Letter from the president

The achievements of our VCU and VCU Health teams from this past year are tremendous and in many cases, amazing. Across the enterprise, our teams broke records and brought down barriers to access — putting the needs of students and patients first.

We received the largest publicly shared gift ($104 million) to support liver research in U.S. history, and VCU’s $405 million of sponsored research funding is an all-time high. We made mental wellness a major focus, with support for our students that goes well beyond academics.

Our university and health system launched new efforts to ensure greater inclusion, diversity and equity in all aspects of our work. And our teams continued to serve our region’s communities in ways that only VCU can, with new initiatives and a health system that guided patients through the largest — and one of toughest — surges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This annual report highlights just a few of the breakthroughs made by the extraordinary people of VCU and VCU Health. As you read, you’ll see what makes VCU and VCU Health truly focused in all we do — supporting our communities, making discoveries, expanding opportunities and lifting ALL lives.

Research and Innovation

Uncommon tenacity

It was a year like no other, in a place like no other. We received the largest gift in university history. We forged on in our role as one of Virginia’s top three public research universities, with projects on everything from anti-microbial face masks to detecting mental health issues through virtual reality games. And our efforts in this year led us to achieve rankings among the best for innovation and research. From here, we are unstoppable.

In a word, it’s unprecedented. In February 2022, VCU became the recipient of a $104 million gift from R. Todd Stravitz, M.D., and his family’s Barbara Brunckhorst Foundation. The gift — which is the largest in VCU’s history and the largest publicly shared gift to support liver research in U.S. history — will support the new Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease and Metabolic Health. Directed by Arun J. Sanyal, M.D., the institute will position VCU as a global leader in liver disease and metabolic health research, teaching and patient care, and will radically expand treatment options for liver and liver-related metabolic diseases. Dr. Stravitz, a physician-philanthropist in the Department of Internal Medicine at VCU School of Medicine, dedicated his entire career as a liver clinician and researcher at VCU. Before retiring in 2020, he served as medical director of liver transplantation at VCU Health’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center for a decade. View news article

Did you know?

U.S. News & World Report ranked VCU as one of the 30 most innovative public universities in the country.

CDC awards $6M grant to VCU to address Richmond’s youth violence

In September 2021, the CDC awarded a $6 million grant to two VCU researchers who will co-lead a project on community-led strategies to promote healthy communities and positive youth development opportunities, and to prevent and decrease youth violence in Richmond. The five-year grant was received by Terri Sullivan, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology and associate director of research at the VCU Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development, and Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery and the Department of Psychology and director of research at VCU Health’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program. The grant is one of only five awarded nationally and designates VCU as one of the CDC’s Youth Violence Prevention Centers. View news article

Did you know?

VCU has been named one of the top 50 universities in financial commitment to research by the National Science Foundation.

Wetlands research will help improve models that predict climate change

A project at VCU’s Rice Rivers Center will fill a unique gap by capturing data from a source that is both tidal and freshwater, which is rare in tidal regions because of proximity to saltwater. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the project will investigate fluxes of methane and carbon dioxide at the VCU Rice Rivers Center. It involves gathering greenhouse gas data from a tower, as well as conducting field experiments to simulate powerful storms. Through this project, VCU supports a global initiative to understand greenhouse gas exchange between ecosystems and the atmosphere. The Rice Rivers Center tower is part of the AmeriFlux network, a group of sites in the Americas measuring carbon dioxide, methane, water and energy emissions and uptake for a variety of ecosystems. View news article

Did you know?

The APLU named VCU one of 80 “Innovation & Economic Prosperity” universities in 2022.

