Helping our students succeed

More students than ever are enrolled in at least 15 credit hours, which will help ensure that they graduate in four years

In the past several weeks, I have had the good fortune to attend several meetings with our students at which I have asked them to share their thoughts about what we are doing well and in what ways we can improve.

I am continually impressed and inspired by our students and the thoughtful ways in which they view our world, including Virginia Commonwealth University. Our students remind all of us why we do what we do: to help improve and transform lives, create and innovate, and advance human understanding.

Our students are one of the reasons why VCU’s national profile continues to rise. Students will always be at the center of our mission, and we will all always do everything we can to help ensure that they succeed as scholars and as leaders in their fields and communities.

That is why our focus at VCU emphasizes graduating more students. We are already seeing the reality of those efforts: More students than ever are enrolled in at least 15 credit hours, including 73 percent of our new freshmen. Only 60 percent of freshmen took 15 hours last fall. As students enroll in more courses per semester, they can graduate more quickly and be less likely to incur large student loan debts.

We have, for a long time, not done well enough in helping students pay for their education, even though our tuition has remained low compared to our research university peers. VCU has not been able to offer competitive financial aid to many students, meaning they often graduate with student loans.

We are committed to addressing this in several ways:

  • By continuing to invest in the resources, such as faculty, advisers and living-learning spaces that will help our students graduate in a timely fashion. This includes ensuring that students have every opportunity to take the classes they need when they need them, including more robust online options.
  • By ensuring that we admit and enroll students who can succeed at and continue to elevate VCU as a major national research university.
  • By securing and leveraging our resources, including more competitive financial aid for undergraduates and stipends packages for graduate students. Marti Heil, our new vice president for development and alumni relations, and Bill Decatur, J.D., our new vice president for finance and administration, both began Sept. 16 and have already begun helping with these and other objectives.

An up-and-coming national university

U.S. News & World Report named VCU a 2014 “Up-and-Coming” national university

Last month, U.S. News & World Report named VCU a 2014 “Up-and-Coming” national university in its annual “Best Colleges” rankings, the first time we have received this prestigious honor.

This is based on a survey of our colleagues around the nation who were asked to nominate institutions they think have recently made the most promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics, faculty, student life, campus or facilities. More information on this national acknowledgment is available here.

Collaborative partnerships lead to historic grants

Robert Balster, Ph.D., a co-principal investigator on a grant to study so-called modified risk tobacco products and other novel tobacco products

In the past several weeks, research teams at VCU have secured two of the largest grants in the university’s history. Both are the result of national leadership.

My last update mentioned our $62.2 million award from the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to study the consequences of traumatic brain injuries. This is the largest research grant ever awarded to VCU.

Then, a few weeks ago, we received our third-largest grant ever, $18.1 million from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, to study the effects of novel tobacco products like e-cigarettes and to develop an evaluation tool to help inform U.S. tobacco regulatory policy.

These two significant research grants — totaling more than $80 million — do much to advance VCU’s profile nationally. It is important to note that they represent cross-disciplinary teams that really span VCU.

For example, the TBI study is based in VCU’s Center of Rehabilitation Science and Engineering, which is home to researchers, clinicians, specialists and academicians from the schools of Medicine, Allied Health Professions, Education and Engineering. The tobacco study is led by researchers in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, the School of Medicine and Massey Cancer Center.

This highlights the critical importance of collaborative partnerships in all areas of VCU. As we continue to progress as a national public research university, it is more important than ever that we leverage the talent and resources existing throughout VCU to advance our mission that is focused on helping people succeed.

Thank you for being deliberate in your efforts to collaborate in innovative new ways across every entity of VCU.

Quest Innovation Fund resources available again

Yan Jin, Ph.D., received funding from the Quest Innovation Fund last year for her project, the Center for Media+Health

We are offering another round of entrepreneurial seed funding through the Quest Innovation Fund. Introduced last year, the QIF helps kick-start the best ideas from across the university and health system to advance and implement VCU’s Quest for Distinction strategic plan.

The application process is open now through the end of the day, Sunday, Nov. 3. The application is available on the QIF website. Any VCU faculty member, staff member or student may submit a proposal of up to $50,000 to help fund their idea.

Much more information, including how submissions will be scored and examples of funded projects from 2012-13, is available on the QIF website.

Safety update

LiveSafe, a new mobile app, helps connect the VCU community with VCU police

You may have noticed an increased visibility of officers around both campuses, and that is very intentional. VCU Police Chief John Venuti has made sure officers are visible during those hours in which members of our university community say they most want to see police, and when officers are most likely to prevent crime.

Their efforts are working: Thanks to hard work by VCU Police and vigilance by members of the VCU community, incidents of theft dropped by 9 percent last year.

While we have one of the largest and best university police forces in America, safety at VCU is really everyone’s responsibility. I know I can count on every member of our community to take an active role in ensuring his or her safety and keeping our campuses welcoming and inviting places to learn, live, work and visit.

As part of this responsibility, VCU Police has made available a new mobile app called LiveSafe, which is available for free for iPhones or Android phones. The app makes it incredibly easy to connect and share information with VCU Police, including reporting suspicious or potentially dangerous situations.

Also, please take steps to combat theft — which, despite our progress, is still the most common crime on campus — by securing your possessions, never leaving anything unattended or in plain sight and locking your residence and vehicle. Many incidents of theft are preventable.

Research update

VCU’s sponsored research for FY 2013 totaled about $248 million

For FY 2013, VCU’s sponsored research totaled about $248 million, an increase over pre-stimulus funding levels (FY09). Despite large decreases in federal funding because of sequestration, our faculty exceeded FY09 awards for National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation funding by more than $5 million.