Friday, July 27, 2018
Note: This article originally appeared in the spring 2018 VCU Alumni magazine. Learn more and engage with VCU Alumni at vcualumni.org.
It’s impossible to give props to everything that’s amazing about Virginia Commonwealth University but, hey, we had to draw the line somewhere. So here are our top 50 (in no particular order). See something missing from the list? Let us know using #50thingsVCU.
1) Inclusive excellence
At VCU, differences are not just tolerated, they are celebrated. VCU’s 31,000 students come from 101 different countries, and about half of the student body comes from underrepresented populations. People of all backgrounds, beliefs and abilities are drawn to campus because they want to broaden their horizons by living and learning with those who are different from them. This value extends into the classroom, too. With more than 200 academic programs, there’s a course of study for every unique interest.
2) Living laboratory
Occupying nearly 500 wooded acres along the James River in Charles City County, Virginia, VCU’s Rice Rivers Center is a field station devoted to environmental research, preservation and education. The center’s facilities allow students and researchers to engage in an array of initiatives to improve river ecosystems, including conservation efforts to rehabilitate and preserve the habitats of endangered species such as bald eagles and Atlantic sturgeon.
3) White coat ceremony
The white coat is more than a uniform to health care professionals — it is a symbol of honor, dedication and compassion. Senior faculty members present students with their first white coats during this sacred tradition, initiating them as colleagues and partners in patient care.
4) Food on the fly for students on the run
Midday hunger can put a real strain on a student’s momentum, but when hunger strikes, VCU students can simply step outside to choose from a variety of options at their feet. Food carts and trucks are a lunchtime fixture across campus. Brightly colored vendors appear every weekday about 11 a.m., ready to serve students looking to grab a quick bite on the go.
5) 8 million-plus service hours
With more than a decade of impact under its belt, VCU’s Division of Community Engagement allows more than 10,000 students each year to get involved and help make Richmond, and the world, a better place through community service and service learning opportunities. Since 2006-07, students have contributed more than 8 million hours of service. At a rate of 1 million-plus hours annually, that equals about $32 million in volunteer work! VCU also expanded student service-learning opportunities from 40 in 2008 to 251 in 2017, giving thousands of students the chance to connect with the community as part of their regular classes. That commitment to engaging the world around us led VCU to be listed on the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for eight consecutive years.
6) Open 24 hours
Students arrive on campus at 8 a.m. during spring break, ready to embark on the 24-hour creative sprint that is CreateAthon. Adrenaline fuels the process, but pop-up yoga classes, massages and dance parties provide opportunities for rejuvenation as students work through the night to fulfill the marketing needs of local nonprofits. Since 2005, CreateAthon@VCU has provided 113 local nonprofits with pro bono services valued at more than $1.9 million.
7) Tennis bubble for winter play
When temperatures drop, the tennis bubble goes up. At VCU, the sight of the bubble over the Thalhimer Tennis Center is a sure sign of winter. The temporary, air-supported structure keeps VCU’s men’s and women’s tennis teams warm, dry and match-ready year-round.
8) We live and learn
Students at large universities often initially struggle to find friends or activities that they truly relate to. Luckily, VCU combats this problem through its living-learning communities — specialized residential environments designed to integrate on-campus living with a focused academic experience. Each community has a unique focus: community engagement, global involvement, leadership, entrepreneurship and honors academics. The communities offer faculty support, workshops, experiential learning opportunities and more. Integrating on-campus living with a focused academic experience promotes engagement among students who might not have found the perfect fit otherwise.
9) Celebrating unity and cultural differences
The Intercultural Festival, an official university tradition since 2003, brings together student and community organizations to celebrate diverse cultures on the VCU campus and throughout the city. Coordinated by students, the annual event is as entertaining as it is educational, drawing thousands of attendees each spring to enjoy traditional foods, performances and demonstrations from a variety of cultures around the world.
10) A firm foundation
In 1917, a group of community leaders founded the first social work program in the South. Initially, coursework at the Richmond School of Social Economy focused on social work and nursing, but as the program grew, the curriculum expanded. It later changed its name to the Richmond Professional Institute before merging with the Medical College of Virginia in 1968 to form VCU.
11) Budget bites
Whether it’s a go-to spot for a slice of pizza on the way home from class or the best place for brunch after a late night, college towns are known for their hidden culinary gems. Richmond is no exception. Before big-name, fast-casual restaurants popped up throughout campus, students depended on locally owned establishments such as Piccola’s, Twisters, Vito's and MoJo’s to satisfy their cravings without breaking the bank. Many spots have since closed their doors, but some of the original favorites remain open and are still known for keeping students well-fed on a budget.
