For my first PFP blog post, I compared the mission statements from my undergraduate university (University of Mary Washington), a small liberal arts university in Fredericksburg, VA, and my graduate university (Virginia Tech), a Research I land-grant institution in Blacksburg, VA.
Both of these universities are in Virginia. One is close to Northern Virginia and the suburbs of DC. The other is in the midst of rural Southwest Virginia. However, both are in a suburban setting, and both are public. UMW is a liberal arts school, with a focus on teaching and undergraduate research. VT is larger and primarily research-focused, with many more opportunities for graduate training.
University of Mary Washington (UMW)
UMW’s mission statement focuses a lot on interdisciplinary and lifelong learning, which is supported by faculty-student collaboration. Their commitment to teaching is based on their desire to inspire strong relationships between students and faculty and opportunities for hands-on learning, particularly research opportunities. The statement also describes the importance of citizenship and notes that campus is located between the state capital and the national capital, implying that it is centrally located for political action and public service.
Looking back on my experience as a UMW student, I definitely felt like teaching was prioritized and I had strong relationships with my teachers. In a way, I think I was “spoiled,” because I can now see that there are varying degrees of interest and skill in teaching when you consider a wider sample. This is the kind of environment that I’d like to teach in. Something else that sticks out to me is that students are clearly viewed as future professionals, in the sense that they are expected to be actively involved in global affairs and working on research at an early point in their training. Again, as a graduate student I have learned that not everyone was so fortunate to get this level of research training and involvement before applying to graduate school. While the university’s support for its teachers and students is clear, I wonder what broader kind of support (e.g., state funding) is being provided to the university to help them accomplish the goals in their mission statement.
Virginia Tech (VT)
I immediately notice that this mission statement is shorter and a bit more vague in terms of its goals. Like UMW, the VT mission statement takes a global perspective and challenges students to be active participants in improving the world around them. My hypothesis is that the statement has to be applied in a broader way to diverse departments and communities within the university, and therefore it cannot be as detailed and specific as the one from UMW. However, it leaves me with the sense that I don’t really know what a VT student should be like or what we are supposed to accomplish. It also suggests that there is no “typical” career path for someone graduating from VT.
The upside is that I can see how my experience fits in with this mission statement. As a student here, I have been challenged to develop a variety of skills, and I have been given opportunities to connect with others around the world and actively do something to make the world a better place. However, I can also see how people could graduate without having those global connection opportunities, if they choose not to seek them out. Perhaps greater integration of these skills would be beneficial. The other thing I notice is that this statement doesn’t feel as openly collaborative as the first one did. Students are expected to diversify and contribute, but less is said about what support is available.
Overall, I think I prefer UMW’s statement. The message, to me, is that the community has to work together to create positive change, rather than relying on the next generation to do that work alone.