Mission Accomplished? A Personal Analysis of Higher Education Mission Statements

This week as we are thinking and reflecting on mission statements, I chose to highlight two institutions of great importance to me. Firstly, my undergraduate alma mater, Wofford College, a small, private liberal arts college in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The second mission statement listed below is copied from Virginia Tech, my current institution, in Blacksburg, Virginia, where I’m completing my doctorate in Rhetoric and Writing within the Department of English. In this post, I am considering whether or not these mission statements, as they intersect with my own experiences as a student, can be deemed “mission accomplished.”

Wofford College Mission Statement

“Wofford’s mission is to provide superior liberal arts education that prepares its students for extraordinary and positive contributions to society. The focus of Wofford’s mission is upon fostering commitment to excellence in character, performance, leadership, service to others and life-long learning.”

Adopted by the Board of Trustees, May 5, 1998

 

As an institution focused on teaching and student development, it is not surprising that Wofford’s mission statement is so focused on personal development and preparing “students for extraordinary and positive contributions to society.” As a student body, the majority of Wofford students are often connected to community service or service learning in some capacity.

The liberal arts focus of the college’s curriculum also stands out in Wofford’s mission statement. In fact, this component is what largely drew me to select Wofford as my undergraduate alma mater.  As a student there, I took  advantage of this innovative curriculum by majoring in both History (B.A.) and environmental studies (B.S.). In addition to a wide variety of courses for my own major, I also took courses ranging from Calculus to Religions of the world, all of which enriched my thinking and learning process.

As a personal approximation of Wofford’s mission statement, the component that means the most to me, the phrase that makes the fight song play in my head, tears come to my eyes, and sends warmth to my heart, is the phrase “life-long learning.” Although I have not been away from Wofford from very long, falling in love with learning and thinking of myself as a life-long learner makes me miss that small college something fierce. Life-long learning is almost a secondary de-facto mascot at Wofford College, rivaling the institution’s official emblem, the Boston Terrier. At opening Convocations, Graduations, and even in the classroom, a love of learning is emphasized around every turn at Wofford. As a new alumni of the College, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to continue this love of learning even at Homecoming events, participating in the College’s “Classes without Quizzes” seminars during Homecoming weekend, learning about topics ranging from climate change to the 2008 financial crisis.

As I read Wofford College’s mission statement, I would absolutely agree that it is a “mission accomplished.” I don’t interact with this statement as a superficial manifestation of institutional propaganda. Instead, I feel as though I lived it.

Virginia Tech Mission Statement

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life.

2001 Mission Statement adapted in 2006, by the Board of Visitors

 

Virginia Tech, my current home, is a large, land-grant university focused on serving the Commonwealth of Virginia and in fact, the world. Last year, at the orientation programs for new graduate students, I was struck by Dean DePauw’s and other administrators’ emphasis on Virginia Tech’s place in the higher education landscape as a “global land grant university.” Coming from such a small private College as I did, I was so excited to enrich my own learning and personal as well as professional development as part of such a community.

My favorite component of Virginia Tech’s mission statement must be the institution’s dedication to the “discovery and dissemination of new knowledge.” Attending Virginia Tech as a doctoral student, I am so proud of our university’s commitment to research. In fact, the research of my academic mentor, Katrina M. Powell, who studies the rhetoric of displacement in connection to land use controversies, is what drew me to Virginia Tech, initially. Over the past academic year, pursuing my own research on the rhetorics of grassroots environmentalism has helped me maintain my passion as an academic and helped me see how I may use my own research to excite students and help them think critically about the ways in which narratives, language, and landscapes intersect to shape societies.

The concluding line of Virginia Tech’s mission statement offers me a guiding light for how I want to practice the art of teaching. Just as Virginia Tech aims to create, convey, and apply knowledge, to “expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life,” so too, do I hope my writing courses will do the same for my own students. Virginia Tech’s mission statement for me represents both a “mission accomplished,” as well as a “mission-in-progress,” offering me guidelines to keep working toward on my path of personal and professional development as an academic, a writer, and an educator.

4 Replies to “Mission Accomplished? A Personal Analysis of Higher Education Mission Statements”

  1. Savannah,
    I really enjoyed your personal take on this assignment by analyzing both of your academic homes and whether or not the mission was indeed, accomplished! As I have commented on in other posts, if mission statements really make a difference in the students they attract, it sounds like in your case it did! I too am a “life-long” or “professional learner”. I take great pride in always being intellectually curious and want universities/colleges which aided me in that. I am very excited to see what kind of insight of different perspectives you will bring to the class with your B.A. and B.S. background 🙂

  2. Thank you for such a kind, thoughtful comment! Yes, intellectual curiosity is key! I am excited for our classroom discussion as well, especially with so many “professional learners” in our course!

  3. Good post! I really enjoyed how you have formed a connection between your current and previous institutions and makes me realize that maybe we should all read our University’s mission statement each year and evaluate how we feel about the mission. Whether it’s accomplished or in progress. From reading your selected mission statements, I noticed that Wofford’s mission statement was more focused on the student while V-Tech had a wider more global perspective. I too noticed a similar pattern in my selected mission statements.

  4. Thanks for your kind feedback, Antonio! That is so interesting that you found similar connections in your mission statements. I will be interested to see how many more colleges shift to a more global mission statement in the future. Thanks for reading!

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