12) Saving lives with top-flight care
VCU Health is renowned as a leader in medical treatment, research and education. Its academic medical center, VCU Medical Center, is one of the most distinguished in the nation, providing hands-on learning opportunities for students studying in VCU’s top programs in dentistry, nursing, medicine, pharmacy and allied health professions. The medical center offers care in nearly 200 specialty areas, including multidisciplinary centers for cardiology, neurosurgery and transplantation. As the longest-standing, state-designated Level I trauma center in Virginia, as well as the sole adult, pediatric and burn trauma center in the region, the hospital treats more than 4,000 patients each year. VCU Massey Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center in the Richmond region and one of just two in Virginia leading and shaping efforts in cancer research. VCU Health clinicians and researchers aren’t just dedicated to improving the lives of patients today, they’re focused on saving the lives of those who will need their care in the future by investing in cutting-edge research and the development of innovative clinical trials.
13) Humble beginnings
In the heart of the Richmond neighborhood known as The Fan, Franklin Street cuts through VCU’s Monroe Park Campus. Several notable VCU offices are housed inside the picturesque, historic buildings along this street, including the Office of the President and Office of Admissions. Franklin Street is a reminder of the humble beginnings of what has become a sprawling, urban campus.
14) The pull of possibilities
Want to learn the science behind craft beer or teach yoga to preschoolers? The options are endless at VCU. With 200-plus degree programs and a multitude of living-learning opportunities, 150-plus community partnerships and 468 student organizations, there’s something for everyone.
15) At the top of our class
U.S. News & World Report ranks VCU’s sculpture and nurse anesthesia programs No. 1 nationally. And that’s not where our bragging rights stop. VCU boasts graduate programs in the top 50 nationally in 19 fields. VCU is consistently recognized as one of the top public universities for both fine arts and research. The university’s dominance in arts and sciences provides students with access to stellar opportunities, both in and out of the classroom.
16) A culinary landmark
Some might remember the Village Cafe when it sat across the street from the current location, at the corner of Grace and Harrison streets, but the restaurant has remained a campus culinary landmark since opening in 1956. Whether it’s breakfast for dinner or an early morning milkshake, the Village has you covered.
17) From First Four to Final Four
Widely regarded as one of the best Cinderella runs of all time, the VCU men’s basketball team’s journey to our first Final Four during the 2010-11 season under former head coach Shaka Smart was one for the history books. The Rams are still the only Division I basketball team to make it from the First Four to the Final Four in NCAA tournament history. Though the Rams were ultimately defeated by Butler University, VCU was forever solidified as a team that will unexpectedly bust your March Madness bracket year after year.
18) A perfect pairing east of campus
In 2008, the university finished the first phase of the 11-acre Monroe Park Campus Addition to the east of campus and opened one new building with collocated space for business and engineering students. Snead Hall, which houses the School of Business, features a variety of study spaces and classrooms as well as a fully functioning capital markets and trading room. The College of Engineering’s second building, East Hall, shares space with Snead and is home to the da Vinci Center. The addition also brought the establishment of the VCU Brandcenter and the completion of the Cary and Belvidere residence hall. Thanks to the Chili’s restaurant attached to the hall, students and fans alike gained a new space to watch the Rams play basketball.
19) VCU’s buildings are tatted, too!
Throughout the VCU campus and the area beyond, vibrant murals can be found on almost every city block. Crafted by artists from around the world, the massive paintings give a lively touch to Richmond’s unique aesthetic. Situated in one of the top 10 “most inspiring art cities in America,” according to departures.com, VCU is home to some of the most distinctive street art in the U.S.
20) Media for all interests
VCU is home to a number of award-winning student media programs that provide real-life, hands-on practical training while allowing students to deliver news, information and entertainment to the campus community. If you have a passion for journalism, there’s The Commonwealth Times newspaper, the WVCW radio station or VCU InSight, the undergraduate broadcast news program shown on Richmond’s local PBS affiliate, WCVW-TV. Students looking to share their creative talent can submit art to Poictesme or Ink magazine. No matter the medium, VCU’s Student Media Center provides a public forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions.
21) Racing for research
Every spring, the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K brings together 25,000-plus participants, and double that number in spectators, to the fourth-largest 10K in the country and the biggest block party in the city of Richmond. Under the leadership of Gordon Ginder, M.D. — who celebrates his 20th year as Massey Cancer Center’s director in 2018 — Massey was selected in 2006 as the official charitable partner by race organizer Sports Backers. Massey is among the top 4 percent of cancer centers in the U.S. and is one of two in Virginia designated by the National Cancer Institute to lead and shape America's cancer research efforts. To date, the 10K has raised more than $5 million through the Massey Challenge, which lets participants honor those who have battled cancer, fund cures for the disease and unite the Richmond community around a common goal. Funds raised by the 10K also help support Kids Run RVA to promote physical activity to youth in the Richmond region.
