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Education

Graduation plans vary across Virginia universities

College graduations will still look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but more Virginia universities are returning to in-person ceremony.

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By Sarah Elson

College graduations will still look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but more Virginia universities are returning to in-person ceremony.

Graduations will be held online, in person or a hybrid format. Gov. Ralph Northam announced last month preliminary guidance for graduation events, which continues to be updated.

“The acceleration of the vaccine program and the decrease in new COVID-19 cases make it safer to ease restrictions on activities like in-person graduations,” Northam stated in March.

Graduation events for K-12 schools and colleges will operate under two sets of guidelines, depending on the date. Graduation events held outdoors before May 15 will be capped at 5,000 people or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is less. Graduation events held indoors may have up to 500 people, or 30% of the venue capacity, whichever is less.

More people can attend graduations held on or after May 15. The governor’s orders allow an increase to 50% of venue capacity or 5,000 people at outdoor graduations. Indoor events cannot exceed either 50% venue capacity or 1,000 persons.

Attendees must wear masks and follow other guidelines and safety protocols to ensure social distancing.

Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond will hold a university-wide commencement ceremony online on May 15, according to a statement the university released last month. Individual departments can decide whether to hold in-person graduation.

VCU College of Humanities and Sciences will hold three in-person graduation ceremonies outdoors on May 15. The ceremonies will be held rain or shine on an outdoor field used for sports. Guests are not allowed to attend, but the ceremonies will be livestreamed.

 Britney Simmons, a senior VCU mass communications major graduating in May, has concerns about attending an in-person event.

“I’d prefer that graduation is online,” Simmons stated in a text message. “I’m still uncomfortable with large gatherings and wouldn’t feel comfortable with me or any of my family attending and putting their health at risk.”

Federal health agencies called for a pause of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this month due to reports of blood clots in some individuals who received it. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration panel late last week recommended restarting the J&J vaccinations, with an added warning about the risk of rare blood clots.

“The university really put its hope in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and that lots of students would be vaccinated by commencement,” said Tim Bajkiewicz, an associate professor of broadcast journalism at VCU and the communications director for the American Association of University Professors. “Because of the pause that the CDC put on that vaccine, it really kind of blew a huge hole in those plans.”

Students and faculty originally scheduled to receive the one-dose J&J shot had to temporarily shift to a new timetable with the incremental, two-dose shots that could make it harder for everyone to receive a vaccine by graduation.

VCU spokesman Michael Porter did not respond to multiple requests for comment about any possible problems the university might encounter from that pause of the J&J vaccine.

“The ceremonies are already super stripped-down,” Bajkiewicz said. “But still over this whole thing is a pronounced risk of getting COVID-19.”

Virginia Tech in Blacksburg will have 16 in-person commencement ceremonies by college from May 10 to May 16 at Lane Stadium, the university’s football stadium. Graduating students are required to register and students are allowed to invite up to four guests.

Virginia Tech will also hold a virtual commencement ceremony on May 14.

Sarah Hajzus, a senior industrial and systems engineering major at Virginia Tech, said she would prefer to have graduation in person.

“Small, in-person [graduation], if we were to do it by major I feel like that would be ideal,” Hajzus said.

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville will hold its commencement outdoors on May 21 to May 23 for the class of 2021. Students will walk the lawn and process to Scott Stadium, where each student can have two guests. The class of 2020 will also get a chance to walk and attend a special ceremony, according to U.Va. President Jim Ryan.

Other Virginia universities will hold spring graduation completely online. George Mason University released a statement that its spring commencement will be held virtually. The ceremony is set for Friday, May 14 at 2 p.m.

 VCU students and employees are not required, but encouraged, to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Over 43% of the state’s population had received at least one-dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

“It is really sad that I won’t be able to have an in-person graduation since I looked forward to having one all four years, but I think everyone’s health is more important than a graduation ceremony,” Simmons stated.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

Education

University of Richmond adds new course opportunities for 2022-2023 school year

These changes include launching the Africana Studies program and adding minors in sustainability and data science and statistics.   

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The University of Richmond has announced curriculum changes that will provide new academic opportunities for students and faculty in the 2022–23 academic year. These changes include launching the Africana Studies program and adding minors in sustainability and data science and statistics.

Africana Studies

The Africana Studies program will launch this fall with a variety of courses and programming in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. The program explores the complex socio-political landscapes, economic structures, and cultural traditions that shape, impact, and stem from the African diaspora.

