New grant for faculty and staff promotes experiential learning efforts

Two people speaking in front of a poster.
Photo courtesy of the Office of the Provost.

A new grant program for Virginia Commonwealth University faculty and staff will fund professional and curriculum development that enhances experiential learning initiatives for students. 

 “We’re excited to be awarding the REAL Challenge Grants this year and helping, in this small way, to support and encourage VCU’s culture of experiential learning,” said Erin Webster Garrett, Ph.D., assistant vice provost for REAL. “They are called Challenge Grants for a reason; it’s a big task — but an important one — that faculty and staff take on every day.” 

Students spend the vast majority of their time outside the classroom, Webster Garrett said, so the question arises of how does the university empower students to engage that time in making a difference in the social issues that matter to them, in exploring professionally relevant activities that prepare them for life after VCU, and in connecting with their educational and civil communities in ways that are personally meaningful.

“The goal of the grant program is to support programs in their quest to provide transformative academic experiences that prepare our students holistically for success in their professional, civic and personal lives,” Webster Garrett said.

To be considered for the REAL Challenge Grants, a brief narrative is required that offers a compelling case for how the funds would be used, a rationale for the need, and how students would benefit. The deadline to apply is March 2 and award winners will be announced April 6. 

The grants, which will range from $1,500 to $8,000, could be used for curriculum development, professional development, workshops or conferences, or other costs associated with scaling or deepening experiential learning for students. 

“We are really looking for grant proposals where the applicants are thinking about long-term goals of broadening access to the kinds of experiences that provide deep contact with content but also with opportunities to see how content translates into application and to integrate transferable, high impact skills into the undergraduate experience: skills like complex problem-solving, team-based collaboration, research, field-based learning and case-based practice,” Webster Garrett said. “In other words, we are looking for applicants that ask things like, ‘What steps can I take now that will improve experiential learning for my students both now and in the future? What kinds information or what kinds of training do I need to take my programs to the next level?’ Hopefully, the challenge grants will help programs think about how to fill some of the gaps they see and address barriers they know are present.” 

More information and the application are available at

REAL Poster Session applications

The VCU REAL initiative also is seeking applicants for the 2020 REAL Poster Session, an annual showcase of VCU's current experiential learning activities. This year's poster session will be held April 6, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Institute for Contemporary Art. For more information, visit

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