A rendering of the interior of the Cabell Library addition.

What’s new at VCU for the 2015-16 academic year

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You may have noticed the roughly 4,050 new freshmen roaming around Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus in the past few weeks (VCU’s largest freshman class ever), but there are lots of other new developments to know about for the 2015-16 academic year. Here’s a selection of notable and interesting new places, people, programs and more at our bustling, ever-changing, 31,500-student-strong university.

1)  New provost

Gail Hackett, Ph.D.
Gail Hackett, Ph.D.

Gail Hackett, Ph.D., begins her first full academic year as VCU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs this semester. Hackett arrived at VCU in March after serving as the provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, since 2008. She also held numerous administrative positions at the University of Arizona during her 20-year career there and has served on the editorial boards of various counseling psychology journals and on the executive boards of the American Educational Research Association and the Society of Counseling Psychology of the American Psychological Association.

The author of more than 70 peer-reviewed articles and books, it should come as no surprise that in a recent interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch she noted that she likes to read in her spare time, adding that she has a particular fondness for British history. In addition to her administrative appointment, Hackett holds an academic appointment as professor of psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.


2)  Two new residence halls, with two new living-learning programs to boot

Last month, two new residence halls opened at the corners of Grace and Harrison streets and Broad and Ryland streets. The brick, five-story buildings contain classrooms, meeting spaces and apartment-style residences. But more than that, they are home to two new living-learning programs: VCU LEAD and VCU INNOVATE.

Both programs last two years and develop students’ skills through coordination of coursework, co-curricular activities and residential experience. VCU LEAD, located at 1000 W. Grace St., is a leadership-focused program for sophomores or above that aims to develop graduates who can successfully lead professional and civic organizations at the local, national and global level within their respective fields. VCU INNOVATE, located at 1010 W. Grace St., is an entrepreneurship-focused program offered by the VCU da Vinci Center that emphasizes a multidisciplinary perspective and seeks to create a mindset and culture of innovation among participating students.


3)  Women’s lacrosse primed and ready

head coach Jen O’Brien
head coach Jen O’Brien

For the first time in 20 years, VCU has a new Division I sports team. The women’s lacrosse team officially formed last year, but their first regulation game will be this school year in February 2016. Often touted as the fastest-growing sport in America, lacrosse became VCU’s 17th intercollegiate sports program when the Board of Visitors approved adding a women’s team in 2013.

Last year, the team — helmed by head coach Jen O’Brien and consisting of seven freshmen — spent their time training, playing scrimmages against other area colleges, attending other VCU teams’ games and getting to know each other and VCU. This year, they’re ready for official A-10 competition and giving the VCU community another great sports team to cheer.




4)  Iris scanners at Shafer Court Dining Center

VCU's new alternative to swipes? Iris cameras.
VCU's new alternative to swipes? Iris cameras.

Meal plan holders don’t need to bring anything with them to Shafer Court Dining Center except their eyes, thanks to two new iris cameras installed in July. The iCAM 7100 iris cameras take a high-definition photo of the user’s iris and then identify 220-plus unique points. They then generate a number, which is associated with that individual meal plan holder's iris. 

The new system is voluntary and has several benefits: the iris scanner is speedier than swiping a card and also allows touch-free entrance to the dining hall, which can help decrease pre-meal germs. Students who aren’t interested in such a futuristic dining experience can still opt to use their cards.


5)  New vice president of health sciences and CEO of the VCU Health System

Marsha Rappley, M.D.
Marsha Rappley, M.D.

The VCU Health System and the five health sciences schools have a new leader as of Aug. 15. Marsha Rappley, M.D., is no stranger to large, university-based health systems, having served for 10 years as the dean of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, with clinical, research and medical education operations at six campuses throughout the state that are affiliated with nine health systems and other health care providers.

