Excellence Beyond Boundaries
The College of Humanities and Sciences strategic plan, Excellence Beyond Boundaries, exemplifies the central role of our diverse College at VCU. The breadth of disciplines in the biological sciences, humanities, mathematical and physical sciences, and social and behavioral sciences taught by our distinguished faculty provides students with the foundation to be agile and adaptable in a global environment.
Our strategic plan reflects a commitment to preparing leaders in social and technological innovation who are prepared for careers across the breadth of 21st century opportunities. While providing a cohesive plan for coordinating our efforts to excel, the CHS strategic plan is an intricate complement to VCU’s Quest 2025: Together We Transform strategic plan.
Excellence Beyond Boundaries is the result of an inclusive planning process which drew from the collective wisdom and vision of our faculty, staff, students and alumni. This process produced a unique and authentic strategic plan that presents a common understanding and context for our goals. This plan clarifies our united effort to transform lives through teaching and learning in our classrooms, laboratories and with our communities.
Read more about the mission, vision and values that inform the plan.
To realize our vision and advance our mission and values we have defined four key strategic focus areas. Each focus area is supported by several specific goals that provide a foundation for and direct our planning and decision-making over the coming years.
Strategic Focus Area I
Attain distinction in preparing students to be leaders in social and scientific innovation in a technologically advancing world and who are prepared for careers across the breadth of 21st century opportunities.
Maximize positive transformations in each student’s academic ambition and capabilities.
- Enhance the use of existing advising systems so that relevant data on the progress of each student is made available to the appropriate advisers and faculty and in order for advisers and faculty to have clear pathways of communication and collaboration.
- Achieve a 300:1 student to adviser ratio.
- Increase the participation in reporting of early alerts, and improve the timeliness of these notifications.
- Ensure early and proactive outreach to students who may be struggling in courses or who are unsure of their major or career outlook.
- Increase number of students assisted/impacted by advising campaigns and initiatives.
- Increase number of and support for groups (i.e., affiliation groups) that target populations with low graduation rates and other markers of performance.
- Track and review students receiving grades of D and F, and who have withdrawn (DFW rate); retention rates; and graduation rates by year, major, and demographic group each semester.
- Increase opportunities and incentives for students to heighten excellence within and beyond the classroom.
- Track grants for student/faculty research, conference attendance, fieldwork, publications, and so on.
- Initiate a new student leadership development program within the College.
- Provide opportunities for accelerated learning and degree completion.
- Where academically appropriate, examine the efficacy of accelerated or three-year degree programs.
Facilitate meaningful linkages between each student’s academic work and relevant local, national, and international community environments in preparation for careers in a diverse and evolving twenty-first century environment.
- Expand opportunities for experiential learning for each student (see also SFA IV: Goal 1, p. 12).
- Increase and track funding for student expenses related to internships, education abroad, research, and similar activities.
- Provide support for faculty to develop departmental core courses that involve experiential learning.
- Establish efficient review, approval, and tracking process for affiliation agreements with sites for internship or clinical placements.
- Ensure that each student has multiple opportunities to engage in work with diverse teams.
- Provide support for faculty to develop departmental core courses that involve team building, conflict management, and diversity awareness.
- Introduce each student to professionals and potential role models/mentors in their disciplines and related fields.
- Host on-campus events involving student interaction with successful professionals across disciplines.
- Create and track departmental level faculty–student mentor programs and opportunities.
- Develop and implement at the College level a tool to formalize and track mentoring efforts (an analog to the School of Business’ BizConnect).
- Improved career services for all students.
- Utilize the VCU Career Services to provide support for career-related modules or courses.
- Track the number of and attendance at workshops/speakers on career development at both the College and department level.
- Increase and track the use of major maps.
- Develop an alumni employment/career database.
Provide opportunities and incentives for each student to build both the technical, disciplinary skill sets and broader interdisciplinary connections that are foundational to lifelong professional adaptability and personal growth.
- Ensure that basic communications and critical thinking/analytical skills are embedded in core course work for each student.
