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News Highlights

Architectural rendering

STEM Building Update

When students return to campus, they’ll discover that Franklin Street looks a whole lot different than when they left. Gone is the Franklin Street Gym, the site of countless basketball games, swim lessons and VCU classes. And, in its place will soon rise the new College of Humanities and Sciences STEM building, a $121 million, 169,000 square foot, six-floor building, dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math education at the College.

Demolition officially began in March, but work was underway long before the first brick was removed from the site. Independent chillers and new steam lines had to be installed in neighboring buildings, while asbestos and other hazardous material abatement was performed in the old gym. As of August, demolition of the remaining foundations of the gym was completed and a retaining wall along the south side of the site was installed. According to VCU Facilities Management, the STEM building is on track to open in the spring of 2023.


Samaneh Oladi

World Studies Launches New Minor

This past year, the School of World Studies has started offering a new 18-credit minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies to meet a growing interest in the important, yet often misunderstood, region of the world.

“The minor aims to correct the record by offering a more nuanced and balanced perspective about the region, its politics and people, and in so doing help to build bridges of understanding,” said Faedah M. Totah, Ph.D., an associate professor of international studies in the School of World Studies.

Courses include Introduction to the Middle East and North Africa, Contemporary Issues in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, Women in Islam, Governments and Politics of the Middle East, and Modern Islamic Thought and Global Trends. Students also are encouraged to complete Arabic language courses.


jeanine guidry and nicole odonnell

Robertson Introduces Media+Health Lab

In the fall, the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture introduced the Media+Health Lab, a new hub dedicated to health communications research. The lab, run by Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D., and Nicole O’Donnell, Ph.D., studies how public health messages are crafted and how they are understood. One of their first projects focused on suicide-related bystander behavior on Instagram, for which they received a VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund award.

The lab’s purpose has taken on new urgency with the recent pandemic. Guidry and O’Donnell recently conducted a survey regarding communications on preventive behaviors (handwashing, face masks and social distancing) and the impact on the coronavirus. “The virus is so unprecedented that health messaging is difficult. This research will help us better understand what, how and when to communicate in the midst of a pandemic,” explains Guidry.


four attendees at the greer lecture

Inaugural Greer Lecture Held

Starting in the 1680s and continuing through the 1830s, archival records show that locust swarms in the region of what is now Central America and southern Mexico (Chiapas and Oaxaca) intensified in frequency, duration and geographic scope. These swarms, which led to food shortages, famine, fear of disease and threats of social unrest, were the topic of the inaugural Harold and Laura Greer Lecture, sponsored by the Department of History, in November.

Martha Few, Ph.D., a professor of Latin American history and women's, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University, spoke about the history of efforts to fight locust swarms and juxtaposed archival examples of colonial, local and Indigenous knowledge claims about insect infestations and eradication by colonial scientists, lay people, political and religious authorities, and Indigenous people.

This event was made possible through the support of Harold and Laura Greer, who provided an endowment to establish the Dr. and Mrs. Harold Greer Jr. Distinguished Professorship in Latin American History, which also funds this annual lecture focusing on Latin American history. The Greer lecture will join two other annual sponsored-lecture events in the department—the Blake lecture and the Society of the Cincinnati lecture—in which alumni, students and the Richmond community are all invited to attend.


letter figurines that spell v.c.u. outside shafer court

Robertson Receives Reaccreditation

The Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture received full reaccreditation by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). The school remains on the prestigious list of 117 accredited journalism and mass communication programs in the United States and abroad. ACEJMC evaluates programs on nine accreditation standards every six years.

“Being nationally accredited is the hallmark of a strong academic and experiential learning program in our field,” said Marcus Messner, Ph.D., director of the Robertson School. “For our students that means the ability to maintain smaller skills classes, to offer innovative curricula, and to help ensure they are well prepared to carry forward in their academic and professional pursuits after graduation.”


shiv khanna instructing a student

New Nanoscience Concentration and M.D./Ph.D. in Physics

The Department of Physics introduced a new nanoscience concentration for bachelor degree students this year. “We are living in the age where nanoscience is going to play an important role in our lives, let it be electronic devices, material science, energy or medicine. I always say that the current age will be remembered as the age of nanoscience,” said Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., chair of the department. To earn this concentration, students take 12 credits focused on nanoscience, which also includes an independent study with faculty engaged in the field.

Physics also added a new M.D./Ph.D. for graduate students in 2020-21.


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