Celebrating VCU’s Class of 2013


May Commencement 2013

One of my favorite events every year is commencement. It reminds me why we invest our hearts and souls in Virginia Commonwealth University, and what really matters — learning along with students how to improve the human experience.

Last month, we celebrated the commencement of about 4,900 students. They earned degrees in more than 220 programs and will become leaders in their fields and their communities. If you have not done so already, please take a moment to view the online gallery of photos and video from the ceremony. These photos and video are poignant reminders of our mission at VCU: transforming the lives of young women and men who will improve our world.

I am proud of our graduates and thank my faculty and staff colleagues who helped, supported and encouraged them during their time as students at VCU.

In total, VCU graduated nearly 7,400 students in 2012-13. That includes approximately 330 Ph.D.s, 440 first-professional degrees and nearly 1,700 master’s degrees. We also awarded about 19 percent more degrees than we did five years ago, despite an enrollment that is 2 percent smaller. This is a testament to so many who have focused on helping our students graduate on time while maintaining VCU’s commitment to academic rigor.

Budget includes new tuition rates, structure

VCU budget includes new tuition rates, structure

In order to meet the goals outlined in our strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, we need to ensure that our resources, including our financial resources, are appropriate for a national research university and aligned with our well-reasoned strategic needs.

At its May meeting, the Board of Visitors approved a 2013-14 budget that includes a tuition increase, a new market-based tuition pricing structure for incoming students and significant measures to cut costs and reallocate savings to the university’s core academic mission.

The board’s actions were taken against a backdrop of continuing fiscal challenges stemming from the economic crisis of five years ago, when VCU suffered the largest loss of state appropriation in its history. Despite recent increases in state funding for higher education, for which we are grateful, we are managing a sustained loss of nearly $52 million below the $205.6 million appropriation in 2008. To meet strategic goals as a nationally competitive research university, we require modest revenues to support faculty recruitment and retention and student success. We especially are focused on improving baccalaureate graduation rates and financial assistance for academically qualified students who demonstrate need.

The 2013-14 budget includes cost-cutting and operational efficiency changes resulting in a projected savings of more than $2.5 million annually that will be directed to financial aid and other core academic support. The budget also includes:

  • An annual $414, or 4.19 percent, increase in tuition and all mandatory fees for returning in-state undergraduate students. Out-of-state returning undergraduates will pay an increase of $951, or 3.98 percent.
  • The current block-pricing structure will remain in effect for returning students, who will continue to pay one price for a block of 12 to 18 credits, with overload pricing at 19 or more credits.
  • A per-credit-hour tuition structure for new undergraduate students (freshmen and transfers) based on the 2013-14 tuition and fees rate for the first 14 credits taken. Additional credits at 15 hours or more will be reduced by 50 percent.

More information can be found at www.budgetupdate.vcu.edu and www.mytuition.vcu.edu.

Doing more for children’s health

U.S. News & World Report ranks Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU among the nation’s best in nephrology services

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU has been ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s 2013-14 Best Children’s Hospitals list, ranking 50th in nephrology services.

The rankings are based on a hospital’s reputation among doctors nationwide, an extensive analysis of patient outcomes and data on the structural resources each hospital has for pediatric care. The publication’s editor said that “Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU deserves high praise. The ranking shows the dedication and expertise that Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU brings to the care of children who need those qualities the most.”

Though VCU Medical Center has been ranked many times in adult specialties, this is the first such national ranking for a pediatric specialty. It is one of the many reflections of the $17 million investment that, with the support of the Children’s Hospital Foundation, VCU has made to advance children’s health through new faculty recruitments to build and revitalize clinical programs. Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU saw an intense need in the Richmond community for kidney services and hired a comprehensive nephrology team that’s earning national acclaim. Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU is the only provider of pediatric nephrology services in Central Virginia, and is able to care for all aspects of renal disease, from dialysis to transplantation.

This is only one part of our continued commitment to children’s health in the Mid-Atlantic.

Last week, the VCU Health System announced that it has proposed a model for a new, free-standing children’s hospital to the VCU Health System Authority Board of Directors for its consideration. The proposal was inspired by pediatricians as well as donors in the community and represents the next phase of a multiyear plan to advance children’s health and is built on a solid foundation of top pediatric talent, comprehensive pediatric health programs and facilities dedicated to the unique needs of children. Having personally visited children’s hospitals in Charlotte, Denver and Chicago, I am very excited about our commitment to a hospital that will be dedicated to children.