22) The creative gene runs in the family
VCU Rams always find innovative and creative ways to interact with the world around them. With alumni and students who’ve done everything from creating Super Bowl commercials to having their art displayed on buildings and galleries around the world, it’s safe to say that creativity is at the heart of everything we do at VCU.
23) Coffee and conversation
At the core of the Rams in Recovery program is a commitment to creating a supportive and confidential community for those who want to recover from addictive behavior. Part of the Wellness Resource Center and founded in 2013, Rams in Recovery hosts a variety of programs to help students succeed in their recovery and academics. The group’s three-wheeled Free Hot Coffee Bike can be found around campus several times a month. Serving Lamplighter Coffee’s special Recovery Roast and a variety of teas, drivers create a pour-over cup of coffee, which takes six to seven minutes. You might stop for the coffee, but you stay for the conversation.
24) ‘You don’t wanna go to war…’
Since opening its doors in spring 1999, the Stuart C. Siegel Center has hosted everyone from the Harlem Globetrotters to President Barack Obama, but when basketball season starts, you can really feel the electricity in the air. “The Stu,” as students call it, has a reputation as one of the toughest courts to play in the Atlantic 10 Conference, and every home game since January 2011 has been sold out. The Rowdy Rams student section even received the Naismith Student Section of the Year Award for the 2012-13 season. It’s true, you don’t want to go to war with the Rams — especially on our turf.
25) Signature art space
VCU’s Anderson Gallery served as the leading contemporary art venue in the Southeast for more than 80 years, collecting more than 31,000 pieces from around the world. In 2016, it was reborn as “The Anderson,” a dedicated student exhibit space.
26) Art meets science
The past few years have seen a host of interdisciplinary programs spring up at the university, particularly between the schools of the Arts and Medicine. In 2014, while still a student, alumna Morgan Yacoe worked with a team at the VCU Medical Center to build a sculpture of a set of conjoined twins’ bodies so surgeons could determine how to care for them cosmetically post-separation. Yacoe went on to teach figurative sculpting to plastic surgery residents. More recently, Aaron Anderson, associate chair of the Department of Theatre, created the Standardized Patient Program, which provides training in communication and clinical empathy to health care professionals through theatrical training.
27) Sandwiches served with a side of skulls
A staple of the diets of students and faculty alike at the Medical College of Virginia in the 1960s, Skull and Bones Restaurant served as an unofficial campus social hub for years. Harry T. Shaia Sr. opened the restaurant in 1924, naming it after the campus newspaper. Family owned and operated, Skull and Bones served homemade soups and sandwiches for 75 years before closing in 1999 to make way for the Gateway Building.
28) Community beyond campus borders
The Carver-VCU Partnership, established in 1996, is one of the university’s first visual demonstrations of its commitment to the community outside campus borders. The agreement between then-President Eugene P. Trani, Ph.D., and Barbara Abernathy, president of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League, created a community center, put VCU student teachers in Carver Elementary School and sponsored an annual health and housing fair. The university also worked with residents to document Carver’s history and extended VCU Police patrols into the area. The partnership’s legacy has led to increased collaborations with other nearby neighborhoods and enriched environments for all.
29) Notable firsts: Social work, transplants
From saving lives to securing our nation, VCU has celebrated numerous firsts. The first organ transplants in Virginia were performed at the Medical College of Virginia, now VCU Medical Center, beginning in 1957 with a kidney procedure. VCU can claim the first LEED Platinum building in Virginia, the first school of social work in the South, the first American campus in Qatar and the first major research university to offer a B.S. in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. And we’re not finished.
30) Happy 20th, VCU Qatar
VCU’s sister campus in Doha, 7,000 miles from Richmond, is a vibrant international school of art and design that is involved with the emerging design industries in Qatar. Not only do VCUarts students study and graduate there, but other undergraduate and graduate students participate in the Qatar Leadership Exchange, which helps establish an ongoing collaborative and cultural exchange. In its 20th year, VCU Qatar boasts 620 alumni representing 33 nationalities.
31) Fierce but loveable
He has his own Twitter account, children’s book and set of emojis, and he moves pretty well for a sheep in his 50s. Rodney the Ram’s impact on VCU students is enduring. The venerable mascot prowls the basketball sidelines, pops up at campus events and even appeared on NBC’s “Today” show. Who can resist a high five, a hug or a selfie with the famous No. 00?
