During the past two years, we have all worked hard to make the ambitions outlined in our Quest for Distinction strategic plan into our new reality. I am so proud of the astonishing progress that Virginia Commonwealth University has made. Through deliberate and strategic actions, a series of game-changers has moved the needle quickly for VCU. The university’s advancement is a direct result of your commitment and your accomplishments.
One prominent example is the 2012 move to the Atlantic 10 Conference, one of America’s strongest athletic leagues. And while VCU has enjoyed great success in the A-10 so far, we recognize that what this move really represents is that VCU is no longer considered “mid-major” in anything we do, from athletics to our most important core, academics. VCU is no longer a stepping stone to another institution for anyone. It is a destination university in every way — from freshman students, to patients, to basketball coaches and national-caliber faculty members.
Through the new Division of Strategic Enrollment Management, the university has redefined what it means to be a VCU student, attracting more diverse students who will thrive in a research university environment. Although applications continue to increase, we are admitting fewer students. As a result, our current freshman class had the highest GPA and SAT scores of any entering class in university history. We are also graduating more students than ever — about 7,500 last year — fueled by a graduation rate that has increased by 27 percent in the past decade or so. Our focus will continue to transition from student volume to student success.
Another example is the recent formation of the executive leadership team, which, like at most major research universities, leverages the presidency more strategically and in terms of resource development, with less of an emphasis on day-to-day management and more on governance. This is key to the implementation of Quest. As we begin to operate differently, it is important that all of us begin to think differently about VCU as a truly national university.
We will continue to focus on game-changers that will accelerate our progress, not just for 2013 but long term. I will reaffirm my support for our efforts to implement Quest, including focusing on fundraising and growing our endowment; engaging with policy and thought leaders and decision-makers in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and around the nation; furthering our focus on academic standards; ensuring that we have unprecedented learning spaces, like the forthcoming Institute for Contemporary Art, to match our unmatchable people; and enhancing our ability to move our innovations from the laboratories and clinics to the marketplace and to people who can benefit from them quickly and efficiently.
An important reason for our focus on resource expansion is you — our people. People-intensive environments with the talent that grows every day at our institution require growing resources to help ensure that we increase our competitiveness nationally. I remain committed to improving funding for students and compensation for faculty and staff.
Our agenda remains ambitious, but my passion is growing because of the progress we have made together. I believe more now than ever that we will be a Top 50 public research university soon. I look forward to continuing to work together with all of you.
Widespread support for VCU
We are so grateful that Gov. Bob McDonnell has included $250,000 in his biennial budget for the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center at VCU, the only center of its kind in the commonwealth. Neither the House nor the Senate has modified this funding in the respective budgets, so we remain optimistic that the funding will be made available to support our continued clinical care for patients suffering from Parkinson’s and similar diseases, research to find treatments, and education and outreach efforts. VCU is on the front lines of the fight against these diseases that impact 300,000 Virginians, and we deeply appreciate the support of Gov. McDonnell and the General Assembly.
In addition, the School of Dentistry received a $500,000 grant from the Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation to create an endowed scholarship to be awarded to dental students who, after graduating, hope to practice in chronically underserved areas of the commonwealth. These scholarships are the first donation of their kind from the Delta Dental Foundation and are part of Opportunity VCU, an initiative led by the alumni association to raise $50 million for merit-based student scholarships across the university.
The effects of sequestration
Much has been said in the national news about sequestration, a series of cuts to the federal budget that total $1.2 trillion and are scheduled to take effect March 1. These cuts are split between defense and domestic discretionary spending and include dramatic reductions in the budgets of many federal agencies that fund research at VCU.
Under sequestration, we estimate that VCU’s total federal grant portfolio could see budget reductions of $12-$21 million by the end of September 2013. That includes National Institutes of Health funding to VCU, which could drop by about $11 million this year. The NIH is a principal source of research funding to Massey Cancer Center and our prestigious Clinical and Translational Science Award.
Some forms of student aid, including federal work-study, could lose up to $50 million in funding nationally. However, the Pell Grant and tuition benefits for active duty service members and veterans would likely not be affected by sequestration.
Black History Month
We are proud to be the most diverse university in the commonwealth — and one of the most diverse research universities in the nation. That is why VCU features a schedule of celebrations and events to celebrate Black History Month.
Among the events is a sold-out lecture by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee, an Emmy award winner and two-time Academy Award nominee. He has produced more than 35 films, most of them exploring issues of politics, race, crime and the media. Lee’s lecture and question-and-answer session, which is reserved for VCU faculty, staff and students, is at 7 p.m. on Feb. 21. The presentation is sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Black Caucus @ VCU, the Media, Art and Text program, the College of Humanities and Sciences and the Division for Health Sciences Diversity.
View more information and see the complete list of Black History Month events.