While there are many details yet to be determined through continued collaboration with physicians, donors and the community, the proposed model includes a free-standing children’s hospital with an open medical staff, its own management structure and its own governing board with community representation.

In the coming weeks, leadership at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU will continue to meet with parents, physicians and other community members to review the proposed model and gather input. Potential sites for the new facility will be explored with input from the community before selecting a final location.

A diverse learning environment

VCU earns national accolades as a diverse institution

VCU’s commitment to diversity is not a tagline, nor is it superficial. We want to be one of the most diverse universities in the nation, because we recognize the inimitable value that diversity brings to the living-learning environment.

The nation is taking note of what we are doing at VCU.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently named VCU one of three institutions in the nation that “has made great strides in education success for Black and Hispanic students.” The graduation rate for African-American students at VCU has improved by more than 15 percentage points since 2004, and the rate has increased by more than 22 points over the same period for Hispanic students.

A few weeks ago, we learned that VCU had been named one of the “30 best U.S. colleges and universities for minorities” by the respected national website DiverseEducation.com. We share this distinction with such institutions as Harvard, Rutgers, Stanford, CUNY, RPI, University of Chicago, Florida State and more.

I am grateful for the leadership of Vice President for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Wanda Mitchell, Ed.D., who is making VCU an undisputed national leader in diversity, and to Vice Provost Joseph Marolla, Ph.D., and his staff in Instruction and Student Success who have worked tirelessly to improve retention across VCU.

I recognize that there is much work to do to achieve our goals with respect to diversity. I also recognize that we need everyone’s help to advance diversity at VCU.

New leaders across VCU

VCU welcomes new leaders

Last week, VCU announced the hiring of Marti Heil as our new vice president for development and alumni relations. She will join VCU this fall from the Indiana University Foundation, where she directed several capital campaigns that each exceeded $1 billion goals. Under her leadership, Indiana University, in 2010, was named first among public universities for overall fundraising results.

Marti is part of a nationally prominent leadership team lighting up VCU on the national map.

In recent weeks, we also brought aboard the inaugural director of the Institute for Contemporary Art. Lisa Freiman, Ph.D., will be joining VCU from the Indianapolis Museum of Art beginning July 1, and will also serve as a faculty member in the School of the Arts.

Freiman is an internationally respected curator and leader in the field of contemporary art. During her 10 years in Indianapolis, she exemplified how a smart, dynamic contemporary art program can energize and revitalize a city. She has also helped raise more than $10 million to support contemporary exhibitions, programs, collection development, scholarships and other initiatives.

John B. Adams, who has had a distinguished 40-year career in advertising and serves as chairman of The Martin Agency, has taken on the role of chairman of the VCU Brandcenter’s Board of Directors. Adams will help provide a plan to take the Brandcenter to the next level in educating top talent for agencies, clients and brands around the world.

In his time as an executive leader at Martin, he was at the helm of the agency’s most robust growth period, winning clients including GEICO, Walmart, Pizza Hut and Discover Card, among others. Adams was featured on the cover of Adweek in 2010, when The Martin Agency was named U.S. Agency of the Year.

William E. King has been named VCU’s new ombudsperson, effective Aug. 1. He brings more than 25 years of experience to VCU and joins us from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

Please join me in welcoming each of these new leaders to VCU.

Safety update

VCU Police Department upgrades its force, technology and procedures

I am continually impressed by the efforts of the VCU Police Department to keep the university community safe. We cannot operate efficiently and effectively as a national research university if we are not first and foremost safe to do so.

During the spring semester, our police department made numerous upgrades to its force, technology and procedures. These changes — which included 16 new officers — have already made a marked difference. Reported incidents of robbery on the VCU campus decreased from 10 in fall 2012 to three in spring 2013. Bicycle thefts declined by 19 percent and larcenies declined by 16 percent.

I am also proud of the police department’s efforts to hire veterans of the armed forces. Last week, the department received the Virginia Values Veterans bronze-level recognition. This makes VCU’s one of the few police departments anywhere in the commonwealth to receive this distinction.

This recognition goes to corporations and organizations that show a real commitment to hiring veterans. Last year’s class in the VCU Police Academy included 30 percent former military or reserves. My thanks to Chief John Venuti and Assistant Chief Christopher Preuss, who oversee the department’s efforts to hire veterans, for this important and ongoing commitment.

