VCU acknowledged for community engagement

Melissa Stamp
Contributing Writer

Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for the second time.

The Division of Community Engagement celebrated this distinction by inviting Virginia Secretary of Education, Anne Holton, and Barbara Holland as guest speakers to address the audience on the strengths and weaknesses of VCU’s strategic plan, the Quest for Distinction.

The Carnegie Foundation’s Classification for Community Engagement was awarded to 240 U.S. colleges and universities in 2015.  The process to be selected required each institution to provide extensive data and documentation of their institutional mission.

The classification operates on a 5-year cycle, allowing universities time to make quality progress towards their goals in that time. The Carnegie Foundation previously classified VCU as a community engaged institution in 2006.

The event began with VCU President Michael Rao introducing the speakers and congratulating the Division of Community Engagement on their hard work.  Rao mentioned that VCU’s title as a public research university in an urban setting is one of the reasons he was attracted to the university and why he introduced Aspire, a living-learning program that focuses on students serving the community.

After Rao’s opening statement he introduced Barbara Holland, who has held leadership roles for community engagement at universities in the United States as well as the University of Sydney in Australia.

Holland praised VCU for continuing to fulfill the purpose of higher education and maintaining the idea that education is truly the path towards both personal and national success. In comparing VCU to other universities she has visited, she urged that we truly have an opportunity to be on the national radar as a model for urban community engagement.

“This [university] place exists because the city wanted this university,” she said. “They expected it to be a part of what would make it a successful place.”

Holland went on to discuss her work in observing public, private and urban establishments worldwide.  She expressed that in her extensive travel the urban public research university remains to her as the most important figure in moving beyond adding people to the work force and actually uplifting communities through education.

“I believe that the urban research universities are the real universities, where the work is real and the consequences are real,” Holland said. :The impact we have and the responsibility we have to prepare students is very real.”

While excited about VCU’s successful mission to include the community, foster inquiry, and sustain diversity, Holland was not shy to point out the missing pieces in our plan.  She challenged the University to four things that will aid in our quest for distinction.

These four major challenges were to focus on changing the community rather than observing it, developing an academic culture that places high value on community contribution to scholarship, support the expansion of student research alongside faculty and finally to choose a specific issue that can become an interdisciplinary project.

Holland’s speech was followed by Richmond raised, Secretary of Education, Anne Holton.  Holton’s remarks were brief, emphasizing how special it is that the university is intertwined with the city.

“It’s amazing to watch this university carry up the community and the community carry up the university and work in tandem,” Holton said.

Lastly, Holton emphasized how important it is that VCU’s 23,000 employees communicate with each other to find complete success as a community engaged university.

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