• Introduction

    ForgingTheFutureCIRCLE 300Download a printable PDF of the Forging the Future plan.At UAB, we have never settled on merely finding what’s next — we have helped build the future through new ideas and initiatives in the classroom, the laboratory, the studio and the clinic. The coming decade presents us with opportunities and challenges. How should we build on our strong foundation in order to meet them? The following plan, Forging the Future, offers a blueprint.

    A strategic plan is the result of comprehensive strategic thinking that defines mission, vision, values and goals — and outlines institution-wide strategies for achieving them. The following plan lays out a set of goals and strategies that will guide our institution’s investments over the coming years. It is not a detailed prescription for every school, department and administrative unit. Rather, it is a framework to guide units in shaping their plans, and to help them ensure that these plans are consistent with the university’s mission and that they contribute to the accomplishment of institution-wide priorities. This plan allows schools and units to align their efforts with overall university direction and identify tactics to accomplish each element of our fourfold mission: education; research, innovation and economic development; community engagement; and patient care. The UAB Strategic Planning Council created a dashboard of university-level metrics that measure our collective progress toward meeting each goal. Schools and administrative units will be able to adapt these metrics to their own, complementary goals.

  • Foundations

    Since 2013, UAB has been engaged in the most comprehensive strategic planning effort in its history. Much has been accomplished, including an inventory of our strengths, acknowledgment of the challenges facing us, and strategic investments in our infrastructure and programs with the aim of moving UAB to the forefront of excellence. (Background information on UAB strategic planning efforts is given in Appendix A: Evolution of Current Strategic Plan.)

    Kindling the Flame: UAB Strategic Planning Council

    To ensure efficiency and transparency in the ongoing strategic planning process, a Strategic Planning Council was appointed in summer 2016. (For membership, see Appendix B.) The Council has been involved in all aspects of the following plan, including selection of peer and aspirational institutions, and development of draft documents of directional strategies (e.g. mission, vision and shared values). Council members were also commissioned to chair the committees responsible for drafting goals and action plans for achieving success in each mission pillar.

    The Strategic Planning Council held its first meeting on Sept. 1, 2016. In that meeting, President Ray L. Watts charged the Council with the responsibility of steering the ongoing planning process with the aid of input from all the university’s constituencies. He also charged the group with developing a plan that:

    • Is high-level and consistent with a dynamic university that will make accelerated and measureable strides in the coming months and years.
    • Capitalizes on the momentum UAB has experienced in the last years and embrace that vision for our campus.
    • Ensures the vitality of attracting the best and brightest students, faculty and staff.
    • Reflects a desire to move UAB’s research, discovery and performance achievements forward in a substantial way.
    • Prepares students for the globally connected world they will be a part of as they graduate and effect change.
    • Provides an unmatched teaching and learning experience for all UAB students.
    • Infuses a comprehensive view of UAB’s shared values of integrity, respect, diversity and inclusiveness, collaboration, excellence and achievement, stewardship and accountability.

    During its first session, the Council resolved to meet twice each month to ensure momentum was maintained throughout the strategic planning process.

    Forging Together: Stakeholder Involvement

    It was a fundamental commitment of President Watts to execute a strategic plan that encouraged input from all stakeholder groups. This required the development of a strategic communications plan that would reach out to as many stakeholders as possible, including students, faculty, staff and alumni. (The details of the strategic communications plan are provided in Appendix C.) The plan called for a series of listening sessions scheduled in centralized areas around the campus, including the medical center and in individual schools. (The schedule of these listening sessions is provided in Appendix D.) In addition, University Relations developed a website — uab.edu/plan — where all stakeholders had the opportunity to provide responses to three basic questions (anonymously, if they chose). These questions were:

    • What is your current image of UAB?
    • What is your vision for UAB in the next five years?
    • Where do you think UAB should focus its strategic investments?

    Twenty-five listening sessions were held and more than 500 students, faculty, staff and alumni attended the sessions. In addition, 200 responses were collected through the website.

    In addition to this invaluable input, the Strategic Planning Council incorporated suggestions and lessons learned from the UAB Campus Engagement Survey, which involved more than 6,000 faculty and staff and was carried out in April 2017. Results from the Engagement Survey are particularly reflected in the reshaped UAB values statement (see “Laying the Groundwork,” below).

