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REAL Update

We’ll keep this introduction short, as we have a lot to tell you about, including information about the initial roll out of Student Opportunity Center, the new REAL dashboard, and more. We'll also share stories from our colleagues about how COVID-19 has had an impact upon their work.

On that note, we want to give a tremendous thank you to our community: Although it does not seem like enough, we want to express our gratitude and say thank you for what you do each and every day to enrich our students’ experiences and make VCU the institution we are all so proud to be part of.

Heads up!

  • Final REAL Council meeting: On Wednesday, May 13, 2020, the full REAL Council gathered to close out the academic year. The Council considered and unanimously passed several motions related to access to our REAL data dashboard (more below) and guidelines for REAL classification. There will be ongoing opportunities to serve with the Council. Please contact if you are interested in being engaged with us!
  • REAL Council Fall Retreat Date: We’ll be kicking off the new year together on August 13, 1-3 p.m. This meeting will be held virtually via ZOOM.

Take note!

REAL website launch
REAL is excited to announce that our new website is ready for launch! We hope this will enhance the marketing scope of the REAL initiative as we will now have a place to direct folks to to learn more information, check out our latest projects, and access experiential learning resources. Go to to check it out!

REAL data dashboard
Data dashboard screenshotA project that has been in the works for some time now is just about ready for public viewing! Departments will now be able to take a closer look at their colleges’ and schools’ course sections with REAL tags, identify gaps, and track participation, all through an easy-to-use dashboard. We have included a screenshot for previewing. More information to come on this!

REAL-ly Good Stories

We asked colleagues in our network to share how going remote has had an impact on their work. We are printing them here as submitted: authentic, genuine, inspiring, and relatable. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did! They are more proof, if you need it, of how agile and creative our community continues to be even under the most unexpected of circumstances.

Derek Hottell, Director of Recreational Sports

How has this pandemic impacted your experiential learning work?
Many of the experiences we offer are difficult to replicate in a virtual environment, so the challenges have been many. How do you replicate a challenge course, being a personal trainer for HPEX majors, or supervising intramural sports officials and managing in-game conflicts?

What unique challenges to your REAL activities have you run into over the last few weeks?
Much of what we do is allow students to extend classroom skills to work environments that closely approximate their ultimate career objectives. We think of our facility as a learning laboratory with over 350 student employees and thousands of student participants practicing various skills. While it is great that we are paying students to not work to alleviate their financial burden, we would have found appropriate telework experiences for some (e.g., online personal training, virtual group exercise classes, virtual escape rooms, etc.) that would have offered some level of REAL experiences for students.

What creative solutions/workarounds have you put into place to overcome these challenges and keep your REAL activities running?
First, we have had many of our student workers volunteer to continue to lead online classes because they simply wanted to do it. They are already getting paid, so they are doing this solely for the experience. They want to remain connected to their communities, and they want to practice their skills. We have also figured out how to use Zoom to offer live classes; have folks register through our normal portal, so they don't have to learn a new system; and link it to Facebook Live. The other creative solution the staff found was offering virtual escape rooms for team-building and making a virtual trivia challenge using the Zoom break-room features. Literally, no one had done any of this before three weeks ago.

What is one positive thing or lesson learned that you’ll take away from the last few weeks?
Community and human connection matter. We have a partner, Les Mills, that allowed us to distribute their high-quality professional videos for students and members to use. They have been great, but the low-fi Zoom classes being taught by our fitness staff and student staff are better because they are taught by a person we know, and you can see the feedback on the chat function of folks cheering for each other. We will continue to offer some form of Zoom in the future, and I also like the idea of letting the student instructors use it as a tool to build a portfolio to show to prospective employers.

Anything else you’d like to share?
This entire situation is lamentable, but it has also presented everyone with opportunities. We have used it as a low-stakes chance to try a bunch of virtual offerings knowing that people will be forgiving if it doesn't work that well or the video quality is low. Second, as a person with a doctorate in higher education administration, I just keep thinking about the quasi-experimental situation this presents to better understand the impact of on-campus student employment. I haven't quite worked it all out in my head yet, but from a national lens, many universities continued to pay work-study, but not student workers. If the effects of on-campus employment are largely about money, you would expect to see work-study students perform better academically and have higher completion rates for the term than their peers who are not getting paid to not work. I just cannot think of another scenario that you would basically have a real-life control group and experimental group on such a vast scale. What else can we learn from these groups? Finally, as a person with a three month-old and a two year-old, my social life hasn't changed that much except I cannot go to story time at the library, swim lessons at Cary Street Gym, or the playground any more. But, I don't think I realized how much I would miss stale coffee and harsh fluorescent overhead lighting in an office environment.

