A safe living and learning environment


Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Health System
Office of the President

Oct. 26, 2012

TO: The VCU and VCU Health System Communities
FROM: Michael Rao
SUBJECT: A safe living and learning environment

Dear Students and Colleagues,


Virginia Commonwealth University has truly become a 24/7 destination campus, a small city within a city. We ought to enjoy our beautiful university, and we should always feel safe doing so. Campus safety remains on all of our minds and at the core of our mission. Our rapid progress toward becoming the nation’s premier urban, public research university can only continue if we feel safe at all times and in all locations.

I was inspired by the engaging conversation at our recent safety town hall meeting and am grateful to the many faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends who joined us. As I mentioned that evening, we are investing our resources and pledging our full commitment to the safety of everyone at VCU. For example:

  • We are reforming the entire Security Escort Service so that it will be more effective and efficient in serving our university community’s needs. We are implementing a service called “RamSafe” that will let you arrange for a ride and see its location in real time entirely from your smartphone. That means rather than waiting outside in the dark for your ride to arrive, you may continue studying in the library or dining in the Shafer Court Dining Center and wait for a phone notification that tells you your ride has arrived. [Note that if you do not have a smartphone, you can still schedule with RamSafe by calling (804) 828-SAFE.] Not only will this new system be easier, it will also be safer — and that is the bottom line. Several universities around the nation have also recently changed to this new system and report very high satisfaction among users. The program, called Ride Cell nationally, actually began on a large, urban campus similar to VCU’s, and we expect similar success here. We look forward to a pilot program beginning Dec. 1, and anticipate that RamSafe will be fully operational in time for the spring semester. Just like the current escort service, RamSafe will get you home safely, but it is not intended to be a personal taxi service and should not be used as such. RamSafe will operate within VCU’s jurisdiction.
  • The current shuttle bus system will also change. The white buses you have seen around both campuses will soon be replaced by larger, more comfortable buses that will be very easily recognized as VCU transportation. We are calling this new system “RamRide.” The Campus Connector will have on-board Wi-Fi technology so you can work and study while you ride, and all of the buses can be tracked in real time via your smartphone, so you are not waiting outside for long periods of time. In addition, all drivers will wear VCU uniforms and will transport only VCU faculty, staff and students. Unlike previous shuttles, which were on public buses operated by GRTC, these buses will not collect non-VCU passengers, adding to your safety while on board. The new buses will start running Nov. 1.
VCU Alert website
  • At the safety town hall meeting, several students asked about receiving follow-up information to our safety alert text messages, such as more detailed information about suspects or notice that arrests have been made. Because our text message database is very large, we only send text messages when a dangerous situation is in progress or when a threat persists. Any follow-up information is posted on VCU Alert webpage, which can be viewed at www.vcu.edu/alert. This information is also available via social media on the VCU Police Facebook and Twitter feeds and on the Police Department’s recently redesigned webpage at www.police.vcu.edu.
  • Working with SGA, Police Chief John Venuti has convened a Student Advisory Committee to the Police Department. This group will meet in early November and is charged with advising VCU Police on issues related to student safety and well-being. Our students know VCU’s campus better than anyone and offer a unique perspective about safety in their environment. With this committee, the police can capture students’ ideas. For example, students at the town hall mentioned that they wanted to see more officer engagement and foot patrols on campus, and indeed, since the town hall, those types of deployments have increased. The idea behind this Student Advisory Committee is to perpetuate this type of conversation for the safety of everyone at VCU.

Although the vast majority of people feel safe at VCU, we should never take anything for granted. I know everyone will continue to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings and follow all safety precautions at all times. Please call VCU Police at (804) 828-1234 or send a text to 274637 (keyword: VCUtip) if you see something suspicious. All calls can remain anonymous, if you choose.

Coney elected to Institute of Medicine

PonJola Coney, M.D., was recently elected to the Institute of Medicine, one of the benchmark national academies. Coney was one of 70 new members elected this year and becomes the fifth IOM member at VCU.

She is director of VCU’s Center on Health Disparities, senior associate dean for faculty affairs and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology. She joins colleagues Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., Kenneth Kendler, M.D., Steven Woolf, M.D., M.P.H., and Joseph Ornato, M.D., as IOM members at VCU.

