2024 State of the University

Good morning! I am grateful for this opportunity to be together with all of you. 

A warm welcome to our Board of Visitors and Health System board members here today. I thank them for their tremendous support and generosity.

I begin today with gratitude for everyone at VCU: Congratulations! You have just finished making this the best year in VCU’s history

A university only achieves what you did in 2023 because of the focused work of ALL of our faculty members, staff, students and supporters: record-breaking freshman enrollment, research funding, and fundraising; comprehensive cancer center status; opening a new Population Health School; and world class facilities. And these are just SOME of the things you’ve gotten done. Thank you.

Working together, you’ve made VCU the best model of a public research university anywhere.

Our mission drives the research that enhances people’s lives and addresses the toughest problems and diseases, and creates innovative solutions and experiences that truly lift ALL of our communities.

Things are changing fast, and VCU is adapting just as quickly to prepare our students to lead in their generation.  

VCU truly impacts our region and Commonwealth—it’s an essential and driving force in Richmond’s and Virginia’s economies. With nearly $10 billion annual economic impact on Virginia, VCU creates 58,000 jobs, and 68 percent of all the students we’ve educated and graduated have stayed in Virginia – making their own contributions to our economy and our communities.

You’ve established record momentum for an authentic public research university.

So—how do we maintain this momentum? How can we strengthen our drive to serve the public good? And how can VCU continue to be a model for connecting with a changing society–moving as fast as society moves or getting ahead of that pace? 

At VCU, our inspiration comes from change and feedback about what our students, patients, and society need. Together, we’re designing the model public research university for the next ten, twenty, thirty years. 

What should that look like? How will we as a public university bridge gaps – between problems and solutions, diseases and cures, the educational world and the professional world?

We are a talent activator, committed to enabling our students and every person in Virginia to achieve their full potential. We are evolving and adapting how we produce and share knowledge and learning to serve our communities. We’re extending lives and modeling the best care in our health system. And we’re leveraging the brilliance and discovery of our faculty, staff and students to position Virginia and the nation for economic competitiveness and the prosperity of every person.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, said, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

I pledge to leverage the presidency to build on your great accomplishments. And I respectfully ask us all to consider, what will we each do to move VCU forward?

Our students get that VCU’s public mission matters. We asked a few students why that’s important to them – let’s hear what they had to say. 



VCU–you–have done a remarkable job of connecting with people’s needs. We measure excellence by inclusion, not exclusion. We work to bring students in, not keep students out. The result is a talented student body that reflects the diversity of our population, where more than 36 percent of our freshmen students last fall are first-generation in their families to go to college, and more than a third are high-need.

We’re a Community Engaged University that received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award from Insight into Diversity magazine five years in a row, speaking to our inclusivity and community engagement. Thank you and welcome to Vice President Faye Belgrave, stepping into the role of chief diversity officer this year. 

As for me, I will work to make VCU even more inclusive, welcoming ALL of the ways in which people enrich us with their differences, making clear that at VCU, we embrace every person for whoever they are!  So, how can we each reinforce these core human values?  

To expand our reach, we launched our guaranteed admissions program. If you’re a high school student anywhere – not just in Virginia – with high academic credentials, you’re in. VCU is automatically your home.

Awareness of VCU continues to grow exponentially. In fact, we've already surpassed our 'final' record-setting freshman application count for Fall 2023, with applications continuing to come in! Thanks to the creativity and thoughtfulness of vice president Hernan Bucheli and the admissions team, and vice president Grant Heston and the marketing and communications team.

As for me, I will expand further our work to recruit students, including international students from partners around the world, AND our many talented local students. I know that we can count on every member of our community to help us recruit students because everyone plays a role in who decides to come here.  

We support student success – look at our student athletes, with a collective GPA last fall of nearly 3.5 – the highest ever. Our athletic director Ed McLaughlin and his team make sure our athletes’ studies come first.

In fact, thanks to our staff and faculty’s work to support students and help them get to timely graduation, US News and World Report recognized VCU last year as one of the top 20 most innovative public universities–a 10-point jump in just a year! 

How should the greatest universities be measured tomorrow? Just think about how much society and its views and needs have changed. What will we do as a faculty and staff to adapt to these changes?  

