VCU’s strategic research plan aims to shape a bold new era

The plan will guide the university’s efforts to enrich the human experience, achieve a just and equitable society, optimize health, and support sustainable energy and environments.

VCU's new strategic research priorities plan seeks to focus VCU’s overall research on enhancing the human experience, advancing equity and social justice, human health, well-being and our environment. (Photos by VCU Engineering, Brian Strickland and Allen Jones)
VCU's new strategic research priorities plan seeks to focus VCU’s overall research on enhancing the human experience, advancing equity and social justice, human health, well-being and our environment. (Photos by VCU Engineering, Brian Strickland and Allen Jones)

By A.J. Hostetler
Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation

This summer marked the launch of the One VCU Strategic Research Priorities Plan, developed in response to VCU President Michael Rao’s call to envision the future of Virginia Commonwealth University’s research enterprise and to develop a plan to guide the university’s growth.

Since 2019, Vice President for Research and Innovation P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., and faculty members have worked to create a framework for VCU’s efforts, which led to the development of this plan. It will be rolled out in three, two-year phases. VCU will initiate the launch of the first two-year phase with $10 million in competitive research funding to advance strategic initiatives outlined in the plan.

In May, the VCU Board of Visitors joined Michael Rao, Ph.D., in approving the plan’s launch. “This transformative, inspirational plan will focus our overall research on enhancing the human experience; advancing equality in our world; and improving human health, well-being and our environment through creative, collaborative, inclusive and community-engaged research,” President Rao said.

“I think it’s very important to emphasize that the plan is for everyone in the university, whether they are already immersed in, or plan to be involved with, research, scholarship, innovation and creative activity,” added Srirama Rao. “It seeks to promote a broader understanding of the new knowledge and innovations that come from all disciplines: the arts, the humanities, social work or STEM. It is meant to be inclusive and encouraging of current and future undergraduates, trainees and faculty who will advance the plan’s initiatives and key areas of focus.”

The impact of VCU’s community-engaged research builds upon our strengths, identified in Quest 2025: Together We Transform, the vice president said: “Working across disciplines and beyond our campuses, we advance the overall mission of improving the human condition.”

Vice President Rao discussed the plan in further detail in an interview with VCU News.

How will the plan shape a bold new era for research at VCU?

The answer to this question is a simple one: We are One VCU Research. We have come together across campuses and disciplines and connected with our community in ways that drive change. We are already doing cutting-edge research in multiple fields that have societal impact that can shape our region and beyond. This effort aims to put VCU at the national forefront of innovation and academic excellence. VCU is on the cusp of heralding transformative growth in various fields, including for our community. Implementation of the plan will cement VCU’s reputation as a place where excellence in creativity, scholarship and innovation are synonymous with research and societal impact.

In health, the research that we are doing in the fields of cancer, pain, addiction, cardiovascular diseases or pharmaceutical engineering is aimed at further accelerating novel treatments and individualized health care into care options for our underserved communities. We are on our way to becoming‌ ‌a‌ ‌national‌ model ‌for‌ ‌transforming‌ evidence-based ‌DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion]‌ ‌research‌ ‌and‌ ‌scholarship‌ ‌into‌ ‌measurable‌ ‌and‌ ‌socially‌ relevant‌ ‌outcomes.

We will invest in and prioritize innovative research projects of national priority, including public health, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and high-performance research computing, policy, K-12 or adult education. Likewise, we will invest in and prioritize arts, humanities and social sciences as a cultural imperative and a catalyst for transformation. VCU innovation will lead to solutions for the grand challenges our communities face in energy production and environmental change.

To accomplish this, we need to move forward in a more accelerated, targeted, prudent and collaborative manner. We must press on the gas pedal to sustain our recent growth in research and fuel our momentum to national and global prominence. We have a lot of untapped potential, but we need to build our capacity for cross-disciplinary research across key initiatives so that it permeates the VCU community. The plan provides the framework for that to happen.

What investments does the plan call for?

There are four key initiatives in this plan — enriching the human experience, achieving a just and equitable society, optimizing health and supporting sustainable energy and environments — and we will invest in the most innovative and collaborative research projects at VCU in each of these areas. We identified these thematic areas knowing that we are on the edge of life-changing discoveries that may just need the additional push to move to the next level. The plan’s priorities also provide guidance for investments of all types of resources, including targeted research projects, in human capital as well as central infrastructural resources such as institutes, centers, core resources, research IT, etc., to help advance our key initiatives. We will increase support of commercialization of our technology and innovations to the marketplace as well as public-private partnerships and overall economic development in the community.

How will this work across VCU’s campuses and impact students and trainees?

This affects all of VCU, including the VCU Health System, our partner in advancing this One VCU research plan. Much of what we will commit to advance our key strategic initiatives will focus on sharing the foundation of a culture of collaboration and team science-based approach to problem-solving. And we will further commit to the integration of students and trainees into research on all our campuses and greatly serve our existing, talented graduate and postdoctoral trainees from all around the world.

What are the next steps?

First and foremost, our researchers need to become familiar with the plan and its initiatives, goals and objectives. Next, they should consider using it as a tool for planning research priorities within their fields, and to collaborate across teams. Finally, in consultation with their academic leadership and colleagues and through various funding and support mechanisms, they can align their individual research efforts with VCU’s research priorities. We are developing a baseline understanding of VCU’s current research activities related to the plan. We have convened an advisory council to provide guidance for the implementation of, and investments in, the priorities established in the One VCU Strategic Research Priorities Plan. This council and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation will assist in monitoring and reporting on implementation progress and dissemination of outcomes. In the coming months, we will establish an operational structure for a full rollout of the plan, including funding opportunities, dashboards and other communications.