What's your big idea?In the fall of 2016 the College was given an opportunity by the Provost’s office to advance research and develop new, dynamic initiatives through the addition of eight new faculty lines. Before recruiting for these new positions, Dean Fuentes needed to identify areas where the College has an opportunity to make a genuine impact through cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research. We surveyed the faculty for their “Big Ideas” — new and synergistic research opportunities that could bring the College recognition, distinction, and create opportunities for experiential learning, community engagement or curriculum development.

In order to review the Big Ideas that were submitted, Dean Fuentes created our Research Advisory Council. The Council selected 15 of the proposals based on their potential for impact and distinction through research and integration with education and community engagement. The 15 finalists were asked to submit a more detailed proposal following a specific set of guidelines.

The members of the Research Advisory Council are:

Susan Bodnar Daren – Sociology
Lesley Bulluck – Biology
Danielle Dick – Psychology
David Edwards – Statistical Sciences and Operations Research
Richard Godbeer – History/HRC
Matthew Hartman – Chemistry
Catherine Ingrassia – English
Peter Kirkpatrick – School of World Studies
Chioke I’Anson – African American Studies
Gene Mills – Philosophy
Brooke Newman – History
Karen Rader – History/STS
Zewe Serpell – Psychology

The Phase 2 proposals were reviewed by the Research Advisory Council, and three were selected for their potential to create experiential learning experiences for students, promote interdisciplinary collaboration and research, and promote community engagement. The three proposals are: Migration Studies: Focus Latin America, Big Data Science, and LGBTQ Studies at VCU: Research, Teaching, Community.

Brief descriptions of the three successful proposals:

McKenna Brown


Antonio Espinoza


Past and current demographic trends make migration a highly relevant subject in today’s world. Migration Studies: Focus Latin America, proposed by McKenna Brown (World Studies and Global Education) and Antonio Espinoza (History), will enhance the study of Latin American immigration with the addition of four new faculty positions. This focused hiring initiative will satisfy a growing curricular demand from undergraduate, graduate, and continuing students in multiple programs. These hires, in the departments of History, Sociology, and Kinesiology and Health Sciences, and the School of World Studies, will raise the College’s visibility as a center of research and expertise on Latin America and Latinos/Latinas in the US, intensify VCU’s involvement with local and regional Latino/Latina communities, and build capacity for policy advising and professional consulting and development programs.

Qin Wang


Yongjia Song


Big Data Science, proposed by Qin Wang (SSOR) and Yongjia Song (SSOR), will leverage the huge amount of data already being collected by various academic units at VCU, in particular in the fields of biomedical research and environmental science.  Large amount of biological, clinical, and environmental data is being collected at an unprecedented speed and scale, such as brain imaging data, DNA sequence data, health care data, and environmental data. Statisticians, computer scientists, clinicians and environmental scientists will be able to investigate massive data sets to gain insight and develop cutting-edge solutions. A new faculty line in the Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research will be created to facilitate this proposal.

Myrl Beam


Richard Godbeer


Kathleen Ingram


LGBTQ Studies at VCU: Research, Teaching, Community, proposed by Myrl Beam (GSWS), Richard Godbeer (History) and Kathy Ingram (GSWS/Psychology),  will advance VCU’s goal of integrating the rigorous investigation of diversity in all its forms into the College’s curriculum, research profile, and community engagement efforts, and make VCU a national leader in the field of LGBTQ studies. The addition of three faculty committed to the examination of LGBTQ Studies in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Sociology, and History will position VCU to become a national leader in this field. They will also bring their expertise and energies to bear on the inclusion efforts of the university through service and leadership roles, as well as in the broader Richmond community.

Focused hiring of faculty is a strategy to develop creative academic programs and outreach initiatives to address relevant and emerging societal and scientific problems, and one of the goals of the Big Ideas initiative. By bringing multiple scholars into one or more departments based on shared, interdisciplinary research interests, the College will increase diversity, research dollars, scholarship, relevance and prestige at VCU. It will also facilitate curriculum development and academic training of our students focused on real-world issues. This exposure will enhance the success of our students and will make them more marketable upon graduation. These focused new positions, proposed by members of our faculty and selected by our Research Advisory Council, will be the first in a continuing process of strategic hires to support interdisciplinary initiatives.