Our students face a changing world – and artificial intelligence and automation make it even harder to predict what students will need in the future. What we do know is that we have to prepare students to live and work in a world with AI. As a university, we already teach our students critical thinking, ethics, entrepreneurship and compassion – things that machines can’t replicate. How do we prepare students for a world where AI may automate more jobs? And how do we integrate artificial intelligence in our programs where it makes sense, acknowledging its transformative role as well as its limits?

VCU students will be ready for whatever emerges in their lives and careers.

As we move forward, we’ll build deeper connections between our faculty experts, and people in their professions that our students will eventually enter, as well as our communities. To truly have a public impact, all of our work in the classroom, lab, studio, or clinic will lift up the people all around us.

As for me, I will leverage the presidency to increase our focus on artificial intelligence, including how it can help us better serve students and patients, and I will connect with peers in as many sectors as possible, seeking opportunities, in particular, for internships, job placements, and problem solving.  

We can do this. VCU has long had a commitment to ensuring that every student has an experience that will help prepare them for careers and the world. 

We’ll provide pathways for students to reinforce what they learn, by putting it into practice outside the classroom where they can use what they’ve studied in courses, giving them context to help make sense of what they’ve learned and WHY it matters. 

In the next two years, let’s build into ALL of our degrees and programs professional experiences outside the classroom for all students. These will be accessible and relevant to what they’re learning. We’ll also develop connections with employers and other partners, so we benefit from their experience through an advisory role where it makes sense. Together, we can imagine and innovate experiences for students that motivate them to learn and get ready to work.

To be clear, students should be able to pursue their interests, whatever that looks like in a wide range of professions and disciplines, including the arts and humanities. 

Our role as a public university is to prepare students for life, and to get them ready for professional careers and good jobs when they graduate. 

We all know that the best way to do that is to start preparing students for work early, and launching their careers before they graduate.

That’s exactly what happened for Christopher Bagenda (bag END uh)

Christopher is a finance major. Last year he took a class with Katybeth Lee that is designed to prepare students for internships – they learn to write a resume, research an employer, and apply for internships. 

Let’s listen to how that has worked out for Christopher. 



Christopher brought skills to internships, and then to a profession. This can happen in any discipline or field.

Professional experiences enhance skills for work – and that’s what employers are looking for. It makes a measurable impact.

Let’s hear from Dr. Lee on her work, and the difference it makes for students.



Strapping on skis is a good analogy for what we’re doing through a new transformative learning initiative that expands and redefines what a professional experience looks like. 

Our provost calls it a three-legged stool. Traditional internships like Christopher’s are one leg. 

The second leg is inviting corporate and community partners to bring us problems they need solved – the way Katybeth said business students are taking theories they’ve learned in class and applying it to real problems from companies. 

The third leg involves students in faculty-driven projects. As part of the curriculum, students get credit – AND problem-solving experience. Pilots have already launched across the university.

Together, these legs engage students and teach them teamwork and how to think in terms of complex problems they’ll solve when they’re in their careers. And from my own experience talking with students, I know that most love using what they learn. 

Thinking ahead. That’s what an innovative public university is for.

I will invest more of my time with organizations that will connect with VCU to partner with our faculty, support our students and graduates, solve problems, and enhance the human experience together.  And so I ask, what can we each do to help us move forward opportunities with partner organizations?   

As a faculty, you’re leading in designing our academic programs around our own vision of the future –focused on what the future holds for all of our fields. The faculty task force that Provost Sotiropoulos and his team are leading generated nearly 100 ideas.

I thank Fotis and our faculty for your leadership. It’ll position us well for the future. 

In many ways, the great momentum all of you have created at VCU is driven by our growing research enterprise. 

Last year you broke our record for sponsored research funding, and rose even higher in the rankings for public research universities. 

Most importantly, your research is solving problems that vex society.

As we look ahead, we’ll pursue research that’s increasingly focused on people’s changing needs and is impactful.

Now, how do we raise VCU to the highest levels among public research universities?

As for me, I will expand further my work to promote and support your impactful research, much as I have had the privilege of doing at VCU. I will also continue to help all of you make connections, including to those who provide funding. And I respectfully ask all of us, what can we each do to advance the importance of our mission as a research university?  

Virginia depends on us. That’s why VCU is one of three universities included in Governor Youngkin’s proposed “Virginia Research Triangle” to advance innovation and collaboration in biotech, life sciences and pharmaceutical manufacturing. 