32) North, south, east, west
It’s the heart of VCU’s bustling Monroe Park Campus, the gathering place for people watching, protesting and performing. Shafer Court, the pedestrian spine of VCU’s academic campus, crosses the compass rose, which was designed as a navigational and social axis in 1998. Over time, renovations to buildings surrounding the compass, including Hibbs Hall and James Branch Cabell Library, have created a bona fide hangout spot.
33) Medical history
The Egyptian Building is tucked away in the thicket of buildings around VCU Medical Center, its 1846 façade looking oddly out of place. But the focal point of the health sciences campus actually was first on the scene as the original home of the medical department of Hampden-Sydney College, later the Medical College of Virginia. The state landmark is considered one of the nation’s best examples of the Egyptian Revival architectural style.
34) Campus as an artist’s canvas
Diversity characterizes the objets d’art on VCU grounds. There’s the 14-foot-tall bronze ram horns sculpture in the Commons Plaza that provides a perfect backdrop for a selfie. “Truth and Beauty” outside Hibbs Hall is an homage to a classroom while “Tableith” next to Ginter House honors the legacy of Richmond Professional Institute, a predecessor to VCU. “Soft,” an aluminum sculpture outside Grace E. Harris Hall, and “Accelerator,” located in the McGlothlin Medical Education Center, are complex yet simple. Next time you’re on campus, be sure to look around for these notable works of art.
35) The people you meet
College friends, professors and campus characters give us lifelong memories to cherish. Your “Ramily” will stay with you forever — unless you delete them from your social media accounts.
36) Happy anniversary School of Nursing
Sadie Heath Cabaniss, founder of the VCU School of Nursing, laid the foundation for professional nursing in Virginia in 1893. The school has evolved from offering a diploma to offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. A happy 125th to the angels of healing.
37) It’s a rocky climb in Cary Street Gym
Trad climbing, anchor building and belaying. If you’ve never heard of these terms, chances are you didn’t attempt to scale the 35-foot-tall climbing wall in the Cary Street Gym. The wall features a free-standing section and an 18-foot bouldering section. Needless to say, climbing requires special equipment and supervision. So that you can say you learned something about rock climbing, “belaying” is the technique of securing climbers using ropes, harnesses and climbing friction devices that snag them in the event of a fall.
38) A river runs through VCU
Having the state’s largest river flowing past your campus is a tremendous selling point for an urban university. The James is a vital asset that provides VCU students with recreational opportunities, a place to escape the classroom and soak up some sun while studying on large river rocks and, most importantly, a living environment for researching shoreline plants and aquatic life. The VCU Rice Rivers Center, situated on the James southeast of Richmond in Charles City County, Virginia, was established as a laboratory devoted to environmental research, teaching and public service. Its Walter L. Rice Education Building houses lecture rooms and laboratories, a conference room and administrative offices. The facility helps VCU create a big splash in river ecosystem science.
39) The best pep band in all the land
From Broad Street to Broadway, The Peppas have represented VCU in sassy, brassy fashion, gaining a reputation as one of the NCAA’s best pep bands. Their repertoire isn’t the usual “Louie, Louie.” Beginning with VCU's Final Four run in 2011, they gained fame on “Today” blasting Toto’s “Africa” and Trombone Shorty’s “Hurricane Season.” Opposing fans, celebrities and TV announcers rave about them. But only VCU can claim them.
40) Ginter wall was RPI hotspot
The brownstone wall around Ginter House at 901 W. Franklin St. served as the epicenter of student activity at Richmond Professional Institute, a predecessor to VCU. The home was built from 1888-92 for Maj. Lewis Ginter. In 1930, RPI purchased the home and used it for offices, classrooms and the library, but as the school grew, the house became exclusively an administrative building, earning its nickname, the “Ad” building. The wall was built at the same time as the house and quickly became a gathering place for students. In 2017, for the 100th anniversary of the founding of RPI, the iconic wall came to life inside the University Student Commons. VCU Alumni’s RPI Alumni Council, composed of RPI alumni from the 1950s and 1960s, spearheaded the RPI History Wall, raising funds for the project and working with VCU Libraries and University Student Commons and Activities to construct the exhibit. Today, Ginter House contains the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. It’s a jewel among the many historic houses along West Franklin Street in what has been described as VCU’s “open-air architectural museum.”
