Sept. 7, 2023
What’s new at VCU for 2023-24
New places, new faces, new resources – even a new school – have joined the campus as the school year begins.
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Anyone who has walked through the Compass on Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park Campus around lunchtime in recent weeks has noticed the bustle. The fall semester is in full swing, and it’s time for new and returning members of the VCU community to catch up on what’s new for the academic year —from academics and student support to food and fun.
Food news you can use
VCU Dine has added a location to its roster: Ram’s Coop. The eatery, which has replaced Raising Cane’s in the Laurel Street Parking Deck food court, offers halal chicken tenders, vegan tenders, a signature sauce and more.
And although it’s not technically a VCU Dine location, students and other visitors can enjoy a new café at the Institute for Contemporary Art. Open daily except Monday, it offers sweets, sandwiches, coffee and other drinks in a comfortable setting with creative vibes.
There’s more to dining on campus than just the food: Shafer Court Dining Center recently opened a game corner upstairs featuring Skee-Ball, board games, a giant Connect Four and two video game consoles, each loaded with more than 400 games. With a swipe entry, dining pass holders have access to unlimited play.
And while she started at VCU last year, some students may not be aware of Quinn Taylor, VCU Dine’s registered dietician, who is available for one-on-one student consultations, dining hall tours and assistance with dietary needs. Contact her at email@example.com to make an appointment, or follow her on Instagram (@VCUDietitian), where she’ll post details about cooking classes she plans to offer this semester.
Coming soon: a one-stop shop for student assistance
With nearly 30,000 students, VCU is a large university. There are many offices, staff and faculty who can help students navigate college life both inside and outside the classroom, but learning and remembering who or which office to go to can prove tricky, particularly when a student is dealing with a difficult or stressful issue.
That’s where the Office of Student Advocacy, a new initiative within VCU's Division of Student Affairs, steps in. The office, which is already helping students now but will officially launch in its new location on Sept. 25, is designed to serve as a guide and gateway to all the services and resources VCU offers its students. Students can turn to the student advocacy team for help understanding VCU's policies and procedures, academic concerns, complaints, crisis support, financial assistance and help with food or housing insecurity. Students who are expecting, parenting or caregiving for other family members can also reach out for support.
The idea is that students can connect with the advocates when they need help with anything that is getting in the way of their college journey. While this office is not designed to fix problems for students, it aspires to work with students, faculty and staff to resolve issues and empower students to overcome barriers and achieve their goals.
Advocates are there to actively listen to students; understand their concerns, questions or complaints; and provide information to resolve their issues effectively, or point them to the right VCU office or resource that can. The new office will be located in Suite 229 of The Commons on VCU’s Monroe Park Campus, and students can make an appointment or stop by during walk-in hours, as well as call, email or fill out an online request form to get help from the team of advocates.
A gem of a STEM building
It opened in late spring, but this school year marks the first time VCU’s six-story, 169,000-square-foot STEM building on Franklin Street will be in full use. This semester alone, more than 10,000 students will take College of Humanities and Sciences classes in the dazzling new facility.
The building features 32 teaching labs; the Math Exchange, an innovative facility for math instruction; a Science Hub for student/faculty interaction, study groups and specialized support for STEM classes; two 250-seat, team-based learning classrooms; computer labs; and large- and small-capacity flexible classrooms. Instructional wet and dry labs are included in addition to classrooms for STEM subjects.
The new building allows the College of Humanities and Sciences to continue delivering an innovative sciences and mathematics curriculum seamlessly integrated with research, better preparing VCU graduates to understand and solve contemporary problems. It’s a place where growing talents can be nurtured and foundational laboratory skills can be taught, and where faculty will mentor and train future leaders in STEM.
Follow the Threads
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes – the world of social media is changing faster than ever these days, but VCU is keeping up. This summer, Meta launched a social media app called Threads, built by the Instagram team. It is similar to X, formerly known as Twitter, and the VCU community can follow @VCU on Threads for fun photos, videos, polls, news, tips, information and more.
A new school for a longtime commitment
Last spring, VCU announced creation of the new School of Population Health, which combines under its umbrella existing departments with population and public health programs currently housed in VCU’s School of Medicine. Beginning this semester, students can pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in biostatistics, epidemiology, social and behavioral sciences, and health care policy and research. They will have the opportunity to engage in community-centered research and be immersed in experiential learning with VCU’s many public health partners, including the Virginia Department of Health.
COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the stark public health disparities that exist in the U.S., but the vision for VCU’s newest school was in the works long before the pandemic, and VCU’s Master of Public Health program has been fully accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health since 1996. The school, which aims to produce graduates who are agents of change in their communities, will be home to the first MPH program with a concentration on cancer health equity.
