VCU will open nation’s first pharmaceutical engineering doctorate program

(Left) Thomas Roper and Sandro R. P. da Rocha (right) are two of the co-directors developing the pharmaceutical engineering program. Photo courtesy of Danny Tiet

Katharine DeRosa, Contributing Writer

VCU’s doctorate pharmaceutical engineering program, which will be split between the MCV and Monroe Park campuses and is slated to launch in fall 2020, will be the first of its kind in the nation.

The College of Engineering and the School of Pharmacy have been working together for years in the combined field, and Sandro R. P. da Rocha, one of the co-directors of the  upcoming program, says he is eager for the two fields to join forces officially.

“It’s been a long time coming,” da Rocha said, “Professors have been working together on various projects, and the results are many years of collaboration. We are formalizing what had organically started at VCU.”

When the program opens, VCU will be the first Virginia institution with any sort of pharmaceutical engineering degree. University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University have engineering programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, but none have pharmaceutical engineering as an area of study.

“In a way you can think of VCU as a founding member of the community of pharmaceutical engineering, so that will have a durable impact on how the field develops.” — James Ferri, engineering professor

The College of Engineering is on the Monroe Park campus, and the School of Pharmacy is on the MCV campus. Classes for the upcoming program will be held at both MCV and Monroe Park, with students expected to travel between the campuses using the GRTC Pulse, which is free for VCU affiliates.

“One of the ways we hope to address the interdisciplinary aspect is to have students experience lectures on both campuses,” da Rocha said. “Students will be able to get the best out of both campuses.”

In anticipation of the program, the School of Pharmacy and the College of Engineering hired new faculty, donated space and gathered equipment for the new program to use. The VCU Graduate School also assisted by providing several teaching assistant positions.

VCU’s graduate and professional studies programs enroll about 5,300 students and 2,500 full-time faculty. Twenty graduate programs at the school are ranked in the U.S. News & World Report’s Top 50.

College of Engineering professor James Ferri will teach pharmaceutical engineering classes in the fall and says he is excited to contribute to the new graduate program.

“As a chemical engineer, this is a great way to lend my expertise,” Ferri said. “It’s my personal hope that students understand the exciting opportunity that they are presented with at VCU, and that they become excited about the opportunity to make a difference in the world.”

Ferri says he is proud of the university’s position in the field of pharmaceutical engineering.

“In a way you can think of VCU as a founding member of the community of pharmaceutical engineering,” Ferri said. “So that will have a durable impact on how the field develops.”

Thomas Roper, a co-director of the program from the College of Engineering, has high hopes for the students coming out of this program.

“We want them to be at the forefront of pharmaceutical engineering research, and really be able to apply engineering principles to future medicines that may be developed,” Roper said.

Both Roper and da Rocha encourage students to apply before the program begins next year. For more information, prospective students can visit

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