    Our Golden Blaze: What Sets UAB Apart

    The Council began its detailed discussions by considering a key question: What is the distinctive character of UAB? Although many special elements were suggested, the group agreed on these four points:

    • UAB students have unique opportunities to work with funded researchers — motivated undergraduates can join a lab as early as their freshman year.
    • UAB’s location in an urban area, directly adjacent to a growing business district, offers numerous opportunities for both internships and experiential learning.
    • UAB offers unique educational programs, as well as the ability to forge connections and professional and social networks that lead to lifelong success.
    • UAB’s entrepreneurial spirit, exemplified in the common description of the institution as a “university without walls,” will only be more valuable as technological and scientific advances make interdisciplinary, groundbreaking work the key to success.

    Where We Stand: Situation Analysis

    The Strategic Planning Council determined to follow a systematic approach to strategic planning that required answering three important questions:

    • What should we be doing? Because the rules of success of any organization are written outside by students, donors, accrediting agencies and more, an external environmental analysis was necessary to answer this question. Decision-makers must understand and be responsive to influential external individuals and groups.
    • What can we do? This is the organization’s strategic capability. To answer this question, strategic thinkers have to take an introspective look at the internal environment, which is composed of resources, human competencies and managerial capabilities (how resources and competencies are coordinated).
    • What do we want to do? This question was to be answered through UAB’s mission, vision and values statements, which reflect the desires and commitments of the organization and its leadership.

    The first two questions were addressed by conducting a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. The Council also examined the directional strategies (mission, vision and values) of UAB along with the existing mission pillars. Based on these analyses, the Council formed subgroups aligned with the university’s mission pillars to formulate strategic goals for each pillar and develop action plans for addressing those strategic goals. (The process is outlined in the flow chart in Appendix E.)

    In conducting the external environmental analysis, the Council was careful to consider other planning efforts ongoing at UAB as vital parts of the analysis. In reviewing the external environment, attention was given to integrating the UAB Campus Master Plan, Employee Engagement Survey, the UAB Health System’s AMC 21 strategic plan and the budget planning model. (The results of the expanded SWOT analysis are provided in Appendix F.)

    In addition to primary and secondary sources of information, the Council recognized that it was important to obtain the advice of an external resource knowledgeable of current trends in higher education to assist in its thinking about the future of UAB. To this end the Council sought the services of John C. Cavanaugh, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. Dr. Cavanaugh conducted an intensive half-day retreat for the Council on Dec. 10, 2016, which provided valuable insights into trends and developments in higher education.

    Refining the Field: Peer Institutions

    As part of its discussion of influential factors, Allen Bolton, UAB’s vice president for Financial Affairs and Administration, led an effort to update and refine a list of peer and aspirational institutions. (For details, see Appendix G.) The Council agreed that identifying comparable metrics with peer and aspirational institutions in the following areas would be helpful:
    • Academic/Student Success – including enrollment, graduation and reputation benchmarks.
    • Financial Success – including total revenue and Moody’s credit rating.
    • Research Success – including self-reported research expenditures, NIH ranking and AAU membership status.
    • Patient Care Success – including number of specialties on the U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospitals” list and Becker’s Hospital Review.
    • Athletics – including conference affiliations and number of teams fielded.

    Importantly, across all domains there are additional metrics/characteristics/key indicators by which we can benchmark our current position and future success.

    Based on this assessment, six universities were selected as comparable peers:

    • University of California – Irvine
    • University of Cincinnati
    • University of Illinois – Chicago
    • University of South Florida
    • Virginia Commonwealth University
    • Rutgers University

    Two universities were selected as aspirational peers, since they excelled in areas that are particularly important for the future of UAB, including research expenditures and enrollment:

    • University of California – San Diego
    • University of Pittsburgh
  • Laying the Groundwork: Vision, Mission, Shared Values

    UAB had established statements of mission, vision and values before the initiation of this round of strategic planning. During its deliberations, the Strategic Planning Council reviewed and revised these “directional strategies.” The updated statements are below.


    One university inspiring and empowering the creation of knowledge that changes the world.


    UAB serves students, patients, the community and the global need for discovery, knowledge dissemination, education, creativity and the application of groundbreaking solutions. We are a leader among comprehensive public urban research universities with academic medical centers.

    Shared Values

    • Integrity – We act ethically and do what is right.
    • Respect – We treat others with courtesy and civility.
    • Diversity and inclusiveness – Everybody counts every day. We actively seek varied perspectives in our decision-making.
    • Collaboration – We trust each other and work cooperatively across disciplinary boundaries in the spirit of shared governance.
    • Excellence and achievement – We constantly innovate, solve problems and improve ourselves and others through learning.
    • Stewardship – Fiscal and environmental sustainability guide our decisions.
    • Accountability – We are answerable to each other and act with the best interests of the university in mind.