Alum story

Hunter Sparagna
“It’s going to be new and scary, but it’s worth every bit.”
— Hunter Sparagna, Class of 2021

Contract to create an action figure led to toy designing job for VCUarts alum

When artist Hunter Sparagna graduated with a BFA in Communication Arts, it was the middle of the pandemic. It was also the beginning of a story of success for this talented creative. After graduating from VCU in 2021, Sparagna interviewed for jobs all over the country. He even worked for a short period for contemporary sculptor Jeff Koons doing secondary and tertiary details on his stone sculptures. In October 2021, McFarlane Toys offered Sparagna a one-week contract to create an action figure.

That evolved into a two-week contract, and then a job offer. As a 3D sculptor/toy designer, Sparagna focused on intricate tertiary detailing, using programs such as ZBrush and 3ds Max to sculpt and cut action figures. “If I had to tell you one thing, it’s to work as hard toward your goal as you can,” said Sparagna. “It's going to be new and scary, but it’s worth every bit.” View news article

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Uncommon conversations

Diversity, equity and inclusion kept driving who we are, and guiding all we do. Efforts on every level engrained DEI into the fabric of our culture. The pronoun pin initiative opened dialogue on gender identity at VCU Health. Programs like D.I.R.E. Conversations and Stepping In 4 Respect prompted conversation to overcome discriminatory behavior. And in each department, we continued our unrelenting crusade to ensure that a place like no other is open to all.

VCU recognized for diversity with highly regarded national awards

In diversity, equity and inclusion, our efforts are unlimited. For the fourth consecutive year, VCU received the 2021 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award, with special distinction as a Diversity Champion, from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. The HEED Award is a national honor recognizing U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout their campus. VCU is one of only 16 to have received the Diversity Champion distinction. Also this year, the U.S. Department of Education provided VCU with Minority Serving Institution eligibility, based on a focus on students who are from Asian American and Pacific Islander backgrounds. The university also qualified for the Strengthening Institutions Program, which recognizes colleges and universities serving a high proportion of low-income students. Read more about the HEED award and MSI eligibility

Did you know?

Quest 2028, VCU and VCU Health’s unified strategic plan, includes 59 measurable strategies. More than half are focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.

As a recipient of a Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, assistant professor and researcher Anika Hines, Ph.D., M.P.H., will soon launch a project to design novel interventions to mitigate cardiovascular risk among young Black women. Participants ages 18 to 39 will wear heart monitors for a two-week period, and Hines and her team will identify different types of stressors that cause a spike in heart rate. They will then use the data to develop an intervention that helps women manage acute stress and make lifestyle changes to manage chronic stress over time. The project is being conducted through VCU’s Equity in Cardiovascular Health Outcomes Lab, which is run by Dr. Hines. View news article

ADVANCE-VCU is national model for female STEM faculty expansion

In 2018, the National Science Foundation awarded a nearly $3 million grant to a team of interdisciplinary women at VCU to transform the university in ways that would diversify its faculty in STEM fields and beyond. Nearly four years later, the project — called ADVANCE-VCU — has had a significant impact on VCU’s recruitment, retention and advancement of female STEM faculty. The project has three focus areas: cultural change, policies and procedures change, and faculty development, along with initiatives aimed at increasing recruitment, retention and advancement of diverse female faculty in STEM fields at VCU. The ADVANCE-VCU team has presented its Immunity to Change program at national meetings of ADVANCE institutions as a model that could be replicated for cultural change in academia. View news article

Alum story

Olivia White
“I’d really love to be there as a presence from the LGBTQIA+ community as a clinical pharmacist that’s able to manage medications thoughtfully while also being that respectful, encouraging, visible presence.”
— Olivia White, Class of 2022

Student launches pharmacy organization focused on LGBTQIA+ issues

In 2020, VCU Doctor of Pharmacy student Olivia White founded PrideRx, a pharmacy student organization that provides a space for LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies at the VCU School of Pharmacy. In only two years, PrideRx has already made an impact on the VCU community. The organization serves as a safe space for students in the Pharm.D. program, and hosts talks on subjects related to LGBTQIA+ patients, including the role of pharmacists in transgender health care, the use of preferred pronouns in mental health care, and the barriers to HIV treatment experienced by the Black, queer community. The group has also raised money for a number of LGBTQIA+ causes, and has attracted prospective students to the School of Pharmacy, which has twice been recognized as the most inclusive academic department at VCU based on the VCU Organizational Campus and Culture Survey. View news article


