.” Peterson suggested that Georgia Tech could set up an office to help these students stay in the country, to help them get a Green Card or an H1B visa. “Imagine how that might help us to attract the very best and brightest from around the world,” he said.
Foster Healthcare Excellence
President Peterson proposed that Georgia Tech could be a model for healthcare. “We’re a very self-contained control group—we have a health center, we have 70 percent of our students living on campus, eating in our dining facilities. We could figure out how to be a healthcare model for our country and try to develop some of the technologies, procedures, and processes necessary to do that,” he said. He gave as an example the Aware Home on campus where students get customized messages to help them with health conditions.
Virtual Learning Environment
President Peterson shared the idea that some classes could be taught in virtual reality. Work from people who study cognition could be used to develop an environment with a unique, customized learning approach for different individuals. “Imagine a classroom a little bit like the Truman Show, where there’s one real student and the rest are virtual students whose sole purpose is to help the one real student learn. This system could evaluate the questions and responses from the real student and have the other virtual students respond and interact in a way that helps to reinforce those concepts that he or she doesn’t understand,” he said.
President Peterson emphasized that the ideas presented are examples of hundreds of others. “I don’t want you to think these ideas presented today are special or that decisions have already been made,” he said. “I encourage you to get on the Strategic Vision site on the Web and look at the documents that have been prepared. There are some very exciting ideas included in the reports,” he said. “Thank you for the work that you’ve done and for the contributions you’ve made. Your involvement and contributions have been and continue to be critical to our success, now and in the future.”