Mission Statements: Land Grant Institute vs. Academic Medical Center

My undergraduate education took me from Massachusetts out to the University of Wyoming – a land grant institute, and the only 4-year university in the state. Without several in-state universities or professional sports teams competing for the affection and loyalty of residents, there was strong support for, and pride in the University nestled in Laramie, WY. Despite the massive land area of the state, the connection to being “Cowboy Tough”, having “Poke Pride”, and a “Get ‘Er Done” attitude united everyone.  In turn, the University was also committed to serving the residents and taking care of the beautiful, wide open spaces and jagged mountain peaks that make up landscape of Wyoming. While some mission statements seem to be just documents no one pays much attention to, at the University of Wyoming, the mission statement (last updated in 2009) seems to be embraced and acted upon daily from the administration and extension agents, to the faculty and students.

University of Wyoming Mission Statement (March 2009)

The University of Wyoming aspires to be one of the nation’s finest public land-grant research universities. We serve as a statewide resource for accessible and affordable higher education of the highest quality; rigorous scholarship; technology transfer; economic and community development; and responsible stewardship of our cultural, historical, and natural resources.

In the exercise of our primary mission to promote learning, we seek to provide academic and co-curricular opportunities that will:

  • Expose students to the frontiers of scholarship and creative activity and the complexities of an interdependent world;
  • Ensure individual interactions among students, faculty, and staff;
  • Nurture an environment that values and manifests diversity, free expression, academic freedom, personal integrity, and mutual respect; and
  • Promote opportunities for personal growth, physical health, athletic competition, and leadership development for all members of the university community.

As Wyoming’s only university, we are committed to outreach and service that extend our human talent and technological capacity to serve the people in our communities, our state, the nation, and the world.

While I don’t recall ever actually reading this Mission Statement until this assignment for the Preparing the Future Professoriate Course at Virginia Tech, based on my 5 years there, I would have correctly identified several components of it! The feature that most sticks out to me is the dedication to the primary mission of educating students (and in an affordable manner!). There were stickers that faculty and administrators often had displayed in their office saying “Students: The Reason We’re Here”. Supporting that primary mission is a dedication to research, outreach, and service – with a specific emphasis on responsible stewardship of natural resources.

As I apply for postdoctoral research training positions and faculty jobs, I think that I would be very happy ending up in a land grant institution like Wyoming (and Virginia Tech). However, I am also eager to see what other options exist and am considering research specific institutions as well. This assignment related to Mission Statements came at a perfect time for me as examining the Mission Statements may help educate me as to the environment and culture that could be experienced at a research-intensive campus. To compare what I know (land grants in small towns), with what I only have a small taste of (research universities in a more urban environment; e.g.- time spent at the University of Houston) I sought out the Mission Statement for the University of Alabama at Birmingham – one of the places I am investigating for postdoc training. [UPDATE – Apparently UAB is a land-grant institution! I didn’t know that from viewing their website, but did see it noted on this list of APLU member institutions. Whoops. Regardless….they don’t mention being land-grant in their mission statement, so onward!] Since I haven’t yet stepped foot on UAB’s campus, I can’t speak to if and how their mission statement is embodied and expressed.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Mission Statement

UAB’s vision is to be an internationally renowned research university — a first choice for education and health care.

UAB’s mission is to be a research university and academic health center that discovers, teaches and applies knowledge for the intellectual, cultural, social and economic benefit of Birmingham, the state and beyond.

In the past year, UAB has produced groundbreaking discoveries and innovations, delivering on our promise of “knowledge that will change your world.” Our overarching mission pillars embody our commitment to educate, advance research and discovery, care for the sick, respond to the needs of our community and use knowledge to establish Alabama as a progressive economic center that can change the world. We are investing in mission-critical infrastructure and institution-wide initiatives that under-gird the support of our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community. Every school and department is identifying top priorities and actively collaborating to achieve them. We are aligning our greatest strengths for the benefit of UAB, Birmingham, Alabama, and beyond.

Overarching Mission Pillars

Provide education that prepares diverse students to lead, teach, provide professional services and become the prominent scholars and societal leaders of the future.

II  Pursue research that benefits society, delivers new treatments and cures for serious diseases, spurs innovation and expands UAB’s capability to continually discover and share new knowledge.

III  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.

IV  Encourage partnerships that improve education, health, economic prosperity and quality of life through service at home and around the globe.

V  Foster and stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship that contributes to the economic development and prosperity of the city of Birmingham, the state of Alabama and beyond.

 The thing that sticks out to me in this mission statement, which clearly differs from Wyoming, is that the primary mission and overarching vision are to be a top-notch research institution and academic health center. This is expected as I knew they were different institutions from the onset. Other notable features of UAB’s mission statement is the focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. Furthermore, while providing education is a priority to both institutions, the nuances differ. UAB seeks to educate diverse students who will go on to contribute to the university’s main missions of research and providing world-class medical care, while Wyoming is focused on providing primarily undergraduate education. The biggest similarities between the two mission statements is that both institutions seem devoted to connecting with -and improving – their local community and state.  As someone who loves participating in community service work, this similarity makes me feel confident that [should I move to Birmingham] I will be able to put the knowledge I have and work I do to use in my immediate surroundings through programs and events UAB is involved in.

I’m curious – have you been a student at, or worked at institutions of higher education which differ in their “label” [e.g. – small liberal arts vs. community college vs. whatever]? If so, how were their different purposes and missions seen and felt on campus? What similarities did you find between them?




About tanyamh

A PhD Student at Virginia Tech. This blog was created as a class requirement for Contemporary Pedagogy - Spring 2013.


  1. Hi Tanya,
    I am so curious about the cowboy culture! Can you tell me more about it? How do you see the cowboy culture influence you when you were a student there? Also, I find that military culture is strong in VT, because I notice that VT want to cultivate “serving” culture.

    Back to your question, I studied at a flagship university in Oregon, and its mission and purpose are pretty similar than land-grant school. The school I attended in Oregon focused on liberal art and it also emphasized its unique culture (Not hippie culture, but being open-minded and free spirit) in its mission statement. I found that the mission statement tends to punctuate the strengths of the school. For instance, VT will focus on technology, where as, UAB stresses on its strength in medical care.

    1. The cowboy culture certainly came through at Wyoming, though how strong the “stereotypical” cowboy vibe was felt likely depends on the groups and organizations each student participates in. From an athletic department perspective (I played soccer there) the cowboy mentality was embraced in having a sense of toughness, not stopping until the work was done, and so on. So it wasn’t as literal an interpretation as one might think. Though, there were plenty of cowboy hats and large belt buckles worn around campus on a daily basis!

  2. Hello Tanya,

    I enjoyed reading more about the mission statements of both University of Wyoming and University of Alabama! It’s always interesting to me to read how other institutions are structured. I did my undergraduate degree at Kent State University which is a research oriented university that has a very similar mission of Virginia Tech to be a leader in innovation. Even though both are research institutions, Kent State is more liberal arts focused, offering a variety of different classes to students in all fields to expand their knowledge base to new subjects and ideas. At Virginia Tech, I have noticed a strong push of innovation within your own field, or at least in my experience in the architecture program. Of course this could be program oriented and others in different majors may have a different experience. I think at the same time, it is so interesting learning more about other institutions, especially institutions that have a different focus, and learning how some of their principles that they focus on can be applied to make other universities succeed!

    Thank you for your insight! I enjoyed reading more about the structures of these two universities!

    Best wishes,

    Brian Chanda

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