Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

November 12, 2015

Staff give input on strategic plan

Nearly 100 staff members brainstormed in small groups Nov. 5 to provide input on implementing the University’s strategic plan. The forum was hosted by the Staff Association Council (SAC).

Administrators have embarked on a series of engagement sessions in which faculty, staff and students can suggest specific ways to “put meat on the bones” of the strategic plan that has been in development for over a year.

The plan’s broad goals are to advance educational excellence, engage in research of impact, strengthen communities, build foundational strength and embrace diversity and inclusion.

Moderated by Executive Vice Provost David DeJong, the session for staff focused on two of the University’s five goals: building foundational strength and embracing diversity and inclusion.

A session for faculty has been scheduled for noon-1:30 p.m. Nov. 17 in the William Pitt Union Ballroom.

Additional meetings for the entire University community are planned.

Foundational strength

Michele Colvard, executive director for staff personnel and senior assistant dean in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, who is a member of the working group on building foundational strength, launched the discussion by elaborating on her group’s direction.

“We have really been thinking about how we can ensure that the infrastructure of the University … can support the mission of the institution and the other broad goals of education and research and community outreach and all of those things that we are aspiring to achieve,” she said.

The group is focusing on three broad strategic initiatives, she said:

• Transforming information infrastructure to expand Pitt’s reach and better support improvement in research, learning and operational efficiency.

• Strengthening administrative and operational efficiency by improving communication and collaboration between and among the University’s academic and business units.

“Here we’ve been thinking about particularly how do we ensure that collaborations are improving both between academic units, between academic units and business units, and between individual business units themselves,” she said. Should working groups be formed to tackle some of the University’s complex problems? Where should decision-making on complex topics lie?

• Enhancing Pitt’s ability to partner, both internally and with public and private partners locally, nationally and globally.

“How do we improve our agility and break down barriers?”  she said.

Staff feedback

Staff asked for more opportunities for face-to-face interaction.

“Effective business decisions come from people you know and trust,” said Yvonne Keafer of Pitt’s Risk Management office, advocating for providing opportunities for staff “to see each other outside our silos.”

Forming interest groups of like-minded individuals would enable staff in similar job groups to share ideas, suggested Dana Romano of the Katz Graduate School of Business.

Jordan Hammill, IT staffer in the School of Dental Medicine, suggested open forums similar to the “expert partners group” gatherings hosted by Computing Services and Systems Development to share information with IT staff from across the University.

Maria Milleville, staff member in rehabilitation sciences and technology, said discussions not only would inform staff about issues being addressed at the University level, but also would provide networking opportunities.

Staff also called for more centralized information — perhaps enhancing as a central clearinghouse for newsletter information from beyond their own schools, and to house a directory of services and resources so staff will know where to turn when they have questions.

They asked for more opportunities to provide input before new processes are implemented, as well as better information on those new processes.

Several commented on issues with University processes and systems, noting that some systems are redundant while others are incompatible with similar systems in other units. Others suggested that a documented set of standard procedures would be helpful.

Elaine Devlin of the Department of Medicine suggested making use of Pitt’s own internal capacities — utilizing the communication department to help develop University communications or the School of Information Sciences for IT solutions, for instance.

“Leverage alumni partners,” added Romano of the Katz school, recognizing Pitt’s graduates as another excellent resource.

Diversity and inclusion

DeJong said that embracing diversity and inclusion is set as one of the University’s stated strategic goals while at the same time being woven throughout the plan.

Pamela Connelly, associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion and leader of the working group on diversity and inclusion, said diversity issues are part of all the strategic goals. “There is a lot of overlap and a lot of coordination that’s going on between the working groups,” she said.

The first of three broad strategies her working group is focusing on centers on a University culture that reinforces the value of diversity and inclusion, “letting everybody know that as part of this community this is really deeply important to us and should become part of who we are,” she said.

Another strategy focuses on enriching the student experience. “They expect as part of their educational experience to become educated and really fluent in diversity and inclusion,” she said. “There’s been a lot of talk about how we do that: Do we do it through activities? Expansion of the Outside the Classroom Curriculum? Do we do it through additional academic offerings? That’s been bubbling up all over campus.”

The third strategy is recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty and staff workforce and student body.

Toolkits for recruiting, effective onboarding and retention efforts are being developed, she said.

Staff feedback

Following additional small-group discussion, several groups noted that diversity encompasses more than sex and race, citing income, technology, age, disability and religion as other factors in embracing a diverse University community.

Several advocated for mandatory diversity training, perhaps as part of orientation, with a goal of competency, not merely compliance.

Tom Spanedda, director of operations at the Medical and Health Sciences Foundation, pointed to UPMC’s efforts in this area. “They really do have a robust diversity and engagement program at UPMC,” he said. “It’s part of the culture, it’s indoctrinated when you are a hiring manager … and most importantly, it’s part of your performance review.”

Kelsey Lenard of Human Resources said her small-group discussion focused on more education. She advocated for providing better education on the University’s culture to faculty and staff early on, suggesting that new staff orientation be used as an opportunity to communicate key information on Pitt’s mission and strategic plan.

“We really sometimes fail at taking the opportunity to provide that knowledge to the staff as soon as they come into the University,” she said.

In terms of attracting and retaining a diverse workforce, Gina Gowins of Parking, Transportation and Services said her group suggested a review of flexible working arrangements “so a variety of lifestyles can be supported.”

Andy Falk of Institutional Advancement said his group discussed tapping regional resources — corporations, government and other groups outside of Pitt — as a source of collaborations to help Pitt embrace diversity.

“Also we want to use new strategies and tactics in admissions,” he said. “We’d like to see outreach to grade-school and middle-school-age students, especially in regard to STEM education in preparing young, diverse students for a Pitt education.”

Others suggested deeper partnerships with local schools, including hiring local high school graduates to provide them the opportunity to pursue higher education through the staff education benefit.


DeJong encouraged additional input through comment forms posted on the strategic planning page at

—Kimberly K. Barlow       

strategic plan

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 6

Leave a Reply