Penn State strategic plan: Six questions with the provost

January 22, 2019

Penn State Provost and Executive Vice President Nicholas P. Jones shared his thoughts about the current strategic plan and the path ahead in a Q&A with Penn State News. A university town hall meeting focused on the strategic plan will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, in Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library, on the University Park campus. More information, including links to watch the town hall virtually, is available here.

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Q: Why should Penn Staters care about the strategic plan and want to get involved?

Because getting better is not a matter of serendipity: It demands deliberateness. A robust planning process leads to the identification of opportunities that we agree upon, then guides us in ensuring that we focus on them. Successful implementation requires “all hands on deck:” We need everyone to roll up their sleeves and help push the university to greater heights. If you want to see the university be more impactful, lean in!

Q. Why does the University need a strategic plan?

It’s 2019! The days of “no plan” are gone. A robust plan provides guiding context. Without clear focus and consensus on a destination, it’s easy to go off course. People are more motivated when they feel they are going somewhere. I believe that there is a tremendous opportunity for Penn State to achieve even more by exceeding the sum of its parts: There is so much to be gained from collaboration, and I believe that people are motivated to come together when they feel that they can make a positive difference.

Q: Penn State is about halfway through its current five-year strategic planning cycle. How are we doing?

We are on a very good trajectory. We have accomplished much, but there’s more to be done. I think the RFP process has been successful in engaging people across the university to participate in implementation. I believe that some of the large initiatives that we are launching are very exciting, for example, One Penn State 2025, Invent Penn State, and the Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse. I am excited, too, that the fundraising campaign that is based on the priorities and themes in the strategic plan is so successful: That tells me that ideas are resonating with people, and they are willing to support them through their philanthropy.

Q: During the past year, the University has funded initiatives that support the strategic plan’s priorities. Has progress been made on these projects?

The RFP process has been very successful in providing a mechanism for folks across the university to actively and tangibly participate in advancing the implementation of the plan through funded projects. There are great ideas being surfaced, and supported, that truly have the opportunity to advance the university in ways we could not have imagined. We’ve had three rounds to date, and the fourth-round call is in progress -- so there is more to come.

I was able to view the first “product” from the Public Humanities Initiative last month: ”HumIn Focus,” a series of really good, thought-provoking videos which will spur an ongoing conversation about the fundamental ideas and questions that shape our time. Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses and Executive Chancellor Madlyn Hanes and I were present at the opening of the new high tunnel at Penn State Beaver that, as an outgrowth of a funded project, will expand the student farm’s ability to lengthen the growing season and offer interdisciplinary learning opportunities around sustainable food and agriculture systems. The campus also has great ideas regarding the integration of this activity with their Invent Penn State LaunchBox effort in Beaver Falls.

Q: You’ve said in the past that Penn State’s approach to its strategic plan is purposefully broad in its focus. Why is that?

Strategic plans generally fall on a spectrum between “prescriptive” and “visionary.” Too prescriptive and you have a bunch of check boxes, and no vision. Too much on the visionary end and you have no action plan and nothing gets done. Finding the sweet spot is important. And different parts of the plan can be at different points of the spectrum, so you can have a combination of differently focused components come together to produce the full plan. This also is good as it engages different people in different ways that are comfortable to them: We all have our own preferred spaces on that spectrum.

Q: The current strategic plan takes the University through 2020. What’s next?

We are thinking about the way forward. We have much momentum around a lot of great ideas. We need to see those through. And the good news is that some of them are bold enough that they’ll need to go past 2020 (One Penn State 2025, for example). That said, we need to really take a good hard look at our successes and failures, and be deliberate and thoughtful about the next steps. Stay tuned!

Last Updated January 22, 2019