- Working with the VCU Career Services, provide support and incentives for departments to encourage the development of student e-portfolios (multimedia).
- Increase the number of and track grants for the development of core course components/modules that strengthen communications skills.
- Incentivize innovative and unique interdisciplinary courses and curricula.
- Develop and track formal college-level incentives for interdisciplinary courses/curricula to coexist with the new budget model.
Strategic Focus Area II
Support student success by ensuring that faculty and staff have the resources necessary, and the opportunities for career development, to engage students in state-of-the-art learning experiences.
Bolster student success through meaningful teaching and learning relationships among faculty, staff, and students.
- Reduce current 42:1 student-to-instructor ratio to 20:1.
- Assess and make public student-to-instructor ratios each semester in each unit.
- Hire additional primarily tenure-track faculty and term faculty.
- In the appropriate departments, hire graduate teaching assistants instead of adjunct instructors.
- Increase the number of available classrooms to ease bottleneck courses and to offer a broader range of active learning environments.
- Increase the total number of classrooms and specifically add classrooms designated for “active learning.”
- Build/designate a new STEM building for teaching science lab courses.
- Incentivize faculty and staff to engage with Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) programming (e.g., competitive stipends, faculty fellows positions, and small grants for faculty development) or similar opportunities.
- Track the number of faculty participating in CTLE programs.
- Incorporate CTLE as an optional component of annual reports, third-year review, and P&T evaluation for teaching excellence.
- Recognize faculty and staff at all levels who engage in excellent teaching and mentorship practices.
- Establish unit-level faculty awards for teaching and mentorship; establish a yearly conference/seminar/celebration on teaching and learning in the College at which the awardees speak.
- Recognize faculty and staff at all levels who publish scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).
- Increase and track the number of published books and articles, presentations at regional and national meetings, and technical reports related to SoTL.
- Incorporate strategy to include SoTL into annual reports, third-year reviews, and P&T evaluations for teaching excellence.
Fund and promote the development of transformative learning experiences in domestic and global communities that “make it REAL” for students.
- Provide support for the development of innovative approaches to existing courses or new curricular offerings.
- Establish and track small grants for course development.
- Enable faculty to develop service learning courses with Richmond community-partners (or partners in other regions) by offering one-time stipends; encourage VCU to expand the scope of service learning beyond the Richmond area.
- Increase the number of first-time service learning courses.
- Increase the number of disciplines offering service learning.
- Increase the total number of service learning courses and course components (i.e., individual units, course assignments, etc.).
- Establish unit-level plans to coordinate experiential learning opportunities (e.g., internships, independent study, study abroad, etc.) providing for a more direct association of the relationship between these programs and the existing curriculum of each course of study.
- Track and increase enrollment in for-credit REAL opportunities—internships, study abroad/domestic, independent study.
- Identify and coordinate across units supervisors for our “Make it REAL” programs.
- Support collaboration among faculty to create projects that our alumni donors or community and corporate sponsors would be interested in funding, similar to a GoFundMe process for faculty–alumni relations.
- Raise funds through alumni donors and community sponsors and track the use of those funds.
- Fund additional faculty-proposed transformative learning experiences.
- Incentivize faculty to engage in public scholarship.
- Increase VCU faculty’s visibility in the news, on well-respected blogs, and so on.
- Incorporate public scholarship as an optional service component of annual reviews, third-year reviews, and P&T evaluations for service excellence/scholarship excellence.
Enhance working relationships among staff, tenure-track, term, and adjunct faculty in each department to improve communication and enhance teaching and research opportunities.
- Work with Staff Council and Faculty Council to provide staff training and incentives to strengthen customer service and knowledge, skills, and abilities.
- Announce and schedule focused training opportunities for College staff (e.g., customer service, relationship building, working styles, etc.).
- Create a formal mentoring programs for full-time faculty, staff, and adjunct faculty.
- Use Talent@VCU to encourage staff and faculty to identify and follow through on professional training and advancement opportunities.