In addition, VCU’s new dean of the School of Engineering, Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., is a member of the National Academy of Engineers. Boyan joins us in January.

Record philanthropic and alumni support

In FY 2012, donors pledged about $120 million toward supporting students, faculty, staff, patients and programs at VCU, making it the biggest fundraising year in our history. Under the leadership of Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations John Blohm, a new “hybrid” fundraising model has resulted in the creation of a new central Office of Annual Giving. In the last three months of the fiscal year, this new effort increased the number of alumni donors by more than 1 percent through a phone program targeting alumni from schools without an annual giving mechanism.

On the heels of that success, the VCU Gold Line Call Center launched in September, and student fundraisers there have already raised more than $30,000. Their goal is to call on 50,000 alumni by spring. This is an important way we are reaching VCU’s alumni, 34 percent of whom graduated within the last 10 years (Gold stands for “Graduates Of the Last Decade”). Of note, alumni association membership among these young graduates grew by 42 percent during the past year, part of an overall membership growth of 12 percent.

While we have much to celebrate about the past year of fundraising, the most exciting news is that this is only the beginning. We will still achieve much more.

More information on the new Fund for VCU is available here, and more information on the alumni association’s new Rams for Life Campaign, which encourages alumni to become lifetime members of the alumni association, is available here.

Recognizing our diversity

VCU recently received some prestigious honors in recognition of our diversity. First, we learned that the Education Trust had named us one of the nation’s top institutions for boosting graduation rates and closing the graduation gap for African-American and Hispanic students. Then, we were honored to be named a winner of the inaugural Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from Insight Into Diversity magazine. Lenore Pearlstein, the publisher of Insight Into Diversity, joined us at the recent reception to welcome founding Vice President for Diversity and Equity Wanda S. Mitchell, Ed.D., to present us with this honor.

We were also recently named a recipient of the 2012 Minority Access Role Models Award for our commitment to recruiting, retaining and advancing students and employees from a diverse applicant pool. VCU is one of only 27 institutions nationally to achieve the designation.

We will always be proud of our diversity in its broadest sense, and we are committed to making VCU even more diverse among the faculty, staff and student body. We will continue to seek every opportunity to become one of the nation’s most diverse universities.

Honoring our alumni

On Nov. 2, the alumni associations will sponsor the inaugural Alumni Volunteer Service Awards, which honor our graduates for their commitment to and pride in VCU. The winners are:

  • VCU STAT Award, to a current student, for service and leadership contributed to our Students Today Alumni Tomorrow program – Alexandra McDougall (’13)
  • VCU GOLD Award, to a graduate of the last decade, for outstanding service to VCU – Yesenia C. Villalta (’11)
  • VCU Pride Award, for outstanding service in an affiliated organization and for creative support of VCU – Paula B. Saxby, Ph.D. (’85)
  • VCU Outstanding Service Award, for creation of an innovative program that furthers the mission of the alumni association – Joseph E. Becht Jr. (’80), Ram to Ram Program in the School of Business; and Edward Robinson Jr. (’00), Richmond Promise Program in the VCU Alumni Association
  • Alumni Association Service Award, for exceptional service to the alumni association during a lifetime of support – Corinne F. Dorsey (’65) and Jon B. Hill (’85, ’99, ’12)
  • Elaine and W. Baxter Perkinson Jr. and Vicki and Thomas Snead Jr. Alumni Award for Exemplary Service – Elaine and W. Baxter Perkinson Jr., D.D.S. (’70), and Vicki (’76) and Thomas Snead Jr. (’76)

I look forward to congratulating these remarkable individuals personally at the ceremony next week, and I know you join me in thanking them for their service to VCU.

Enterprise risk management

All of us at VCU are committed to operating ethically and efficiently in every way. That includes doing everything we can to foresee, manage and mitigate potential risks before they occur. As such, we are launching an enterprise risk management program, a comprehensive approach to identifying risks that could severely impact the university and prevent us from meeting our goals. Such risks may come from operations, finance, regulations or strategic decisions related to Quest for Distinction, and they ultimately impact our most precious asset — our reputation. We are committed to doing everything possible to prevent potentially significant “surprises” before they happen.

