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Research

The College of Humanities and Sciences develops and advances nationally recognized student and faculty scholarship, research, and creative initiatives committed to addressing challenges in our urban Richmond community and beyond.

We aim to become a leader in integrating meaningful engagement with real-world challenges that support the development of global citizens, and maintain VCU’s

Student research

We have many faculty who are internationally recognized experts in their fields. In the College of Humanities and Sciences, we prioritize student engagement and interaction with faculty. We don't just want you to help with research, we want you to lead.

The diversity of our research means students can obtain hands-on experience in many different areas in order to find their passion. Many CHS faculty conduct community engaged research, which allows students the opportunity to conduct research that has a meaningful, positive impact on VCU and our Richmond community.

3,074 undergraduates engaged in experiential learning and research in 2018-19. This is what makes learning at VCU special and sets us apart.

Student research in the news:

Sarah Izabel
Student’s rise as a researcher takes her from law school in Brazil to an NIH lab
Sarah Izabel discovered Virginia Commonwealth University one frigid day when she just wanted to come in from the cold. Bundled up and shivering, she and a friend were walking near VCU in the winter of 2010 when they stumbled upon the University Student Commons and stepped inside to warm up. Izabel and her friend were both from Brazil, and were in the United States to improve their English and explore opportunities in the country. Unfamiliar with the area, they had never heard of VCU and didn’t understand what it was, but Izabel found herself immediately drawn to it.
glass of liquor next to a book
What predicts college students’ drinking habits? How much they think others are drinking.
A new study by VCU researchers examines students’ genetic risk of alcohol use, roommates’ drinking habits and the perception of peer drinking.
La'Tila Abbott
Class of 2019: Entrepreneur and biology graduate driven by a personal mission
Being diagnosed with alopecia areata at age 16 inspired in La'Tila Abbott a passion for health sciences that eventually led her to VCU. Abbott will graduate in May with a biology degree.
American Civil War Museum
History grad students’ Civil War research will be on display at American Civil War Museum’s grand opening
When the new American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar officially opens its doors on Saturday, May 4, visitors will have an opportunity to check out new scholarly research conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University history graduate students about the Civil War and how it is remembered.
Caitlin Cain in a chemistry lab
Chemistry and Forensic Science student receives prestigious NSF graduate fellowship
Caitlin Cain, a senior majoring in chemistry and forensic science, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees.
student with the heading 'research weeks'
Humanities and Sciences students shine during Research Weeks
As part of Research Weeks (April 5-26), VCU News is highlighting the work of undergraduates whose work was made possible by VCU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Department of Biology, Division for Community Engagement and guidance from faculty members.
History graduate student Josh Dow (left) and Eric Johnson, head of innovative media at VCU Libraries, prepare to use a technique called photogrammetry to capture a 3D image of a wooden game at Agecroft Hall & Gardens. (Photo by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs)
Joshua Dow is creating 3D images to make Agecroft Hall’s collection more accessible
Sitting on a rotating turntable is a small wooden game called Nine Men's Morris, part of the collection of Agecroft Hall & Gardens, a historic house museum within a Tudor manor that was brought to Richmond in the 1920s piece by piece from Manchester, England.

Faculty research

Our faculty conduct research on an extraordinarily diverse set of topics, ranging from the understanding of the histories of Native American people, to addressing inequality and disparities in education, to climate change and the development of alternative and efficient energy sources.

CHS faculty regularly win a variety of prestigious awards, fellowships and scholarships, including Woodrow Wilson fellowships and Fulbright scholarships. They also hold some of the largest grants at VCU, including center grants from the Center for Disease Control to prevent youth violence and from the Federal Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health to understand the health consequences of e-cigarettes and the impact of policies put in place to regulate them.

Faye Belgrave, Ph.D., university professor in the Department of Psychology, received the 2018 Psychology and AIDS Distinguished Leadership Award from the American Psychological Association.

Maryanne Collinson, Ph.D., was appointed by the president and the Board of Visitors as the John B. Fenn Professor in Chemistry. The John B. Fenn Professorship is awarded to faculty with a focus on analytical chemistry. She also received the 2017 American Chemical Society-VA Section Distinguished Research Award.

Bethany Coston, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, recently received a $50,000, year-long grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study bisexual and non-monosexual women, their experiences of intimate partner, dating, and sexual violence, and their access to culturally competent health care.

Tressie Cottom, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, was named the 2017 Distinguished Feminist Activist by Sociologists for Women in Society. The award is given to a member who consistently tries to improve lives of women in society through sociology. She was also ranked on the 2018 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings as one of 200 scholars in the U.S. who are “doing the most to shape educational practice and policy.”

Amanda Dickinson, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biology, is principal investigator on a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, to investigate whether e-cigarettes could be linked to the development of craniofacial birth defects.

Tom Eissenberg, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychology and director, Center for the Study of Tobacco Products was named a Highly Cited Researcher for 2017 by Web of Science, Clarivate Analytics. The Highly Cited Researcher designation is awarded to researchers whose work ranks among the top 1% of that cited in their respective fields for the most recent 11 years, earning the mark of exceptional impact.

Samy El Shall, Ph.D., was appointed by the president and the Board of Visitors as the Mary Eugenia Kapp Chair in Chemistry. This award honors Kapp, the first chairperson of the department, who guided the department through its formative years. He was also was one of three researchers named Virginia’s Outstanding Scientists for 2018.

