Photo by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

What’s new at VCU for the 2016-17 academic year

Share this story

Another school year has begun at Virginia Commonwealth University, and along with the many new faces are plenty of new programs, spaces and other things to know about around campus. Here’s a selection of the latest developments.


1)     The big screen

In late August, something new was likely to catch your eye if you were walking down Shafer Court toward the James Branch Cabell Library, and it wasn’t the crush of back-to-school students passing in and out of the building’s revolving doors, but rather something right above it. The library’s new media façade — also known as the “big screen” or vitrine — lit up for the first time.

The exterior screen, which will be programmed to display visually engaging presentations, including animation, short films, kinetic-art projects and rotating still images, is transparent, even when it is in use. Anyone inside the library looking out will see a mesh similar to a screen door. This means students studying indoors will still get plenty of natural light.

The 400-square-foot screen has no sound, and will not be used to show sports events or films, nor will it show advertisements or promotional messaging. Instead, the screen will often be used to highlight the work of VCU’s vibrant student body and faculty. Submissions for the inaugural student showcase (which will be displayed during Family Weekend) are being accepted until Sept. 15.


2)     Sing along

Video description goes here

VCU has never had an official alma mater, or theme song, until this past spring when the VCU Alumni Board of Governors voted “We Gather Here” the official VCU anthem. Emeritus professor Lemont “Monty” Kier, Ph.D., had been jotting down lyrics about the university for  several years when he learned in a chance conversation with VCU’s associate vice president of alumni relations that VCU was without an alma mater. He then enlisted his son, Andrew Kier, who graduated in 1990 from the Department of Music in the VCU School of Arts, to write the music, and a song was born. 

“Our new alma mater means even more because it was written by two people so closely associated with VCU,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “Monty and Andrew’s collaboration is greatly appreciated. I look forward to hearing the song performed at university events. It truly captures the spirit of our university and our dedication to diversity and enriching lives.”


3)     New programs

VCU is offering two new programs this fall: a master’s in decision analytics and a Ph.D. in oral health research. 

The Master in Decision Analytics degree was introduced by the School of Business to answer the large and growing demand for professionals who can obtain valuable insight from data. Students enrolled in the program will gain expertise in advanced statistical analysis, big-data information technology and state-of-the-practice analytics software. An advisory board comprising senior data scientists and executives from companies such as Capital One, SunTrust, Altria, Dominion Power, IBM, Bon Secours, McKesson Medical and Snagajob helped shape the program and will assure it stays on the leading edge of analytics practices.

VCU is the first university in Virginia to offer a Ph.D. program in oral health research. The program, which is focused on cancer, infection and stem cell engineering, is based in the School of Dentistry but is cross-disciplinary. Faculty from the schools of Dentistry, Medicine and Engineering will mentor students and help prepare them for careers as researchers seeking treatments and cures for oral cancer as well as a variety of other diseases related to oral health.


4)     New and improved student spaces

A new mural in the University Student Commons.
<br>Photo by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs.
A new mural in the University Student Commons.
Photo by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs.

Over the summer, VCU made numerous upgrades to spaces enjoyed by students. The fitness center in the Cary Street Gym has been remodeled and both it and its counterpart at the MCV Campus Recreation & Aquatic Center boast new equipment such as treadmills and weight-lifting gear. 

Students visiting the University Student Commons will notice a new mural, a newly renovated Office of Multicultural Student Affairs that provides more space for student programming and a new place to eat in the food court. Freshii, which provides fresh, healthy options such as wraps and quinoa bowls, was selected as a result of a March 2016 student survey. The Hunton Student Center on the MCV Campus was renovated in spring 2016 and features new student spaces for studying, meeting and relaxing, including a cozy new fireplace. 


5)     RAMSWay signs mark popular routes

Developed by VCU staff members in the Grace E. Harris Leadership InstituteRAMSWay signs will mark popular thoroughfares on both of VCU’s campuses. The GEHLI group determined the paths based on extensive research and feedback from the VCU community; the VCU Police Department secured funding to bring the concept to the campuses. The routes, marked with RAMSWay signs, connect key locations such as academic buildings, parking decks and residence halls. Signs are posted on the Monroe Park Campus starting at the intersection of Broad and Shafer streets and continue along a path to the intersection of Cary Street at the Linden Street walkway. Signs are planned for installation on the MCV Campus.