- Create professional development opportunities through pedagogical training and orientation initiatives for adjuncts so that they feel included in their home departments and have access to necessary resources.
- Assess the needs and concerns of our adjunct faculty.
- Develop and incorporate an orientation program and pedagogical training for adjuncts.
- Make a formal comparison of student evaluations for adjuncts who have or have not completed pedagogical training offered by VCU.
- Require units to develop clear procedures for assessing adjunct teaching and providing feedback in a timely manner.
- Create a seat reserved for adjunct faculty on the Faculty Council and Faculty Senate (this requires a bylaws change).
- Develop an adjunct listserv to better inform and engage adjunct faculty.
Support the development of an environment in which the importance of improved teaching is encouraged, assessed, and valued through promotion of term and tenured faculty.
- Evaluate teaching using multiple means of measuring effective teaching and learning, including, but not limited to, student teaching evaluations.
- Seek unit-level and college-wide input to develop guidelines for evaluating teaching.
- Work with CTLE to create a rubric for evaluating teaching practices (management, engagement, assessments, etc.) that is discipline-specific.
- Provide opportunities for improving teaching (faculty leaves, attendance at meetings or workshops, for example).
- Track the number of faculty who attend workshops or meetings focused on teaching excellence, including CTLE activities.
Strategic Focus Area III
Develop and advance nationally recognized student and faculty scholarship, research, and creative initiatives committed to addressing challenges in our urban Richmond community and beyond.
Recruit and retain exceptional faculty engaged in research/scholarship across the varied disciplines represented by the College of Humanities and Sciences.
- Reduce reliance on part-time faculty.
- Decrease the total percentage of part-time faculty.
- Eradicate salary compression.
- Increase and track the number of merit-based salary increases.
- Increase strategic hires of full-time faculty.
- Support and track the number of collaborative, multi-PI proposals submitted as a direct result of new hires.
- Develop a mentoring plan for all new tenure-track and term faculty that incentivizes faculty to be mentors (e.g., recognition in promotion materials) and an enhanced orientation process for new faculty.
- Track the fraction of faculty members who have assigned mentors.
- Track the fraction of faculty members who act as mentors.
- Develop a brief online survey to assess the effectiveness of mentorship and track the fraction of faculty members who indicate satisfaction with mentoring.
- Increase availability of graduate student assistantships and funding for graduate students (make assistantships attractive by covering fees and increasing stipends to be competitive with peer institutions).
- Increase the number of graduate students enrolled in degree programs.
- Develop a plan for research space that allocates space for new faculty hires and their graduate students.
- A comprehensive plan that allocates space for new and existing faculty and aligns with state recommendations for space utilization.
- Develop a spousal hiring policy and multi-year enhancement plans.
- Develop spousal hiring policy.
- Increase and track the number of faculty spouses hired.
- Increase and track retention of new hires.
- Permanently fund and broaden access to the existing research support opportunities already sponsored by the College (e.g., Seed Awards, Catalyst Awards, grant workshops, writing days).
- Increase and track the number of faculty attending these events.
- Increase and track the number of types of faculty submitting proposals.
Increase the College’s involvement with and impact on the metropolitan Richmond area by evaluating change in the lives of Richmond-area residents.
- Create a plan for the development of a Center that focuses on urban outreach and impact.
- Work with the Division of Community Engagement (DCE) to integrate services and develop a research Center focused on urban challenges.
- In collaboration with DCE and members of the community identify needs and challenges to better understand where to focus efforts.
- Develop needs assessment reports that can be disseminated to the community.
- Track the number of subsequent external grant submissions to target those identified needs.
- Develop measures and maintain records of improvements in the lives of Richmond-area residents that are a direct or indirect result of the College’s student/teacher initiatives and publicize these records internally and externally.
- Through personal contact record in detail—annually and longitudinally—tangible improvements in areas such as housing/homelessness, poverty reduction (jobs), health and education, child care, and transportation.
- Include “data” in annual reviews and reports.
- Work with the Office of Advancement to secure funding for an annual symposium in the community to share the results of partnerships and collaborations between the university and community.
