Thursday, April 16, 2015
When VCU faculty members first heard that the UCI Road World Championships, cycling’s pinnacle event (nicknamed the Worlds), was coming to Richmond this September, they could have bemoaned the disruption it would cause to the academic calendar. Instead, they quickly got their gears turning about ways to get students involved.
“By virtue of VCU’s location in a vibrant urban setting, we can capitalize on the events of the region to enrich the learning opportunities for our students,” said Catherine Howard, Ph.D., vice provost for community engagement. “The Worlds is one such example and our students and employees make up a large number of the residents and workers in downtown, so our proximity makes us a natural participant.”
The race, scheduled for Sept. 19 to 27, will bring 1,000 athletes and an estimated 450,000 spectators to Richmond, and its courses will loop through or near both of VCU’s campuses. VCU Medical Center is the event’s sole medical sponsor.
The university has established reading days Sept. 19-27 on the Monroe Park Campus (students enrolled in classes on the MCV Campus should check with their academic programs as each schedule will be handled separately), but that doesn’t mean students should stay away from campus and this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Suraj Telhan, the Student Government Association’s incoming president for fall 2015, is excited about the race and the opportunities it will bring his fellow students, particularly freshmen.
“For incoming students, this is [going to be] a great way for them to grasp how amazing our city is and the direction that it is going,” he said. “New, unique memories will be formed during this race and hopefully it will make them want to be a Ram for life.”
The Worlds will provide a host of memorable opportunities for students, faculty and staff and give them a chance to interact with the Richmond community as well as athletes and fans from around the world, whether it’s as a scholar, a volunteer or simply a fan.
What if students could earn credit by engaging in the event? That was the magic question Howard and fellow vice provost Gardner Campbell, Ph.D., explored. They put a call out to the faculty for course proposals and received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response.
“The bike race has given faculty the opportunity to do something different,” Howard said, “to apply their expertise in a novel way and to engage students differently. The creative ideas for topics to teach have been fantastic and cross many different disciplines.”
From kinesiology to journalism and anthropology to sustainability, the courses are designed to examine the nine-day, international event through a variety of lenses. Students can choose from one of six one-credit courses, including the fully online Great VCU Bike Race Book project that offers more than 25 interdisciplinary tracks. (Follow #vcubrb and visit greatvcubikeracebook.net for Great VCU Bike Race Book course activities and updates.) The university is offering these courses, which will run from Aug. 24 through Oct. 9, at a reduced tuition rate of $50.
Campbell, the vice provost for learning innovation and student success, said that he had always wanted to find a dramatic, inspiring way to represent, on the open Web, the intellectual and creative life of a university. “The Great VCU Bike Race course offers students a fun, purposeful and stimulating opportunity to participate in this major international event that’s coming to our very doorstep,” he said. “The students’ work will directly benefit a global audience centered on the event. At the same time, our students will experience a great adventure in collaboration and openly networked learning on the Web.”
Faculty members are extremely excited about this opportunity and they hope students are gearing up to get involved.
“Not only will students get to have fun just being part of a group of people doing something really cool,” said assistant professor of anthropology Amy Verrelli, Ph.D., who is teaching “Anthropology of the Crowd,” “they’ll really be paying attention to everyone around them, and trying to understand how the differences and similarities they see and hear shape humanity.”
The courses will also give students something productive to do during the week of the race.
“Speaking from experience as an RA on duty during the past summer and winter break, the days feel longer when your mind isn’t being challenged,” Telhan said. “These classes will allow residents and those students who stay [on campus] to challenge their minds in coursework related to [the event].”
Howard has been leading the university’s effort to encourage the VCU community’s involvement in the event, from promoting the race’s volunteer portal to spearheading the faculty’s effort to create academic opportunities for students. In fact, faculty and staff are being encouraged to use up to 16 work hours to volunteer. These hours will be treated the same as regular work time and not as leave.
Howard said that the race’s organizers are currently using a volunteer portal to collect information from students, faculty and staff — as well as other members of the Richmond community — to match interests with tasks needing volunteer help. No previous experience with cycling or volunteering is necessary.
