UofL’s Strategic Plan pushes forward with backing from Gheens Foundation

UofL has a new, year-long onboarding process in place to better support new employees.

By John Drees

Editor’s note: In 2019, the private Gheens Foundation contributed $2 million to support the University of Louisville and, particularly, the Strategic Plan announced by President Neeli Bendapudi. UofL has invested much of that money to enhance safety and security features and to support seven priority projects in the university’s plan. This is the first story in a three-part series describing those projects.

The University of Louisville continues to make progress on its 2020-2022 Strategic Plan. The Gheens Foundation is playing a key role in its success.

Established in 1957 by philanthropists and entrepreneurs C. Edwin and Mary Jo Gheens, the Gheens Foundation has provided more than $130 million in grants to improve the quality of life for the residents of Metropolitan Louisville, particularly in the areas of education and human services. With those priority areas in mind, Gheens contributed $2 million to support the university’s mission in February 2019. About $500,000 was committed to immediate campus safety and security enhancements. In addition to that initial investment in safety and security, UofL has used more than $530,000 of the Gheens funding to support seven strategic proposals submitted by the Strategic Plan subcommittees that will directly impact students, faculty and staff.

“Early in my tenure at UofL, the Gheens Foundation stepped up to ask: ‘How can we help the university better accomplish its strategic goals and improve the lives of students, faculty and staff?’” President Neeli Bendapudi said of the gift. “The Gheens gift continues to make a difference as we target the funds in areas that benefit the university in a variety of ways. By directing the money to these projects, we are ensuring that UofL is and will continue to be a great place to learn, to work and in which to invest.”

Over the next two weeks, UofL News will share information on each of these areas, beginning with:


Recruiting and supporting prospective and current students is a ‘round-the-clock service, as they seek information at times that best fit their schedules and from a number of digital channels. With the implementation of an artificial intelligence chatbot on its website, UofL will be better able to address students’ needs by providing information and support 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

A chatbot is a program that responds to a users’ questions in real time, providing service to students who may not be able to reach offices and individuals during regular hours. This is particularly important for the areas of student recruitment and retention, which deal primarily with students and their families.

The Great Place to Learn subcommittee partnered with the offices of undergraduate and graduate admissions, Information Technology Services, the Registrar’s Office and the Delphi Center to select a chatbot that would best serve the university’s needs. Administered by Mainstay (formerly AdmitHub) and coordinated by the Enrollment Management Systems team, the chatbot program will be implemented in spring 2022 and, eventually, will be available to add to any university website.

Gheens is providing the funds for the three-year initiative, including annual maintenance and licensing fees. The Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success unit will supplement funding for the program.

“This will be a game changer for us,” said Jim Begany, vice provost for enrollment management and student success. “Students want and deserve the higher level of service we will be able to provide.”

Employee Onboarding

Employee satisfaction begins the day a new faculty or staff member walks onto campus for the first time. A Great Place to Work subcommittee and the Employee Success Center have designed a new, year-long onboarding process to better support new employees. The onboarding process will be enhanced with unit-specific activities such as assigning onboarding mentors and using a checklist to ensure the new employee’s needs are being addressed.

The process also will include a branded gift box that will be sent to new employees, which includes items that will be useful in the first few days on the job, keepsake items and a personal message from the university president. The committee also proposed recognizing employees after their first year of the start date with a message of thanks and a small token of appreciation.

The Employee Success Center hopes to launch the new program in January; training and development of the checklist will begin by the end of this year.

Cultural Wellbeing Index

Between the Covid-19 pandemic and social justice issues, particularly in Louisville, the UofL community experienced significant cultural shocks in 2020-21. The Cultural Wellbeing Index provided an opportunity to gauge the current health of the campus culture at UofL and to establish a baseline for future studies. The Gheens gift provided funding for implementation of the study, which surveyed more than 2,300 students, faculty, staff and alumni.

The study has led or will lead to a number of outcomes, including the previously mentioned restructuring of the university’s onboarding process. The survey results also suggested that the CWI will be effective in assessing the campus community’s response and the university’s actions following any future societal and cultural shocks.

“A healthy campus culture is vital for any organization and an important factor to consider in determining the direction of the university,” said Faye Jones, interim senior associate vice president for diversity and equity and co-chair of the subcommittee that recommended the survey. “The CWI will assist us in determining the potential impacts of policies and administrative actions on our community. It will help us make decisions that will improve the work environment for our faculty and staff.” 

Read on UofLNews.com here.