Campus meetings spark dialogue on Emory's emerging priorities

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Jan. 24, 2017

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The Emory community turned out last week for a series of four meetings to discuss the university's emerging priorities. Friday's meeting on enhancing the impact of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center was facilitated by (left to right) professors Lanny Liebeskind, Judy Raggi Moore and Sheryl Heron. Emory Photo/Video.

With probing, challenging questions and an invitation to brainstorm new ideas, the campus community gathered last week to help envision Emory’s strategies for the future through a series of public discussions about the university’s emerging priorities.

As Emory shapes its strategies under the leadership of a new president, members of the university community were invited to join in the process through faculty-facilitated noontime conversations held across campus.

Faculty, staff and students engaged in robust discussions about the university’s emerging priorities, identified in recent months through focus groups, interviews, listening sessions, surveys and the  “Thinking and Acting Strategically” initiative.

Each session focused on one of four priorities:

  • Strengthening academic excellence
  • Deeper engagement with Atlanta
  • Global health innovation
  • Enhancing the impact of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center

“These priorities capture Emory’s current strengths and bold future as an outstanding global research university, with a liberal arts core and a stellar health care system,” according to Emory President Claire E. Sterk.

“They build on the talent of our faculty, students and staff and ensure that Emory will deliver on its commitment to contribute to society and the common good,” Sterk states on her website.

With public input, the priorities will now be examined, refined and used to develop themes and sub-themes for Emory’s new strategic plan, she explained.

Strengthening academic excellence

The sessions opened Tuesday, Jan.  17, with a conversation about how to build upon research and teaching strengths to heighten Emory’s academic excellence.

The discussion acknowledged the university’s existing academic strengths in many areas, but also focused on ways to:

  • Publicize those strengths, raising the university’s visibility.
  • Invest in scholarship and fellowship programs to attract the brightest students and interdisciplinary endowed chairs to bolster faculty ranks.
  • Support and promote faculty in ways that honor teaching.
  • Strengthen opportunities and infrastructure that support collaborative, interdisciplinary teaching, research and classes.
  • Create an environment that attracts students and a diverse faculty.
  • Explore more high-risk, high-reward projects and bold ideas.

“I thought the conversation was very productive,” said Carolyn Meltzer, William Patterson Timmie Professor and chair of the Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences in Emory School of Medicine, who helped facilitate the discussion.

Vaidy Sunderam, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Computer Science, and K.M. Venkat Narayan, Ruth and O.C. Hubert Chair of Global Health, joined Meltzer as co-facilitators.

“We’re such a broad institution," Meltzer said. "Often there isn’t a lot of coming together to discuss these issues across units and schools — I felt that was valuable. People spoke a lot about the many advantages we already have at Emory and how we might remove barriers in getting to the next level.”

Deeper engagement with Atlanta

The Jan. 18 discussion on how Emory can deepen engagement with Atlanta generated suggestions on becoming involved with issues such as traffic and public transportation, affordable housing, access to health care, the arts, and urban and economic development initiatives.

“The very people who make Atlanta an international city are often not included in conversations about how development should go,” said Vialla Hartfield-Mendez, director of engaged learning in the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence and professor of pedagogy in the department of Spanish and Portuguese. “I think Emory has an important role in facilitating this cross-community building.”

Others acknowledged Emory’s strong history of community engagement across many schools and programs, suggesting the university should map its community impact.

Goizueta Business School Dean Erika James, who co-facilitated the discussion, found the conversation vibrant and optimistic.

“It was inspiring to hear all that is already being done across the schools and units to impact our city,” she said. “The effort is there, and given recent and upcoming opportunities occurring around us, we are poised to be of great service to Atlanta, while also increasing our influence to bring about change.”

“I was most excited by the energy in the room, which highlighted to me how faculty, staff and the entire Emory community stands at attention, ready to act on the president's charge to build bonds that can transform our city and university alike," she said.

Co-facilitator Robert Franklin, James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Candler School of Theology, was also encouraged by a sense of hope that emerged from the meeting.

“The president invites us to be bold in our aspirations and proposals,” he said. “That doesn't happen often in American higher education, but Emory is one of those special places where it is happening now. Stand by for what will follow."

Global health innovation

A conversation about global health innovation, held Thursday, Jan. 19, led with an intriguing question: If money were no object, what single thing would you like to see happen at Emory that could impact global health?

The ideas exploded:

  • Generate new ways to cross disciplinary boundaries.
  • Train students in creativity and innovation.
  • Unite people from across campus around specific themes to stimulate debate, discussion and problem solving.
  • Create campus “synergy” awards.
  • Take a broad, interdisciplinary look at how climate change will impact millions of lives over the next century.
  • Support students in financing and implementing ideas developed in the classroom to aid global health.

The session was facilitated by Carlos del Rio, Hubert Professor and chair of the Department of Global Health; Robert Breiman, director of the Emory Global Health Institute; and Linda McCauley, dean of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing.

As the conversation focused specifically on how to further innovation, ideas included supporting implementation science and translational research to transform science into practice, as well as creating satellite global health campuses as hubs of learning and research.

“One thing that would help would be better coordination amongst our units about the global outreach that we do,” said Elizabeth Corwin, associate dean for research and professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. “We can achieve greater impact together if we coordinate our efforts.”

James W. Curran, dean of the Rollins School of Public Health, who attended all four community meetings, said that he was “impressed with the initiation of outreach for thoughts on these important priorities,” noting that there were “thoughtful ideas from each session.”

“This was a good start and will provide stimulus for further discussions across Emory,” he said.

Enhancing the impact of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center

The final forum, held Jan. 20, considered how to enhance the impact of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center across Emory, Atlanta and the world.

Discussion focused on reducing barriers to collaboration between Emory Healthcare and the university; more cohesive, unified messaging; and strengthening infrastructure and incentives to encourage cross-university teaching and collaboration.

Facilitators included Sheryl Heron, professor and vice chair of administrative affairs in the Department of Emergency Medicine; Lanny Liebeskind, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Chemistry and vice provost for strategic research initiatives; and Judy Raggi Moore, professor of pedagogy in Italian and director of the Italian Studies Program.

“What’s very clear is that when it comes to enhancing the impact of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center, the people within the health sciences really want to have the biggest positive impact possible across our entire university,” said Jonathan Lewin, executive vice president for health affairs and Woodruff Health Sciences Center and president, CEO of the board for Emory Healthcare.

Communication and collaboration

At the conclusion of the four days of meetings, Sterk said that she was pleased with the attendance at all sessions and grateful for the emerging ideas, which will now be used to fine-tune the university’s priorities.

“The engagement and enthusiasm that Emory’s people brought to the priority sessions this past week created a palpable synergy,” she said. “The community has a common desire to collaborate, building on existing strengths, and speak with one Emory voice.”

Feedback from all four forums has been collected and will be made available on the president's website. Those who still wish to weigh in on the emerging priorities are encouraged to visit here before the survey closes on March 1, 2017.