Moving in together: Ram Pantry and Free Store
For nearly a decade, Ram Pantry has provided food and supplies to VCU students facing food insecurity. This vital resource, which is managed by the Division of Student Affairs, recently moved from The Commons to a new space at 930 W. Grace St., former home of RamTech. The centrally located building is larger and allows the pantry to join forces with the Free Store, which is in the process of moving and plans to open later this fall.
VCU Sustainability started the Free Store in 2019 so that members of the VCU community can pick up gently used everyday items like housewares, electronics, small furniture, decor and art supplies at no cost, giving these donated items a new home and keeping them out of landfills. Anyone in the VCU community can donate to both Ram Pantry and Free Store. The new facility, which is operated by VCU Sustainability but staffed by students, will eventually also offer flexible programming space that can be used by student groups and others in the VCU community.
While Ram Pantry settles into its new digs, its collection of Little Ram Pantries located across both campuses is also getting an upgrade this year. The dozen yellow boxes that contain dry goods and supplies are being replaced with a new version designed by VCU mechanical engineering students to improve data collection and food distribution. The new boxes have sliding doors and a camera, pointed inward, allowing the research team to count how many times the boxes are being opened and view the interior of the box to see when supplies are running low. You’ll find the prototype in Cabell Library’s second floor at the top of the main staircase.
Connect with a coach
Since 2013, undergraduates have been able to enlist academic coaches through the Campus Learning Center to help them develop time management skills, set academic goals, learn testing strategies based on subject/course and more. After a successful pilot program in 2022-23, first-year students this year can work not just with professional coaches but with peer academic coaches on an individual or small group basis.
First-years meet with their peer academic coach in person, generally on a weekly or biweekly basis. The coaching can help students at all academic levels – just as a coach can help the most talented athlete achieve more. The benefit of peer sessions is that they allow students to connect with others who have similar experiences at VCU.
New leaders at the helm
VCU has a number of new deans, interim deans and cabinet members who have started in their roles in recent months:
- After successfully leading efforts at several colleges, most recently Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, to increase student enrollment and diversity as well as tuition revenue, Hernan Bucheli, Ed.D., joined VCU as interim vice president for strategic enrollment management and student success in mid-April. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Latino Education Advancement Foundation.
- In July, Gary Cuddeback, Ph.D., who spent over 18 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before joining the VCU faculty in 2021, began serving as interim dean for the School of Social Work. His research focuses on individuals living with severe mental illnesses, mental health services, the intersection of mental health and criminal legal systems, and evidence-based interventions.
- Azim Eskandarian, Ph.D., began his tenure as dean and William H. Goodwin Jr. Endowed Chair of the College of Engineering on Aug. 1. He comes to VCU from Virginia Tech, where he served as department head and Nicholas and Rebecca des Champs Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering. Eskandarian’s research focuses on robotics and autonomous and dynamical systems, and it is applied in areas such as autonomous and intelligent vehicles, collision avoidance and driver assistance.
- Rima Franklin, Ph.D., became interim vice provost of VCU Life Sciences in July. She has taught at VCU since 2007 and is also currently the chair of the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Her research interests are in the areas of microbial ecology, wetland and soil biogeochemistry, nitrogen cycling, and environmental and public health microbiology.
- After acting as interim dean for the College of Humanities and Sciences, Catherine Ingrassia, Ph.D., was named dean of the college in early August. Ingrassia began her career at VCU in 1992 as assistant professor of English and rose through the ranks of promotion and tenure, becoming chair of the Department of English in 2019. Ingrassia has published seven books on 18th-century British literature, with a particular focus on women writers.
- The School of Education named Kathleen Rudasill, Ph.D., interim dean effective May 15. Rudasill is an expert on understanding how children’s individual differences are related to academic and social success, and how this relationship is moderated and mediated by classroom processes. Before she came to VCU in 2018, she held the Susan J. Rosowski Professorship in educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
- In April, Arturo P. Saavedra, M.D., Ph.D., took leadership of the School of Medicine, where he serves as dean as well as the VCU Health System’s executive vice president for medical affairs. Previously, Saavedra was chair of the University of Virginia’s Department of Dermatology and president and interim chief executive officer of University of Virginia Physicians Group. As a clinician and researcher, he specializes in the care of complex medical dermatology, with particular interest in HIV dermatology, severe drug reactions that manifest with dermatologic complications, and care of oncologic and post-transplant patients.
- When the new School of Population Health was launched in April, VCU named Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D., its founding interim dean. Sheppard was appointed chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Policy in 2016, when she left Georgetown University for VCU. Honored by the American Cancer Society as the 2022 Researcher of the Year, her innovative work has helped to identify effective strategies for promoting cancer prevention, screening and treatment in underserved communities.
- Paula Song, Ph.D., who is the Richard M. Bracken Chair and professor of health administration in the College of Health Professions, became its interim dean in July. Song, whose research focuses on innovative financing and delivery mechanisms to create more efficient models of health care, came to VCU in 2020 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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