Strategic planning: a progress report

Beginning in 2012, we drew from all corners of the college to embark on a process of strategic planning. Some elements of the process, such as the work on our priority themes, have been continuous, while others, such as working groups, have had clear start and end times.

As we had hoped, our strategic planning has helped us identify specific areas of intellectual strength and research potential. We draw upon the plan frequently for guidance as we rethink our college’s structure, and it continues to inform our decisions regarding the use of resources in terms of both time and money.


The process focused on developing the strategic framework as a foundation for future activities.

  • A strategic planning committee was formed to develop the strategic framework.
  • Stakeholders engaged in SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis and offered feedback on CALS’ strategic direction and priorities.
  • The strategic framework—including mission, vision, guiding principles, strategies, education and collegiate structure, and priority themes—was drafted and approved.
  • Using the strategies identified, the planning committee proposed next steps for ongoing work in the college.


An Academic Planning Council report led to the restructuring of the APC into new disciplinary divisions with more faculty representation.

  • Workshops generated ideas for future activities around the priority themes of economic and community development, healthy ecosystems, food systems, changing climate, bioenergy and bioproducts, health and wellness and basic sciences.
  • An alumni workgroup study led to the creation of more student–alumni networking and mentoring activities for undergraduates. Space for this and other “beyond classroom” experiences are planned for the renovated Agricultural Dean’s Residence.
  • An international priorities and planning report underscored the importance of international activities in the college and led to the search for a new faculty director for international programs.
  • The strategic framework provided guidance on faculty hires, resulting in new faculty positions linked to the key priority themes of food systems, health and wellness, healthy ecosystems and the basic sciences.


The plan was used to guide decision-making and focus long-term activities.

  • A cross-disciplinary microbiome working group was formed to inventory CALS activities in this emerging field and catalyze discussions of priorities moving forward.
  • A facilities planning report provided tools and guidelines for allocating facility improvement resources across CALS.
  • An Agricultural Research Station committee report proposed guidelines and priorities for ARS activities—a major milestone in pursuing a future direction for ARS.
  • A college-wide RFP for food systems courses resulted in the selection of three new undergraduate courses—one freshman-level, one sophomore-level, and one capstone—to be developed under that priority theme.
  • Greenhouse and germplasm building committees were formed and charged with identifying activities and needs for future plant sciences facilities.
  • The educational metrics work group released “Educational Vital Signs” containing key data tracking the health of undergraduate education at CALS.
  • Our strategic framework guided budget reduction decisions for 2015-17.


Looking ahead, the plan will be used to strategically realign activities with resources.

  • Further work in specific thematic areas, such as ecoinformatics, the microbiome and food systems, will focus our research strengths and enhance collaboration across the college and campus.
  • Our strategic framework will be used to develop criteria and prioritize college restructuring projects, evaluate CALS centers and institutes, and to foster planning activities at the departmental level.
  • Visioning for the West Madison ARS begins as CALS strengthens its link to urban agriculture and explores collaboration with University Research Park II.
  • Investment will be made in recruiting and retaining a more diverse undergraduate population, with specific initiatives aimed at improving undergraduate recruitment and success in STEM fields.
  • The framework will help refine and guide college priorities for the UW fundraising campaign.