VCU and VUU to offer dual degrees in physics and engineering or chemistry and engineering this fall

VCU VUU faculty members
(From left) Deborah Noble-Triplett, Ph.D., senior vice president for academic affairs at VCU; Mary Gordon, vice president for Altria Client Services; Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the VCU College of Engineering; Tamika Murrell (EE '05), staff engineer with Altria Client Services; Afroditi V. Filippas, Ph.D., associate dean for undergraduate studies, VCU College of Engineering; Gail Hackett, Ph.D., VCU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs; Jamie Cooper, Ph.D., assistant vice provost for academic programs at VCU

Officials representing Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Union University have signed an agreement for the creation of three dual-degree programs. Beginning in fall 2019, eligible students at both universities can earn a dual bachelor of science in one of the following: physics and electrical engineering, physics and mechanical engineering or chemistry and chemical and life sciences engineering.

This partnership combines the resources of VCU, a large research university, with those of VUU, Virginia’s oldest historically black university. The effort is in line with both universities’ push to prepare diverse professionals to serve the commonwealth’s academic and workforce goals. The VCU and VUU campuses are within 2 miles of each other in downtown Richmond.

Gail Hackett, Ph.D., VCU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs; Joy Goodrich, Ed.D., VUU’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the VCU College of Engineering; and Gerard McShepard, Ph.D., interim dean of VUU’s School of Arts and Sciences, signed the agreement.

“This program is a further testament to VCU’s commitment to the success of underrepresented minority students in STEM fields, as well as our commitment to serving the commonwealth. We are honored to partner with Virginia Union University on this important initiative,” Hackett said.

The new program will allow students to earn two degrees concurrently in less time than it would take to complete them sequentially. It also gives students full access to both universities’ services and resources, and widens their professional and personal networks.

“VUU’s rich legacy is deeply rooted in the Richmond community and known to produce many STEM leaders such as Drs. Cora B. Marrett [former deputy director of the National Science Foundation] and Yvonne T. Maddox [vice president of research at the Uniformed Services University],” Goodrich said. “Our academic programs provide students a strong foundation in theoretical content, and this partnership with VCU extends our efforts to offer experiential learning opportunities that reflect the STEM academic and industry standards. We expect that this collaborative effort with VCU will enhance our academic offerings, creating another pathway to the promise of a limitless future.”  

McShepard said dual-degree programs of this kind are part of VUU’s legacy. Previously, Virginia Union’s mathematics majors had the opportunity to also pursue engineering at VCU. When VUU re-activated its physics major in 2016, it made sense to explore a possible physics-engineering dual degree.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Union University to rekindle an old engineering partnership,” he said.

Mary Gordon, vice president for Altria Client Services and a member of VUU’s Board of Trustees, is a graduate of a similar dual-degree program between Spelman University and Georgia Tech and holds a master’s from VCU.

“I benefited from a dual-degree program that gave me diverse experiences and prepared me for a rewarding career in a STEM field,” she said. “I’m thrilled that the new offering from VUU and VCU will give other students that opportunity.”

The opportunity for students from a science background to collaborate so closely with engineering students is a big win for all parties, Boyan said.

“Putting both kinds of thinkers together is very powerful. Take materials science, for example, which is really applied physics and chemistry and is also fundamental to many engineering specialties,” Boyan said. “Science students from VUU will bring a new perspective to our VCU engineering students and make them that much better. By the same token, the science students who will now be immersed in the engineering and problem-solving mindset will be stimulated to think in new and exciting ways.”