    Our vision, mission and values provide a framework and common language for collaboration and strategic goals that will build on our strong foundation. We serve students and patients while recognizing that we are also embedded in a vibrant community.

    Mission Pillars

    The foundation of the university mission rests on four fundamental pillars. These are:

    Education: Provide 21st century, world-class, socially responsible education that prepares diverse students to lead, teach, provide professional services, and become prominent scholars and societal leaders of the future.

    Research, Innovation and Economic Development: Pursue research, scholarship and creative activities that spur innovation, make UAB a vibrant cultural center, and expand our capability to continually discover and share new knowledge.

    Community Engagement: Encourage partnerships that advance education, the arts and humanities, health, economic prosperity, and a fulfilling quality of life through service at home and around the globe.

    Patient Care: Deliver the highest-quality patient care that reflects our ability to translate discoveries into revolutionary therapies in one of the nation’s largest academic medical centers.

    In order to provide a more detailed examination of the actions required to address the four mission pillars, subcommittees were formed for each mission pillar and a chairperson was named to lead in the development of an action plan for that pillar. The chairs were members of the Strategic Planning Council, but each chair was encouraged to engage as many colleagues as necessary across all areas of the university to assist in the development of the action plans. A list of the participants in the action planning sessions is provided in Appendix H.

    Results from the campus community listening sessions were provided to the chairs of the Mission Pillar subcommittees. The chairs were asked to incorporate this information and formulate action plans for their individual areas. After a series of reviews, refinements and revisions each subcommittee presented its action plan.

  • Mission Pillar: Education

    Strategic Goal:

    sp educationOffer a world-class, socially conscious education to diverse students to prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders.  We are student-centered and consider the impact on students in what we do as a university.

    Strategic Objective 1: Strengthen and expand innovative academic programs to enhance UAB's national and global reputation.

    • Activity 1: Deliver world-class, interdisciplinary academic programs.
    • Activity 2: Promote innovative instructional practices and provide multiple educational delivery options.
    • Activity 3: Retain, recruit and develop world-class faculty members to lead these programs.

    Strategic Objective 2: Ensure student success through holistic development that addresses diverse needs.

    • Activity 1: Improve retention and four- and six-year graduation rates significantly within the next five years.
    • Activity 2: Remove barriers and provide access and relevant academic and social support structures in order for students to attend and be successful at UAB.
    • Activity 3: Retain, recruit and develop outstanding student-centered faculty and staff to support student success.

    Strategic Objective 3: Create a signature core curriculum focused on modeling and developing socially conscious global citizens and leaders.

    • Activity 1: Identify competencies that are critical for a core curriculum that addresses 21st century needs (e.g., critical thinking, global perspectives, leadership, communication).
    • Activity 2: Strengthen and renew the core curriculum to provide a coherent, intellectually stimulating and transformative education.
    • Activity 3: Model successful engagement opportunities by students, faculty and staff around issues related to social consciousness, global citizenship and leadership.

    Strategic Objective 4: Engage students, faculty, staff and community members in experiential learning.

    • Activity 1: Remove barriers to participation in experiential learning opportunities.
    • Activity 2: Encourage participation in experiential learning opportunities throughout campus and beyond.
    • Activity 3: Promote the unique culture of experiential learning opportunities at UAB.

    Strategic Objective 5: Foster access, inclusive excellence and equity in teaching, learning and mentorship development programs.

    • Activity 1: Increase participation in current teaching, learning and mentorship programs.
    • Activity 2: Align teaching, learning and mentorship development programs across the UAB enterprise.
    • Activity 3: Foster a culture of learning that supports and encourages academic, professional and personal development for students, faculty and staff.
  • Mission Pillar: Research, Innovation & Economic Development

    Strategic Goal:

    sp researchEmpower innovative research, scholarship and creative activities that drive knowledge creation focused on improving society.

    Strategic Objective 1: Enhance UAB’s institutional culture of collaboration and innovation.

    • Activity 1: Create an environment and opportunities that facilitate collaboration and foster innovation.
    • Activity 2: Promote successful interdisciplinary research collaborations internally and externally.
    • Activity 3: Expand and strengthen collaborations with external partners.

    Strategic Objective 2: Drive research and innovation across the enterprise.

    • Activity 1: Grow and diversify research, scholarship and creative activities.
    • Activity 2: Retain, recruit and develop outstanding, innovation-focused faculty, staff and students.

    Strategic Objective 3: Implement a campus wide effort to select and meet “grand challenges.”