Uncommon support

After a year of uncertainty, classes returned to campus in 2021. Programs like You@VCU helped with the transition, bringing students much-needed support for mental and physical wellness. Experiential learning rebounded, with the community becoming a classroom for many. Students from health sciences learned by giving their all during the largest surge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, the uncommon were here, live, in-person, and ready to take on anything.

New VCU program provides funding for unpaid or underpaid internships

Every student should have what they need to be unstoppable. But too often, they must decide between taking an unpaid or underpaid internship that provides a beneficial learning experience or choosing a job that provides needed financial resources. A new program from Virginia Commonwealth University aims to make that decision easier. Students now can apply to the VCU Internship Funding Program, created this past year by VCU Career Services and funded by the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success. They can request funds to support internship-related costs including housing, transit/travel, professional attire or supplies, food, utilities, and other applicable expenses. As part of the inaugural IFP, 51 students were selected to receive a total of $197,700, with individual awards ranging from $600 to $5,000 based on specific needs. IFP awardees represented six different schools and colleges and 27 majors, in internships with 47 unique organizations across 18 industries and five countries — and 24% of IFP summer experiences resulted in immediate offers of re-employment. View news article

Did you know?

In 2022, the VCU School of Dentistry earned ranking as 17th among all U.S. dental schools in NIH research funding.

The Pentagon and international communities receive EMS training from VCU

More than 40 years ago, VCU’s Center for Trauma and Critical Care Education was launched as the first academic medical center paramedic program in Virginia. Today, about half of the health care professionals who pass the paramedic board exam in Virginia have trained at VCU — and the program’s footprint stretches around the world. Nationally, VCU has a longstanding relationship with the military, training medics who are part of special forces teams. The Pentagon has relied on the center to provide paramedic education courses at Fort Lee. The center has trained paramedics from Australia, both at VCU and in the paramedics’ home country. And VCU Medical Center team members have played an important role in building trauma and EMS systems in Rwanda, a low and middle-income country that did not have a formal training program to standardize prehospital emergency care. View news article

Did you know?

In April 2022, a team of VCU students from a variety of majors beat out 16 teams from across the country to become the first-place winner of the prestigious Clarion Case Competition.

Grant helps VCU expand the You First program for first-generation students

A $200,000 grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund will allow the You First at VCU program to become the You First at VCU, First-Generation Student Success and Research Center. Since 2016, You First at VCU has worked to develop a sense of belonging, academic skills, confidence and a community network among first-generation students. The duPont funding provides the necessary resources to advance faculty engagement designed to foster rigorous instructional experiences that lead to positive student outcomes. The funding will help establish a faculty fellow program, an ambassadors program, research grants and faculty development opportunities. View news article

Did you know?

U.S. News & World Report ranked VCU’s gastroenterology and hepatology program #17 globally in 2022.

Alum story

Mina Ibrahim
“I have a unique background, I wear a hijab, and sometimes it was tough to navigate that and explain my history and beliefs. I feel like the friends I’ve made have to be the most compassionate people ever, because they might not fully understand my experience but they are always willing to listen and give support.”
— Mina Ibrahim, DDS, Class of 2022

From UAE to RVA to NYC: alumni Minatallah “Mina” Ibrahim, DDS

Only about 4% of all dentists in the U.S. are Black. Minatallah “Mina” Ibrahim is out to help change those statistics. Ibrahim, who recently graduated with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree at VCU School of Dentistry, grew up in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. She followed her brother to VCU, where she majored in chemistry as an undergrad. She became connected with VCU School of Dentistry through the Undergraduate Student National Dental Association (USNDA) and the Student National Dental Association (SNDA), which focus on promoting and supporting minorities in dentistry. During her studies, Ibrahim worked toward obtaining her U.S. citizenship. She is currently completing a one-year General Practice Residency program at Brooklyn Hospital Center in Brooklyn, New York. View news article

