A photo of a sign lit up at dusk. The sign says \"VCU\" in large yellow letters.
In winning a national award from the APLU, VCU was lauded for its “particularly innovative and exemplary” framework for regional economic development and engagement. (Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

VCU named Innovation & Economic Prosperity award winner

2023 APLU award highlights exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.

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Virginia Commonwealth University is the winner of the 11th annual Innovation & Economic Prosperity Talent award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The award recognizes exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development.

Announced during the association’s annual meeting today, VCU’s submission was lauded by the APLU for its “particularly innovative and exemplary” framework for regional economic development and engagement. The award highlights the university’s RTR teacher residency programda Vinci Center for Innovation and Richmond Health and Wellness Program.

“I am grateful to APLU and very proud of VCU for this award that recognizes on a national level our engagement with our communities and our focus on their needs,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “We are committed to providing students with an education that equips them with the knowledge, skills and creativity that they will need for their careers and their work in the world, adapting and innovating to keep ahead of the rapidly changing needs of our students, our workplaces and our society.”

VCU’s award submission represents the collaborative efforts of more than 20 faculty and staff members across the university and health system. Guided by the institution’s Collective Urban and Regional Impact unit, committee members selected programs and initiatives that best represented regional economic development and engagement.

The RTR teacher residency program is a partnership between the VCU School of Education and Richmond-area school districts that pairs teacher trainees with mentor teachers in the classroom for one year. RTR-trained teachers have demonstrated significantly higher retention rates, they better reflect student demographics, and their students are more successful in math, English and social studies topics.

With a goal of increasing the representation of women and underrepresented minorities in the innovation and STEM workforces, VCU’s da Vinci Center is a unique collegiate model that advances student-led innovation and entrepreneurship through cross-disciplinary collaboration. The center facilitates partnerships between industry partners and cross-disciplinary student teams to solve real-world problems.

The Richmond Health and Wellness Program provides students in health care disciplines with collaborative, experiential learning opportunities to meet constantly evolving health care needs. Working with low-income housing residents, 1,400 students have developed health care plans and services for 1,450 residents, resulting in improved outcomes for the program’s participants.

“We are honored to receive such a prestigious award,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation. “The initiatives highlighted in this submission are perfect representations of our deep commitment to knowledge creation, innovation and conducting transformative research that tackles our greatest challenges, connects with our communities, reduces disparities and lifts lives. VCU’s TechTransfer and Ventures has been instrumental in advancing several of these university-led innovations to the marketplace, including through startups and overall furthering economic development.”

VCU was first recognized as an IEP university in 2022 – 91 institutions have received the designation since the program was launched in 2021. The designation helps higher education institutions codify, elevate and advance their enterprise supporting economic and community development while providing national recognition to institutions committed to university economic development.

Additional IEP University Award winners were: University of Alabama at Birmingham (Innovation), Kansas State University (Place) and Iowa State University (Economic Engagement Connections).

“Universities are instrumental in driving talent development, innovation and the growth of thriving places,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “We’re delighted to recognize the major impact our IEP designees and awardees have on their communities’, states’ and regions’ economies.”