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Strategic Initiative Summits: Exploring Opportunities to Excel

November 7, 2011

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:

One of the many things I love about living in Kansas is being able to experience all four seasons. Perhaps no time of year is better than autumn, when the trees put on a spectacular display in their preparations for the cold months ahead, and when crops tended all summer are harvested.

But as I was reminded this weekend, the process of trees preparing for winter involves shedding their leaves into our yards. Many homeowners turn yard waste, including all those leaves we rake up each fall, into compost. For farmers who are harvesting corn and soybeans, researchers at KU are working to turn the waste left behind into bio-based chemicals used to make everything from the food packaging in your refrigerator to the refrigerator itself.

Currently, these products and thousands like them are made using petroleum-based chemicals. The Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis is making discoveries that will revolutionize this $720 billion industry by replacing petroleum-based chemicals with bio-based chemicals made in an eco-friendly manner. The benefits of these discoveries will reverberate across the Kansas economy. In May, Bala Subramaniam and his group received a $5.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was further boosted by cost-sharing funds from the university and by a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland. This project is an excellent example of a bold idea being put into action with funding from the university and external partners.

Strategic initiatives: Bold Aspirations in action

Almost a year ago, we expanded our strategic planning process to include a call for strategic themes and initiatives. As I noted last November 30, strategic initiatives are meant to build upon KU's intellectual strengths, magnify the impact of the investments we make, and help spread the story of KU excellence to our many stakeholders. They spotlight our ability to be forward-looking and relevant in challenging times.

In order to develop and grow multiple partnerships like the one in the biorefining mentioned above, each of the four strategic initiative themes will be the focus of a university wide summit at The Commons:

  1. Sustaining the Planet, Powering the World, Friday, November 18, 2011.
  2. Promoting Well-Being, Finding Cures, Friday, December 2, 2011.
  3. Building Communities, Expanding Opportunities, Friday, January 20, 2012.
  4. Harnessing Information, Multiplying Knowledge, Friday, January 27, 2012.

Each summit is an all-day exploration of the individual theme. The summits will begin at 8:30 am with coffee and pastries, followed by an introduction to the strategic initiative theme and presentations by faculty members on research possibilities that exemplify the theme. After a luncheon panel featuring perspectives from a group of deans, there will be small breakout sessions to address key questions, discuss opportunities and priorities for funding and research collaborations, and discuss topics specific to each strategic initiative theme. The summits will conclude with reports from the individual breakout groups and a reception. Each planning group will summarize their findings in a final report shortly after the summit.

The summits are the primary opportunity to air ideas for how the university can most effectively and wisely invest in group efforts to compete externally for recognition and resources that will move the strategic initiatives forward. After the fourth summit, I will ask the deans to review the recommendations in the summit reports. I will ask them to work with me to appoint an ongoing council of faculty researchers and administrative leaders to solicit, vet, and select promising ventures for investment at the university level. I will also charge the deans to develop a transparent and accountable process to guide investments in the strategic initiatives within their schools and college.

Sustaining the Planet, Powering the World

Our first summit is Friday, November 18. I encourage you to review the planning site for Sustaining the Planet, Powering the World and to make plans to attend. Perhaps no challenge is greater than making discoveries to provide better stewardship of our resources and to become better caretakers of our environment while helping industry to meet the energy needs of our state and nation.

The November 18 summit will provide an opportunity to gain greater understanding of the relationships between physical systems, living systems, and social systems and how KU can direct resources to making advances at the intersection of energy, environment, and sustainability. You will learn about many exciting projects being formulated at KU and be a part of the discussion on how to broaden KU’s reach both globally and locally. Please RSVP to help us plan the logistics for the event.

In addition to the summits, our strategic themes will be enhanced by visiting lecturers. Our first lecture will be

“Research without Borders: Seizing Opportunities and Dealing with Border Guards”
Martha Crago, Vice President of Research at Dalhousie University in Canada
The Commons(Spooner Hall)
Thursday, November 10, at 7:00 p.m.

Vice President Crago will describe strategies that resulted in a successful multidisciplinary collaboration that not only crossed universities but also national borders. Her presentation will enlighten the possibilities for KU across each of our strategic themes.

Through our strategic plan, Bold Aspirations, we are raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world. By weaving each of our four strategic initiative themes into the goals and strategies of our plans, KU will realize its vision of educating leaders, building health communities, and making discoveries that will change the world.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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