Quest for Distinction

Student Research Week features nearly 300 undergraduate students

Many thanks to all of those at VCU who are advancing the values of the Quest for Distinction strategic plan. Here are a few examples of VCU’s commitment to excellence:

Academic excellence
  • Nearly 300 undergraduate students presented more than 200 posters as part of Student Research Week this spring — our largest group of participants in this event’s history. The students also presented a new award, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Faculty Mentor Award, to acknowledge the role that faculty play in the undergraduate student research process. The inaugural award winners were Edward Crawford, Ph.D., Department of Biology; Todd Kitten, Ph.D., School of Dentistry; Scott Bowers, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry; Matthew Hartman, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry; and Dexian Ye, Ph.D., Department of Physics.
  • A book written by David Wojahn, a professor in the Department of English, has become one of the nation’s most honored books of poetry. World Tree received the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Poetry prize, which recognizes the most outstanding book of poetry published in the U.S. It was also awarded the Poet’s Prize, awarded to the best book of verse published by a living American poet, as well as the Library of Virginia 2012 Literary Award for Poetry. Wojahn is an outstanding member of a strong community of creative writers in VCU’s English department. We will add to that community further when Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Claudia Emerson joins our faculty this fall.
Pre-eminence in research
  • VCU faculty researchers received five of the total of 18 awards from the Virginia Innovation Partnership, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s i6 Challenge. The very competitive program provides proof-of-concept funding to advance early stage research and connects academic researchers with mentors, corporations and investors to accelerate commercialization of new discoveries. VCU’s five awards — including three that were fully funded — totaled $258,000, the highest amount for any university by a wide margin.
  • For many years, cell biologists have investigated how an enzyme called SphK1 functions and its role in lipid production, but they had no success in solving the mystery. A pair of VCU researchers has unlocked the mystery. In a recent international journal article, Sarah Spiegel, Ph.D., an internationally renowned researcher, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the VCU School of Medicine, together with Santiago Lima, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, discuss how the newly discovered atomic structure of SphK1 will significantly expand understanding of the molecule, which has been found to play a role in cancer progression, inflammation and cardiovascular disease. The molecule itself was originally discovered by Spiegel in the mid-1990s. Spiegel, who is also the program co-leader of the Cancer Cell Signaling Program at the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the Mann T. and Sara D. Lowry Distinguished Professor in Oncology, has received multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health to continuously fund her research for nearly 20 years. In 2003, she was awarded an NIH MERIT award totaling nearly $2.1 million to continue her research. That award is given only to investigators who have demonstrated superior competence and productivity.
Commitment to human health
  • Deborah Zimmermann, D.N.P., chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at the VCU Medical Center, has been elected the new chair of the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on the Magnet Recognition Program. The Magnet Recognition Program is the highest level of recognition awarded for nursing excellence around the world; VCU Medical Center was the first in Central Virginia to achieve Magnet designation back in 2006. As chair, Zimmerman will be a leader in making decisions on Magnet designation and renewal and evaluation of the strategic direction of the Magnet program.
  • Priscilla Mpasi, a third-year medical student, has been elected as national vice president of the Student National Medical Association. She will work alongside the national president to execute the organization’s agenda related to health disparities and to advance equality in health care access. Mpasi is the first VCU student ever elected to this national post. I have worked with her directly and can assure you that she will represent VCU exceptionally well.
Center for Human-Animal Interaction wins the 2013 Booker Willoughby Service Award in the category of educational programs
Community engagement
  • VCU students completed an astonishing 723,414 hours of community service during the 2012-13 academic year. This includes service-learning, community work-study, internships in the community, Greek life, clinical service in the community and service performed by our student organizations. I thank them for helping fulfill VCU’s commitment of service to our communities, and I am proud of their dedication and concern for others.
  • The Center for Human-Animal Interaction, part of VCU’s School of Medicine, was awarded the 2013 Booker Willoughby Service Award in the category of educational programs. The award recognizes organizational excellence in training, using and caring for service dogs. CHAI, founded in 2001, was the nation’s first center of its kind at a medical school. The program, which includes 45 volunteers and 30 therapy dogs, facilitated visits for more than 2,000 patients and 3,000 family members in VCU hospitals last year.