What’s new at VCU for 2020-21

From new programs and leadership to a shifted semester and COVID-19 precautions, there’s plenty of changes that mark this unique academic year.

New "VCU" letters at Franklin and Shafer streets.
New "VCU" letters at Franklin and Shafer streets. (VCU News photo)

Whether you’re a student, professor or staff member at Virginia Commonwealth University, chances are the entire college experience feels new this year — the coronavirus has impacted so many aspects of our daily lives. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on campus or at home — this year is different from any that’s come before. 

But some things stay the same — VCU continues to move forward with its mission to advance knowledge and student success, and that means new programs, new leadership and new offerings — just like any other year. Below are some of the top new things to know about as we move into a unique academic year.

Facilities Management employee Sha'keila Bond hands out a supply kit on the second day of classes this fall.
Facilities Management employee Sha'keila Bond hands out a supply kit on the second day of classes this fall. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Relations)

COVID-19 plans, procedures and precautions

Daily health surveys, masks, and oh so many Zoom classes, meetings and events. The VCU community is adjusting to new rules and procedures in an effort to stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s a new shuttle bus, new student conduct rules, a dashboard that tracks COVID-19 data, and physical changes to campus facilities at every turn. The One VCU: Responsible Together website is the best place to familiarize yourself with all the protocols, plans and information related to the university’s COVID-19 response. 

pharmacist working in a lab
VCU’s new doctoral program in pharmaceutical engineering will focus on research and training students in drug product development. (Getty Images)

10-plus new academic programs 

The wide range of program offerings is even broader this year, particularly in the certificate department. And VCU is the first in the country to offer a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical engineering. Here are the latest degrees and certificates to be added to VCU’s more than 200 program offerings.

B.S. in Finance

Certificate in Clinical Genetics

Certificate in Clinical Research

Certificate in Disability Studies

Certificate in Fundamentals of Computing

Certificate in Health Care Innovation

Certificate in Real Estate

Certificate in Teaching Elementary Education

Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Engineering

Ph.D. in Special Education

Clockwise from top left: Carmenita Higginbotham, Ph.D.; Daniel C. Bullard, Ph.D.; Tomikia LeGrande, Ed.D.; Arthur Kellermann, M.D.; Daniel C. Bullard, Ph.D.; and Susan Gooden, Ph.D.
Clockwise from top left: Carmenita Higginbotham, Ph.D.; Daniel C. Bullard, Ph.D.; Tomikia LeGrande, Ed.D.; Arthur Kellermann, M.D.; Daniel C. Bullard, Ph.D.; and Susan Gooden, Ph.D.

New faces at the helm

VCU is welcoming a number of leaders to key positions. 

Scott Breuninger, Ph.D., joined VCU on July 1 as dean of the Honors College. He previously served as director of the University Honors Program and associate professor of history at the University of South Dakota. Under his leadership at South Dakota, enrollment in the honors program grew by 48%, while the four-year completion rate reached 52%.  

Daniel C. Bullard, Ph.D., will join the university as dean of the VCU Graduate School on Oct. 1. He currently serves as associate dean for recruitment, retention and diversity for the Graduate School at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and is also a professor in the Alabama School of Medicine’s Department of Genetics. Bullard has been the principal investigator on more than $5 million in research grants focusing on the genetics of inflammatory diseases.   

Susan Gooden, Ph.D., became dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs on April 16 after serving nearly a year as interim dean for the school. An internationally renowned scholar in the area of social equity, Gooden has served as principal investigator for 21 grants totaling more than $1.7 million and has published three books and numerous chapters, refereed journal articles and peer-reviewed publications. She began her career at VCU in 2004 as an associate professor in the Wilder School and has served in several leadership roles. 

Carmenita Higginbotham, Ph.D., starts as dean of the School of the Arts on Sept. 15. She comes to VCU from the University of Virginia, where she most recently served as chair of the McIntire Department of Art. Higginbotham is an art historian specializing in 20th-century American art and a prolific scholar whose research examines how notions of “the city” have had an impact on representation. 