41) Improving lives in underserved areas
They’re experiential learning opportunities students will never forget. The School of Medicine’s HOMBRE program sends a small group of students each year to work alongside VCU faculty to provide medical services and health education to underserved rural populations in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. The School of Dentistry sends students overseas through the Jamaica Project and to underserved areas of Virginia through the Missions of Mercy projects. Nursing Students Without Borders of VCU travels annually to the Highlands region of Guatemala, where students and faculty provide health outreach to villagers.
42) Our ‘undefeated’ football team
While VCU has basketball, lacrosse, volleyball and even Quidditch teams, outside of a handful of intramural clubs in its early days, the university has never had an intercollegiate football team. Most fans wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s already enough Ram pride in our sports teams to go around without football.
43) The big rush of Greek life
Greek life is a way of life for many students. The university supports 40 fraternities and sororities that offer opportunities for leadership, scholarship, friendship and civic engagement. Among the most exciting campus traditions are step shows organized by African-American sororities and fraternities and made popular in the late 1980s.
44) VCU Libraries: More than just books
Fans whir above sofas and the drone of campus noise drifts through screened windows on the porch of James Branch Cabell Library’s third floor. Students read by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, sipping coffee. The library is awash in light, stimulating architecture and equipped not only with vital resources for research but also quiet areas for solitary study and collaborative spaces for group projects. Cabell’s Workshop, on the lower level, features multimedia resources and services, including a video studio, loanable media equipment, video/audio editing and graphic design stations, a video game lounge, 3D printers, a laser cutter, sewing machines and more. In its Special Collections and Archives, Cabell houses rare books and periodicals, manuscripts and a comic arts collection. The stalwart on the medical campus, Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences, houses manuscripts, medical and dental artifacts, and rare books and periodicals.
45) Free Concert Fridays
From the 1960s to the late 1990s, crowds flocked to Shafer Court for cheap beer and loud music at the free, weekly Friday night concerts. Organized by a student committee, concerts at Shafer Court and other campus venues brought hundreds of local and nationally known performers to campus, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Shafer Court stage was demolished in 2002 to prepare for the construction of Shafer Court Dining Center, but a historic marker commemorating it still reminds students to rock on.
46) Home away from home
No matter when you attended VCU, if you lived on campus, you remember your first residence hall. While new and modern halls have sprung up, some of the university’s original dorms are still around. Johnson Hall dates to 1915 when it opened as a high-priced apartment building. VCU’s first residence hall, Rhoads, was initially used as a women’s dormitory when it opened in 1968. Bear, Warner, Rudd and McRae halls, collectively known as the “MCV Campus Low-Rises,” were built in 1959 and housed students for 57 years before being demolished in 2016 to make way for the College of Health Professions building. The original Gladding Residence Center opened in 1979 and housed students for nearly 40 years. This fall, a revitalized GRC opens at the same spot.
47) Love letters
A photo with the large, black-and-gold V-C-U letters outside the Shafer Court Dining Center is a must on any campus bucket list. Hard to miss, the letters have been a focal point in Shafer Court since their 2004 installation.
48) Healing hounds
The Center for Human-Animal Interaction’s Dogs On Call program weaves its way into the hearts of patients and staff at VCU Health. Alongside their human handlers, these therapy dogs visit patients offering a tail wag and warm fur to stroke during difficult times. Whether entertaining a pediatric patient with a trick or sitting calmly with a cardiac patient anxiously awaiting lab results, these dogs find a way to bring comfort and care. The Dogs On Call volunteers can all attest to the heartwarming nature of seeing someone feel more at home when a therapy dog is beside them.
49) Pomp and circumstance
Every student dreams of their graduation day, and Commencement is when that dream finally comes true for thousands of students each year. After years of hard work, graduates don caps and robes to reflect on their accomplishments and to receive their hard-earned degrees. Although this ceremony might seem like the journey’s end, it’s not — it’s the beginning of a new journey, as graduates transition from being students to joining a community of nearly 200,000 VCU alumni.
50) Taking care of our environment
In 2008, VCU signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, intending to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions on campus by 2050. Since then, the university has taken countless steps to reduce its environmental footprint. One example is VCU’s focus on constructing and renovating to a minimum of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver standards. LEED-certified buildings (VCU has 14!) are resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy and cost-effective. VCU also reinforces its commitment to sustainability through green-thinking initiatives around campus. University-run gardens educate students and community members alike on how to grow and prepare healthy food. VCU additionally features vertical gardens on the Office of Sustainability’s exterior. The “green walls” not only make for eye-catching adornments but also increase the building’s energy efficiency and trap carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles on its adjacent streets. The best way to limit carbon dioxide emissions, however, is to avoid them altogether. RamBikes offers free bike servicing, bike rentals and do-it-yourself workshops to promote emission-free transportation around campus.