Jill Blondin, Executive Director, Global Education Office

How has this pandemic impacted your experiential learning work?
All spring 2020 study abroad students were recalled to the United States and we canceled all summer and fall 2020 study abroad programs. Additionally, with all instruction moving online and students leaving campus, this has impacted volunteer work for our VCU Globe students.

What unique challenges to your REAL activities have you run into over the last few weeks?
Ensuring that study abroad students return home safely during a dynamic and unpredictable period of time. With national borders closing and changing travel restrictions, there has been a great impetus to act quickly, and this can be challenging when there are more than 100 students studying abroad. Additionally, these students have had a study abroad experience unlike anyone else, and we are supporting them after they return.

What creative solutions/workarounds have you put into place to overcome these challenges and keep your REAL activities running?
We have created a webpage, Keep on Studying Abroad, to encourage VCU students to continue planning for a study abroad experience. This page has concrete steps for students to take to work toward this goal.

What is one positive thing or lesson learned that you’ll take away from the last few weeks?
The staff and faculty of the Global Education Office are amazing and are absolutely devoted to student success and to their safety. Although I already knew this, it has been extraordinary to witness the way that the whole office has come together to support students during this unprecedented crisis.

Joslyn DiRamio Bedell, Special Assistant to the Senior Vice Provost, VCU Division of Student Affairs

The one REAL-ly good story that comes to my mind this week is the move to virtual Chapter Accreditation Presentations with all of our Greek Organizations. This is an activity that happens annually (typically in person), and it's a 15-minute presentation by a chapter leader from each organization regarding their successes from the year past and areas of improvements. With only a week's delay from the originally scheduled presentations, the Fraternity & Sorority Life staff (both of whom are pretty much brand new to VCU!) have moved the full process on-line and made it possible for the organizations to stay engaged, and not miss any time on the annual review timeline. All of the organizations have moved quickly and seamlessly to presenting via Zoom (learning screen sharing, effective powerpoints, virtual presentation techniques, and handling Q&A with professional staff & faculty volunteers at the end).

Most of the students typically knock these out of the park in a "normal" year - and this year is no exception. The presentations are real-world, professional caliber, synopses of the purpose, mission, and engagement of chapters (including the not so bright spots of academic challenges for some groups). To a one (and I've participated in 8 so far - with 4 more tomorrow).....the chapters are still staying engaged with each other virtually through a variety of means including weekly Zoom chapter meetings, fellowship gatherings on-line, virtual study groups, and group virtual video gaming. I have been totally impressed and encouraged to see our students willing to stay engaged and professional in this uncertain time!

Amy Adkins, Teaching Assistant Professor & Sally Kuo, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. of Psychology.

We have adapted the Spit4Science undergraduate research course to a virtual format. Briefly, we:

  1. Sent a survey to our students to find out their technological/virtual capabilities and restrictions
  2. Have adapted our data sharing policies to allow students to access our data on their own computers
  3. Adapted our data management/analysis protocols from SPSS to Google Sheets (so all students can access the platform, regardless of whether their computers have enough RAM to install SPSS)
  4. Used Zoom for real-time lectures and Zoom breakout groups for group work on their research projects
  5. Our final presentation symposium will (fingers crossed) be hosted on Zoom. We might be able to get a Zoom gallery photo of our class and/or screen shots of Zoom lectures/the Symposium as well.

Upcoming events

Student Opportunity Center

The REAL Office has been hosting ongoing webinars introducing staff, faculty, and students to Student Opportunity Center (SOC). This has been a great way for us to gather feedback on the platform and identify ways we can improve it for our institution’s user experience.

If you are interested in setting up an introductory walk-through for yourself, a group of colleagues, and/or students, please reach out to us at and we’d be happy to set up a time to do so. You can register an account using your VCU credentials and begin exploring opportunities now. SOC has over 6,000+ virtual opportunities in their platform available for students to start taking advantage of. This is a great way to make alternative plans for the summer as we continue to navigate our new normal of virtual work.

Student testimonials about SOC

  • "It’s been fun to look around the website and see what opportunities are available. I like being sent emails with tips on how to study." – VCU senior
  • "I have enjoyed searching for opportunities in the database." – VCU sophomore
  • "Introduced new opportunities I hadn’t thought of." – VCU grad student
  • "Very helpful in filtering opportunities based on interests or qualifications or location." –VCU freshman

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