    • Activity 1: Establish inclusive processes for identification of priorities.
    • Activity 2: Align resources to enable action.
    • Activity 3: Implement competitive processes to select research teams.

    Strategic Objective 4: Improve society through processes and products.

    • Activity 1: Facilitate intellectual property development.
    • Activity 2: Streamline internal processes to lower barriers to realizing innovative ideas.
    • Activity 3: Support economic development in the city of Birmingham to transform and sustain a thriving local hub for innovation and creativity.
  • Mission Pillar: Community Engagement

    Strategic Goal:

    sp communityEngage with the community in meaningful and mutually beneficial collaborations that contribute to the public good.

    Strategic Objective 1: Expand access to community engagement resources.

    • Activity 1: Coordinate community engagement efforts among faculty, staff and students.
    • Activity 2: Collaborate with area partners in planning, assessment and evaluation of efforts.
    • Activity 3: Enhance student development as engaged learners, researchers and citizens by fostering community-based opportunities.

    Strategic Objective 2: Develop mutually beneficial partnerships.

    • Activity 1: Identify, develop and maintain strategic community partners.
    • Activity 2: Intentionally connect community partners with UAB faculty, staff and student initiatives wherever appropriate.

    Strategic Objective 3: Broaden scholarship in the field of community engagement.

    • Activity 1: Develop and sustain an adequate internal infrastructure to support and coordinate academic community engagement research among faculty, students and staff.
    • Activity 2: Identify new research opportunities that add value to people and communities served.
    • Activity 3: Create and support a community of scholars interested in studying community engagement topics and impacts.

    Strategic Objective 4: Integrate engagement throughout the university. 

    • Activity 1: Support and promote community engagement activities in their areas.
    • Activity 2: Increase participation of a wider set of academic and administrative units to achieve community engagement strategic goals and outcomes.
    • Activity 3: Reinforce value of engagement through performance review process.
  • Mission Pillar: Patient Care

    Strategic Goal:

    sp patient careLead in the delivery of the highest-quality patient-centered integrative care that reflects our ability to translate discoveries into revolutionary therapies in one of the nation’s premier academic health care centers.

    Strategic Objective 1: Improve patient access and satisfaction through integration of clinical services across UAB’s healthcare delivery entities.

    • Activity 1: Develop a phased process of integrating care.
    • Activity 2: Enhance patient experience, from appointment process to wayfinding to post-care communication.
    • Activity 3: Achieve national recognition as a place where patients experience highly satisfying healthcare services.

    Strategic Objective 2: Invest in signature treatments that will be delivered through recognized flagship programs.

    • Activity 1: Identify distinctive areas of expertise that generate prestige and set UAB apart from competitors.
    • Activity 2: Retain and recruit world-class faculty and staff to develop and provide these treatments.

    Strategic Objective 3: Develop infrastructure to ensure statewide access to telehealth services.

    • Activity 1: Create a centralized system to support existing and new telehealth programs at UAB.
    • Activity 2: Develop a network of partnerships across the state to enhance patient access.
  • Measuring Success: The Dashboard Metrics

    The process of creating dashboard metrics helps us answer the question “How will we know if we have reached our goals, and how will we prove it?” The metrics will keep the university community informed of our progress in each area. As we move forward, these metrics will guide an annual review and assessment process that will inform planning adjustments and priorities for future years.

    Learn more about Dashboard Metrics for Forging the Future at uab.edu/plan/metrics.

  • Maintaining the Blueprint: Theme Development and Guiding Principles

    The final drafts of the Mission Pillar subcommittee action plans were examined to determine the recurring themes that transcended all the reports. The reason for searching for themes is illustrated in the diagram below, along with the diagram in Appendix I.

    ftf themes

    A careful examination of the four Mission Pillar subcommittee reports revealed a total of 19 strategic objectives and 65 associated activities. The Education subcommittee had five strategic objectives and 18 associated activities; Research, Innovation and Economic Development had four strategic objectives and 13 activities; Patient Care had four strategic objectives and 13 activities; and Community Impact had six strategic objectives and 21 activities. The goal was to identify recurring themes and thereby reduce the number of strategic objectives and associated activities to a more manageable number.

    Three major themes ran throughout the Mission Pillar subcommittee action plans: Access, Alignment and Grand Idea. All the groups indicated that it was important to provide access to students relative to enrollment and to researchers relative to grant support and infrastructure, to provide community partners access to university resources, and to offer patients easier access to UAB’s world-class health care enterprise. The groups also agreed on the need for greater alignment — of courses in the curriculum and investigators in different disciplines, as well as electronic health record systems and engagement efforts within and outside the university. Finally, the groups shared a vision for the inspiring power of Grand Ideas, bold challenges that bring faculty, students, staff and the community together.

