Increasing responsiveness to community needs and providing students with more relevant avenues of intellectual pursuit are ultimately why Fort Lewis College is developing and writing a strategic plan.
FLC President Tom Stritikus said, “We want to identify the themes of our intellectual pursuits and see if we can organize our work to better meet the needs of our students and our communities.”
He mentioned as a hypothetical example the importance of water in the Southwest and bringing together cross-curricular opportunities in engineering, biology, geology and history to provide new avenues of study for students.
“By combining these pursuits, can we efficiently offer engaging experiences for students to better connect with the needs of our communities?” Stritikus asked in describing the guiding uses for a new strategic plan, which is expected to be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval at its Feb. 1 meeting.
The first two of several community meetings, designed to provide residents in cities and towns across the Four Corners with an opportunity to give input on the strategic plan, have been held in Durango and Telluride.
More meetings, which have not yet been scheduled, will be conducted after the holidays in the Four Corners, including communities in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.
Already, ideas from residents to bolster opportunities for internships and to more efficiently connect resources available at the college to meet community needs are helping guide the school, Stritikus said.
Durango City Councilor Dick White said the city and FLC already enjoy an excellent working relationship, which Stritikus seems determined to strengthen.
“The college accounts for roughly 25 percent of the local economy, so the health of the college and that of the larger community are intertwined,” White said. “It would be hard to imagine the Durango of today without Fort Lewis; it adds so much to the cultural richness, appeal and social capital of the community.”
White said a tighter relationship between the school and town will benefit both.
“The students and faculty are great intellectual resources that local governments, businesses and nonprofits might draw even more from,” he said.
He cited work by professor Laurie Williams in the physics and engineering department and one of her associates to update the 2008 La Plata County Greenhouse Gas Inventory “at very low or no cost to the city, saving contract expenditure that had been part of the 2018 budget.”
Based on input from the Board of Trustees, Stritikus identified four broad themes to explore in crafting the strategic plan, and he named faculty and staff members who will lead the areas of study:
Putting students at the center, which will be led by math professor Anne McCarthy and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Julie Love.Becoming a more community-responsive college, which will be led by professor of exercise science Melissa Knight-Maloney and Associate Dean for the School of Education Kris Greer.Examining how students interact in the world grounded in a sense of place, which will be led by professor of art and design Paul Booth, professor of physics and engineering Laurie Williams, professor of sociology and human services Becky Clausen and professor of management Michael Valdez.Determining if systems are in place to facilitate success, which will be led by professor of geoscience Kim Hannula and Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Schwartz.Based on the faculty’s commitment to teaching and building relationships with students, Stritikus said he believed the school could become a national model for serving students.
Each of the four areas of exploration will be tied to objectives and key results that can be used as yardsticks to measure whether the school is meeting the strategic plan objectives.
As a hypothetical example of an objective that might be set in the strategic plan, Stritikus said a standard might be to set a higher retention rate for freshman and sophomore students. Perhaps another goal might be enrolling 3,700 students by 2021.
In the end, Stritikus said the focus of the plan is to better serve students.
“From the time students decide to come to until the time they get their first job, we want to ensure we are responsive to students’ needs and that we are serving them,” he said.