“No better place to achieve the American Dream”: VCU president strikes optimistic tone in yearly speech

VCU and VCU Health Systems President Michael Rao hosted the State of the University — which highlighted the year's successes and plans for the future — on Thursday in Cabell Library. CT File Photo.

Chip Lauterbach, Contributing Writer

Pres.Michael Rao painted an optimistic picture of the university’s standing in his annual address to the VCU community on Jan. 31, noting the school’s climb from a top-50 to a top-25 public research university.

In the State of the University Address, Rao said he expects VCU Health to be ranked among the top 20 hospitals nationally in the next three years, highlighting that it has received a number of grants and awards. One $21.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health allows VCU to conduct research for advancements in cardiac, pulmonary and addiction related issues.

“Fewer than 1 percent of the universities in the country ever receive a CTSA [Clinical and Translational Science Award],” Rao said. “And by the way, we’re the only one in Virginia, so we have big responsibility on our shoulders.”

The president, who is serving his 10th year in the role, introduced the Quest 2025 initiative, aimed at improving academic goals and professional development growth. The program will focus on students in the life sciences, social sciences and advanced medical research.

Millennials are on track to being one of the most educated generations in American history, Rao said, and in terms of educational attainment, the prospects for the generation which follows could be even better. The president said he thinks VCU is working to reflect the diverse future.

“For the first time in our university’s history, we now have a majority of students coming from minority backgrounds,” Rao said, “showing that VCU is moving in the same direction as the rest of America.”

Rao highlighted the achievements of individual students, including Megan Charity, a National Science Foundation research scholar and a VCU Wright scholar.

Charity was recognized for her development of a virtual reality low acceleration vehicle that greatly reduces motion sickness for people training to be pilots in the military and private sector.

Tom Eissenberg and Alison Breland, who are lead investigators for the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at VCU, were also recognized.  

Eissenberg and Breland were recipients of a nearly $20 million grant from the NIH and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They are studying the impacts of regulations and government bans of certain flavors of e-cigarettes.

“I envision VCU being a much more student-centered university than ever before,” Rao said. “There is no better place to achieve the American dream than here at VCU.”

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