“The push for this program was strong, and students will now be able to major, minor, and receive degrees in Africana Studies,” said Ernest McGowen, Africana Studies program coordinator. “It is a great opportunity to direct one’s studies towards their interests and fulfill our liberal arts mission.”

Africana Studies courses during the fall semester include “Introduction to Africana Studies” and a “Rumors of War” seminar, which will examine the history of slavery and colonization before and after 1492 and how they shape the African diaspora. The program is housed in the School of Arts & Sciences, but students may take elective courses across disciplines in A&S, the Robins School of Business, and the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

Mathematics, Computer Science, Data Science, and Statistics

This summer, the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science became two separate departments — Department of Computer Science and Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The change is a result of growing interest in the fields of statistics, mathematical economics, and computer science. Students can now minor in data science and statistics, which focuses on collecting, understanding, and presenting data from a variety of different domains and contexts.

“Within this minor, students explore everything from data-oriented programming to the ability to identify and address the ethical and privacy concerns regarding data analysis,” said statistics professor Taylor Arnold, data science program coordinator.

Geography, Environment, and Sustainability

Starting this academic year, the Department of Geography and the Environment will become the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability. Sustainability will also be offered as a minor, allowing students to explore sustainability through the lens of acting for positive change.

“We have seen a surge of deep interest over the past few years with students interested in topics related to sustainability and the climate crisis,” said Todd Lookingbill, department chair. “So many of our students want to work toward improving conditions that foster the well-being of people and the environment, and this new minor will allow more of our students to explore this critical area.”

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Education

Henrico families can get a jump on the upcoming school year at the 2022 Back-to-School Kickoff

This year’s event will be at Glen Allen High School from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. Families can enjoy music, food trucks, and games, register for school, talk with HCPS leaders, and more.

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While school starts on Monday, August 29th, a week earlier than previous years, HCPS families can get a jump start on the new school year Friday, August 19th at the annual HCPS Back-to-School Kickoff. This year’s event will be at Glen Allen High School from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. Families can enjoy music, food trucks, and games, register for school, talk with HCPS leaders, and more.

Shuttle services from Henrico, Highland Springs, and Varina high schools will run every 15 minutes starting at 3:45 p.m. Parents are encouraged to reserve a seat here.

Glen Allen High School is located at 10700 Staples Mill Road in Glen Allen.

For more information, please contact the Office of Family and Community Engagement at 804-226-5340.

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Business

MEDARVA Foundation opens interactive medical science learning space at Short Pump Town Center

The center, open through the end of August, will let visitors learn about human anatomy, surgery, and the MEDARVA Foundation’s work to support scientific research and medical access in Central Virginia.

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The MEDARVA Foundation has opened Surgeon Immersion, an experiential center at Short Pump Town Center, during the month of August. Admission-free, the center will let visitors learn about human anatomy, surgery, and the MEDARVA Foundation’s work to support scientific research and medical access in Central Virginia.

“We are excited to celebrate MEDARVA Healthcare’s 70th anniversary by bringing our mission directly to the community,” said Joanne Whiley, chair of MEDARVA Healthcare’s Board of Directors. “We were well known as the Richmond Eye and Ear Hospital for our first fifty years. This is a great opportunity to educate the community on the ways we have evolved since and how we provide service today.”

MEDARVA Healthcare is the last Richmond-based, independent, non-profit health system, operating MEDARVA Surgery Centers at Stony Point and West Creek, MEDARVA Imaging Center, MEDARVA Low Vision Center, and the MEDARVA Foundation.

“The MEDARVA Foundation has been quietly funding medical research at VCU Medical School and UVA Medical School, among others, as well as supporting other local nonprofits that provide direct care to the medically underserved,” explained Cheryl Jarvis, chair of the MEDARVA Foundation Board of Directors.  “But during the pandemic, we started to see the need to support younger scientific researchers as they first start out in middle and high school.  The level of work these students are performing is amazing, and when we started to think about how we could highlight them and inspire others, we developed the idea of a community space that would engage and educate.”

MEDARVA Foundation’s Surgeon Immersion will be open every day in August from Short Pump Town Center’s opening until 7:00 pm (6:00 pm on Sundays) and includes a state-of-the-art digital cadaver table, and simulated surgery kiosks, 2022 Science Fair winning projects, children vision screenings, and more.

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We need your help. RVAHub is a small, independent publication, and we depend on our readers to help us provide a vital community service. If you enjoy our content, would you consider a donation as small as $5? We would be immensely grateful! Interested in advertising your business, organization, or event? Get the details here.

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