VCU awarded Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award

INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine has selected Virginia Commonwealth University as a recipient of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award.

The HEED Award is a national honor recognizing U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. VCU will be one of 96 recipients recognized in the November 2018 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education.

This is the second time VCU has been named as a HEED Award recipient. The first was in 2012, the inaugural year of the awards.

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What’s new at VCU for 2018-19

A grassy courtyard with outdoor seating stretches out behind the building at the new Gladding Residence Center.

A grassy courtyard with outdoor seating stretches out behind the building at the new Gladding Residence Center.

While Virginia Commonwealth University likes to commemorate its heritage, including throwing its own 50th birthday party this month, the university is most focused on its present and future. Every year, VCU introduces exciting new programs, people and places to the university and local communities.

Here’s a sampling of what’s new at VCU this year.

VCU raises $125.8M in record-setting fundraising year

The Make It Real Campaign for VCU logo.

In total, 29,857 donors made gifts to VCU and VCU Health in fiscal year 2018. VCU received 11 gifts of $1 million or more.

Virginia Commonwealth University had its most successful fundraising year to date in fiscal year 2018, raising $125.8 million.

The university’s previous top year was 2012, when a $45 million bequest from the estate of Arthur and Margaret Glasgow lifted the tally to $120.7 million.

The record-setting year comes amid the largest fundraising effort in the university’s history. The Make It Real Campaign for VCU began with a quiet phase in July 2012 and launched publicly in September 2016. It counts all funds raised through June 30, 2020.

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VCU awarded $1M to engage more students in science regardless of background

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has selected 33 colleges and universities, including Virginia Commonwealth University, for its 2018 Inclusive Excellence initiative, which aims to help schools find ways to engage more students in science ­­­— especially those from underrepresented groups, such as minorities, first-generation students, and working adults with families.

The 33 selected schools join the 24 selected in 2017, making a total of 57 schools that will each receive $1 million in grant support over five years. The schools will work with the institute and its partner, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, to implement culture change.

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Bucket Brigade: Office of Sustainability interns design, transform buckets at Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden

Volunteers planting crops in buckets at the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden.

Volunteers plant crops in buckets at the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden.

Interns in the Office of Sustainability have decorated more than 125 food-grade buckets to create a colorful border — and more growing space — for the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden. The garden, located behind the Cary Street Parking Deck, grows food for donation to Virginia Commonwealth University’s RamPantry and the nonprofit Center for Healthy Hearts.

“We are increasing our growing space at a low cost, fostering creative expression through art and ensuring the best portable growing environment for our veggies,” said Erin Stanforth, director of sustainability. “By cultivating an imaginative environment in our garden, we hope it will attract more interested community members to be involved.”Designs vary from simple stripes to an elaborate replica of the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” album cover — complete with beetles replacing John, Paul, George and Ringo on the crosswalk. Other buckets feature a “give peas a chance” design, ice cream cones and windmills.

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Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU fall exhibitions will explore race and identity

“Provocations” by artist Rashid Johnson.

This fall, the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University will present two exhibitions featuring leading international contemporary artists, including two new site-specific commissions.

Opening simultaneously on Oct. 17, “Provocations: Rashid Johnson” and “Hedges, Edges, Dirt” explore socially and culturally specific issues that relate to race, identity and the environment in nuanced, conceptual and poetic ways. Through these, the ICA will continue presenting exhibitions that engage audiences with dynamic programming on themes of social relevance and local resonance.

“Building from our inaugural exhibition, ‘Declaration,’ we have continued to ask what the ICA can contribute to our place and time,” said Stephanie Smith, ICA chief curator. “These new projects by an extraordinary group of artists will activate the Markel Center in fresh and beautiful ways and catalyze conversations that reach beyond our walls.”

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50 years after Virginia’s first heart transplant, $1M gift breathes new life into historic lab

The former laboratory of Richard Lower, M.D., the pioneering surgeon who performed the first heart transplant in Virginia in 1968, will be transformed into a $5 million suite of research facilities.

How in the world do you thank anyone for saving your life three times?” It’s a poignant question for David Cottrell.

