The George Washington University was founded in 1821 in response to a vision that the nation's foremost founder spelled out in his last will and testament. He dreamed of a university that would educate the citizen leaders of the new nation he had done so much to create.
Today the university that bears his name is different in many ways from what George Washington could have imagined. He could not have imagined the sheer size of its enrollment, now 26,000 students, including women as well as men from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Nor could he have envisioned a university with multiple campuses and 14 schools; with more than 120 departments and 95 centers and institutes; with a half-million-square foot science and engineering building; with a school of public health, located on a circle that bears his name; or with a museum housing a world-class collection of textiles and the history of the great capital city he had only begun to plan.
But what George Washington could have imagined and it's hoped would recognize is the university’s culture of service and ongoing commitment to the education of citizen leaders. In those respects, the GW has remained faithful to its founding vision for nearly 200 years.
As GW prepares for the beginning of the university’s third century in 2021, five short years from now, GW must look at the path it has already traveled and what will enable the university to navigate the complex and rapidly changing landscape of higher education.
What We Have Accomplished Since 2007
When President Knapp arrived at GW in August 2007, he identified five priorities: enhancing the university’s partnerships with neighboring institutions, expanding the scope of its research, strengthening its worldwide community of alumni, enlarging its students’ opportunities for public service, and leading its transformation into a model of urban sustainability.
In 2011, on the initiative of the Board of Trustees and under the leadership of Provost Steven Lerman, the university undertook a broad, consultative process of developing a strategic plan. In 2013, the Board unanimously approved that plan (Vision 2021), which was organized around four themes: Innovation through Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration, Globalization, Governance and Policy, and Citizenship and Leadership.
Guided by those presidential priorities and the university's strategic plan, a firm foundation has been established on which to build George Washington’s third century. What follows is a brief summary of what has been done so far, organized around the priorities proposed at the beginning of President Knapp's administration and the themes of Vision 2021.
GW has long enjoyed considerable strategic advantages made available by its privileged location in the heart of the nation’s capital. Students are drawn to GW in part because it gives them a front row seat at the theater of history. GW has more than 100 prominent visitors to our campus each year – from Supreme Court justices to cabinet secretaries to visiting heads of state. In addition, each entering freshman will experience an election cycle and the excitement it brings to the capital city.
Many of President Knapp's efforts since 2007 have been devoted to building new partnerships and expanding existing ones with the governmental and non-governmental organizations that constitute GW's institutional neighborhood. Those relationships, which are now pursued more aggressively and strategically than was typical in the past, give GW students and faculty unparalleled opportunities and continually raise the university’s local, national, and global profile. GW's recent merger with the Corcoran Gallery, in partnership with the National Gallery of Art, is perhaps the most dramatic single instance.
Perhaps GW's most noteworthy area of progress over the past decade has been the growth of its research enterprise. In 2007, according to figures from the National Science Foundation, GW was ranked 108 in Federal Expenditures. In the most recent reporting year, 2014, GW ranked 83. In total R&D expenditures GW was ranked 116 in 2007 and 92 in 2014.
(as reported by GW's Office of Vice President for Research)
Total Expenditures in FY07 were $142.9M and in FY15 $175.8M; a 23% increase.
Indirect Cost Recoveries in FY07 were $17.5M and in FY15 $25.3M; a 44% increase
The number of Principal Investigators in FY07 was 415 and in FY15 514; a 24% increase.
The number of Proposal Submissions in FY07 was 873 and in FY15 1131; a 30% increase.
GW’s alumni now total 275,000. The university began rebuilding stronger and more consistent connections with alumni early in President Knapp's administration. He has personally traveled around the world attending alumni events in Seoul, Tel Aviv, London, Beijing, and Istanbul, to name just a few locations, and has regularly gone to the American cities where we have our biggest concentration of alumni.
The number of regional networks located across the United States has grown from 15 to 36. Internationally, GW now has 32 alumni networks in 27 countries. The university has restructured and upgraded Alumni Weekend and added key regional events each year in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and Chicago.
GW has also been successful in re-engaging its large alumni network in the Virginia-DC-Maryland region, where many graduates live and work. Meanwhile, alumni are actively helping current students with career opportunities by sending their companies to GW-sponsored job fairs, recruiting GW students as interns, conducting mock job interviews, and providing feedback on resumes.
