Mission Statements and Atmospheres

Mission Possible?

Universities’ mission statements reveal how they wish to represent themselves. During my applying process, I skimmed through the missions out of curiosity to see universities’ choice of words to introduce themselves and their values, even though I did not rely on them more than formal statements. Later, I noticed differences in universities’ educational and societal policies are implied to some extent in their mission statements which are interestingly affected by the university’s geographical context.

My first exposure to an American education system was a couple of years ago when I moved to the US and carried out an exchange study for a few months at Sci-Arc, a private architecture school in California. I am still wondering whether it was due to the school’s atmosphere, gray LA urban life, challenging decision-making situations, or missing the European multidimensional spatial qualities, I decided to leave the US and go back to my school in Italy. I remember that unlike my experience in the design studios of Milan old-school style, students were not that much communicative at Sci-Arc or were not that engaged in group activities. My observation of students daily life patterns was to wake up early (around 4:00 am), drive to school and get a large coffee to go on the way, and work competitively till midnight while paying a considerable amount of tuition. Being able to stay overnight at school along with being strongly recommended not to leave it without an accompany due to the shootings and unsafe ambiance around downtown LA were astonishingly two sides of the same coin and were new to me. The school’s mission statement was and is still focused on the “teaching architects to engage, speculate, and innovate; to take the lead in reimagining the limits of architecture.” The core idea of this non-traditional architecture school is to enrich “individuals” creativity and innovation in an environment dedicated solely to architectural explorations. Although the school is institutionally and artistically a pioneer and avant-garde in architectural education, I did not have a strong sense of a community or social interaction beyond architecture and design inquiries, which I have found as a central value for a successful design idea.

LA urban context

That experience was entirely different from what I found at Politecnico di Milano, where I commuted with “trams” and bike while having my daily chat with the driver and the Italian commuters with my less than a hundred-word Italian knowledge. I usually had my 0.35 cent café espresso from school vending machine after having lunch with my conversational Italian and international friends, who had been paying at least one-tenth of the American school and yet, were complaining. The university had been always close at 10:00 pm every night -if not earlier- and opened at 7:00 am the next morning; the administration message was to go home and get some sleep.

Milan tramway network as a public transport network

Polimi’s mission statement focuses on “helping its students and researchers to understand the complex relationship between science, innovation, technology, and socio-economic systems, so that they may improve their ability to produce a positive impact on the community.” By reflecting only on the two mentioned statements, one can expect the differences in each’s general approach and visions. 

In 2018, I came back to the US, continuing my studies at Georgia Tech. This time, I had decided to experience a larger public university with various colleges and departments to afford practicing more interdisciplinary studies and speculations. Georgia Tech’s motto is Progress and Service. After COVID 19, they changed their statement to the following: “Georgia Tech is a leading research university devoted to inclusive and impactful innovation, relentlessly committed to serving the public good and breaking new ground in addressing the biggest local, national, and global challenges of our time.” I find it interesting that the missions do not need to be rigid and solid; they can evolve and alter with the dynamics of society, students, and global visions. The flexibility to change reflects the administration’s bright and open mind and somehow the way they structure the whole educational ecosystem.

Atlanta Urban Context

As I was studying my MS program at GT, I got PhD admission from Virginia Tech. In my first visit, I found Virginia Tech’s strong sense of community very distinctive, compared to my previous experiences. VT’s mission focuses on “UT Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech is an inclusive community of knowledge, discovery, and creativity dedicated to improving the quality of life and the human condition within the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the world.”

I believe this sense of community partly relates to its mission, which underlines the importance of improving the quality of life in different scales, national and global, and its geographical location. Surrounded by natural greenery and mountains, a relatively safe and friendly atmosphere, the university mission and vision are dominant and formulating Blacksburg. Unlike LA or Atlanta, where the cities and their features identify universities to some extent, Virginia Tech encompasses Blacksburg’s urban context and greatly impacts its development.

I think mission statements’ fulfillment has interdependent relation with the site and where the institution is situated. There is a dynamic conversation between the university and its contextual settings that formulates an inextricably intertwined relationship between them. So the vision would be the vision for a larger environment.

Blacksburg urban context is dominated by Virginia Tech


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