Path Forward Advisory Group Moves toward Implementation
When the three Action Teams — focused on student mental health, campus culture, and LGBTQIA community support — submitted their recommendations last fall, discussions shifted to implementation. In all, more than 180 recommendations needed to be evaluated, categorized, and prioritized. For that, President G.P. “Bud” Peterson turned to a small group students, faculty, and staff to serve as advisors during the next phase of The Path Forward.
Members of the advisory group recently offered their insights into the process of creating a structure for implementation, and how they are approaching the assignment.
What is the advisory group’s role, and what steps has it taken so far to fulfill its assignment?
Steven Girardot, associate vice provost for Undergraduate Education: When President Peterson convened the Path Forward Advisory Group he charged us with three primary goals: “to monitor progress, serve as a liaison with senior leadership, and partner to communicate updates with the campus community” and to “provide counsel in responding to and prioritizing the recommendations.” We have consolidated these combined recommendations into a prioritized action plan. As many of these recommendations involve multiple units of campus, we anticipate that recommendations will involve multiple stakeholders of the Tech community to move forward.
Henderson Johnson, graduate student in Aerospace Engineering: With the completion of the consolidation, the recommendations are now being converted into actionable objectives. Sponsors are being assigned to each objective based on the stakeholders who will be affected by the outcome. While President Peterson will assume responsibility for ensuring the milestones for these objectives have been achieved, the Georgia Tech community should also put forth a good faith effort in pushing for the success of these objectives.
With more than 180 recommendations across three reports, what have been some of the challenges in defining an implementation process?
Abheer Bipin, undergraduate student in Mechanical Engineering: Our greatest challenge was understanding, sorting, and then prioritizing the recommendations. We started out by taking each of the recommendations out of their respective action team clusters and arranging them into a matrix. We consolidated similar ones based around unified themes. For example, recommendations concerning resources and staffing for the counseling center were all merged into one to ensure easier implementation. Upon consolidation these recommendations have been prioritized, turned into objectives, and assigned a stakeholder. Prioritizing is based on the relative amount of effort and impact, with low effort and high impact having the highest priority, and high effort and low impact having the lowest priority.
Mike Vallecoccia, program and portfolio manager, Office of Strategic Consulting: The three action teams had an enormous task to complete in such a short period of time. By implementing an approach in which the recommendations are transformed into measurable objectives, we are hoping to have a level set list of actionable objectives.
What are some of the positive developments that have already come from the recommendations offered in the Action Team reports?
Girardot: In his email to campus on December 6, President Peterson outlined a number of actions that have already occurred in response to the reports. Since the start of spring semester, additional work has occurred. While we cannot speak to every effort underway, we know that there are Institute task forces currently looking at CIOS and Undergraduate Advising. National searches are underway in Student Life for the director of the Counseling Center, assistant dean for Disability Services, associate dean of Student Life, and the coordinator position in the LGBTQIA Resource Center. The Office of Undergraduate Education is examining the curriculum in GT1000 to determine how to incorporate a stronger sense of agency over students’ academic directions and careers, and the Center for Career Discovery and Development has engaged in initiatives to support career development across a broad spectrum of our student body as well as a “career wellness” initiative.
Jen Abrams, development assistant, Office of Development: In addition to the more visible actions Dr. Girardot mentioned, some of the recommendations from the Action Teams highlighted things that are already being done on campus but maybe are not being communicated well. As those recommendations arise, our group knows that we’ve identified low-hanging fruit and a whole task force or implementation team does not need to be created for that specific recommendation. Instead, the proper division needs to be made aware and can work on transparency or communication for that area.
The campus community is comprised of many audiences, each with unique needs. How is the advisory group taking these audiences into account, and what outcomes do you hope for?
Jenny Singleton, professor and assistant vice provost for Conflict Resolution and Advocacy: During the initial Path Forward Action Team activities in Fall 2017, we enjoyed broad participation from campus stakeholder communities. Now that our advisory group has managed to synthesize and refine the recommendations from the three Action Teams, we will soon share those with the campus community, inviting another opportunity for feedback, through an upcoming Town Hall and our website portal. We aim to share our progress with our constituencies, especially leveraging social media. We are keenly aware that the establishment of the Path Forward Action Teams was student-driven and we will continue to engage with them as we move forward.
As for outcomes, it is our hope that Georgia Tech students, both undergraduate and graduate, experience their college years without what is termed “toxic stress.” We all understand that being in college is a somewhat stressful experience. What we hope is that our students are able to build their stress resilience and coping strategies so that they can be at their best in the learning environment. Georgia Tech has many support systems in place, but it appears that some students don’t know where to go for that help, or they feel there is a stigma in seeking help. From the faculty/staff side, we have some recommendations for strengthening and expanding the capacity of our programs to support students. We want our students to know that we care and want to help. Another important outcome is inclusion and respect. We recognize that our actions and use of language can sometimes contribute to a negative culture for members of our campus community. Everyone who is here at Georgia Tech to learn or to work deserves respect. This means that our faculty and staff, especially those who are giving students instruction, guidance, and support, need further awareness and training on the issues faced by students, especially those who may feel marginalized.
Abrams: Our group is comprised of students, faculty, and staff who also represent a wide range of demographics. Although we’re not always talking specifically about issues related to every identity at the table when we meet, I think our group has done a great job of recognizing the many different identities in the room and seeking insight from each other where we can, as well as recognizing what identities are still not represented in the room. With the groups not represented, we know that as we discuss and deliberate, we need to remember to seek insight or clarity from those groups when we solicit feedback.
How will the group gauge success, as well as ensure the sustainability of the process over the long term?
Singleton: We know we will have succeeded when Georgia Tech is an inclusive, safe, healthy community where all members uphold these expectations and values and feel good about their experiences here. No one is suggesting that we change the rigor of the learning environment, but we do need to address how that rigor is delivered and experienced. In other words, the “climate” of teaching and learning has somehow lost the key principle of mutual respect.
Success of the Path Forward recommendations will indeed be a difficult thing to measure — it is not as simple as seeing higher CIOS course evaluation ratings, or a reduction in suicide attempts. But that difficulty should not prevent us from making every effort to attain our goal.
The Path Forward Advisory Group seeks to advise and empower Tech’s leadership to take action by providing structure and organization to the recommendations. We recognize that not all of the Action Team recommendations are feasible, but we feel strongly that every one of them deserves consideration by the relevant sponsors or champions. In terms of sustainability, we will be recommending some kind of future oversight of the Path Forward implementation plan, perhaps by charging a small advisory group who can partner with President Peterson and the campus community to ensure that recommendations are given full consideration and follow through.