When Cottrell arrived at VCU Medical Center, he thought he had the flu. He had no idea just how ill he was — or how much time he would spend in the hospital. His actual diagnosis: a staph infection, which led first to bacterial spinal meningitis, then spread to his heart valves. He experienced multiple strokes and began to experience multisystem organ failure.

The outlook seemed bleak, but a large, diverse team at VCU Medical Center oversaw Cottrell’s care, navigating each challenge and complication that arose. Through the most harrowing times of his illness, he and his wife, Christy, never gave up. “We never lost faith in the quality of the care or team that surrounded us,” Christy Cottrell said. And the couple took advantage of the academic health center’s collaborative approach, listening to the team and knowing that the team was listening to them. After 10 months and four surgeries ­­— including three open-heart procedures — David Cottrell was truly on the road to recovery.

“I have been able to retire, spend more time with my family, travel and focus on the things I love,” Cotrell said of his life today. “I was able to walk my daughter Leah down the aisle. I owe the teams at VCU my life.”

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Scientist, artist, inventor, dean: The many sides of Shawn Brixey

After two semesters at VCU, Shawn Brixey sees the School of the Arts in the position of upholding a large legacy, while at the same time projecting into the future.

At first glance, Shawn Brixey’s lab looks like any other in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering.

For starters, there are optical isolation tables, lasers, video microscopes, circuit board printers, oscilloscopes, and computer numeric control machine tools. It looks and feels a lot like a hybrid physics/engineering lab.

Brixey, dean of the VCU School of the Arts since July, is perhaps the first art school dean to have a laboratory rather than a studio. To be sure, Brixey is a rarity — equal parts artist and scientist.

With strong arts, design, science and engineering knowledge — and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology education — Brixey is equally comfortable among scientists as he is with artists. He recognizes that scientists share the same sense of awe and wonder, derived from the same place, as artists.

“We use different methodology and we approach creative problem solving differently,” he said. “But one of our fundamental goals is as we experience the structure and behavior of the world around us through observation, experiment, intervention and expression, we both want to discover what it means to be human and then document that in ways that no one’s ever really imagined.”

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With a $1M gift, alumna Iris Harrell and wife Ann Benson create a new scholarship for gender, sexuality and women’s studies at VCU

Ann Benson and Iris Harrell have made a $1 million planned gift to the College of Humanities and Sciences to support students studying in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

When Iris Harrell’s (M.E.’75/E) parents got divorced during her junior year at what is now the University of Mary Washington, her college education was left in jeopardy. She didn’t have enough money to supplement the scholarships that had allowed her to be the first member of her North Carolina farming family to attend college.

“But [Mary Washington administrators] went into a back room and found some scholarships that they hadn’t awarded,” Harrell said. “They just gave it to me and I was able to finish school. And my life has been way different — and better — because I got a college degree.”

Harrell, who went on to earn a master’s degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education in 1975, taught for several years, was a touring folk musician and ultimately founded a successful construction and remodeling company in California with her wife, Ann Benson, is now giving back to help students like her obtain an education.

Harrell and Benson have made a $1 million planned gift to the College of Humanities and Sciences to create the Harrell-Benson Scholarship for students in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

“Scholarships are about your legacy,” Harrell said. “I got mine. I want to make sure that the next generation of people get theirs.”

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VCU College of Engineering breaks ground on new research building and makerspace

From left: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Barbara Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering; and VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., break ground on VCU’s Engineering Research Building.

Virginia Commonwealth University leaders and dignitaries gathered Tuesday to break ground on a 133,000-square-foot research building that will significantly expand the College of Engineering’s laboratory capacity and serve as a collaboration hub for students and faculty.

The new Engineering Research Building, scheduled to open in 2020, will support advanced research and economic development with a design that emphasizes makerspaces, collaborative research facilities and flexible gathering areas. Richmond-based architecture firms Baskervill and Smith McClane Architects and Boston-based firm Goody Clancy designed the $93 million building, which is being financed by investments from the state, VCU and private support. Washington, D.C.-based Page/SST Planners designed the laboratory spaces. Continue reading