Mission statements, in my mind, are an opportunity for an organization (whether for an entire university, a student group, or an academic department) to articulate what they hope to produce, what values they hold, and how they want to affect the world.
I chose the to analyze the mission statements of the Civil Engineering department at Auburn University and the Libraries at Virginia Tech for this “assignment”. Both are departments from American land grant universities which have an emphasis on “mechanical and agricultural” topics. Virginia Tech is a polytechnical institute, while Auburn is a former polytechnical institute; this means that VT is still primarily devoted to teaching and research in STEM fields (i.e., technical arts and applied sciences).
I’ve included the actual text for each mission statement below, as well as hyperlinks above.
The University Libraries at Virginia Tech provide and promote access to information resources for the achievement of the University’s objectives in teaching, learning, research, creativity, and community service.
We are dedicated to meeting the information, curricular, and research needs of students, faculty and staff of the Virginia Tech community, wherever located, in a manner that respects the diversity of community and ideas.
We provide selected services to a wider community of users.
The Auburn University Department of Civil Engineering strives to
- Prepare students, through high quality programs, to practice civil engineering professionally in a competitive global environment;
- Develop and expand the capabilities of its faculty;
- Expand scientific and engineering knowledge through innovative research and creative partnerships involving academia, industry, and government;
- Provide outreach programs to assist individuals and organizations to find solutions to engineering problems.
One of the first things that stood out to me was the formatting of each statement; the engineers used a bulleted list while the libraries used a complete-sentence format. I have had formal training in technical communication, so I do in fact look not only just at the information presented, but the form that it takes. The sentences give a feeling of welcome and community, creating an invitation between the reader and the Libraries. This contrasts with the bullet points, which list in no uncertain terms exactly what the “plan” is for civil engineers at Auburn. It is precise language that gets straight to the point with easily presented goals.
Thoughts on the mission statements:
AU Civil Engineers have a well-defined set of “users” – it focuses on the students and faculty in the department as those that it wants to develop; while it mentions “outreach,” it seems more of an afterthought that it might somehow benefit the students and faculty to perform outreach instead of as a end to itself.
VT Libraries, on the other hand, provides services to a “wider community of users” beyond those with ties to a single department; instead, it is focusing on the campus community at large, as well as others who might live or work nearby.
VT Libraries’ mission statement is also more explicit about a wide sharing of knowledge and resources within an entire community, instead of a detailed sharing of specific concepts and information within a predetermined/predefined community of practice. I think this goes back to the issue of the community being addressed by each organization; the scope of services (information resources for “all” v. development of the few) is so different.
With that in mind, I think that each mission statement articulates what the aims of the individual organizations in fact are – the Libraries at VT want to spread knowledge, while AU Civil Engineering wants to focus on specific, measurable gains within a smaller group.