Rappley is a national leader in academic medicine and was recently elected as chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges board of directors. She also currently serves as chair of the council of deans. At Michigan State, she was a tenured professor of pediatrics and human development, and her research has focused on children with ADHD, learning problems and other serious mental health challenges.



6)  One book for all

For nearly 10 years, entering freshman at VCU participated in the Summer Reading Program, but this year VCU decided to turn the page and expand the program to a yearlong program aimed at fostering academic exchange among all members of the university community — students at all levels, faculty and staff.

The inaugural Common Book is Jill Lepore’s “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” which goes beyond simply telling the story of the creation of superhero and feminist icon Wonder Woman to examine such myriad topics as psychology, medicine, the American family, Planned Parenthood, the women’s suffrage movement, comic book culture, Hollywood and more. The multidisciplinary book also ties in nicely with VCU Libraries’ nationally recognized Comic Arts Collection, which includes a massive trove of Wonder Woman comics spanning 70 years of the superhero’s history and illustrating her evolution as a cultural icon. Freshmen receive copies of the book at orientation, positioning them to take the lead in the campuswide conversation throughout the academic year.


7)  A library re-envisioned

Anyone who’s spent time on the Monroe Park Campus in the past year has been unable to ignore the steady transformation of the James Branch Cabell Library. Built in 1970 to accommodate 17,000 students, the library hasn’t significantly expanded since 1975, despite huge growth in both VCU’s enrollment (currently about 31,500) and library traffic. For example, in 2014, Cabell Library received 2 million visits, up from 1 million in 2004.

As part of the $50.8 million expansion, a new building connected to the existing structure will provide a much-needed additional 93,000 square feet. And students and others will be able to start enjoying that new space in the coming months. The first two floors should be ready for use by the start of November, including 11 new study rooms. The third and fourth floors are scheduled for completion in mid-December, with the entire project finishing up in January. Students can look forward to lots of light, flexible furniture, striking artwork and impressive technology.


8)  A new way to work together

Rendering of the Founder's Corner.
Rendering of the Founder's Corner.

Entrepreneurial-minded people all over the country are finding their way more and more often to co-working spaces. Starting in October, VCU students — graduate and undergraduate alike — will be able try out such a space for themselves in the familiar confines of the University Student Commons.

Founder’s Corner will occupy 656 square feet and will be open to student entrepreneurs, regardless of major, who apply and go through an interview process to gain access. The space was developed as a collaboration between Innovation GatewayCareer Services and University Student Commons and Activities to offer a place for students to launch and grow their startups, as well as to act as a hub where they can network, attend professional development events and receive support from Innovation Gateway and University Career Center staff members to help them advance their businesses.


9)  New brand captures health care system’s legacy and ongoing growth

The VCU Health brand officially launched Aug. 26 to encompass a coordinated system of care, research and education.
The VCU Health brand officially launched Aug. 26 to encompass a coordinated system of care, research and education.

VCU’s health care system underwent a brand makeover after thoughtful, extensive research conducted with health system and university leadership, team members and the community. The VCU Health brand launched Aug. 26 and encompasses a system of coordinated care, education and research.

The visual identity received a makeover as well: With a new logo, color palette, photography, typography and graphic elements, VCU Health stands out and creates instant connection and recognition with its communities. The new brand unifies the entire organization — including VCU’s five health sciences schools, hospitals and clinical facilities, medical research efforts, the VCU physician group and Virginia Premier HMO — under a single brand working toward one common purpose: to relentlessly explore new ways to improve human life.


10)  New nursing degree focused on quality and safety – a first in the state

This fall, VCU becomes the only university in Virginia to offer a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree focused on quality and safety. The degree prepares nurses to translate research into evidence-based practice and to lead teams of health care professionals as they work to improve patient outcomes.

The program takes a hybrid format, with most of the courses taking place online. Students will attend classes on campus three times a year for two to three days at the beginning of each semester. An alternative to the school’s existing research-focused Ph.D., the D.N.P. is the highest academic degree in nursing with a focus on clinical practice. 


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