    The Mission Pillar subgroups also noted that there were certain guiding or operating principles that should govern all our activities. These are continuous strategic thinking; data-driven decision-making; nurturing of innovations; inspiring excellence; retaining, recruiting and developing our collective talent; serving our students, our patients and one another; and exercising stewardship over the resources entrusted to us.

    There was consensus that if we focus on our common themes, and behave consistently with our guiding and operating principles, we will make our investments in the future in a manner that moves us toward our vision and rewards those who contribute most to the process. The impact will be significant: knowledge discovery, transfer and application; service to the community and to the global society; distinctive medical treatments and cures; and students, faculty and staff who are global citizens and leaders.

  • Funding the Plan: Resources

    No strategic plan would be complete without considering the resources needed to execute the ideas and recommendations presented in the plan. As the very foundation of this strategic plan, the shared values of stewardship and accountability indicate the importance of fiscal stability and creating the opportunity to invest in ways that will serve the best interests of the university.

    Investment strategies should be consistent with the guiding principles of continuous strategic thinking, data-driven decision-making, innovation, excellence and stewardship of our resources. Concurrently, this requires a careful analysis of current programs to ensure resources are allocated to strategic priorities, efficiencies are leveraged, and sustainable and diverse resources are advanced. In this regard, new or enhanced priorities may be funded by the redeployment of existing funds from lower priorities or via recaptured revenue due to cost savings within or across units. The university’s new budget model will create a platform where the alignment of financial resources to our strategic priorities is more easily accomplished. Sources of new revenue for investment in strategic priorities may be external (e.g., grants, gifts, corporate investments) or internal. One of the internal sources for supporting aspects of Forging the Future is the Strategic Investment Fund, which is designed to help enable large, cross-institutional initiatives that will have significant impact throughout the university and impacting multiple schools.

  • Moving Forward

    As UAB’s strategic plan is implemented, the entire campus community remains engaged in the process. The Grand Challenge process is advancing as proposals are being considered. Stakeholders from across our educational mission will make recommendations on strengthening and renewing the Core Curriculum. Schools and units will determine how best to implement the plan’s goals and objectives in their own strategic thinking. Everyone has a role as we embark on Forging the Future together.

    Grand Challenge

    UAB’s past teaching, scholarship, patient care and service demonstrates a rich history of serving society. Going forward, we must muster our individual and collective strengths to address significant and pressing needs that will result in a positive and tangible outcome for our university, our city, our state and society overall. In other words, we need to define one or more Grand Challenges, address them and solve them. A Grand Challenge is a significant problem that when solved will positively impact a large number of people and society in general. Progress toward a solution requires a combination of innovative approaches, technologies, treatments and/or policies. Interdisciplinary and convergent approaches are essential.

    Learn more at uab.edu/plan/grand-challenge.

    Signature Core Curriculum

    A core curriculum is required of undergraduates to ensure a foundational academic experience. This common set of courses develops fundamental skills, breadth of intellectual perspectives, and habits of mind that are critical for success in college and beyond. The concept of a core curriculum began in the early part of the 20th century and continues to be a transformative and vital component of a college education. A core curriculum advances a student’s competencies and provides an opportunity for shared intellectual conversations on the questions that are the basis of human societies. 

    At UAB, the core curriculum has been in place for many years with minor revisions. It currently promotes six competencies that build the foundation for attaining the Shared Vision for a UAB graduate. As the new strategic plan refines the values, mission and vision of the institution, it is appropriate to revisit the Core to strengthen and renew this Curriculum.

    Learn more about the Signature Core Curriculum effort at uab.edu/plan/signature-core-curriculum.

    Determining Metrics

    The process of creating dashboard metrics helps us answer the question “How will we know if we have reached our goals, and how will we prove it?” The metrics will keep the university community informed of our progress in each area. As we move forward, these metrics will guide an annual review and assessment process that will inform planning adjustments and priorities for future years.

    Learn more about Dashboard Metrics for Forging the Future at uab.edu/plan/metrics.

    Aligning Schools/Units to University-wide Plan

    Deans and vice presidents will be charged with aligning their schools and units to the plan. As stated previously, the university-wide plan is constructed in such a way as to provide directional guidance for schools and units. It is not meant to be prescriptive or overly detailed because UAB’s schools and units are multifaceted and complex enough to preclude a “one-size-fits-all” approach. It will be incumbent upon vice presidents and deans to cascade the university goals down to the departmental level.