Our part in the research triangle is Medicines for All, started by Frank Gupton. Medicines for All was one of the first ventures we supported that began with a $25 million grant from the Gates Foundation, followed by another $19 million last year. Medicines for All created affordable access to essential medicines that keep people alive. And now, it’s the foundation for a rapidly growing economic sector in Virginia.  

Another area of our work resulted in the VCU Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research – Gerry Moeller and his team won the prestigious National Institutes of Health CTSA grant, renewing one of our largest and most impactful grants fostering collaboration across disciplines.  

We've supported phenomenal faculty all throughout VCU. Our Humanities Research Center supports research in humanities fields across our schools and colleges through grants and fellowships for faculty, an annual speaker series, as well as international and community-engaged research and partnerships—like the "On Native Ground" Initiative. Many thanks to the leadership of director Cristina Stanciu and her whole team for their work. 

And there’s Semi Ryu, School of Arts kinetics and internal medicine professor, who bridges gaps through avatar and virtual reality projects, exploring facets of healing and empowering community.

Sarah Spiegel is ranked among the top 100 women scientists in the U.S. and 148th in the world.  And Vanessa Sheppard was honored as THE American Cancer Society’s Researcher of the Year last year. 

VCUarts Qatar professor Khaled Saoud and fashion design student Noor Rashid Butt created an abaya – worn by women around the world – that allows for better absorption of vitamin D through the skin.

Bill Dewey came to VCU in 1972 and has been a trusted force building VCU’s reputation as a leader in cross-discipline addiction research – a need that, regrettably, has grown.

Arnethea Sutton researches disparities in cancer treatment and outcomes for Black women, with a special focus on heart disease in breast cancer survivors. Last year she was one of just 25 cancer researchers across the country selected for an NCI Early Investigator Advancement Program. 

Milos Manic has launched the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Computing, and manages a computing system that’s tackling AI and cybersecurity problems. 

Fantasy Lozada is addressing cultural and social factors impacting emotional wellbeing for young Black and Brown people, and she leads VCU’s S.H.I.E.L.D. lab of graduate and undergraduate students in doing traditional and community-based research. 

Engineer Nibir Dhar leads the Convergence Lab Initiative, funded by the Department of Defense and supported by both the US Army and Air Force, focusing research into electro-optics, infrared, radio frequency and edge security technologies to bolster our national defense security.

I’ve taken the risk of talking about just a few examples of the literally thousands of ways our faculty colleagues throughout VCU are making discoveries that advance what we can understand to improve peoples’ lives. 

All of our disciplines, including the arts, humanities and sciences, teach us vital things about what it means to be human in a complex world with lots of history. The more we understand the human condition and the connections that bind us all together, the better we can work together solving problems. 

I’m so grateful for ALL of our faculty members, in ALL areas. 

I’m also grateful for vice president Sriram Rao and his team, and all of the faculty, staff and student researchers across VCU for supporting our colleagues’ work with resources to raise the impact of their work to the highest levels in our history. 

And you can’t have a successful research program without the best facilities in which to work, research and learn. Thanks to vice president Meredith Weiss and her teams for all they do to provide us  facilities, as well as human resources, AND, Meredith, thanks for agreeing to take on the interim role of vice president of finance and CFO. 

In addition to recognizing faculty, I am pleased to express my deepest gratitude for our more than 20,000 staff members at VCU and VCU Health for the many ways that they support all of us EVERY day. 

Our staff members are experienced professionals, and it is because of them and their dedication and expertise that we can support students, advance research, get patients well, and engage our communities. Everything that happens at VCU happens with the support and leadership of our talented staff members. 

I will continue to recognize our staff and I ask each of us to take time to express our gratitude to staff members in the coming days, and weeks and years. 

Just as we anticipate and adapt to changing needs in higher education, we’ve also gotta be flexible and adaptable as the healthcare landscape changes as well. 

Post-pandemic, VCU Health has not been immune to financial issues faced by health systems across the country. But VCU Health has seen a tremendous financial turnaround in the first six months of this fiscal year – in fact, the income from operations this year has already exceeded the past two fiscal years’ combined operating loss. Many thanks to interim SVP and CEO Marlon Levy and his team for leading this turnaround. The team has bucked national trends in medical center finances. On behalf of every other health system board member, we are deeply grateful. 

