STEPHENVILLE — Fostering innovation. Growing the economy. Enhancing the student experience. Capitalizing on a move to NCAA Division I. All timely topics for an afternoon of discovery, learning and growing Thursday in concert with Tarleton State University’s six-month strategic planning process.
The Future Summit, a half-day signature event in downtown Fort Worth, drew participation from students, employees and community partners to explore themes that have emerged from focus groups, surveys and workshops over the past several weeks to chart a 10-year course for the university. Tarleton Forward 2030: Our Future-Focused Strategic Plan aligns with the school’s reaffirmation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in spring 2021.
“There is no better time, in the midst of a pandemic and its challenges, to plan for the next decade,” Tarleton President James Hurley said. “Everything that has happened over the last nine months has reshaped higher education. None of us know what the new normal will look like, but we do know that we cannot allow COVID-19 to define our future. We must create it.”
Holding to Tarleton’s mantra to grow its way out of the pandemic, Dr. Hurley mentioned the university’s record fall enrollment, more than 14,000 students, and the most diverse and largest freshman class in the institution’s history.
Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan, District 6, applauded Tarleton’s 40-plus-year history in Tarrant County, including the opening of its first building in fall 2019 on 80 acres along Chisholm Trail Parkway and plans for more facilities to expand public education and economic development.
“Education is about the future. Everything we learn, everything we do is about taking care of our country, our state, city, home and family. To make educational opportunity a reality, we must have strong leadership and a vision for the future,” he said.
The first of the quartet of speakers, Dr. Mark Becker, President of Georgia State University, said that the biggest impediment to innovation is “doing things the way we’ve always done them.”
“To create a culture of innovation,” he added, “we think big, we think different, and along the way we tie it back to our history and legacy.”
Reflecting his vision of the modern public research university, Georgia State adopted a dynamic 10-year plan that has fueled its emergence as one of the nation’s premier urban research institutions.
“If you want the world to know how wonderful you are, you have to do something to make the world notice. To do something you’ve never done before you have to do things differently, think differently. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re not going to get different results.”
Dr. Blake Decker, Assistant Vice Chancellor in Academic Affairs for Data Science for The Texas A&M University System, shared insights on leveraging economic collaborations. Working with members of the Budgets and Accounting team, Becker uses statistical and machine learning methodologies to analyze data from across the system’s 11 universities and seven state agencies.
“As institutions of higher education, we are establishing patterns of success in students’ lives for jobs that do not yet exist,” he said. “It’s not our responsibility to decide what success is for every student in the future. It’s going to look different for those students based on their circumstances, where they come from and where they’re going. Our responsibility is to pour our resources, our time, our energy into them so we can set them up for success.”
An introduction to the student experience fell to Dr. Rachael Capua, Director for College and Career Success for the Tarrant To & Through (T3) Partnership.
“The reason our work is so important is that with every opportunity to innovate and discuss important topics, Tarleton has the potential to change a student’s life,” Capua said. “Our work together can change the trajectory of a family for generations. That’s why enhancing the student experience at Tarleton is so critical.”
A community college alumna and a TCU Chancellor’s Scholar, Capua graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations. She is the founding director of College and Career Success for T3 Partnership, launched this fall.
“Enhancing the student experience means closing the information gap, the guidance gap and the financial aid gap that help students move to and through college and career,” she said. “To any new student, first year or transfer, the power of one faculty member, a new process, a new platform — all the new things you’re talking about doing — helps students persist.”
University of Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte, addressing the significance of Tarleton acquiring NCAA Division I status, said athletics “serves a huge role” in a university’s vision of itself.
“Today is about the future,” he said. “Setting the course for what you want to become. Your goal is to become the finest regional institution in the world. That is big and bold. Keep sharing the vision: We will become the premier comprehensive regional university in the nation.
“Intercollegiate athletics plays a role in that. We’re the front porch to the university. We welcome people to our campus. When we get them on campus we talk about what our goals are, what our future holds.”
Del Conte has a history of leading highly successful athletic departments, including at UT Austin, Rice University in Houston and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, overseeing the Horned Frogs’ entrance into the Big 12 Conference.
A website, www.tarleton.edu/our-future, shares next moves and a timeline for Tarleton Forward: 2030 and showcases how the Tarleton family can get involved. The final strategic plan will be ready in March.
To watch Future Summit presentations, visit www.tarletonstate.us/future-summit-video.