The Board of Visitors, the university leadership team and I have initiated and fully support an ERM program at VCU. We have convened an implementation committee that is charged with oversight of the ERM program. In the coming months, committee members will begin interviewing administrators on both campuses to help identify potential risks that will be consolidated, analyzed and prioritized by the vice presidents. Based on this work, management plans will be created and monitored to mitigate these enterprise-level risks. Most of this work will be completed this fiscal year.

This will be a dynamic process. We need to continually assess and mitigate the risks we face. If you become aware of any risk to the university, please communicate it to your administrator or members of the ERM Implementation Committee. We also appreciate your feedback, particularly if you are asked to participate in this initiative.

More information is available on our new ERM website.

VCU Master Site Plan

Franklin Street Gym
VCU’s Franklin Street Gym

After extensive conversations with a number of leaders from across VCU, we have developed a preliminary draft plan for VCU’s Master Site Plan. The highlights for the VCU Master Site Plan 2012 include:

  • A comprehensive vision for the physical development of the university that supports the goals of Quest for Distinction
  • Facilities to support the university’s projected increase in faculty and research activity
  • New meeting and gathering spaces that enhance the quality of experience for faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors
  • Continued enhancement of students’ on-campus experience that builds on our recent successes
  • Continued cooperative planning with the Richmond community to promote a healthy, vibrant urban living-learning environment

More specifically, the Master Site Plan includes on the Monroe Park Campus new academic, research and support space; a redevelopment of the Franklin Street Gym as the new home for the College of Humanities and Sciences and of the Thalhimer Tennis Center to support academic and research programs; an enhanced presence for the School of the Arts in the Broad Street Corridor; and redevelopment of the 500 Academic Centre block for mixed uses including academic space, housing and additional parking.

The plan for the VCU Medical Center includes identification of new academic and research program space on the existing campus and as much as 960,000 additional gross square feet with targeted acquisitions; and a new quadrangle and facilities at the northwest corner of the campus to facilitate integrated health sciences education, including new academic and research space.

As always, more information is available on our master plan website.

Quest for Distinction

Many thanks to the numerous people at VCU who are advancing the values of our Quest for Distinction strategic plan. I am proud that excellence occurs all over the university, in so many ways. Here are a few examples:

Academic excellence

  • Six VCU alumni earned Fulbright Grants this year. Julie Charbonnier (’12) will collaborate with Spanish scientists to study ecological consequences in Southern Spain. Cole Cridlin (’11) will teach English in France. Tschuna Gibbs (’12) will study research management and biodiversity in Austria. Joel Kabot (’12) will research regional identity in Ukraine. Kunal Kapoor (’12) will research whether religious and cultural influences affect treatment for heart disease in the United Kingdom. Catherine Porter (’07) will study the rise of Katangan nationalism in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pre-eminence in research

  • Two medical technologies born in VCU laboratories are among four finalists selected for presentation at the annual Southeast BIO/Plan Competition, a program designed to bring forward the most promising opportunities from the region’s research universities. Over the past few months, the Office of Technology Transfer has worked with the faculty inventors of both technologies, along with investors and entrepreneurs, to develop comprehensive commercialization plans. The new technologies are a hand-held device for testing heart ischemia, developed by Todd Gehr, M.D., professor and vice chair in the Department of Internal Medicine, Lynne Gehr, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, and Don Farthing, Ph.D., affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics; and an optimized surgical mesh for hernia repair, developed by Gary Bowlin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, and David Simpson, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

Commitment to human health

Community engagement

  • The VCU Medical Center’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program is working to bring more awareness to domestic violence through its Project Empower, a multidisciplinary initiative designed to help victims of intimate partner violence. Project Empower is unique because it is a hospital-based program that includes outside resources, such as the Virginia Center on Aging, YWCA of Richmond and Safe Harbor.
  • Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., a professor of psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has been appointed to serve as a member of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections. In this role, he will provide expert advice and recommendations Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. secretary of health and human services, on issues and topics pertaining to or associated with the protection of human research subjects.