Game-changers advancing our Quest ambitions

The future Institute for Contemporary Art

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.

Dr. Bennett with colleaguesState budget includes funding for VCU Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center

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.

Looming federal budget cuts may affect VCU

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:

 

Congratulations to each of these distinguished individuals from across the university who are advancing Quest in myriad ways.

Student-athlete D.J. Haley participates in engineering design expo

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.

This is not surprising given the well-rounded quality of the university’s student-athletes. Two members of the men’s soccer team were recently selected in the Major League Soccer draft.

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.

VCU ranks No. 23 in GreenMetric University World Rankings

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.

New RamSafe program debuts on campus

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

Many thanks to the numerous people at VCU who are advancing the values of the 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

Pre-eminence in research

Commitment to human health

Community engagement

  • 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.