A photo of the new College of Health Professions facility.
The College of Health Professions Building is one of the newest additions to the VCU landscape. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

What’s new at VCU for 2019-20

New academic programs and a host of campus changes — Free Store! Wider sidewalks! — greet students as the fall semester begins.

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Virginia Commonwealth University’s campuses are significantly quieter in the summer, but that doesn’t mean changes aren’t afoot. Now that the fall semester is in full swing, here is a sampling of new people, places, programs and more to know about for the 2019-20 academic year. 

College of Health Professions building at Virginia Commonwealth University.

A new home for the health professions

Last spring, VCU cut the ribbon on its latest academic facility, and classes are being held there for the first time this fall. At 154,000 square feet and eight stories, the new College of Health Professions Building on the MCV Campus is large enough to house all 11 of the college’s units for the first time under one roof. This will allow students and faculty to collaborate in ways that have not been previously possible, which is ideal for the health professions — working together leads to the best possible outcomes for patients.

The building, which meets LEED Silver certification standards, is equipped with learning laboratories designed for patient simulation and diagnostic technology, including a “smart apartment” that trains students on how to assist people of limited mobility with daily living activities. Flexible classrooms were designed for student engagement and distance-learning opportunities. 

The exterior of the VCU Free Store and RamBikes building. Signs for the Free Store and the VCU Office of Sustainability are on the windows of the building.
VCU's new Free Store opened for business Aug. 19. (Photo by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs)

It doesn’t get better than free 

Need a lamp? A mini fridge? Cooking supplies? Sports equipment? The new Free Store offers a hodgepodge of used household goods, small un-upholstered furniture, electronics and more to the VCU community free of charge. Located inside the RamBikes building at 201 N. Belvidere St., the store is operated by VCU’s Office of Sustainability and is meant to reduce the amount of unwanted items sent to the landfill while also providing the VCU community with equitable access to necessities and other goods.

For the fall semester, the store is open Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. VCU students, faculty and staff can donate items by stopping by RamBikes anytime during regular hours. The Office of Sustainability website provides a list of what items can and can’t be accepted.

A teacher acknowledges a student who has raised their hand in class.

New academic programs

VCU is offering several new programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels this year. The new undergraduate degrees, all in education, are part of a statewide effort to address a critical shortage of teachers across Virginia by providing licensure at the bachelor’s versus master’s level. 

Susan Parish, Ph.D., left, and Amir Berbec, Ph.D.
Susan Parish, Ph.D., left, and Amir Berbec, Ph.D.

New deans at home and abroad

  • Susan Parish, dean of the College of Health Professions: Parish joined VCU on July 1. An expert in public health and social work, Parish comes from Northeastern University, where she served as dean and professor of health sciences at the Bouvé College of Health Sciences. Parish’s scholarship has focused on intellectual and developmental disabilities and related public policies. 
  • Amir Berbec, dean of VCUarts Qatar: Berbec took the reins as dean of VCU School of the Art’s sister campus in Qatar on Aug. 1. A design expert who has worked in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, he most recently served as a professor of graphic design at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His scholarly and creative work examines the role design can have in shaping identities of places.

VCU interim chief of police Howard “Mike” O’Berry.
Assistant Chief of Police Howard “Mike” O’Berry started serving as interim chief of police on Aug. 1. (File photo)

New leadership for VCU Police

VCU appointed Assistant Chief of Police Howard “Mike” O’Berry to serve as interim chief starting Aug. 1. O’Berry has assumed the day-to-day leadership and management of VCU Police operations. He has a 25-year career with VCU Police and previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and VCU’s Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, and serves as a board member for the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators. Over the course of his career, he has received more than 20 military and police awards in recognition of his service. 

A no-smoking sign displaying a cigarette with a no symbol on top.

A good time to quit smoking

Over the summer, VCU announced its new smoke- and tobacco-free campus policy. Effective July 1, all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, are now prohibited on university-owned property — including buildings and vehicles — and only allowed in designated outdoor smoking areas. The new policy applies to students, faculty, staff, contractors and campus visitors.

VCU’s Office of Safety and Risk Management is working with Massey Cancer Center, VCU Human Resources and The Well — VCU’s student wellness center — to offer smoking cessation programs, educational materials and other resources to help tobacco users quit. Information about the university policy and smoking cessation resources, including one-on-one cessation appointments, is available at tobaccofree.vcu.edu.

The intersection of Franklin and Shafer Street on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. Two people are using the crosswalk on opposite sides while a bicyclist goes through the intersection.
The intersection of Franklin and Shafer streets. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Streetscapes are just the beginning

If you’ve walked by Franklin and Shafer streets, you may have noticed some changes. As one of VCU’s busiest pedestrian intersections on the Monroe Park Campus, streetscape enhancements to improve pedestrian safety and access were completed in August, including wider sidewalks, improved lighting and plants. The changes also reduce the crossing distance for pedestrians at that intersection from four lanes to two. Similar enhancements are under construction at Main and Linden streets.

These enhanced streetscapes are the first of many improvements to VCU’s physical footprint that are outlined in the ONE VCU Master Plan for the Monroe Park and MCV campuses. Changes, including adding new iconic “greens” on both campuses, a new welcome center and student center on the Monroe Park Campus, and an inpatient children’s hospital on the MCV Campus, are slated to take place over the next 10-15 years. For a snapshot of what VCU will look like in the future, from green spaces to new buildings, read this VCU News story from the summer. 

A pole holds a rainbow flag lit up by the sun.

Advancements in LGBTQIA+ scholarship 

This fall, VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences began offering a new minor in LGBT+ and queer studies. The minor is designed to provide students with rigorous and broad training in an expanding and influential interdisciplinary field of study and is intended to appeal to students from across the university, regardless of major or whether they identify as LGBTQIA+.

While the minor offers undergraduates a chance to expand their studies, a new center that launched this summer will serve as a creative and intellectual hub in support of LGBTQIA+ artistic and scholarly activities among faculty, staff, students and the greater Richmond community. The Queer Research and Advocacy Center — or Q Collective — is operated by VCU’s Division of Inclusive Excellence and aims to merge research, scholarship and advocacy to bring greater awareness to issues that affect LGBTQIA+ populations and communities.

This year's fall break will take place from November 25 to December 1.

Thankful for the new fall break

This year brings a change to VCU’s academic calendar. Instead of two reading days just before midterms, there is now one reading day in October and a new fall break in November that means students will have the entire week of Thanksgiving off. There are no classes the week of Nov. 25.