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Strategic Planning Reference Archive

All online materials from the suspended initial strategic planning process

NOTE: No materials accessible within the archival site are directly applicable to the current strategic planning process. They are made available for record and reference only. Older materials important to the current process can be accessed directly from the new site.

Welcome to the strategic planning site for the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. We are engaged in a three-phase process that will result in a vision, strategic plan, and milestone goals for the college for the next five years and beyond. The plan is conceived to position ESF for success through its second century, to provide a unique identity for the college, and to elevate targeted areas of great scientific and societal importance to levels of nationally recognized excellence.

But first, a word about what this strategic plan is not. It is not a prohibition on the many other things that ESF does or will do exceedingly well. We will have many faculty, programs, projects, and initiatives that extend beyond the signature areas of excellence. And we will remain resilient and ready to adapt to meet unexpected challenges and opportunities that do not fit under one of these broad umbrella questions.

Our planning process has been designed to allow maximum input from faculty, staff, students, trustees, friends, and community with a minimum investment of their time. To achieve this we will craft starting-point statements and documents that the community may react to, add to, subtract from, and modify to arrive at a final product. Another reason for such “straw man” documents is that they allow us to pursue a far more aggressive schedule, arriving at the framework for the plan in spring 2015, and a set of strategies and goals later in the year. The process will involve three phases:

  • Phase I: Visioning Groups. The first phase will focus on visioning. What does ESF want to be 5 and 20 years from now? Each group will be guided by co-chairs who will produce a draft starting-point and convene visioning sessions.
  • Phase II: Prioritization. Our visioning will result in more things than we can realistically pursue, at least immediately. The second phase of the process will do the hard work of setting priorities that will guide ESF in how it allocates new and existing resources to greatest effect. The March 2015 committee reports are the framework for this phase.
  • Phase III: Strategies and Goals. The final phase will examine strategies by which we can achieve our vision and priorities, assess current limitations and needs, and will set out explicit goals and target dates for their achievement. This work will be done by the steering committee over the summer 2015, resulting in a draft for review in September.

In Spring, 2014, in preparation for Phase I, a survey instrument polled the faculty and staff in respect to a number of questions, but particularly the “big” environmental challenges and opportunities on the horizon. A summary of the results of this instrument provides an interesting opinion snapshot of campus.

ESF student organizations will be invited to gather parallel ideas about the great opportunities and needs that lie ahead, through whatever mechanism that they elect to use. One idea that will be suggested is a TED-like forum where students can make compelling arguments for their top choices.

The planning process will be open to the entire ESF community with opportunities for input both in various scheduled sessions as well as through a comment board on this web site. Ideas and draft documents will incorporate and be shaped by these various inputs and subsequently made available for review by the Academic Council, Full Cabinet, the Board of Trustees, Executive Committee of the Faculty, and what we are calling the “Executive Cabinet Plus.” The latter is the college’s Executive Cabinet plus two faculty members who have been engaged for advice in designing the planning process. It will function as an overall steering committee for the process.


Fall 2014 Visioning - Phase I

Visioning Groups

Six groups addressed the questions below in two sessions, held on 9/24/14 and 10/1/14:

1) What learning objectives do we desire that will characterize and distinguish an ESF education regardless of major?

Co-chairs: Bruce Bongarten, Philippe Vidon

The answer should include consideration of a proper foundation in what might be described as the “environmental liberal arts and sciences,” with all the writing, critical thinking, numeracy, and so forth associated with a solid liberal arts preparation anywhere. Where there are other learning outcomes, can they be met through general education classes? For example, history and philosophy of science. It would be desirable to also include training in leadership skills and effective communication. ESF grads should be trained in transdisciplinary thinking and be skilled at effective membership in such teams. They should also be confronted with ethical questions, such as the boundary between objective science and issue advocacy or activism. And be exposed to visible examples of tolerance and respectful discourse between opposing viewpoints. We also need to think about how we can define “the ESF Experience” in ways that make it unique among similar programs. Further requirements that deepen experiences at our field stations and experimental sites is one idea. We hope to identify all the components whether in class or out of class that add up to the knowledge, skills, competencies, literacies, and experiences we would wish for the best prepared environmental leaders of the future.

