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VCU President Michael Rao, left, and P. Srirama Rao, vice president for research and innovation, discuss VCU's new research strategic plan on Oct. 20 at the Institute for Contemporary Art. [View Image] VCU President Michael Rao, left, and P. Srirama Rao, vice president for research and innovation, discuss VCU's new research strategic plan on Oct. 20 at the Institute for Contemporary Art. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

VCU aims to grow its transformative innovation and research. Here’s how it plans to do it.

The university’s new research plan aims to promote growth across disciplines and position VCU as “the model of a public research university” in innovation.

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Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., has a goal of growing the funding that supports the university’s innovative research that has transformational public impact. During a town hall meeting Wednesday, he presented a plan to work toward that end. 

Called the One VCU Research Strategic Priorities Plan, also known as the strategic research priorities plan (“SRPP”), the initiative is designed to embrace VCU’s history in the arts and humanities with its advancement in science, medicine and engineering. It has four guiding themes — enriching the human experience, achieving a just and equitable society, optimizing health and supporting sustainable energy and environments. 

Rao said that despite establishing itself as a premier research institution in the sciences, the university must continue to value the humanities and creativity. Those areas are such an integral part of VCU and its history. The School of the Arts is one of the premier art schools in the country, and VCU must use that as an asset while growing as a research institution. 

“When I use the word research, I just simply do not think in a solely scientific context,” Rao said. “What I am talking about is the humanities and the arts and the importance of understanding that whole relationship and those thematic areas.”

Rao has been president of the university for over a decade and has made growing research a central part of his tenure. Since he has been president, research funding has climbed from $255 million in 2010 to almost $363 million during the past fiscal year. Overall, funding has increased 25% over the past three years. 

Rao said he was excited about the plan and where it will take the university.

“I want to see the journey accelerate,” Rao said. “I want to see more people feel that they are a part of what we are doing. These concepts finally capture what it is that we stand for when we say we are a research university.”

“The success of this plan is going to have a huge impact on our faculty. That will include their professional development and their ability to work across disciplines and do problem solving.”P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D.

P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation, moderated the town hall and led the effort to create the plan. He said the growth in research was across the entire campus.

“This growth that we saw was not in any one school or college,” he said. “It was across our campus. On both of our campuses. It was across disciplines. It was in areas of STEM, health sciences, arts, humanities and every area that we think about.”

He emphasized that the creation of the plan was a collaborative effort. The committee sought input from hundreds of faculty and researchers. He said collaboration was the central part of the plan because it will have a huge bearing on the direction of VCU.

“The success of this plan is going to have a huge impact on our faculty,” Srirama Rao said. “That will include their professional development and their ability to work across disciplines and do problem solving.”

The president and vice president have worked to make $10 million in funding available to kick-start the plan over the next two years. They are focused on creating the necessary infrastructure for faculty and researchers to apply for large federal grants. Both want to make the conditions ripe for some “early wins.”

The goal is to fuel innovation and ignite the spirit of entrepreneurship within the university. Srirama Rao said he foresees some innovations being spun into companies and establishing VCU as a place where research leads to advancements.

“We need to find ways to cure more diseases,” President Rao said. “We need to find ways to get medicines to people who cannot get them today, who are dying in their communities. We need to find ways to shape pathways for people into what many of us enjoy and what we call America.”

The plan fits with President Rao’s goal of enhancing experiential learning within the curriculum, especially among undergraduate students. Rao values the opportunities that VCU gives undergrad students to participate in research and believes the plan will help attract a more diverse student population.

“I really see us becoming the model of a public research university in the innovative space,” Rao said.

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