A blooming cherry blossom tree in front of the VCU Student Commons building
"Working across disciplines enables the best and most creative minds to come together to make an exceptional impact on the communities we serve, and around the world," said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. (University Marketing)

VCU invests nearly $4.4 million in faculty innovators to address societal grand challenges

Funded projects align with the university’s new strategic research plan.

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As part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s expansion of its research enterprise and commitment to enhancing the human experience, the university is providing nearly $4.4 million in new internal funding to 55 transdisciplinary projects led by faculty innovators and scholars to address societal grand challenges.

Last fall, Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health, announced his support for a new strategic research priorities plan that promotes transdisciplinary innovation with the power to shape the future through transformational public impact and positions VCU as “the model of a public research university.”

The One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan embraces the university’s history of excellence in the arts and humanities and its advancements in science, medicine and engineering, as well as its engagement with the surrounding innovative and entrepreneurial ecosystem. The plan has four guiding research themes: enriching the human experience, achieving a just and equitable society, optimizing health, and supporting sustainable energy and environments.

“Truly public research universities like VCU are the institutions best positioned to find answers to difficult questions and societal challenges,” Rao said. “I’m pleased to see so many faculty members across our campus embracing a culture of collaboration, leveraging their strengths to propose projects that truly address basic translational, clinical research and complex societal needs. Working across disciplines enables the best and most creative minds to come together to make an exceptional impact on the communities we serve, and around the world.”

Over the past several months, the university’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation oversaw the creation of new internal investments and requests for faculty proposals aligned with the strategic plan. The office received 170 applications for the new funding programs: the Accelerate Fund, the Breakthroughs Fund, the Quest Fund and, additionally, in partnership with the Office of the Provost, the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Fund.

The funds came with stipulations for the investigators to leverage the new funds to not only advance the goals of VCU's research priorities but also to garner extramural funding to further advance research in these fields. While embracing VCU’s diverse strengths for inclusive excellence, applicants were encouraged to include junior faculty, students (graduate and undergraduate) and trainees from backgrounds underrepresented in the research enterprise.

“The foundation of our strength is our collaborative community of field-shapers with diverse experiences among our three campuses, including VCUarts Qatar. This is essential for achieving transformative innovation,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation.

“Tackling research in both basic and applied sciences and issues that now confront society are so complex that solutions are typically not readily available in a single discipline. The problems we will address through the various funding programs we have deployed will not only advance fundamental and applied research across STEM, health, humanities, arts and social sciences, but will significantly impact the community we serve, and remain relevant across the nation and the globe.”

Three crescent shapes that form a sphere with the phrase \"Transformative Innovation\" in the center.
(Courtesy of Office for the Vice President of Research and Innovation)

Decisions on funding were based on the recommendations of VCU subject-matter experts, the One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan Advisory Council, and a review by Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Arthur L. Kellermann, M.D., senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System; John Ryan, Ph.D., associate vice president for research development; and Vice President Rao.

“This effort to fund exciting, transdisciplinary research across diverse fields spanning our research priority areas involved colleagues from all our campuses who gave much of their time to meet and critically review the submitted proposals. We greatly appreciate their efforts and offer our thanks,” the vice president said.

The Accelerate Fund, aimed at expanding VCU’s transdisciplinary research, provides support for high-profile, launch-ready projects designed to yield measurable results in research, scholarship and creative practice led by two or more investigators working across disciplines. Projects received up to $100,000 each.

The Breakthroughs Fund also supports transdisciplinary teams, those aimed at designing unique, creative and innovative large-scale approaches to confront humanity’s grand challenges and reach very specific outcomes or show the capability of attracting external investment. Projects received up to $200,000 each.

The Quest Fund, formerly known as the Presidential Research Quest Fund, saw its financial support expanded under the new strategic plan. It continues to fund new, emerging or continuing projects across all disciplines and for faculty at all career stages. Projects received up to $50,000 each.

The Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Fund will support, facilitate and enhance the creation, production and dissemination of arts, humanities and social sciences research and creative activity at any stage of development. Projects received up to $10,000 each.

For a full list of the selected projects and faculty researchers, visit the One VCU Research website.