Quest Fund Rewards Innovative Projects
University Public Affairs
Three years ago, an enterprising group of students launched a new organization at VCU called Emerging Healthcare Leaders, which aimed to bring together students from the various pre-health academic fields to collaborate on community service and education projects. Despite no initial budget and modest grassroots beginnings, the organization flourished from the start, rapidly gaining members and establishing a presence in the community.
Today, more than 1,000 students have participated in the organization’s events and activities, raising money for local charities, including $10,000 in one year, and providing health care education services to schools and low-income Richmond neighborhoods. The group also has enriched the pursuits of student participants with career-related efforts, such as a conference on the future of health care education that featured the deans of admissions from each of VCU’s health schools.
And now the organization’s ambitions have grown larger with the recent news that it was one of 10 projects to receive Quest Innovation Fund (QIF) awards. The $25,300 award will “enable us to put our long-term aims and projects in progress,” according to Qasim Kazmi, one of the organization’s co-founders and current national president, including making Emerging Healthcare Leaders a national model for similar student organizations on college campuses.
Kazmi said the Quest Innovation Fund award fits with the steady support Emerging Healthcare Leaders has received from the university.
“VCU creates a phenomenal environment to dream big,” said Kazmi, a senior biology major and pre-med student. “Beyond that there’s this extraordinary culture here that supports you and allows you to make any idea a reality.”
The Quest Innovation Fund is a new pool of funds designed to help fund innovative pilot initiatives at VCU that help the university realize “Quest for Distinction,” its strategic plan. Resembling a venture capital fund for the VCU community, the fund provides seed money – from non-public university funding sources – for projects that aim to advance Quest and to help VCU become the premier urban public research university in the United States. VCU will reward projects that provide enhancements to the classroom or laboratory experience, create efficiency improvements and employ novel uses of technology, among other possible realms.
The 10 projects selected for funding were originated by faculty, staff and students, spanning both campuses.
“Our inaugural Quest Innovation Fund award winners personify what is best about Virginia Commonwealth University,” said Michael Rao, president of VCU and the VCU Health System. “They represent the faculty, staff and student body, and disciplines ranging from medicine to mass communications. National research universities have a clear commitment to innovation in all places and by all people, and the Quest Innovation Fund is one more example of why VCU is among America’s Top 50 public research universities.
“I congratulate the award winners,” Rao said, “and more than that, I thank them for their enduring commitment to our great institution. And I look forward to seeing them make their ideas real through the QIF.”
Award amounts were as high as $50,000, though some recipients also carry matching funds to aid their work. The university received more than 100 applications for funds.
“We're excited about the wonderful first round of projects that the Quest Innovation Fund will support," said David Hanson, senior vice president and chief operating officer at VCU. "Given Dr. Rao's vision, these projects represent the cross-disciplinary strength of the university and demonstrate the type of disruptive innovation that the Quest for Distinction emphasizes."
Matt Woolman, director of creative entrepreneurship in the VCU School of the Arts, said the Quest Innovation Fund award will help the Creative Destruction Lab, the project he steers, to provide School of the Arts students with the seed money and space to pursue business ideas.
The project, which carries more than $150,000 in matching funds, will allow entrepreneurial-minded students to work in teams to develop startup ideas and attempt to make them a reality in the marketplace, taking advantage of the wider Richmond community where “the entrepreneurial ecosystem is blossoming,” Woolman said.
“This project will allow students to try business ideas in a low-risk, educational environment where they have access to resources inside and outside of the university,” Woolman said.
The complete list of Quest Innovation Fund recipients includes:
- 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”
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