Quest Innovation Fund award winners
In its inaugural year, the Quest Innovation Fund received more than 100 applications for funding from faculty, staff and students. Of those, 10 were selected for funding. Those projects are:
- Austin Callwood Jr., staff member, Department of Management: “Development and Improvement of the Entrepreneurship Program at VCU”
- Nicole Colomb, Enterprise and Economic Development executive: “VCU Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program”
- Danielle Dick, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry: “Integrating Research and Prevention Programming to Reduce Risky Alcohol Use among VCU Students”
- Sheryl Garland, vice president of health policy and community relations, VCU Health System: “HELP for VCC and the Daily Planet: Implementing a Student-Led Health Literacy Program for Underserved Patients”
- Yan Jin, Ph.D., interim director, School of Mass Communications: “Creating a VCU Center for Media+Health: A Collaborative Hub for Human Communication Science and Practice”
- Qasim Kazmi, senior biology major, and Usman Chaudhry, junior chemistry major: “Emerging Healthcare Leaders on a National Level”
- Micah McCreary, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology: “The BEST (Brothers, Energized, Spirited, Talented) Project”
- Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Theatre: “The Initiative for Conciliation, Alliance Building, Recognition and Engagement (CARE)”
- Nihar Sheth, instructor, Center for the Study of Biological Complexity: “Research and Experience Opportunities for Students (REOS)”
- Matt Woolman, director of creative entrepreneurship, School of the Arts: “Creative Destruction Lab”
Congratulations to each of these distinguished individuals from across the university who are advancing Quest in myriad ways.
Athletes succeeding in the classroom, on the field
While we expect VCU’s student-athletes to excel in their various sports, we also push them to be students first. I am very proud that last fall, the average GPA among our student-athletes in all sports was 3.02. That includes nine members of our men’s basketball team who carry a GPA of at least 3.0.
VCU’s student-athletes certainly succeed in competition, too. In fact, taken together, VCU’s sports teams have the highest combined winning percentage of any university in Virginia.
Jason Johnson was selected as the No. 13 overall pick by the Houston Dynamo. He was also the first VCU player to sign a Generation Adidas deal, a prestigious designation reserved for the best collegiate soccer players, which guarantees him at least two years in the MLS with a salary above league minimum and awards him a stipend to complete his education at VCU. Juan Arbelaez was selected by the Montreal Impact in the third round of the MLS supplemental draft. The VCU men’s soccer team finished last season ranked in the nation’s Top 25.
International recognition for sustainability
Last month, Universitas Indonesia released its prestigious and influential GreenMetric University World Rankings, which identify a university’s commitment to sustainability and sustainable practices. VCU ranked No. 23 internationally, out of nearly 200 universities. Among the 26 American universities on the list, VCU was No. 10. I continue to be proud of everyone’s efforts to promote sustainability and responsibility in every way we can.
A new way to travel safely
Perhaps you have noticed the new “RamSafe” vans on campus, which are part of our continued commitment to a safe and healthy university environment. This shuttle system debuted last month and is designed to help members of the VCU community get home safely after hours. The service to on-campus and nearby locations runs from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily and allows passengers to request a ride through their computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Riders can even track their ride online, meaning they can wait in a safe place for it to arrive. RamSafe is a free service and is available to any VCU employee or student (a valid eID is required). Log in during operating hours for more information on this service.
Quest for Distinction
I am proud that excellence occurs all over the university, in so many ways. Here are a few examples:
- Three VCU students have received scholarships through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program for study abroad during spring 2013.
- Jeffrey Caesar, a political science senior in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, will study at the School for International Training in Nepal.
- Joseph Morina, a biology senior, will conduct biological research at Curtin University in Australia.
- Sean Ruecroft, a kinetic imaging junior, will study at the University of the West of England.
- Toni-Leslie James, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre, will be costume designer for the upcoming Broadway play “Lucky Guy,” which was written by the late Nora Ephron and is actor Tom Hanks’ Broadway debut. Also among James’ design team will be graduate student Joshua Quinn and senior Virginia Varland. “Lucky Guy” opens on Broadway on April 1.
Pre-eminence in research
- Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., Commonwealth Professor in the Department of Physics, is one of 12 recipients of the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia’s 2013 Outstanding Faculty Awards. This is the highest honor the commonwealth bestows upon faculty members for excellence in teaching, research, knowledge integration and public service. To celebrate the excellence in research, creativity and innovation that is so pervasive at VCU, we have launched a new research-related blog called “Across the Spectrum.” Developed by the Division of University Relations and managed by University Public Affairs, “Across the Spectrum” offers a chance to explore emerging trends in research in the fields of medicine, technology, engineering, humanities, life sciences, social sciences, business and the arts. For more information and for free subscription to the blog, visit www.spectrum.vcu.edu.
Commitment to human health
- VCU Massey Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU have jointly earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for their palliative care programs, making them the only certified palliative care programs in Virginia. Palliative care provides specialized, multidisciplinary care for patients with serious illnesses by addressing physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.
- Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D., chairman of the Division of Cardiology at the VCU Pauley Heart Center; Richard Shepard, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine; and Jay Koneru, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine, are leaders in a groundbreaking approach to reduce stroke risks in patients. They are the first surgeons in the region to treat blood clots in the heart using the cutting-edge LARIAT Suture Delivery Device, which uses a minimally invasive, non-surgical approach and eliminates the need for major surgery in many patients.
- Children from the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind recently visited the VCU Rice Center for a weekend of experiential science. The visit — organized by biology graduate student Jaimie Gillespie and supported by 12 other students and three members of the faculty and staff — allowed 13- to 18-year-old visually and hearing-impaired children to engage in scientific field work using atmospheric equipment, conduct experiments on photosynthesis and other natural processes and assist VCU researchers with tracking fish and birds, among other projects.
- For the second consecutive year — and eighth time overall — VCU Medical Center has received a Consumer Choice Award for providing quality health care services. The award is based on a survey of more than 450,000 Virginia residents, who recognized the medical center’s quality of patient care, quality of doctors and nurses, and overall image and reputation among more than 3,000 hospitals across the commonwealth.