2) How should ESF engage with its communities to better them and build good will and support for its mission?

Co-chairs: Maureen Fellows, Emanuel Carter

ESF is a member of many communities. Some of these are due to physical location, such as Syracuse and Central New York, the Adirondacks, the Thousand Islands, and New York City. We hope to contribute to each of these in meaningful ways and to benefit from our privilege of being part of each. Others are organizational, such as the SUNY system. Still others are intellectual, such as the science and professional communities to which our faculty are actively engaged. In the first category we can think of various green initiatives in Syracuse and the restoration ecology work at Onondaga Lake, not to mention ESF in the high school. In the last category, we can both contribute and benefit from partnerships that extend what we can achieve for science and society.

3) What are the “Right” Questions for ESF? — Topics

Co-chairs: Donald Leopold, Huiting Mao

We do not have resources to build nationally or internationally leading programs in all areas of sustainability and environmental sciences, but we can select five and build them into leading centers of excellence over the next few years. There are two levels to the answer. First is to identify a list of the great environmental challenges of the next 10 to 100 years. Second is to determine for which of these ESF can make unique or uniquely impactful contributions. We cannot compete with the national labs in many areas of energy research, although we might carve out a unique niche. Some criteria to be considered are existing strengths and traditions of ESF, the kind of competition in the field, whether a question can fill a gap in national research capacity, and so forth.

4) What are the “Right” Questions for ESF? — Organization

Co-chairs: Valerie Luzadis, Christopher Nomura

While details of the best organizational structures within ESF to pursue its “right” questions will depend on the final questions chosen, there are aspects of organization that can be explored in the abstract given a few assumptions such as: (a) five areas of excellence; (b) each area being so large and complex that it requires a transdisciplinary approach, likely including humanities and social sciences in addition to multiple sciences; (c) relation to graduate education and the undergrad ESF Experience; (d) relationship to ESF remaining nimble and capable of responding to unforeseen opportunities and challenges (presumably on a smaller scale than the five signature topics); and so forth.

5) How can ESF improve public science literacy and contribute to a diverse future workforce?

Co-chairs: Joseph Rufo, Mary Triano, Katherina Searing

While we will set stretch goals for continued diversity in our campus community, this question asks how ESF can be a national leader in addressing the broader problems and contributing to effective if long-term solutions. How can we reach children from elementary to high school levels in inner city communities in a way that ignites a love for and curiosity about nature? While we hope some of these young people will eventually attend ESF, the effort is broader to impact society in a way that assure a more diverse science and technology workforce decades from now. Not unrelated is the fact that citizens will increasingly face difficult decisions that involve environmental science. Unless voters are also science literate, they are excluded from major decisions about human welfare and the future of the natural world. It is incumbent on a leading college of the environment to be a leader, too, in informing and educating the public.

6) How can ESF create a unique “brand” and maximize its visibility and reputation?

Co-chairs: Robert French, Robert Malmsheimer

Our ability to attract the best students in the country and inspire philanthropists to invest in our vision depends on differentiating ESF from its competitors and creating a recognized, exciting, and inspiring “brand.” We have established a fantastic reputation and set of rankings, yet ESF is not widely known across the country and too infrequently in the media including print, broadcast, web-based, social, and other. This visibility, like advertising for major brands, creates a feeling and recognition in the public that can lead to increased student applications, increased stature among our peers, and getting ESF on the radar of foundations and philanthropists who do not invite applications for grants but target investments based on what institutions are visibly achieving. Viewed in enrollment terms, we should have so many applications from all fifty states that an admission letter is like winning the lottery and we can determine entering class sizes without worry about all students being top quality.

Phase I Documents