REAL Challenge Grants
The REAL team introduced the Challenge Grants in December 2019, with the goal of awarding funding to support the integration of experiential learning into the VCU student experience. We were blown away by both the quantity and the quality of the applications we received.
Competition was stiff, but in the end the selection committee narrowed it down to eight worthy recipients. A brief description of each project is outlined below. A special thank you to all who applied, and congratulations to the recipients!
Elizabeth Bambacus: You First Peer Mentoring Engagement for UNIV 391: Advanced Peer Mentoring and Leadership
Funding will be used to sustain and enhance an existing course in which upper-level first-generation students mentor first-year first-generation students. The funding provided will support in-person events bringing together mentors and mentees, and also fund a Strengths Quest assessment for the mentors. The Strengths Quest assessment helps students recognize their strengths and intentionally apply them to both coursework and mentoring.
Thomas Roper: Coffee an Engineering Approach: A Hands-on Freshman Engineering Experience
This project transitions a traditional lecture based classroom setting into a coffee laboratory - helping CLSE 101 students become familiar with chemical engineering concepts using the non-threatening vehicle of coffee. The current course is a standard lecture based introductory chemical engineering course. Students will experience the fundamentals of chemical engineering such as heat transfer, filtration and mass balance all in the context of brewing coffee. The funding will be used to purchase supplies and equipment for the various techniques of coffee brewing.
Lindsay Freeman: Building a Pipeline for Better Environmental Studies Internships and Careers
VCU’s Center for Environmental Studies (CES) strives to offer REAL experiences to all of our students. Increasing early exposure to potential internship and job sites will reduce barriers and increase access to REAL experiences, which frequently translate into job offers. During the spring and fall 2018 semesters, our advising office piloted the Careers & Conversations (C&C) speaker series featuring five guests from a variety of backgrounds connected to the field of environmental studies. Our goal is to strengthen C&C during the 2020-2021 academic year by bringing in six local speakers and increasing our student audience. Funding for this project will help attract high-quality guest speakers and incentivize student participation in the Careers and Conversations events held by CES, with the goal of building partnerships with these environmental professionals who can serve as a pipeline for students.
Dina Tamar Garcia: Striving and Thriving of Underrepresented Students in STEM programs at VCU
The goal of this project is to not only increase underrepresented students’ engagement in STEM, but also to create a culture that celebrates their identities and fosters a sense of belonging in these fields. Funding will help cover costs of an in-person networking event and equipment, as well as support a paid-internship focused on development of a year-long media campaign for the program.
Madeline Goldman: Engaging More Students in Experiential Learning by Attending the "Applying Student Development Theory to College Transition Programs" Online Course
To address a gap in sophomore-year retention programming, Madeline, an academic advisor for the Forensic Science program, will attend an online course on students in transition with the goal of creating strategies and developing initiatives to address sophomore attrition. Through learning more about issues affecting sophomores in particular, she hopes to develop programs that will support sophomores as they develop academic plans, use the Major Maps, and plot their pathway to getting “REAL” experiences. She plans to also work with faculty and gain curriculum insight on how to engage in REAL at an earlier level in the Forensic Science major, and to host a webinar with her academic advisor peers to share the key takeaways from the course.
Bioadvising Office: Cultivating a Culture of Internship Engagement in VCU’s Largest Major
This project, led by the Bioadvising Office in the CHS Department of Biology, will focus on implementing a three-step approach to provide biology students with the skills and opportunities needed to secure an internship: preparing students through workshops, preparing smployers through building affiliations, and matching students with employers at an internship matching fair event.
Matthew Vechinski: University College Experiential Learning Student Ambassadors
The funding will be used to pilot an Experiential Learning Student Ambassadors program within University College. Mentored by Matthew Vechinski, the students will be engaged in evaluating student perceptions of experiential learning and disseminating information about the innovative partnerships, experiential learning, and rich community partnerships that are fundamental to the Focused Inquiry, Interdisciplinary Studies, and VCU Common Book programs. In addition, the Ambassadors will promote awareness of VCU’s Student Opportunity Center as a way to find and connect with co-curricular experiential learning opportunities.
Carolyn Watts: Broadening Perspectives on Health Equity: Experiential Learning In Safety Net Providers
This project will focus on the design and preparation for a pilot interprofessional experiential learning pathway for students in partnership with Health Brigade, Richmond’s oldest free clinic. The intent is to create a curriculum to enhance student learning around concepts of health equity through both faculty-led classroom learning and experiential learning working with staff at Health Brigade.