A chance to cheer
With each of the race’s four courses cutting through the Monroe Park Campus, the VCU community will have front-row seats to the action. The city will be converting many of the public spaces into fan zones during the event and the Worlds organizers are planning festivals, concerts, expos and other entertainment for fans of all ages.
Enthusiastic cycling fans who want to experience the race first-hand can even ride the road circuit course during an event open to the public called “Conquer the Cobbles.” On the evenings of Sept. 24 and 25, the race course will be closed to traffic for a two-hour window to allow runners and amateur cyclists to get a taste of the pro-level course.
As cycling’s biggest event draws nearer, more activities for students and the entire VCU community are being planned and incorporated into a calendar of events. For updates and further information, including an FAQ and course descriptions, visit richmond2015.vcu.edu and follow hashtag #TheWorldsAtVCU.
What sparked your idea for the class?
When the call for course proposals regarding the UCI Road World Championships went out, faculty from across the university responded with enthusiasm. Hear what some of the faculty had to say.
"I was looking for a way to engage VCU students in a creative activity relating to the race and also grant them an opportunity to do something they don’t usually get to do: curate an exhibition and display their work at the Depot Gallery. We just opened the gallery this fall, and have been fortunate enough to have seven shows this year, and yet there is still a large population of students that have yet to visit the gallery, and many more students who have yet to display their work here. I see this as a way to reach across the schools and connect with students beyond VCUarts in an interdisciplinary project."
– Andrea Alvarez, adjunct professor and manager of the Depot, School of the Arts; teaching "Mapping the Race"
“We knew the university wanted to get lots of students involved with the Worlds. We started talking about what it would be like for tons of students to act as reporters during the event — really crowdsourcing the coverage.”
– Tim Bajkiewicz, Ph.D., associate professor and interim associate director, Robertson School of Media and Culture; co-teaching "Crowdsourcing Journalism"
“When I got the email requesting course ideas, I immediately thought, ‘I hope somebody spearheads a boots-on-the-ground social media experience for students — having their tweets, short videos and Instagram posts really promote the race — and VCU would be such a cool way for them to experience the race! ... Probably hard to wrangle, but really cool!’ And then I realized, uh-oh that person would be me. As the Social Media for PR professor, I’m the one that should be wrangling that.”
– Judith Crenshaw, adjunct professor, Robertson School of Media and Culture, and the communications and development director for the Virginia Council on Economic Education; teaching “Social Media Immersion Experience”
“These cyclists are extraordinary athletes, and I’ve always wondered how they motivate themselves to train, how they handle failure and so much more. I am a psychologist, so I immediately thought of issues like these. I’m a social psychologist to be specific, so I thought about social factors including competing against friends, cooperation that often happens with cycling teams (e.g., teams at the Tour de France) and the support teams that professional athletes often have these days. I’m particularly interested in how we are inspired by the performance of others, and curious to see if our students gain inspiration from the athletes — even in different areas. Might our students get inspired to do something extraordinary, to take risks, to push themselves more than they ever have before after studying and observing these cyclists?”
– Jeffrey Green, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, College of Humanities and Sciences; teaching “Motivation and Performance”
“We’ve seen the rise of citizen journalism. With a cellphone and the plethora of social media platforms, anybody can be a journalist. The more training and knowledge you have, the better citizen journalist you can be. So we thought: Let’s prepare VCU students to cover the Worlds — and then turn them loose.”
– Jeff South, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies, Robertson School of Media and Culture; co-teaching “Crowdsourcing Journalism”
“For me, teaching about anthropology is all about trying to convey how amazing the diversity of humanity is — both physically and culturally. I also really like events like the bike race — they bring people together in unique combinations, and are usually a lot of fun. So when the opportunity came up to ask students to combine appreciating human variation and diversity with this really fun and unusual experience right here on campus, I thought it would be perfect for an experiential anthropology class. Being able to walk around in a huge crowd of people from all over the world will allow my students not only to be exposed to diversity in a way they might not have been before, but will also give them a chance to actually collect anthropological data and analyze it. What better way to think about human physical and cultural variation, and the evidence that variation leaves behind, than being right in the middle of a huge crowd of people from all over the world?”
– Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology, School of World Studies, College of Humanities and Sciences; teaching “Anthropology of the Crowd”
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