Since its founding in 1954, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise) has become an indispensable part of a collective vision of prosperity for Southwest Virginia and Central Appalachia. UVA Wise is located in a land of opportunity—rich in beauty and biodiversity, primed for economic revitalization and immersed in the self-reflection necessary to sustain meaningful change.
As one of the largest employers and the only four-year institution in far Southwest Virginia, UVA Wise offers a new M.Ed. graduate program and 33 majors, including Virginia’s only bachelor’s degree in software engineering, 39 minors, five pre-professional programs, and 24 teaching licensures. UVA Wise has been praised as a “Best Bang for the Buck” college by Washington Monthly and is honored for helping students achieve forward social mobility by U.S. News & World Report. With a student-faculty ratio of 13:1 and approximately 2,000 students, UVA Wise is committed to ensuring access and affordability to higher education and making Southwest Virginia a great place to live and work.
UVA Wise is affiliated with nearly every major initiative underway in Southwest Virginia—shifting paradigms and encouraging innovation across public health, childcare, entrepreneurship, community and leadership development and energy. As a neutral convener and unbiased facilitator, the College is a central gathering place for the region to discuss new ideas and synergies to build Southwest Virginia’s future. We’ve assisted in writing and implementing impactful blueprints that have renewed the region’s entrepreneurial spirit, addressed substance use disorder and healthcare access, and led diversification efforts. We produce the talent needed to fuel the local economy and serve as a source of professional and leadership development, ensuring employers have the skilled workforce they need to grow. We’ve built upon the region’s place-based assets and, by way of our strategic initiatives and partnerships, continue to invest in community-based projects. In all we do, we connect the resources available at UVA Wise and UVA Charlottesville to opportunities throughout Southwest Virginia.
The College sought the IEP designation to evaluate how we live out our mission, methods and metrics; reinforce our commitment to being a foundational driver within the most economically distressed region in the Commonwealth of Virginia; and set a new precedent for achieving revitalization in our rural communities. Appalachia faces significant and complex challenges but also possesses opportunities for momentous reinvention. The College recognizes how collaboration and investment can dramatically alter the region’s trajectory. Through the self-study process, UVA Wise sought to identify how to effectively deploy our skills and resources and draw upon the strengths and expertise of our strategic partnerships.
The IEP self-study process ran concurrently with the creation of the College’s 2030 strategic plan, “Your College for a Lifetime,” which was developed in the fall of 2020 by a steering committee comprised of faculty, staff, senior administrators, students and a College Board representative. The committee gained input from a range of stakeholders to understand shared ideas about the mission of UVA Wise, as well as a vision for the future. The plan is built upon five strategic pillars that will help the College strengthen its core curriculum; align mission, workforce demand, and regional need; invest in faculty and staff recruitment and retention; attract, engage, and retain students; and update systems, policies and processes at UVA Wise.
Targeted surveys, focus groups and individual interviews centered on economic engagement revealed key insights into strengths and opportunities for improvement. Additionally, an IEP committee was formed from staff and faculty members across campus, many of whom served as part of the steering committee for the College’s strategic plan, allowing for the synthesis of data and outcomes from the two processes.
According to Virginia House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, “The IEP designation reinforces what we’ve always known: not only is UVA Wise building a strong talent pipeline, but alongside various partners, they are engaging in extensive work to revitalize Southwest Virginia.” The self-study process affirmed several strengths across the College’s three focus areas of economic engagement—Community Development and Entrepreneurship; Professional, Workforce and Career Development; and Health and Prosperity—and revealed the following areas of improvement.
The College recognizes the value of intentionality and enthusiasm in sharing regional stories of economic engagement and how vital it is to continue engaging stakeholders after the IEP process to move forward together in meeting shared objectives. Communications goals identified through the self-study process include:
New undergraduate and master’s degree programs and funding from the Commonwealth will position UVA Wise to strengthen the talent pipeline for employers in specific areas where they have expressed need. The new initiatives and funding will also grow student enrollment and capacity, generating economic impact for Southwest Virginia.
Addressing the educational talent metrics that often put the region at a disadvantage is critical to site-selection decisions. Moreover, the College will require enhanced capacity to support the growth in the level and types of degree programs offered. General Assembly funds have been allocated to expand the College’s experiential learning hub and internship programs, improve campus infrastructure, target student recruitment and retention efforts, and create an early learning center on campus.
The College has a track record of working with stakeholders to realize common goals, bringing subject matter experts, engaged citizens, local governments and state and federal agencies together to enact change. Moving forward, the College sees opportunities to bolster regional entrepreneurship, work with our partners to further develop the amenities and infrastructure that are integral to vibrant and welcoming communities, and draw upon the unique knowledge of our faculty and staff to add value to economic diversification efforts.
UVA Wise diligently works toward the mission of “Creating Opportunity Through Community,” building upon the strength of bringing people together to tackle challenges and seek opportunities. “The IEP process was a significant tool for evaluating how we engage our communities. We are thankful for the strong and mutually valuable relationships with our stakeholders that have resulted in high-impact initiatives throughout the region,” says UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry.
We respect the history and culture of our home in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, knowing that the residents of this region are experts of their own circumstances. In partnership with organizations and individuals, we strive to develop strategies for health and wellness, economic growth, job opportunity and community vitality. The IEP self-study process greatly benefited UVA Wise in capturing our economic engagement activities and charting the road ahead—a road we believe leads to a bright future for all of Southwest Virginia and Central Appalachia.