Equity, Affordability Among the Goals of Brown School’s New Strategic Plan

Alumni; Diversity; Faculty; Global; PhD; Policy; Public Health; Research; Social Work; Students

More than two years in the making and impacted by a pandemic, the Brown School’s next 10-year strategic plan, Driving Equity 2030, has launched to take one of the nation’s premiere schools of social work, public health and public policy into the next decade.

“This strategic plan prioritizes rigorous science, transformative educational programs and mutually beneficial partnerships aimed at advancing social, economic, health, environmental and racial justice,” said Mary McKay, the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School. McKay emphasized the plan’s goal to make the school’s graduate programs affordable and accessible. “For far too long, bright and talented students who struggle with undergraduate debt or constrained resources have had limited access to a graduate education,” she said. “We are committed to fully meeting the financial needs of these talented students.”

Tom Hillman, the Brown School’s National Council Chair, said the school’s long record of academic achievement positions it well to work toward eliminating a broad range of social and health disparities in the St. Louis region, the nation, and the world. “Building on a legacy of excellence and success, the next 10 years represent a significant opportunity for the Brown School to expand on its pursuit of equity and impact,” he said.

The plan was led by Jacqueline Martinez Pullen, chief of staff and assistant dean for strategic initiatives; and Nancy Mueller, assistant dean for planning and evaluation. Development of the plan began in early 2019 with the convening of a wide array of faculty, staff, students, community partners, alumni, and National Council members who worked over the next several months to brainstorm the outlines of a comprehensive plan for the next 10 years. A final draft was completed and school leaders began announcing it and putting parts into effect in early 2020. “We were really excited,” Martinez Pullen recalled.

Then, the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

“We focused on the emergency at hand first,” Martinez Pullen said. “Rather quickly, we were able to mobilize our community to take another look at the plan through the lens of the pandemic. During our ‘visioning the future’ exercises regarding what could happen in the next 10 years, no one said ‘pandemic.’ So it was important to go back.” Ten new action teams were created in the summer of 2020 to review goals, the school’s mission and create action plans. At the end of the school year in May 2021, all the action plans were pooled and the final plan came into focus. A new Brown School Leadership Council was created to put the plan into effect. The 15-person council is a combination of academic and administrative leaders led by Dean McKay. “It’s been an inspiring journey,” Martinez Pullen said.

Martinez Pullen and Mueller said the pre-pandemic plan’s goals were not altered drastically, but the public health crisis did add urgency to key goals, such as the Affordable and Financially Accessible Brown School Education, which became even more important due to the economic distress many families experienced due to the pandemic. Other goals included Data Science and Technology to Advance the Social Good; Climate Change, Environmental Health & Justice; and Community-Driven Science.

Mueller, who leads the Brown School’s Evaluation Center, said the plan’s reboot after the pandemic increased the breadth and depth of feedback from more than 500 stakeholders in surveys, listening sessions, and focus groups. “Because of our commitment to broad engagement, people in our school communities can see themselves in this plan,” Mueller said. The pandemic also required on-line learning and more flexibility for students, which became an important part of the school’s strategy moving forward. Open Classroom, the school’s new on-line learning platform, will be holding a session about the strategic plan on Oct. 27 at 12:30 pm.

The affordable education initiative comes in tandem with Washington University’s investment in graduate education, announced at the same time as the new undergraduate needs-blind admissions policy and recently elevated by Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. Martin has also emphasized the university’s need to serve its local community, also reflected in one of the strategic plan’s core commitments: Impact in, for and with the St. Louis Region. “Our plan aligns very well with the way the university is heading,” Mueller said. Other core commitments in the Brown School plan include Global Teaching and Research, Transdisciplinary Research and Education; and its marquee commitment: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

“The key here is that driving equity is the foundation from which we do everything,” said Martinez Pullen, who also serves on the university’s strategic planning coordinating committee. “Our vision is a just and equitable region, nation, and world — that’s the core of what we’re doing. We talk about equity as being an outcome, so that our impact is no longer impeded by individual or community identity.”

Mueller said her experience in co-leading the development of the plan was invigorating. “I’ve done strategic planning for organizations, but this is my first time to do so at a university level. The momentum and the energy from faculty and staff and partners and students was exciting to see.

“It’s going to be a great 10 years.”