These paths are intended to supplement existing personal safety habits and VCU’s safety efforts on both campuses by bringing community members together onto common routes. RAMSWay paths have ERTs phones for easy phone access to VCU Police and are subject to passive video monitoring. Police officers also patrol those routes, giving students, faculty and staff more opportunities to engage with officers. Should there be an emergency on a RAMSWay path, police still need to be actively summoned to respond. LiveSafe app users can follow the paths electronically on the app’s “safety map” feature.


6)     Friendly financial advice

The first group of money coaches, pictured here in spring 2016.
The first group of money coaches, pictured here in spring 2016.

Money management is an issue many college students are grappling with for the first time. The Money Spot at VCU, a new peer-to-peer counseling center, is designed to help students navigate through what can be tricky financial waters and gain financial literacy.

School of Business professor John McFarland has trained a team of student money coaches who are available to meet with students and help them develop a spending plan, understand how credit works, manage their student loans and more. Students can access help by visiting The Money Spot’s location in Hibbs Hall, or via its Facebook page, email ( or hotline (804-827-0174). The money coaches also regularly provide 10- to 20-minute presentations in VCU’s student housing locations, followed by immediate opportunities for one-on-one counseling. 


7)     A garden with a cause

Students tend to plants at the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden.
<br>Photo by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs
Students tend to plants at the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden.
Photo by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs

Though the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden has been in the works for many months, the hard work came literally to fruition this summer. The first crops, grown and donated to RamPantry and the Center for High Blood Pressure, sprang up from what used to be an unused, grassy lot.

The townhouse-lot-sized space at 1218 Parkwood Ave. was gifted by VCU Parking and Transportation to the Office of Sustainability, which applied for and received a grant from the Council of Community Engagement to transform the empty lot into a lush green space. Plants, seed and material donations came from Shalom Farms, Snead’s Nursery and Blanchard’s Coffee.

The garden has donated 270 pounds of food to date and consists of eight raised beds, four vertical gardening structures, dozens of large coffee bags growing potatoes, a small greenhouse and even a house for Mason bees. Because produce grown in the garden goes to community members in need, there is a focus on making sure it is healthy, unintimidating and easy to cook with. The garden welcomes student, faculty and staff volunteers. Email or sign up online for opportunities.  


8)     Three new deans

Left to right are Akel I. Kahera, Ph.D.; Montserrat Fuentes, Ph.D.; and Andrew P. Daire, Ph.D.
Left to right are Akel I. Kahera, Ph.D.; Montserrat Fuentes, Ph.D.; and Andrew P. Daire, Ph.D.

The School of Education, the College of Humanities and Sciences, and VCUQatar all welcomed new deans in the past few months.

Andrew P. Daire, Ph.D., new dean of the School of Education, comes to VCU from the University of Houston’s College of Education, where he was the associate dean for research. Daire holds a B.S. in biology and an M.S. in mental health counseling from Stetson University and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and school psychology from Florida State University. In addition to securing more than $16 million in sponsored research funding, Daire has authored more than 50 publications and presented at 80 professional conferences. His research interests include couple, relationship and family issues, career development and STEM.

Montserrat Fuentes, Ph.D., new dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences, previously served as head of the Department of Statistics and James M. Goodnight Distinguished Professor of Statistics at North Carolina State University. She is the center director for the Research Network for Statistical Methods for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, a research collaborative funded by the National Science Foundation. Fuentes received a dual bachelor’s degree in mathematics and music (piano) from the University of Valladolid in Spain and a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Chicago.

Akel I. Kahera, Ph.D., new dean of VCUQatar, joins VCU from Clemson University, where he was associate dean of the College of Architecture, Arts & Humanities, capping a nearly 20-year career in public university teaching and administration. Prior to Clemson, Kahera taught at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University and Prairie View A&M University, where he was director of graduate studies. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and degrees in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Pratt Institute. Kahera is the 2013 recipient of the Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art travel fellowship and has lived and worked in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, allowing him to acquire firsthand knowledge and experience about global cultures, traditions, ancient places and distinctive environments. 


Subscribe for free to the weekly VCU News email newsletter at and receive a selection of stories, videos, photos, news clips and event listings in your inbox every Thursday.