A photo of the Univesity Student Commons plaza at dusk
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities cited VCU’s RTR teacher training program, the da Vinci Center for Innovation and the Richmond Health and Wellness Program when naming the university as a finalist for its Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Awards. (Photo by Allen Jones, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

VCU a finalist for Innovation and Economic Prosperity awards

President Michael Rao, Ph.D., hails APLU for “recognizing our emphasis on being a strong partner in our community.”

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The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities has named Virginia Commonwealth University as one of five universities that are finalists for its 11th annual Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Awards.

The awards recognize universities that demonstrate excellence and leadership in planning, implementing and evaluating programs and initiatives that support regional economic development and engagement.

“As a public research university, VCU is committed to bringing together the talent and impactful ideas that our society need for the future,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “Through initiatives like the RTR teacher-training program and our da Vinci Center for Innovation educating students to think critically and solve real-life problems, we’re focused on creating innovative ways to teach our students and engage with our communities. I’m proud that VCU is a finalist for the APLU’s IEP Awards, recognizing our emphasis on being a strong partner in our community.”

The award winners will be announced during the association’s annual meeting in November. In addition to VCU, the finalists include the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Iowa State University, Kansas State University and Wichita State University. The universities are being considered for different awards that recognize exemplary and innovative economic engagement impact:

  • The IEP Talent Award recognizes exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.
  • The IEP Place Award recognizes exemplary initiatives resulting in social, cultural or community development.
  • The IEP Innovation Award recognizes exemplary initiatives spurring innovation, entrepreneurship and technology-based economic development.

In announcing VCU as a finalist, APLU wrote that VCU “advances educational and health equity and broad economic prosperity through community and economic engagement.”

The association highlighted the RTR program, a partnership between the VCU School of Education and Richmond-area school districts that recruits, prepares, supports and retains teachers for high-need, hard-to-staff schools. RTR pairs teacher trainees with mentor teachers in the classroom for one year, and a 2020 evaluation found that RTR-trained teachers are better prepared, better reflect student demographics and have significantly higher retention rates, and their students score higher on English, math and social studies end-of-year tests.

APLU also highlighted VCU’s da Vinci Center for its work to increase the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in the innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem. It noted that da Vinci pairs cross-disciplinary student teams with industry partners to solve real-world problems; the center launched the Entrepreneurship Academy with local partners and awarded 1,830 innovation micro-credentials to 150 low-income, first-generation students, 50 community entrepreneurs and 204 K-12 students.

Finally, APLU recognized VCU’s Richmond Health and Wellness Program, in which multi-disciplinary student teams assess and coordinate health and prevention services for low-income housing residents. More than 1,400 students in the program have served more than 1,450 residents, resulting in improved health outcomes for residents and increased student readiness and interest in collaborative health care.

All universities are finalists for the IEP Economic Engagement Connections Award, which is the top prize in the awards program, recognizing overall excellence across the talent, place and innovation categories.

To be eligible for an IEP award, an institution must first earn the IEP designation from APLU, which recognizes institutional commitment to regional economic development. More than 80 institutions have been named IEP Universities designees since the program was launched in 2012.

“Congratulations to our 2023 IEP Awards finalists on their outstanding efforts to spurring innovation, prepare the next-generation workforce and foster community development,” APLU President Mark Becker, Ph.D., said in a news release. “We’re excited to spotlight the exemplary work of our IEP Award finalists in driving innovation and prosperity across their regions.”