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UR creates its new blueprint for the future

Rochester Business Journal
November 8, 2013

The University of Rochester has big plans for the next five years.
 
Its board approved a new strategic plan in October that aims to improve the quality of education in all of its schools, strengthen its standing among research universities and make significant investments in the burgeoning field of data science.
 
President Joel Seligman said this week that the new five-year plan is intended to strike a balance. The university wants to focus on a small number of specific goals but be aggressive in attacking them.
 
"You have to aim high, as I like to say. It's an exciting time at the university with real momentum and a very excited faculty, and my job is to get the resources they deserve and to get students the resources they deserve," Seligman said.
 
The plan outlines a path of growth for the university, one that recognizes its place as a center of innovation, creativity and training for the next generation of leaders.
 
Much of this growth will build on the foundation UR has established through investments in its academic programs, and it dovetails with a greater number of international students seeking higher education in the United States.
 
"Our opportunity in the 21st century is to accelerate our progress by building on our greatest strengths-our faculty, our outstanding academic departments and schools, and our multidisciplinary programs," the plan states. The challenge is to "harmonize these strengths with our resources."
 
The university has close to 2,500 faculty members and more than 10,000 students in seven schools. The plan says both faculty and student body will grow.
 
The university intends throughout the next five years to focus on enhanced support for its faculty and students and to develop additional support for existing and future programs.

Big data
The strategic plan aims for the university to continue into the digital age with full force. UR has already implemented new data systems to reach out to alumni and aid in research, and significant investments are planned.
 
The emerging field of big data will present an opportunity for UR, Seligman said. An estimated 90 percent of the world's data has been generated in the past two years, the report notes, and the university is responding to the challenge of collecting and interpreting this data with greater investments in the discipline of data science.
 
Several universities and research institutions are moving into the field, but Seligman intends UR to be a leader.
 
"One very high, if not the highest, university priority is in data science, and I will move heaven and earth to get that done as quickly as I can," Seligman said. "That will involve fundraising and money for some academic programs."
 
UR has already made headway in this field. In 2008 it created the Center for Integrated Research Computing through a collaboration between its River Campus and Medical Center. More work is planned.
 
The plan outlines a goal to create an internationally distinguished campuswide Institute for Data Science. This institute will build on the university's strengths in health care sciences and computational innovation, working in areas such as predictive health care analytics.
 
In October UR announced a new $50 million commitment to expand its work in data science. The investment, which comes on top of a previous $50 million spent in recent years, includes the creation of the data science institute as well as construction of a building to house it, university officials said.
 
The growth will include hiring a significant number of experts in the field, said Robert Clark, senior vice president for research and dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
 
"The field of data science is taking off, and we're jumping in with both feet," Clark said at the announcement of the $50 million investment.
 
Part of that jump involved the university acquiring a supercomputer from IBM Corp. last year. The estimated $100 million project gives the university the ability to advance research in fields such as artificial intelligence and biostatistics.
 
The new institute is expected to streamline data research efforts throughout the university. UR's current expertise in data science is spread out across many departments and requires individual groups of researchers to connect with each other to share knowledge, explained Henry Kautz, chairman of the computer science department and director of the Rochester Big Data Initiative.
 
In the new institute, these faculty members will be brought together and given the proper resources to foster collaboration, Kautz added.
 
The supercomputer is expected to bring new research and funding opportunities to the university. In the past three years, more than 100 principal investigators have been awarded $307 million for research that relies at least in part on high-performance computation.
 
The university plans other investments in digital technology outside of data science. Several schools have introduced academic programs focused on digital innovation, and over the next five years the university envisions changes in education delivery, including more online courses.

Continued growth
The strategic plan calls for growth in many other areas, including enrollment.
 
The next five years are expected to be a period of growth as UR reaches an increasingly international student body. The period will bring stronger research links with major universities in China, Hong Kong and Singapore as well as expansion in study opportunities in Asia, Africa and the South Pacific.
 
There are challenges ahead, the plan notes, especially in the changing health care landscape, the decline of sponsored research and the rising cost of higher education.
 
But despite the challenges, UR plans a course that is expected to bring robust growth. The university's academic standing will be strengthened by recruitment and support of accomplished and diverse administrative leadership, the plan notes.
 
Over the next five years, faculty in the arts, sciences and engineering will grow to 380 from 350, and faculty investments will be emphasized across the entire university.
 
Seligman noted that the growth goes against the grain for many academic institutions but will be crucial to UR's success.
 
"A lot of universities in our peer set in the last five years have reduced size in tenure and tenure-track faculty," Seligman said. "We're convinced that our greatest success over time will be to become as outstanding a university as we can be."
 
The university also plans improvements for campus infrastructure, including renovations of classrooms and laboratories.
 
There are goals that extend to the community as well, including improving health care through new approaches to clinical care. The university's new Accountable Health Partners program is expected to become the leading network in the region to recruit primary care and specialist physicians.
 
UR also plans to enhance programs to support K-12 education in Rochester and boost efforts in economic development and technology transfer.
 
In the midst of the strategic plan, UR plans to complete its $1.2 billion capital campaign.
 
Edmund Hajim, the university's chairman, said the campaign already has brought momentum to the university and its plans. The George Eastman Circle, a society of donors who make a five-year unrestricted pledge to give $1,500 or more each year, has grown beyond estimates. The circle now has 2,500 members, with 3,000 expected by the end of the campaign.
 
Class reunions are also on the rise, with more people attending each year and gifts increasing as well.
 
"This has us very optimistic about the outlook of the university," Hajim said.
 
Though Seligman said there will be fewer new capital projects during that time, the university does plan to complete some significant ongoing projects, including the College Town development and the Golisano Children's Hospital.
 
The plan builds on momentum gained from the completion of the 2008 strategic plan, one that included increasing the student body from about 8,300 students to 10,000 and brought close to $1 billion in construction.
 
Like the current plan, the 2008 plan was successful by bringing a focus to a smaller number of priorities, Seligman said.
 
"The key to success is to be focused on a small number of terribly important things that you want to add to what you're already doing," he said. "We did a very good job on that the last time around."
 
Seligman said that when 2018 comes, the university will again be looking back at a successful strategic plan.
 
"We're vigorous in being ambitious with our objectives but never biting off more than we can chew," he said. "There's a tension between aiming high but always having feasible objectives. We've been able to balance that well in the past, and it's what we plan now as well."

11/8/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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