logo for VCU's annual \"what new at VCU\" story. the logo says \"what's new, VCU?\"
Illustration by Olivia Libbey.

What’s new, VCU?

From buildings to dining options and a new living-learning program, here’s a look at what’s changed since last year.

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The fall semester is in full swing and VCU’s campus is more bustling than it has been in quite some time. With more than 5,700 students living on campus and roughly two-thirds of classes being either fully in person or with an in-person component, things may not be back to their pre-pandemic state, but we are finding creative ways to come together, better.

As you return to campus (or keep an eye on things from afar if you’re still working or studying from home) here are some new faces, programs, resources, buildings and more to know about. 

New year, new academic programs to explore

VCU is adding several new options to its 200-plus degree and certificate programs. In addition, this fall VCU launched 20 new fast-track opportunities that let academically qualified students earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in as few as five years. The new programs for 2021-22 are:

Digital rendering of the inside of Ram City Market.
Digital rendering of the inside of Ram City Market.

Grab a bite at someplace new

New places to eat are always welcome additions. On the Monroe Park Campus, two new eateries are expected to open this academic year at the University Student Commons: Steak ‘n Shake and Za’atar. Steak ‘n Shake is a classic American brand famous for its original Steakburger and hand-dipped milkshakes. Za’atar will feature Mediterranean cuisine flavored with spices from around the globe.

Also set to open in early spring is Ram City Market, which will offer fresh produce, grocery items, to-go coffee, made-to-order sandwiches and more in the spot at 912 W. Grace St. formerly occupied by a campus Walmart. Already open in the Engineering Research Building is Au Bon Pain Ram Bytes, a grab-and-go version of the full Au Bon Pain café on West Grace Street. 

On the MCV Campus, the Gateway Building will be adding a Starbucks to its dining options next month.

Illustration of a brown paper bag

Shift the way you shop

If you stop in the da Vinci Center’s Shift Retail Lab after it opens in November, there’s no telling what you’ll find. And that’s part of the beauty of it. The shop is envisioned as multifunctional retail space where students and alumni of all disciplines can showcase their work to gain insights and test their products, services and ideas with real customers. 

Located across the street from the Siegel Center in the Grace and Broad Residence Center 2 at 1235 W. Broad St., construction of the shop was made possible thanks to a partnership with Hourigan Group. VCU Brandcenter students created the branding. This new storefront will let entrepreneurial-minded students get their ideas and products in front of the public. And it provides a chance to buy innovative items you won’t find anywhere else.

Transforming the living-learning experience 

The first cohort of VCU Transform, a living-learning program for undergraduates of sophomore standing or above, settled into West Grace Street Student Housing — North last month. The students live together, take classes that are part of a specialized curriculum and participate in co-curricular activities. 

Students in the program will develop as local, national and global leaders through experiential learning in leadership studies, community engagement and global competency, and they’ll receive a Certificate of Completion in Leadership Studies and Experiential Learning. Applications for the 2022-23 cohort will open on Oct. 11. 

Inside the new Engineering Research Building.

From the ground up

If you haven’t been on campus much in the past few months, or even a year, you may be noticing and wondering about some new buildings and construction underway.

On the Monroe Park Campus, the Engineering Research Building at the corner of Cary and Belvidere streets opened in February but its spaces and labs are finally in full use this semester. The new facility connects the College of Engineering’s East Hall and the VCU School of Business’ Snead Hall and boasts a Collaboration Hub, Innovation Courtyard, wet and dry research labs, a makerspace and more, not to mention a new place to grab a bite to eat. If you stroll along Franklin Street, you’ll see that a lot of progress has been made on the College of Humanities and Sciences’ new science, technology, engineering and mathematics building, which replaced the old Franklin Street Gym. Once it’s completed in spring 2023, the six-story building will hold classrooms, labs, offices, the Math Exchange, computer labs, a Science Learning Center and common space where students from different disciplines can collaborate.

About a mile and a half away on the MCV Campus, the 17 stories of the Adult Outpatient Pavilion are towering up to the sky and nearing completion, which is expected in December. The pavilion will offer a wide array of outpatient services as well as diagnostic testing, medical imaging, a pharmacy, an on-site laboratory and parking all in one building. VCU Massey Cancer Center will have its own lobby, elevator and entire floors dedicated to cancer services. Construction is also underway on the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s inpatient and emergency tower. The state-of-the-art, child-friendly facility is set to open in spring 2023. 

