*The four goals laid out by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s 2015-2020 strategic plan include:
- Goal 1: Transform lives through meaningful learning experiences
- Goal 2: Inspire, nurture and empower scholarship, creativity, discover, innovation and entrepreneurial initiatives
- Goal 3: Ensure stewardship of resources through strategic alignment and investments
- Goal 4: Embrace diversity and inclusion as a path to excellence and societal change
UTC celebrated a year of accomplishments and improvements, including the construction of a new 600-bed residence hall, during Chancellor Steven Angle's annual State of the University address Friday.
The celebration, which also marks the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's 132nd birthday, took place outside the new West Campus Residence Hall.
"This time last year, we were at this same site — which was then still under construction — for the 2017 State of the University address," Angle said, "Just look at how far we've come in the 12 months since then."
Angle's remarks, which he titled "Constructing a Great University," focused on that very theme: changes, improvements and additions, that have already been made, and are to come in this academic year, year four of a five-year strategic plan.
Quite literally, UTC has completed almost half a billion dollars worth of projects on campus in the past five years.
"We see positive momentum with the physical changes on our campus," Angle said, which includes the new residence hall and parking structure, a new intramural sports complex, a new tennis complex, renovations to McKenzie Arena, Hunter Hall and several other buildings.
"Many great things are happening at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and we should all be proud of the achievements that are focused on student success and strong community partnerships and connections," Angle said.
Since 2014, the university has increased the number of degrees it has awarded by 10 percent — with 2,489 degrees awarded in 2018. A six-year graduation rate increase to 62.2 percent also ranks UTC as second in the state and earned the school the title of top-performing university by the Complete College Tennessee Act outcome measures.
On Thursday, university and community leaders also celebrated the largest gift ever made to the university — $40 million from businessman Gary Rollins and his wife, Kathleen Rollins — with the renaming of the Gary W. Rollins College of Business.
Angle emphasized that the university has not crossed the finish line, though.
"We cannot afford to sit back and reflect on our accomplishments when so much remains to be done," he said. "Our vision has to be on our role in a rapidly changing world. Change is our constant, and the increasing pace of change and disruptive change are part of our world for the foreseeable future."
Some of the areas the university plans to zero in on in the coming year include health and wellness, data analysis and entrepreneurship.
"We have identified opportunities to leverage our strengths, meet community needs and incorporate strategic partnerships as we strive to provide an outstanding educational experience," Angle said.
These priorities come as the university grapples with a state — and nation — that sometimes views higher education institutions as steadfast and inflexible.
Recent changes to post-secondary education such as Gov. Bill Haslam's Drive to 55 initiative and the Tennessee Reconnect program have spurred UTC to figure out how it can fit into the goals of creating a work-force-ready population.
In terms of health care, the university can "impact the community's health outcomes in partnership with the UT School of Medicine, Erlanger Health Systems, the [Chattanooga-] Hamilton County Health Department and other health care organizations in Chattanooga," Angle said.
The school has also recently launched the Center for Urban Informatics and Progress, led by Mina Sartipi, which partners with other universities, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, EPB and the city of Chattanooga.
Business and entrepreneurship also will continue to be an area of focus — thanks to Chattanooga's network of entrepreneurs and start-ups, and even more so, to the Rollins' $40 million gift.
"The Gary W. Rollins College of Business will become a national model in business education that utilizes technology-driven teaching methods focused on providing students with relevant skills and knowledge to address real business problems and faculty research that tackles the complexities of business and impacts business practice," said Robert Dooley, dean of the college, in regard to the impact the donation will have on UTC.
Growing the university's teacher preparation program is also a top priority, said Angle, who said he wants it to be "one of the best programs in the South." Renee Murley, head of the School of Education, was hired to lead the school in 2016 and already has started changing how future teachers are educated in Chattanooga.
Overall, Angle said, the university is ready to confront change — and disruptions — head on.
"As we engage the disruptions, we know there will be speed bumps along the way, [but] by aligning our resources and sharing publicly the value of a UTC graduate with the skills for a job and for contributing to community, the future is bright," Angle said.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.