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University of Richmond announces new academic programs

The popular Healthcare Studies program is becoming the Health Studies Department; new programming is available in Africana Studies and Data Science/Analytics.

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The University of Richmond has announced curriculum changes that will provide new academic opportunities for students and faculty. These changes include the healthcare studies program becoming an independent department and establishing two new program areas: Africana Studies and data science/analytics.

“At the University of Richmond, we seek to educate students in an academically challenging, intellectually vibrant, and collaborative community,” said Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences Patrice Rankine. “To achieve this we must meet the needs of our students and fill in gaps in important fields of study that are necessary to educate our future leaders. These changes will continue advancing that mission.”

Health Studies Department

Healthcare studies was established as a minor in 2007 and quickly grew in popularity with at least 25 students graduating with the minor within five years. Healthcare studies was established as a major in 2012, and by 2015 became the fifth largest A&S major. This fall the program will become the Department of Health Studies to support additional options for faculty and students, specifically related to global health and epidemiology.

“Health-related fields play a central role in the global economy,” said Rankine. “We are uniquely positioned at UR to provide students with a foundation in all areas that comprise the health industry and allied fields, including the ethics and anthropology of healthcare, historical and philosophical analysis, and the humanistic sensibility about health and well-being that comes with the study of literature, philosophy, and other disciplines taught at UR.”

The Department of Health Studies, which will continue to provide students with options to study business, economics, and the health industry, will be chaired by Rick Mayes, an expert in healthcare policy and longtime co-coordinator of the healthcare studies program.

Africana Studies

A new Africana Studies program, a focus that reflects initial petitioning from students, has been approved. The program will officially launch in the fall of 2022 with a suite of required courses currently under development, but students wishing to major or minor in Africana Studies can begin taking elective courses in the fall.

“The Africana Studies program offers the depth of humanistic thought, including

philosophical, interpretive, creative, and fine arts, alongside training in the skill sets of the social and natural sciences,” Rankine said.

The home school for the Africana Studies program will be A&S, but students will be able to take elective courses across disciplines, including in the Robins School of Business and the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

Data Analytics and Data Science

We live in a world increasingly reliant upon data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment in data-related fields will grow by 30% in the next 10 years. UR is now offering students new opportunities related to data analytics and data science, including a data science concentration for computer science and mathematics students, a business analytics concentration for business majors, and a Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies (BSPS) major in data analytics offered through SPCS.

“We are training our students for future careers that, in many cases, have not yet been invented, but we do know that data, and the quantitative, computational analysis of that data will be critically important,” said chemistry professor Carol Parish, the associate provost for academic innovation who is overseeing the data science initiative.

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Trevor Dickerson is the co-founder and editor of RVAhub.com, lover of all things Richmond, and a master of karate and friendship for everyone.

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Education

VCUarts renames Fine Arts Building for first African American dean, Dr. Murry N. DePillars

In a ceremony Thursday, VCU unveiled the newly-renamed Murry N. DePillars Building and celebrated the life and legacy of the former dean, professional painter, and art historian whose leadership helped the school emerge as one of the largest art schools in the country.

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Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (VCUarts) has renamed its Fine Arts Building for its first dean.

In a ceremony Thursday, VCU unveiled the newly-renamed Murry N. DePillars Building and celebrated the life and legacy of the former dean, professional painter, and art historian whose leadership helped the school emerge as one of the largest art schools in the country.

During the ceremony, VCU President Michael Rao, VCUarts Dean Carmenita Higginbotham, and Mrs. Mary DePillars, widow of the building’s namesake, gave commemoration remarks in the building’s atrium.

DePillars served as dean of VCUarts from 1976-1995, cultivating a period of immense growth and development and whose artwork and research have been exhibited and published throughout the country. He was also a major contributor to the Black Arts Movement, creating bold and daring depictions of what it meant to be Black in America, and was a founding member of the Chicago-based Black artists’ collective AfriCOBRA.

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Parents are changing their minds on in-person school – in most cases, there are no other options

As the Delta variant of COVID-19 takes foot, some parents who chose an in-person option for their kids are rethinking that. But there may not be an alternative in some districts.

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Families with Richmond Public Schools had until June 1 to choose between enrolling virtually or attending classes in person. At that point in the summer, COVID-19 vaccines were widely available to adults, new cases had dropped to less than 200 a day, and almost no one had heard of delta, the highly transmissible variant that now accounts for virtually all new infections across the U.S.

“It seemed like we were not at the end of things, but that there was an end coming,” Yeager said. Her four children — none of whom are old enough to be vaccinated — had managed a year of remote school fairly well. But the encouraging outlook convinced Yeager to enroll them in-person.

By the time cases began climbing, it was too late to change her mind. The vast majority of Virginia school divisions, including Richmond, required families to make a decision about the upcoming semester in late May or early June. Virtual enrollment is now closed, and many are denying an influx of requests from parents and students who changed their minds.

Yeager is one of hundreds of families stuck with face-to-face learning even as a third coronavirus surge casts a pall over the school year. Some districts have already quarantined dozens — or hundreds — of students after COVID-19 exposures. Earlier this week, the Virginia Department of Health urged Amherst County to temporarily close all its secondary schools after an outbreak in the district.

But local divisions are limited in how widely, and for how long, they can close schools thanks to a state law mandating in-person instruction (passed in the early, and optimistic, days of Virginia’s vaccine rollout). Late last summer, a spike in cases spurred the majority of districts to reopen with hybrid or fully remote learning plans. This year, with new infections reaching even higher levels, they don’t have that option. 