Further afield, the VCU Rice Rivers Center research facility will be opening next month, dramatically enhancing environmental researchers’ ability to conduct their work on-site. It adds 14,000 square feet of offices, collaborative/teaching spaces and research laboratories for students, faculty, staff and non-VCU collaborators

New online tools for students (and their families)

Figuring out finances as a college student can be a challenge, but VCU’s Student Financial Services is committed to providing resources, both in person and online, to smooth the way. They’ve introduced a number of new digital tools, such as a chatbot that will pop up when you visit their website (as well as the Records and Registration website). This virtual assistant, appropriately named Rambot, scans the sites daily and stores info that can answer user questions 24/7. If Rambot doesn’t know the answer, it redirects users to contact staff via phone or email.

illustration of a calculator

Another useful tool is the new Net Price Calculator and Financial Aid Award Estimator. It provides prospective freshmen and their families with an early evaluation of educational costs and financial aid opportunities. Whether you have questions about financing college or want assistance with financial planning, VCU’s financial counselors can help. Current and prospective students can schedule one-on-one virtual appointments with their financial counselors Monday through Friday. And if you’re on campus and want to meet with staff in person, there’s a new tool that makes it more convenient. Join the line and wait wherever you want by using RamQ: You’ll be notified when it’s your turn to come to Harris Hall and meet with a staff member.

We’ve moved! Plus … a merger 

While units and offices change spaces pretty regularly at VCU, here are two important moves to know about that may have happened since you were last on campus. RamTech, VCU’s computer and technology store, moved from its home on Grace Street. It’s now located inside the Barnes and Noble at 1111 W. Broad St. Meanwhile, if you’re looking to rent a free bike or get help with maintenance on your own bike, you can now find RamBikes on the first floor of the Ackell Residence Center at 1106 W. Broad St.

And while it doesn’t involve a physical move, changes are afoot for two VCU units vital to daily campus life: This summer, the VCU Health Promotion and Well-Being Center (The Well) and Recreational Sports completed a semesterlong integration process to become one department that better serves the health and well-being needs of the VCU community. The new unit, RecWell, will continue to offer the same wide variety of programs and services that support student well-being, such as group exercise, outdoor adventure, intramural sports, personal training, aquatics, outreach on health topics, publication of the popular Stall Seat Journal and more.      

Leading the way

Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., became VCU’s chief academic officer Aug. 1 when he began his position as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D.
Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D.

Before coming to VCU, Sotiropoulos served as interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Stony Brook University, where he led the academic affairs response to COVID-19, helped lead Stony Brook’s strategic budget initiatives and restructured the provost office to add vice provost positions focused on curriculum innovation and diversity, equity and inclusion. He also served as dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Stony Brook for the past five years. Sotiropoulos is recognized nationally and internationally for his research contributions in computational fluid dynamics with applications in wind and tidal energy systems, river hydromechanics, cardiovascular fluid dynamics and aquatic swimming. He has published more than 200 peer-reviewed journal papers and book chapters. 

Irene Herold, Ph.D
Irene Herold, Ph.D

VCU Libraries also welcomed a new leader on Aug. 1. Irene Herold, Ph.D., who was previously the librarian of the college at the College of Wooster, is now dean of VCU Libraries and university librarian. Herold led Wooster’s three libraries and was instrumental in modernizing library spaces for student success as well as focusing on staff development via cultural competency work and participation in immersion programs and digital scholarship initiatives. She is the author of two books, “Leading Together: Academic Library Consortia and Advocacy” and “Creating Leaders: An Examination of Academic and Research Library Leadership Institutes,” as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters. 

Tackling health inequities head-on 

Hot off the presses, VCU Health Sciences established a new Office of Health Equity this month. This office serves as the hub for connecting the talent and expertise at the university and the health system with that of community organizations. This work is to develop and build partnerships focused on addressing health inequities and disparities.

Focus areas include educational programs such as History and Health; increasing the quantity and quality of health equity research; and expanding on the university and health system’s initiatives to address social determinants of health that impact the communities we serve. Other examples of this office’s work include tackling equitable vaccine distribution and responding to the inequities and disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on minority and senior populations.

A sign outlining face mask requirements inside Cabell Library.
A sign outlining face mask requirements inside Cabell Library. (File photo)

Not technically new but … 

We’d be remiss if we didn’t remind the VCU community to pay attention to communications detailing the university’s response to the pandemic throughout the coming school year. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that change is the only constant when it comes to COVID-19. Students, faculty and staff receive frequent emails from together@vcu.edu with updates and details on changes to VCU’s guidelines, precautions and rules. Those communications are posted on together.vcu.edu along with detailed information, resources and FAQs. Staying up to date is part of being responsible together as we all strive to keep VCU as safe and healthy as possible.