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REAL Update


Dear friends and colleagues,

I hope this edition of the REAL Update finds you healthy and the start of the new semester gentle. The fall is always a whirlwind, and this one promises to be especially so as we press “play” on innovative ideas and plans for navigating the novel challenges that have accompanied the coronavirus. I have been accused of being the eternal optimist, and I think that's partially true. Being excited about possibility is my superpower. But I am also a pragmatist, and I do see that the challenges before us, though perhaps new, will be surmounted by the core principles and values we have long held: teaching at a high level, engaging the disciplines we love, and applying what we believe to be true to real problems. This observation was made by a mentor not long ago, and it has stuck with me as I think about the reopening of campus and what the new academic year will bring with it: challenges, yes, but also opportunities in equal store.  

As an example, I have the opportunity today to be a part of the Smile and Ask Me tabling event organized by Student Affairs and founded by the Division of Strategic Enrollment Management several years ago. I will be part of a two-hour shift at one of the six tables spaced throughout campus to welcome students, answer questions, and distribute PPE. I can't tell you how excited I am to see colleagues — in person! It will be wonderful to be a part of the bustle and energy of our community. It will also be a little nerve wracking as I try to squeeze into my pre-pandemic non-elastic pants, remember how much time a commute longer than 50 steps actually takes, grab my mask, and remember not to shake hands — COVID elbow-bumps only!  

One thing I already know is that our colleagues in Student Affairs, Facilities Management, Student Success, and Strategic Enrollment Management deserve special kudos for their creativity, commitment, and collaboration, as do all of our faculty. The work to get ready for this semester has been largely invisible unless you were part of the work or happen to know someone involved. But I see it, and every student that walks on campus or tunes in via zoom will feel it. Let me take this time to give a public "Thank You!" ... and to say to my table co-host, "I'm on my way!" 


To showcase the changes different departments have put in place in light of the COVID-19 environment, today’s newsletter shares reflections from the leaders of signature areas of experiential learning: undergraduate research, study abroad, career services, and outdoor recreational. They explain some of the ways in which the pandemic has changed or transformed their work, and provide noteworthy dates to mark on your calendars. In addition, we provide other information of note including collaboration between VCU REAL and the Center for Community Engagement and Impact to develop health and safety protocols for students engaging in off-campus in-person learning (think internships, volunteer activities, job shadowing, service learning) and for the community partners and agencies accepting our students. 

REAL Website & Resources

Please check out the REAL website for information on the following: 

Reflections From Our Colleagues

Just three questions.

Staff and faculty engaged in high impact or experiential learning units were asked to answer three questions: 

  • How have the challenges of the last few months helped you rethink the services you provide to VCU students?                
  • In terms of your area, what's going to look different for students when classes resume in the fall? What changes/preparations does the VCU community need to be aware of?         
  • Fill us in on some of the hard work you and your teams have been taking on this summer. What are some of the unique challenges you've had to overcome?  

Each program’s response to question number two, outlining upcoming changes for the fall semester, is highlighted below, but you can read their full responses on our website. We hope you enjoy reading these testimonies as much as we did! 

Stephanie Tignor, Director of Education Abroad

VCU's Education Abroad team is all working remotely this fall, but that doesn't mean that we aren't available to students; on the contrary, we have even more opportunities for students to learn about their study abroad options and to begin planning when, where, and how they will study abroad.  In addition to one-on-one advising services, we will be making available a set of resources for faculty/staff, including video content, to share with students this fall and we are also available for virtual presentations, discussions, etc.  In the meantime, we encourage students, families, faculty and staff to visit a new section on our website that was developed in response to COVID-19 titled "Keep on Studying Abroad."  We are teaching two online sections of a reimagined UNIV 191: Maximizing Your Study Abroad for first year students.  We are also collaborating with colleagues across the country on a Virtual Lessons From Abroad conference for returnees which will be held in October 2020.  At this time, all fall study abroad programs have been cancelled, and we expect to have an official announcement regarding the status of winter break programs within the next month.  The status of spring semester and spring break study abroad programs will be decided by the end of September.

Derek Hottell, Director of Recreational Sports

Our area is going to look very different! We will be using reservation blocks to limit the population density in the facility. We have spaced out equipment to ensure the required ten feet of physical distancing can be maintained. We will be limited in what sports activities we can offer, and we will not be able to transport students for outdoor trips using vans, so we will be doing a lot of park and play options. I am intrigued to see how students use the facility and programs because campus recreation centers are not simply on-campus exercise facilities, and students do not necessarily just use them to exercise. They use them to make new friends, meet existing friends, try new things, and generally relieve stress and have fun. The model we have established for the pandemic is necessary, but it has real sacrifices. It will not facilitate fun and joy for students as much as it will facilitate health and exercise.

Herb Hill, Director of Undergraduate Research

Much of our advising, workshops, and informational sessions will move online.  Students will still have direct face-to-face access with our office when they need it, but we will encourage virtual meetings and sessions.  The Return to Research Plan indicates an 85% return to research operations by July 31st.  And research that can be done remotely has surged over the summer, with a significant number of faculty seeking student research assistants.  In the fall, students will be allowed to return to labs where appropriate safety and distancing can be observed, but we do expect a decrease in lab-based research experiences due to distancing guidelines and faculty concern for student health.  We plan to increase students' access to campus research opportunities by centralizing campus-wide posting of available positions using the Student Opportunity Center platform, which will streamline the recruitment process for faculty mentors and the application process for aspiring student researchers.

Samara Reynolds, Director of Career Services & Team
We will be offering all advising appointments, presentations and workshops, career fairs, and other events online via Zoom, Handshake, and other virtual platforms during Fall 2020. We will have open office hours in the Student Commons each morning, Monday-Thursday starting on August 10th. During those hours, VCU Career Services team members will be available for student phone calls, emails, and socially distant opportunities for quick questions related to career development and our programs and services. Monday-Thursday afternoon and all day Fridays, we will be available virtually via email, phone, Zoom appointments, and through our website and Handshake. We are shifting our Suit Yourself Closet in the Student Commons to a by-appointment-only format, open two mornings a week, so we can implement safe and effective cleaning practices. We are also planning to open a Suit Yourself Closet on the MCV campus in Hunton Student Center, ideally in Spring 2021. While we will not be able to offer LinkedIn/professional headshot photography in our office this fall due to social distancing restrictions, we are in the process of creating and distributing a guide for how students and alumni can take professional photos for use in networking and applications from the safety of their home or another neutral space. Members of our team are teaching a number of career-related courses this fall, offered via online, in-person, and hybrid formats. Undergraduates can participate in one of our UNIV 191 sections and graduate students can enroll in GRAD 610, if interested. Check out our updated website and Handshake for additional details and availability.

Mark Your Calendars

  • REAL Requirement Proposal Information Sessions with Dr. Erin Webster Garrett. Staff, faculty, and students are encouraged to attend!
  • REAL Council Virtual Retreat
    • We hosted our REAL Council Virtual Retreat on August 13th 1-3PM. It’s not too late to become part of the REAL Council. If you are interested in joining, please contact 
  • Call for Proposals: AAC&U Conference on Transforming STEM Higher Education
    • The conference takes places November 5-7, 2020. General Conference Session Submissions is Tuesday, September 15, 2020, 11:59 P.M. Click here for more information! 

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