Planning for the future

In keeping with his tradition of strong strategic planning, President Neal Smatresk hosted his inaugural Planning Implementation Workshop, with the theme of Better Together, Tuesday to develop an action plan that will detail where the university is headed and how it will get there. Sara Smith, a former IBM executive and leadership coach, co-facilitated the workshop. 

The workshop was designed to outline UNT’s path to improvement while setting its priorities for the short and long term. The workshop focused on change and building an action plan for the next three years.

“Let’s focus on what’s best for UNT, our students and our mission,” Smatresk told the workshop participants. “If we deliver on our promise, we’ll meet our goals.”

There were about 120 UNT and external community representatives that included UNT administrators, deans, chairs, students, faculty, staff and community members such as Denton Mayor Chris Watts and Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson, who are both UNT alumni. The participants explored two key questions:

  • What is your greatest dream for UNT?
  • What does the world want from UNT?

College of Engineering Dean Costas Tsatsoulis says the workshop made him realize that many people on campus have the same problems at UNT and the same aspirations for the university.

“We’ve done a good job of selling our vision,” Tsatsoulis says. “I’m interested in seeing our action plan.”

Watts, who joined a table discussion in the afternoon, told his table that UNT is an economic engine and intellectual capital for Denton, helping to put the city on the map. As a graduate, he has firsthand experience of its impact.

Having grown up together, the city and the university have long had common goals, he said. As both entities grow today, each has developed unique goals and interests.

"The question now is how to meld those interests and find common ground," Watts said.

Wilson, who also joined a table discussion in the afternoon, gave his input on the world's expectations question.

"I think the world expects UNT to identify and develop the talent of the people here," Wilson said.

Smatresk tasked the workshop participants with identifying UNT’s challenges and opportunities in order to inform UNT’s work action plan based on his three-year planning framework.

  • Year 1: Improve operations and infrastructure
  • Year 2: Align academic program with long-range goals and regional needs
  • Year 3: Develop UNT’s unique identity and market niche

They explored hurdles and developed the top five priorities for each of the following areas:

  • Operations and infrastructure
  • Revenue
  • Education and Research
  • Identity

Some of the top priorities included:

  • Recruit, retain and support talented students, faculty and staff
  • Improve processes and infrastructure
  • Improve customer service
  • Build stronger alumni support and engagement
  • Provide Texas’ best educational experience
  • Budget more effectively

SGA President Troy Elliott says the sense of community that came from the workshop was the most valuable part.

“Even if not all of the goals come to fruition, we’ve created a greater sense of community. And our leadership has a better idea of how their plans and decisions affect all of us,” Elliott says.

Smatresk will unveil the university priorities and action plan at the State of the University beginning at 3 p.m. Sept. 17, 2014, at the Murchison Performing Arts Center. Prior to that address, there will be an opportunity for the entire university community to provide input online.

The action plan will guide what the university will accomplish for the year, and it will serve as a high-level to-do list to ensure that the university is taking concrete steps and progressing. The plan will be updated each year through annual planning workshops. And at each year’s State of the University event, Smatresk plans to detail what the university accomplished in the past year and what its priorities are for the coming year.

The planning workshop embodies Smatresk’s decision-making mantra.

“When we make decisions, we will be collaborative, adaptive and transparent,” Smatresk says.

This year, UNT is focusing on operations, conducting a top-down and bottom-up review of the university to overcome its fiscal hurdles and continue its financial transformation. The planning started with building a sound, conservative budget for FY 2015, while balancing UNT’s revenue and expenditures, continuing to fund its debts and liabilities, and starting to rebuild the university’s savings. Through its budgeting and planning, UNT is focused on building strengths in key areas, making focused investments, and preserving revenue-generating programs and initiatives.

Anna Pechenina, graduate student and former president of the Graduate Student Council, says the workshop was a great equalizer.

“It broke down silos. It makes me feel like I’m not just a cog in the machine,” she says.

Smatresk told the participants at the end of the workshop that they’ve helped to improve the institution through their good will and input, and the administration’s goal is to follow through.

“It’s because of you and your thoughtful input that we have a roadmap for where we want to go,” Smatresk told the participants at the end of the workshop. “You’ve made it clear that you’re ready for change.”

—Ernestine Bousquet, University Relations, Communcations and Marketing.