Arthur Kellermann, M.D., will take the reins as senior vice president and CEO of VCU Health System on Oct. 1. Kellermann currently serves as dean of the F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. He is board certified in the fields of internal and emergency medicine and will be the first person in this senior vice president/CEO role at VCU to also be a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

Tomikia LeGrande, Ed.D., is not new to VCU, but she was named to the newly created position of vice president for strategy, enrollment management and student success on Aug. 1. LeGrande’s new role will provide leadership focus on strategy and planning related to key initiatives and on creating a holistic experience for all students — from application for admission through timely degree attainment. LeGrande has served as vice provost for strategic enrollment management at VCU since 2018.

illustration of a calendar
VCU's fall semester schedule looks a little different this year, with classes beginning about a week early and ending before Thanksgiving. (Getty Images)

Shift in schedule

One strategy for reopening campus and holding some in-person classes involved changing the academic calendar for the fall semester. Classes began Aug. 17, about a week earlier than usual, and are slated to end before Thanksgiving. Final exams will take place after the Thanksgiving holiday, running from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 for the MCV Campus, and from Nov. 30 to Dec. 7 for the Monroe Park Campus.

Exams will be held remotely so the majority of students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving. It’s important to note, however, that health sciences and other students may return to resume their clinical placements and similar activities to which they are committed. 

illustration of a computer screen and desk work station
This semester VCU introduced a permanent pass/fail grade option for undergraduate students. (Getty Images)

Pass/fail is here to stay

This semester VCU introduced a permanent pass/fail grade option for undergraduate students. The spring 2020 pass/fail policy was temporary due to the need to move to remote teaching midsemester, and is different from the permanent policy. The full policy is available in the VCU Bulletin, and the provost’s website offers a useful FAQ.

Not every course is eligible for the pass/fail option: It may not be used to satisfy a prerequisite that requires a minimum grade of B nor for courses that may count toward the requirements of a student’s major. No more than 12 credit hours can be taken under the pass/fail grade option over the entirety of a student’s degree program. The last day to select the pass/fail option for eligible courses this fall is Nov. 24.

Chioke l’Anson
Chioke l’Anson will serve as director of community media at the new VPM+ICA Community Media Center. (Photo by Amaya Zaslow)

More ways to make your voice heard

VCU offers many outlets for expression, whether scholarly, artistic or anything in between, and now there are two more.

A community media center housed in the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU will consist of two recording booths along with workspace for conceptualizing, editing and producing podcasts and other audio programs. The ICA is partnering with VPM, Virginia’s home for public media, to foster the production of audio content by VCU students, local community members and VPM professionals.

This summer, VCU Libraries launched a new initiative called VCU Publishing to provide publishing opportunities for faculty and students and to amplify their scholarly and research findings. VCU Publishing combines several of VCU Libraries’ existing enterprises, including journal publishing, book publishing, digital scholarship and VCU Scholars Compass, a publishing platform for the intellectual output of VCU’s academic, research and administrative communities.

Twisted Taco sign
Twisted Taco, located at Laurel & Grace Place on West Franklin Street, offers Tex-Mex fusion. (Courtesy photo)

Taco Tuesday every day

VCU has added three new restaurant options to its Monroe Park Campus. After surveying dining plan holders last fall, VCUDine replaced IHOP and Croutons, Salads & Wraps at Laurel & Grace Place on West Franklin Street with Twisted Taco and Bento Sushi, respectively. AVO Kitchen, which provides a variety of healthy dining stations, including one dedicated to serving dishes made without seven of the top eight allergens, has taken the place of Cary Street Market and Deli at 101 S. Belvidere St. All campus dining locations now feature four contactless ways to pay, including the GET mobile app, VCUCard and Apple Pay or Google Pay.  

A new set of VCU letters is located on Main Street between Harris Hall and the University Student Commons
A new set of VCU letters is located on Main Street between Harris Hall and the University Student Commons. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Relations)

Our three favorite letters (times two)

If you’ve been on the Monroe Park Campus this semester, it’s hard to miss the not one, but two, large new sets of VCU letters in popular throughfares at Franklin and Shafer streets and on Main Street between Harris Hall and the University Student Commons. The eye-catching gold letters make a nice place for a photo op to show your school pride.

Science On a Sphere, hanging in the Trani Center foyer at VCU.
Science On a Sphere, a 6-foot diameter sphere suspended 25 feet above the ground, shows animated images of the atmosphere, oceans and land. (Courtesy photo)

Elsewhere on campus … the world on a string 

There’s a new reason to visit the Trani Center for Life Sciences, even if it’s not a place you normally frequent: You can see the world. In fact you can see approximately 1,500 views of Earth, planetary systems and other animations. 

The building’s foyer is now home to a 6-foot-diameter sphere suspended 25 feet above the ground. Four projectors join forces to display animated images of the atmosphere, oceans and land onto the sphere. Known as Science On a Sphere, the global display system is on long-term loan from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and is an education and outreach tool to describe the environmental processes of Earth. 

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