Nor are they required to offer remote instruction. “While school divisions need to provide five days of in-person learning to any family who wants it for their students in the fall, school districts are not obligated to provide a virtual option for all students,” Fairfax County reminded families in May. The vast majority of them — 110 out of 132 local divisions — are using Virtual Virginia, a state-run program with its own teachers and curriculum.

Ten districts aren’t offering any virtual option at all, according to Charles Pyle, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Education. And some divisions providing their own virtual courses have even tighter restrictions. Fairfax County, for example, is limiting remote learning to students with medical needs documented by a licensed health professional. The deadline to enroll in the program was May 28, and a little more than 400 students, out of roughly 180,000 across the district, are participating.

“Family health/medical conditions are not considered for this program and eligibility is not extended to siblings or other students in a household,” spokesperson Kathleen Miller wrote in a statement on Friday. “Enrolling additional students would require additional staffing, which has already been a significant challenge.” 

Providing both in-person and virtual learning, as many schools have done over the course of the pandemic, have created escalating burdens for local divisions — even with millions of dollars in federal aid. In addition to teacher burnout, administrators have struggled to find enough staff to fill instructional and support positions, especially with regular exposures forcing many into quarantine. In a presentation to lawmakers last fall, state Superintendent James Lane described staffing as one of the biggest challenges facing Virginia’s schools.

Those ongoing needs, combined with the state mandate, offer few incentives for schools to continue providing their own remote learning options. Brian Mott, the executive director for Virtual Virginia, said enrollment in the program was open to any student until their district’s deadline. But he also said planning needs made it difficult to accommodate a wave of later registrations.

“We’ve got to make sure we have the appropriate staff to support them,” Mott said. “The other reason is communication. Students don’t just enroll and start the next day. We need to be setting them up and supporting them as soon as possible.”

Many local districts are also limiting virtual enrollment to students who can show they were successful with the modality — another process that takes time, he added. Despite the division-wide policies to curb late registrations, though, that’s exactly what’s happening across the state. Mott said there have been more than 1,200 enrollment requests from individual schools in recent weeks, most of which involve multiple students.

Virtual Virginia is offering a “limited number” of late enrollment slots, with a priority on students with medical needs, students from military families, or transfers who entered a school division after the cut-off date, Pyle said. But some individual districts are seeing even higher demand.

The waitlist for Henrico’s Virtual Academy now sits at more than 3,000 students — an increase of around 800 compared to two weeks prior, the Henrico Citizen reported

The district is attempting to hire more teachers to accommodate the waitlist, according to the Citizen. Other divisions, though, are simply denying the requests.

“Students who have not chosen the virtual option will not be permitted to change to virtual,” said Diana Gulotta, a spokesperson for Prince William County Schools, the second-largest division in the state. “Those with documented health conditions can apply for homebound services.” 

Unlike Fairfax County, which is Virginia’s largest school district, Prince William isn’t currently requiring its staff to be vaccinated.

Richmond is another division mandating vaccines for its staff, and Yeager said that’s provided her with some degree of comfort. But while she understands the constraints facing local school districts, she’s frustrated — like many families — over the lack of flexibility amid a constantly changing pandemic.  

Delta has changed the conversation, she said. Research on earlier variants indicated that children were less susceptible to COVID-19 than adults and displayed milder symptoms when they contracted the virus. But the rise of delta has corresponded with worrying reports of increasing pediatric cases and hospitalizations, especially in hard-hit areas. Ballad Health, for example — the primary hospital system in far southwestern Virginia — has reported several COVID-19 admissions in their pediatric ICU.

“We are seeing children dying, though I know, intellectually, the chances of that happening are very small,” Yeager said. It’s still not clear if delta presents any more of a risk to children than previous variants. Public health experts have pointed out that pediatric hospitalizations are still the same proportion of the total, but that the overall number is rising given the higher transmissibility of the variant. 

Right now, though, delta poses the greatest risk to the unvaccinated — a population that still includes children under 12. Authorization for that age group isn’t expected before the end of this year, according to some federal officials. And many parents aren’t willing to take the risk.

“I would love to be wrong,” Yeager said. “But delta is so terribly infectious. Kids can’t be masked all the time. I don’t see how it’s going to be other than … I can’t even think of a polite way to put it.”

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Education

University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab receives three national awards for Southern Journey Story Map Project

ESRI, the industry standard in the field of mapping technology, awarded the DSL the Best Cartography award and the International Cartographic Association and International Map Industry Association Recognition of Excellence in Cartography award.

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The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond has received three awards for the story map project Southern Journey: The Migrations of the American South, 1790-2010. A story map is a digital project that combines text, interactive maps, and other multimedia content for storytelling.

ESRI, the industry standard in the field of mapping technology, awarded the DSL the Best Cartography award and the International Cartographic Association and International Map Industry Association Recognition of Excellence in Cartography award. The project team includes Justin Madron, GIS project manager, and analyst; Nathanial Ayers, visualization and web designer; and Ed Ayers, Tucker-Boatwright Professor of Humanities.

This year, judges selected award winners from more than 350 map projects they determined best-exhibited excellence in all aspects of map design and cartographic production.

“It’s an honor to be selected for these awards among such stiff competition,” said Madron. “This project allowed us to combine the best tools used in mapping and digital storytelling, and the interactive maps and animations produce a user-friendly way to interact with the data and information.”

The team built this project as a complement to Ed Ayers’ latest book of the same name. Madron and Nathanial Ayers also created the more than 60 maps for the printed book.

“Justin and Nathaniel invented ways to bring printed pages to life, revealing the interwoven complex causes of the ebbs and flows that have shaped the southeastern United States,” said Ed Ayers. As the award committee put it, “The dominant eye-catching topaz-and-turquoise honeycomb maps are highly effective in intentionally addressing the ambiguity of inconsistent geographic areas over time.”

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