- Once established, annually track the number of participants, speakers, and presentations.
- Initiate coordinated faculty methods for disseminating research findings to constituencies throughout the Richmond area.
- Track the number of participants, speakers, and presentations, online and in person.
- Develop and track opportunities for dissemination of findings in non-academic settings such as social and news media.
Expand VCU’s excellence in research by investing in the strengths and potential areas of growth of our students and faculty.
- Develop a mock grant review panel and provide small compensation for reviewers.
- Increase and track the number of external grant submissions by faculty.
- Track the number of successfully funded grants, specifically to record increases.
- Provide pilot project funds for both faculty and students to support the growth of interdisciplinary projects that cross traditional boundaries.
- Track the number of inter- and multi-disciplinary pilot projects funded.
- Track the number of subsequent external grant submissions based on those pilot projects.
- Develop a plan to increase support for research and other initiatives that fall under the focus areas of Changing American Communities, Nanomaterials for Energy and Medicine, Data Science, and Mechanisms and Management of Addiction.
- Track the increase in research and other initiatives in these areas.
- Track measures related to inter- or multidisciplinary research, such as research publications, presentations, or proposals or new interdisciplinary courses.
Strategic Focus Area IV
Become a leader in integrating meaningful engagement with real-world challenges that support the development of global citizens, and maintain VCU’s Carnegie classification as a high research and high community-engaged university.
Initiate, continue, and maintain authentically collaborative, mutually beneficial local, state, national, and global partnerships that meet community-specified needs and College student learning outcomes.
- Expand opportunities for community engagement and experiential learning for College students by working collaboratively with the Division of Community Engagement (DCE) and the Global Education Office (GEO), College leadership, faculty, and staff (see also Strategic Focus Area I).
- Track and report on the number of service-learning, community-engaged, and experiential-learning classes in the College.
- Working with the GEO, College leadership, faculty, and staff will expand opportunities for learning abroad for students (see also Strategic Focus Area I).
- Track and report on the number of learning abroad courses offered by the college.
- Expand learning abroad opportunities to be inclusive of learning opportunities within the United States. This will present a lower-cost option for out-of-Virginia learning experiences, thereby giving more students the option for experiential learning in different environments/cultures (see also Strategic Focus Area I).
- Track and report on the number of courses offered by the college outside of Virginia.
- Provide support for student expenses related to internships, education abroad, research, and so on (see also Strategic Focus Area I).
- Track and report the number of funding opportunities developed and provided.
- Track staff increases for oversight and development of these programs.
- Provide support for faculty to develop departmental core courses that involve experiential learning (see also SFA I: Goal 2).
- Track and report the amount of support provided to faculty for experiential learning courses.
- Track and report the amount of support provided to faculty for the development of international partnerships, inclusive of applicable industry and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners.
Initiate study, discussion, and reflection to promote and value the scholarship of engagement more fully and revise P&T guidelines as applicable to explicitly reflect community-engaged research/scholarship and experiential learning.
- Clearly articulate a process for assessing community-engaged research and scholarship in annual reports and promotion and tenure review.
- Revise P&T guidelines so that they reflect the University’s articulated commitment in VCU Strategic Plan (Quest 2025) to promote (and value) community-engaged research and experiential learning.
- Recognize the time required to foster community relationships when conducting annual reviews.
Develop collaborative alignment with existing University campus initiatives (especially the DCE) that focus on meaningful engagement with real-world challenges to achieve greater impact.
- Prepare faculty to lead and train students to navigate global communities, worldviews, and interconnections in personal and professional contexts.
- Track and report on alignment with campus initiatives and metrics from DCE, VCU, Globe, VCU Health, and Monroe Park Campus units.
- Seek out service opportunities for staff that meet community-identified needs and that also build cohesion within the applicable units (e.g., service days and projects).
- Track and report on community-engaged staff service hours; encourage use of community service leave hours for all employees.
- Track and report staff satisfaction with the activities and community impact.