Document Type


Original Publication Date


Date of Submission

November 2023


VCU is experiencing unprecedented levels of growth in its research operations, having secured more than $460 million in sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2023 and becoming one of the top 50 public universities in the country for sponsored research. Between FY18 and FY22, sponsored research funding at VCU increased by 49% (Crawford et al., 2022). Nonetheless, many faculty members are leaving a key resource untapped: VCU’s undergraduate students. According to Dr. Srirama Rao, Vice President of Research and Innovation, in a recent State of the Research address, only about 600 undergraduate students participate in sponsored research annually. Even faculty with significant sponsored research funding often fail to include undergraduates in their research, despite abundant evidence that doing so has the potential to both bolster student success and retention and provide a mentoring experience for the faculty as well as for graduate students. At the same time, VCU’s mission to increase student success and retention requires increased support of high impact educational practices (HIEPs) such as undergraduate research. Incorporating undergraduate research into the curriculum will also require significant faculty engagement in curricular planning and teaching.

Common barriers to faculty engagement with undergraduate students reported in the literature include the real or perceived lack of time due to competing commitments such as teaching, service, recruitment, administrative responsibilities, and managing their own research. In addition, faculty often cite a lack of funding and resources as a reason not to engage. Many disciplines outside science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) do not have formal spaces for conducting research. The humanities and arts, in particular, may struggle to find physical space in which to work with undergraduate students on research outside of the classroom. Furthermore, many faculty believe that the time investment required to teach foundational research skills to undergraduates will not result in a valuable return on investment.

Despite these barriers, research is a significant component of VCU’s mission and the focus of multiple ongoing efforts across the University. One of the current priorities of the One VCU Strategic Research plan (as stated by Dr. John Ryan, Associate Vice President for Research Development, in a recent presentation to VCU research administrators) is to increase the engagement of faculty in units where research has been historically hindered due to high teaching loads. Research and Innovation is also a primary theme of Quest 2028, and there are myriad offices and initiatives across the university tasked with promoting research. Among these are VCU’s current Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), which aims to develop and advance an undergraduate culture of curiosity by increasing collaborative participation of faculty and second-year undeclared students in research, inquiry, and/or creative expression. These goals align closely with the Team Unity project. In 2022, the Provost’s Office organized an external assessment of undergraduate research at VCU, conducted by several experts from other public universities. The review resulted in a detailed report reflecting many of this project's findings. In addition, the REAL initiative, which promotes experiential and integrative learning, as well as reflection and mentorship, encompasses the curricular aims of undergraduate research. Finally, the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which provides funding to undergraduates and their mentors to conduct research over the course of a summer, serves as a primary source of funding for undergraduate research and can serve as a model for expanded resource opportunities.

Is Part Of

VCU Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute Publications