“Our legacy is America’s Dream”: Rao vows to foster VCU’s social impact in annual speech

photo by Teresa Bricker
photo by Teresa Bricker.

Pres. Michael Rao reiterated VCU’s commitment to diversity and research, and the university’s future in his annual State of the University Address Thursday.

Rao focused on the university’s responsibility to serve the public good. VCU has an annual economic impact of $6 billion, greater than any university in the state, he said, and the university supports more than $275 million in research and creative activity.

In a few months, VCU will launch Quest 2025: Together We Transform, building on the university’s current strategic plan.

Rao cited the strategic plan’s achievements, including a higher graduation rate than ever before. Rao said the university now grants 50 percent more degrees than when Quest was introduced in 2011. VCU has also been recognized nationally for graduating underrepresented minorities in more than 135 academic programs.

Rao said Black and Latinx students at VCU, especially women, graduate at higher rates than the overall population. Thus, the university has reached parity in the graduation rates among students of all races.

“VCU and our public peers have long catalyzed the nation’s technological innovations, democratic vitality, and the promise of opportunity for each new generation,” Rao said. “Our legacy is America’s Dream.”

Rao reiterated the university’s commitment to serving a public good following a decline in graduate’s positive feelings towards their investment in higher education. Nearly every state has cut funding for their public universities by more than a quarter in the last decade, on average, Rao said. The national cost of tuition rose faster than three times faster inflation.

However, VCU will challenge this trend, Rao said.

Our educational experience helps students graduate with more opportunities than they had when they got here,” Rao said. “And the research and creative activity we pursue helps society by solving its most vexing problems.

Through research, the university serves as a social lab for positive change, Rao said, and VCU will continue to invest in areas of strength, such as neuroscience, while also including the talents of the art, humanities, and social science programs to solve real-world problems.

Last year, the School of Engineering got a $25 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the creation of the Medicines for All Institute. The institute works to address global health issues including treatments for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases. Rao said VCU is also leading efforts to combat the opioid epidemic through research, treatment and education.

Rao also announced the opening of a health and wellness center in Richmond’s East End in the coming years. This will aid efforts by the Wilder School this spring, to add new focus to addressing inequalities in health care, housing and safety in Richmond, Rao said.

“We need to mobilize every resource possible, to make as big a difference as possible, for as many people as possible,” Rao said. “That may mean pushing other things aside.”

SaraRose Martin, News Editor

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