A photo of three people walking and laughing together.
Orientation leaders like Essence Palmer (left), Bella Riccardi (center) and Jamir Coleman (right) are great resources for new students, and any students, who have questions about life at VCU. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

VCU orientation leaders get lots of questions from new Rams. Here are their answers to some of the most common.

From places to eat to getting around – and even how to make friends – they have plenty of advice for incoming students.

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It’s orientation season at Virginia Commonwealth University, which means thousands of new students … who ask thousands of questions during their campus visits.

For much of June and July, incoming first-year students and their families arrive each week for a two-day session that helps introduce them to VCU; incoming transfer students attend a half-day session. As the new Rams explore the campus, orientation leaders are on hand to guide them and answer questions – lots and lots of them.

VCU News asked three orientation leaders to share their answers to some of the common inquiries they field. Here’s insight from Jamir Coleman, an interior design major; Essence Palmer, who is majoring in criminal justice as well as homeland security and emergency planning; and fellow double-major Bella Riccardi, who is studying biology and forensic science.

What is the best place to eat on or near campus?

A portrait of a man from the chest up
Jamir Coleman. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Bella: The best place to eat on campus in terms of affordability and the amount of food you get is Village Café. I think I’ve made some of my best memories there with my friends, and the food is always reliably good. It’s just a great late-night snack [place].

Jamir: Avo [Kitchen]. Avo is my place. I feel like anybody coming into VCU, if you’ve got a meal plan, go to Avo. It’s probably the best value that you get as far as a swipe, so definitely go to Avo.

How do I get around without a car?

Bella: There’s actually a lot transportation that’s available for students who don’t have cars. I personally like to walk and I sometimes bike, but we also have a public bus system that’s available. And we have different ride-share options like scooters and bikes. And Uber is also plenty available in the area, and it’s usually relatively cheap if you’re not going super-far.

Jamir: Honestly, in my time at VCU, what I’ve noticed is that as far as the campus during the day, it’s super-walkable. The max walk you’ll ever have is 15-20 minutes. If you need to get somewhere farther than that, the [GRTC] bus is always cool. You can pretty much get on for free and get to wherever you need to go.

Essence: If you are a student with a VCU ID, you get free RamSafe rides. RamSafe is how you get around campus [after hours], anywhere within distance, and you just do that by the Ride Pingo app. I use RamSafe a lot – RamSafe is my best friend. I don’t care if I’m literally going up the street, at night time, I do not like to walk. … I recommend RamSafe because they’re always happy to pick us up.

Why do we need to register for courses before meeting with our academic adviser?

Jamir: It’s important to register for classes just to make sure you can have courses to talk about with your adviser. I feel like going in without anything, it makes it really difficult for your adviser to address some of your concerns or give you proper advice. I feel like it’s important to go in with, you know, a decent version of what you want your schedule to be.

How do you stay organized during the semester?

A portrait of a woman from the chest up
Bella Riccardi. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Bella: I have this thing called My Master Spreadsheet. And in it I have different sheets for all the assignments that are due throughout the entire semester – all my exams and quizzes that I’ll be getting. And then I have one that’s just for daily to-do lists. I try to keep it updated as much as possible and try to include dates, times, any descriptions that I need, so that I know what I have to do every week.

Essence: I stay organized with my iPad. … I use the GoodNotes 5 app, and they have different templates for your calendars and stuff like that. I do a daily to-do list, but I also do a weekly to-do list. So the things that I do that are minor, I do that with the daily. And the major assignments that I have, I do that for the weekly, and any clubs or events or meetings that I have as well.

How can I join student organizations?

Bella: The easiest way to kind of explore and join student organizations is through RamsConnect. RamsConnect is this really awesome website that allows you to see every student organization that VCU has to offer. And while you may not be able to join all of them, just at the click of a button on RamsConnect, you can research all of them from there. And then once you have enough information, you can reach out to the organization itself and find out about any meetings that they may have or what the process would be like to join that organization.

Jamir: At the beginning of the year, there’s going to be this thing at Monroe [Park] called SOVO Fair. It’s not just for first-year students – any student can take advantage of this big event. Pretty much every single one of the clubs and student organizations will have a booth, and you get to walk around. They’ll be giving out swag, treats and gifts, so it’s a great opportunity for you to get free goods and get involved on campus.

What’s your favorite place to eat in Richmond?

Bella: Right now, I’ve been really into Spoon and Roots. Spoon is this little Asian fusion place that’s on Grace Street, and they have pad thai and a bunch of other noodle dishes. It’s relatively affordable and you get a lot of food. And then Roots…because you get a lot of food and you have a lot [of] options in terms of protein and sides and stuff like that.

Jamir: My favorite place to eat in Richmond is Jamaica House. I love Jamaican food, so whether it’s a beef patty, some jerk chicken or oxtail, I love Jamaica House.

How do I stay safe on campus since it's in the city?

A portrait of a woman from the chest up.
Essence Palmer. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Essence: For me, the best way to stay safe is honestly the buddy system. Go anywhere with your friends. I know with my friend group, we share locations with each other. So even if we’re not with each other, if we’re going out, we’re like, ‘Hey, girl, look at my location.’ …Typically on campus you’re safe – there’s always going to be VCU [Police] somewhere, or there’s always going to be someone walking. … But the buddy system is the best solution to me.

Bella: One safety tip that everyone’s going to tell you is, don’t walk alone at night. And that rings true – you never know who could be out at night, especially on some of the busier streets. It’s really important to either make sure you’re walking with a buddy or call RamSafe. RamSafe operates from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day. … I think that utilizing that is such an important way to stay safe, because even if it’s just a five-minute walk, you don’t know what can happen. Another way that I like to stay safe is just being observant of your surroundings – just making sure you have an eye on everything that’s going on around you, making sure you’re not blasting music in your headphones at full volume so you can hear stuff that’s going on around you, and basically just being aware of your surroundings.

How do I make new friends?

Bella: The best way to make new friends on campus is to just put yourself out there. It may seem scary as you’re trying to start new conversations with random people. But those can turn into much deeper bonds, and from there, you can even find friends that you’ll stick with throughout your four years at college. I know that’s how I found my group of friends, because I had those awkward conversations.

Jamir: I really didn’t know a lot of people going in. I had met a few people during orientation, but pretty much when I came in, it was just me. Luckily I am decently extroverted, so a lot of the parties or events, I would just go to alone and meet people there. I would say just get out there. That’s the one thing about VCU: It’s such a diverse environment, there’s so many people, I feel like everybody has a place at VCU.

Essence: I say throw yourself out there, be vulnerable. Everybody wants to make new friends those first couple weeks of school. Nobody has their cliques just yet. So if you’re in the Chick-fil-A line, say hi to the person in front of you, give them a compliment on their hair, on their clothes, something like that. And then also social media. We are a very social media-savvy generation, so on those Instagram page, “like” the VCU 2026 page or the VCU 2027 page, the pages with your year. You’ll meet people who are coming in as well, and they are able to relate to you.