GW is taking the lead in developing responses to climate change by adopting sustainable operating practices, conducting groundbreaking research, and introducing new instructional programs focused on sustainability in all its forms. Here are a few examples of GW's efforts in sustainability over the past nine years:
In fall 2007, President Knapp commissioned a university-wide Sustainability Task Force to recommend ways of enhancing sustainability both as an operational principle and an academic subject. The following spring, GW signed the American College of University President’s Climate Commitment, pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.
In 2009, we opened our Office of Sustainability; that office has led numerous initiatives, including our joining American University and our university hospital in 2014 to launch the Capital Partners Solar Project, which currently provides 50% of the university’s electricity.
In 2012, GW launched an 18-credit interdisciplinary minor in sustainability, open to all undergraduate students.
Vision 2021 notes the dependence of creativity and entrepreneurship on the ability to think outside the boundaries of traditional fields. At the same time, the world’s most challenging problems can only be solved through research that combines the strengths of multiple disciplines.
Recognizing that cross-disciplinary work rests upon a foundation of strong departments and disciplines, educational and research programs need to be based on a model that both draws upon and transcends the historical discipline-oriented fields. Key to this effort is the removal of obstacles that prevent students from pursuing their interests and faculty from working together to solve complex world problems.
In 2013, GW began for the first time admitting freshmen to the university as a whole rather than to the various schools, in part so that students would not need to transfer from one school to another if their interests changed. Since then, GW has abolished many of the rules that limited a student’s ability to take full advantage of programmatic offerings; opportunities for interdisciplinary programs of study have also been expanded. Most recently, GW adopted a unified general curriculum to further facilitate the flexibility students crave.
In addition, much has been done to create centers, institutes, and collaborative arrangements that bring together faculty and students from different areas of study and enable them to work across departmental and school boundaries.
Thanks to Vision 2021 and under the leadership of a newly appointed senior associate provost for international strategies, GW is undertaking a coordinated effort to take full advantage of its location in the heart of Washington, DC, close to 177 foreign embassies and the headquarters of numerous global agencies. This approach spans admissions, research, academic programs, faculty exchanges, and philanthropy and is organized under the following goals:
• Admissions: increase the number of international undergraduates from 10% (current) to 15%; increase the international graduate student population from 18% (current) to 30%;
• International research: increase research in other countries by leveraging embassy connections and collaborations with international universities;
• Service: develop international medical and public health mission trips and more international service opportunities for students studying abroad;
• Partnerships: affiliate more extensively and formally with local institutions that address global issues.
GW’s location in the heart of the nation’s capital gives it a particular opportunity to lead research and education in this arena. GW attracts scholars and students from around the world who are dedicated to thoughtful, effective, nonpartisan policymaking and who undertake research aimed at informing policymakers. GW has developed extensive partnerships with the array of governmental and nongovernmental institutions that operate in the nation’s capital. Here are three of the many recent initiatives in this area:
• Allison MacFarlane, former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, directs the Elliott School’s Center for International Science and Technology Policy, which collaborates with international governmental research institutes and agencies on advances in scientific and technological policymaking.
• Philanthropist Michael Milken’s interest in public health policy and his recognition of the importance of our location drew him to GW and its School of Public Health. This year, for example, GW and the Milken Institute together convened a summit on public health that brought together some 600 leaders of academia, government, and industry.
• The GW Center for Cyber and Homeland Security regularly hosts domestic and international experts on campus for roundtable discussions and has been a prominent source of policy recommendations on such topics as the online recruitment of extremists.
(both a presidential priority and a Vision 2021 theme)
Inspired by the vision of GW's namesake, the unvirsity is committed to educating the next generation of citizen leaders. In October 2009, GW announced the creation of what is now the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. Through the center, more than 9,200 students recorded 655,192 hours of service during 2014-15.
Students are introduced to GW’s culture and commitment to service at Freshman Day of Service and Convocation, which was also established in 2009 and has since been combined with the university’s Freshman Convocation, so that entering freshmen are exposed to the connection between learning and service at the very beginning of their university careers.
The University hosted the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) in 2012 and, that same year, GW joined the Maryland/DC Campus Compact, a consortium of schools dedicated to promoting and facilitating service as a core value on campus.