Nao Hagiwara, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology, received a four-year, $1.7 million grant from the National institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease in the National Institutes of Health. Her study on physicians’ communication behaviors and the outcomes of black patients with Type 2 diabetes is also being supported by the School of Medicine.

Heather Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology received a $1.1 million grant to increase the number of psychology doctoral students who provide behavioral health care to underserved youth, LatinX immigrants and refugees in Richmond. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration awarded the four-year grant to Jones for "The VCU Primary Care Psychology Training Collaborative: Expanding Services with Underserved Youth, LatinX Immigrants, and Refugees."

Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., commonwealth professor and chair in the Department of Physics, was honored with the Hind Rattan Award for his numerous contributions to the advancement of science. This award is one of the highest Indian diasporic awards given to non-residents of India. Khanna will receive his award in January at the NRI Welfare Society of India annual congress on the day before India’s Republic Day. Along with colleagues, he has proposed the concept of “superatoms” that extend the periodic chart to a third dimension and could lead to novel materials with tunable properties and potential for applications in numerous areas.

Sonja Livingston, assistant professor in the Department of English, recently won the VanderMey Nonfiction Prize from Ruminate Magazine for her essay, Like This, We Begin: An Essay in Two Photographs.

Marcus Messner, Ph.D., associate professor in the Robertson School of Media and Culture, was honored with the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award at VCU’s 35th Annual Faculty Convocation in August of 2017.

Anita Nadal, assistant professor in the School of World Studies, was recently honored at VCU’s Annual Presidential Awards for Community Multicultural Enrichment (PACME) Awards with the Riese-Melton award, which is given for contributions to cross-cultural relations. The PACME Awards honor individuals who have made significant contributions toward enhancing VCU’s commitment to diversity, excellence and inclusion.

Brooke Newman, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of History, received the Georgian Papers Programme Fellowship to conduct research at the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. Newman will be digitizing and analyzing original private papers within the British royal collection. Some of these manuscripts include documents such as letters, diaries, maps and prints from King George III, as well as Kings George I, George II, George IV and William IV.

Matteo Pangallo, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of English, won the Best Essay on Theatre History in 2015–2016 from Early Theatre. He also authored a new book, Playwriting Playgoers in Shakespeare’s Theater (University of Pennsylvania Press).

Ravi Perry, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, was selected as an Emerging Scholar by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. He was one of 15 honored this year for his research focused on issues facing African Americans in the U.S. According to the publication, this honor goes to professors that have distinguished themselves in their various academic disciplines and are actively working to make our society more equitable and just.

John Powers, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of History, received the Roy G. Neville Prize in Bibliography or Biography from the Chemical Heritage Foundation for his book, Inventing Chemistry: Herman Boerhaave and the Reform of the Chemical Arts. The Neville Prize recognizes an outstanding monograph or biography in the areas of the chemical and molecular sciences, and is meant to encourage emulation, inspire achievement and promote public understanding of modern sciences, industries and economies.

Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, was a recipient of the 2018 Research Society on Alcoholism Early Career Investigator Award.

Zewelanji Serpell, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology, was the recipient of an American Educational Research Association Congressional Fellowship for 2017-18.

Scott Sherman, associate professor in the Robertson School of Media and Culture, was named Ad Person of the Year by the Advertising Club of Richmond.

Faculty research in the news:

book cover: A little child shall lead them (three students looking at a sign in front of a school that says,
‘A Little Child Shall Lead Them’: Inside Prince Edward County’s battle for school desegregation
A new book co-edited by a Virginia Commonwealth University history professor offers a different perspective on the battle for — and against — educational opportunity in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
A teenager with an anxious look on her face in the dark
Facing fears: How exposure therapy can help children with anxiety
Michael A. Southam-Gerow, chair of VCU’s Department of Psychology, discusses his new book, “Exposure Therapy with Children and Adolescents.”
VCU alumna Ashley McCuistion pilots a drone to take photographs of the Robert E. Lee monument that will be used to create a 3D model. (Photo by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs)
A VCU lab and Virginia nonprofit are using drones to create 3D models of Monument Avenue’s monuments
A drone piloted by Ashley McCuistion is circling the Robert E. Lee monument on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, taking detailed photographs that will allow her to create a 3D digital model of the controversial monument.
books on library shelves
Eminent Scholars announced for 2019-20
The College of Humanities and Sciences Eminent Scholars program serves to recognize mid-career faculty scholars and reward them for their scholarly contributions to their discipline, the College and the university.
Tressie Cottom
Cottom to receive prestigious early career award from American Sociological Association
Tressie McMillan Cottom, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has been named the recipient of the Doris Entwisle Early Career Award of the American Sociological Association section on Sociology of Education.
Paul Perrin
Psychology professor edits special journal issue on disability and social justice in rehabilitation research
A special issue of the journal Rehabilitation Psychology edited by a Virginia Commonwealth University psychology professor explores disability and social justice in rehabilitation research.
Brooke Newman
Newman’s book wins gold medal 2019 Independent Publisher Book Award
“A Dark Inheritance: Blood, Race, and Sex in Colonial Jamaica,” (Yale University Press) by Brooke N. Newman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has won a 2019 Independent Publisher Book Award.
Cristina Stanciu
English professor receives Fulbright award to teach, conduct research in Romania
Cristina Stanciu, Ph.D., an English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, has received a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to teach in Romania for one year and to conduct research for a new book manuscript, “Archives of Memory and Survival: Indigenous Representation in Residential School Literature and Film.”