As we adapt to a changing landscape, we’ll think now about how we can best serve patients, and communities, AND support our own people who provide the care. And so, what are we doing now to prepare for the future of healthcare?

As an academic medical center, our research means we’re both providing treatment for complex illness, AND we’re discovering and inventing new ways of treating patients and providing care. 

Last year VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center won comprehensive designation from the National Cancer Institute. A monumental achievement that I set as a top goal when I arrived – but it’s also a new beginning. How we use our comprehensive status to do more research, improve cancer treatment, reduce cancer disparities and elevate prevention is what will matter most. I am deeply grateful to Director Rob Winn for his leadership in moving us to our new level as well as his team, including the “Massey Nation” of volunteers, donors, and supporters who fueled our rocketship to the top.  

And the treatment and research done in our Children’s Tower we opened at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond is helping find cures for diseases. For example, our researchers were part of developing a new gene therapy for sickle cell disease that was recently approved by the FDA – and the patient we treated is now cured of sickle cell disease!!

Our transplant team performed another record—577 organ transplants in 2023– 18th in the nation, and our liver transplants were 5th in the nation. Thanks to our entire transplant team, chair David Bruno, as well as Marlon and all of our colleagues who laid the foundation for this success. Right now, transplantation saves lives.  

But as we look ahead, our next step is not to transplant more organs; it’s to parallel treatments with research and discovery that will take us to the place where we won’t need transplanted organs – because we’ve cured disease connected to failing organs. The Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease is a great  example where our revolutionary liver research WILL find alternatives to liver transplants.

We’ll also turn even more of our attention to cardiovascular disease – still the number one killer.

VCU’s Pauley Heart Center is recruiting more internationally recognized clinicians and scientists; expanding access to cardiac rehabilitation services; and training the next generation of providers – because whether it’s in health care or academia, the time to plan for the next generation is now. 

As for me, I will leverage my service as chair of the health system board to strengthen our experience inclusively for ALL patients, for our support of care providers, and the connection between research and patient care, including in areas of rapidly growing need, like cardiovascular human health. We will do this all while maintaining a P1 Prime Bond Rating and a healthy financial margin for the health system. We can count on the health system team to help make this happen.

Our Pauley heart center had record-breaking fundraising this past year. 

And thanks to Jay Davenport and the development team, 2023 saw a record amount of charitable contributions all across VCU. That allows us to increase student scholarship support – in fact, in our 15 years together at VCU, we’ve increased our financial support for students more than 200 percent. 

I am very grateful to the commonwealth–our governors and legislators for their support, and I am also indebted to all of our donors who have invested so generously in our vision.

Let’s hear from one donor about what moves her to lend her support.



Inspiring. I will invest even more time with donors to raise even more resources for our students and faculty. 

In so many ways, we’re making a difference as a public university, confirming our public commitment.

We asked some students what VCU has done for them. Let’s listen.



Last year was a phenomenal year for VCU – our best year yet, in so many ways. 

Now, we’ll take the enormous opportunity we have to shape and define what a public research university can be for the future. Together with you I look forward to leading and being a part of VCU’s incredible next steps.

Our future is best when we design it ourselves–driven by the people who need us most. 

We have this dynamic mission as one of Virginia’s major public research universities that really gives us the chance to help shape society – not just reacting to change, but driving and being a part of that change. 

As we look to the future, few institutions have the opportunity we have to just soar, shifting the mission of a public research university closer to the needs of all people. 

Thanks to all of you, VCU IS soaring, setting the pace of top public research universities; you’re driving VCU’s tremendous momentum getting us closer to the people’s needs.  

So, it is clear – thanks to all of you– the state of VCU is very strong. What’s next? We will expand VCU’s impact to extend and lift more lives, to harvest more potential, to include more people, to connect us more with those who can support our students and graduates. This will strengthen our resources, and support our VCU teams.

And so I challenge us all to focus our time and energies to help– to build on our success. I sincerely thank every member of our team as you consider what that looks like from your position at VCU, and look forward to working together to take VCU to its next level. 

Thank you for making VCU what it is and for what you have positioned it to become. You are VCU, and because of you, our future is more powerful than it’s ever been.