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The Every Ram’s a Researcher campaign will infuse research-supportive, project-based learning into ConnectEd general education courses across the disciplines. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

New VCU initiative – ‘Every Ram’s a Researcher’ – will expand transformative learning for undergraduate students

Across the curriculum, research opportunities will help develop problem-solving skills that propel career success.

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As one of the nation’s top urban research institutions, Virginia Commonwealth University is launching a new initiative to ensure that more students graduate with the problem-solving skills that will distinguish them in their careers.

The “Every Ram’s a Researcher“ campaign will infuse research-supportive, project-based learning into ConnectEd general education courses across the disciplines, preparing students to make the most of VCU’s transformative learning opportunities. The skills and experience they gain will set them apart as they enter today’s workforce.

“The students I’ve discussed this with are as excited about it as the faculty members who are creating these opportunities,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “As VCU continues to grow into a research powerhouse, it only makes sense to involve more undergraduates in that work, and to make sure our students benefit from the opportunity to work with difference-makers throughout the university’s faculty ranks.”

VCU is classified as an R1 institution – a doctoral university with very high research activity – with a focus on excellence, impact and access. The rare designation – fewer than 4% of American universities have earned it – carries distinct benefits for students. VCU earned a record $460+ million in sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2023, including increases in every academic unit.

“The benefits undergraduate students earn when they participate in research can be life- and career-changing,” said Lacey Seaton, Ed.D., assistant professor of educational leadership in VCU’s School of Education. “We’ve studied this in our own students. They become more likely to graduate and to do so faster. They are more likely to pursue graduate-level programs, and they are better prepared to become problem-solvers in any career field.”

Through the “Every Ram’s a Researcher” initiative, “we’re making it easier than ever before for every VCU student to obtain these skills within their academic journey,” said Seaton, who also is faculty director of Quality Enhancement Plan, which is a key student-focused component of VCU’s reaccreditation process.

“Every Ram’s a Researcher” expands and elevates how, when and where research happens, offering students – regardless of major or career aspiration – an opportunity through their ConnectEd general education coursework to begin acquiring the skills they need to become problem solvers, including the abilities to:

Investigate: Gather meaningful information, whether in the library, lab or local community – wherever they need to find the right data.

Reflect: Consider what information and observations are telling them.

Collaborate: Bring together different perspectives to address common challenges. This will mean working with both their peers and accomplished faculty researchers.

Connect: See how classroom and personal experiences are essential in solving real-world issues.

The “Every Ram’s a Researcher” effort is a faculty-driven plan that evolved as VCU prepared for the February 2024 reaccreditation visit with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

“I’m excited about the opportunity this initiative offers to faculty members who want to participate with it,” said associate professor Sarah Golding, Ph.D., director of undergraduate research in the Department of Biology and director of VCU SACSCOC QEP. “Those who seek to become QEP Faculty Fellows will not only earn a stipend for their 18-month commitment but also develop their own pedagogical strategies and mentoring leadership skills while implementing a QEP course as part of their regular teaching responsibilities. This approach positions VCU to both develop existing campus experts and unify existing campus partners in a sustainable way.”

SACSCOC specifically asks members to present a plan that continues to enhance academic quality and student outcomes and success.

“An incredible amount of work goes into the QEP development and implementation process. We are deeply appreciative of the work done by the QEP Steering Committee and the QEP Faculty Directors,” said Katrice Hawthorne, Ph.D., assistant vice provost for assessment and institutional effectiveness. “VCU has the opportunity to set the stage and be a model for what an undergraduate research QEP looks like for first- and second-year students. Reaccreditation is no small task, but the collaboration between VCU faculty, staff and students will help us bring ‘Every Ram’s a Researcher’ to life in a meaningful way.”

VCU’s program, which has been in development since the 2021-22 academic year, is officially known as RAMPS – Real-world Applications in Multidisciplinary and Project-based Studies.

RAMPS courses will be launched during the 2024-25 academic year. Each course will be unique, as research-supportive project-based learning comes to life differently in each discipline. Students are encouraged to partner with their advisors on selecting the right course for them. While these project-based learning components will position students to become difference-makers within the community, they will not require additional hours beyond the traditional in-class and out-of-class time investments expected for the course.