Community/Patient Care

Uncommon compassion

Thousands of university students supported their community through service. The VCU Health Hub at 25th administered thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to an underserved population. The VCU Health Adult Outpatient Pavilion opened its doors, and VCU Health Tappahannock Hospital became fully integrated with our system. In all, we went above, beyond and then ever farther, with a passion for caring that knows no boundaries.

About 1 in 9 people, or more than 165,000, are facing hunger in Central Virginia. The “Food is Medicine” program at VCU Health, sponsored by Feed More, works to reduce hunger among patients screening positive for food insecurity during health care visits. A grant from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation more than doubled the number of clinics the program serves. There are now Food is Medicine screening sites at a total of 10 VCU Health clinics. In addition, funding from the Rite Aid Foundation has been awarded for ongoing support of the CHoR clinics participating in this work. Patients in need are given a box of heart-healthy, shelf-stable food, and are directed to programs that can help with long-term solutions, such as the Feed More Hunger Hotline. They’re also connected to food pantries closest to their homes and encouraged to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and other assistance programs. View news article

Did you know?

During the winter 2021 COVID surge, VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in rural South Hill opened a temporary urgent care clinic with less than one week’s notice.

VCU ranked No. 1 among more than 150 Peace Corps Prep partner universities in 2021

Virginia Commonwealth University is the top institution for Peace Corps Prep certificates for the second year in a row. The university issued 114 Peace Corps Prep certificates to 2021 graduates. The certificate program teaches students foreign language proficiency, intercultural competence and professional experience and leadership, and helps make them more competitive applicants to the Peace Corps. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic causing a global evacuation of Peace Corps volunteers, more than 700 undergraduate students across the country completed the Peace Corps Prep program in the 2020-21 academic year. View news article

Did you know?

The new VCU Health Adult Outpatient Pavilion opened its doors in December 2021, consolidating 26 specialties into one location.

Pharmacy student puts her knowledge to work in a small seaside town in Cameroon

Blessing Tomlah traveled to her former hometown to provide glucose tests to residents as a way to share her health care training with an impoverished region. The second-year Pharm.D. student at the VCU School of Pharmacy bought blood glucose meters in Richmond — the meters are scarce outside the U.S. — and took them with her on a long flight across the Atlantic, arriving at last in the small seaside town of Limbe, Cameroon. After being rebuffed by a pharmacy that did not want to offer free tests, she worked with a church to provide glucose tests, at no cost, to anyone who wanted one. Several people were surprised by high glucose results that indicated they could have untreated diabetes. Tomlah advised them to see a doctor, and provided guidance on nutrition. View news article


Charlie Anne Xavier
“The team at the Burn Center is phenomenal and they saved my life. Dr. Feldman pieced me back together, and I found the strength to pull through. I kept fighting. I never lost hope. And I was determined to get back home and be a mother to my boys.”
— Charlie Anne Xavier, Charlottesville, VA

Young mom Charlie Xavier beats the odds at VCU’s Evans-Haynes Burn Center

On Sept. 10, 2021, a horrific workplace accident left Charlie Anne Xavier fighting for her life. She was admitted to VCU Health’s Evans-Haynes Burn Center with third-degree burns over 85% of her body and a very low chance of survival. But Charlie — a mother of two young boys — knew that she had to fight with everything in her to make it home to her family. And fight she did. After more than 170 days in the hospital, over 50 surgeries and countless wound treatments, Charlie left the Burn Center to return home — six months earlier than anticipated. She credits her faith, family, determination and her incredible multidisciplinary care team at the Burn Center. View news article