REAL stands for Relevant, Experiential and Applied Learning, and is shorthand for VCU’s experiential learning initiative.

It is a student-centered and faculty-driven answer to a challenge given by President Rao to ensure that every VCU graduate has at least one high-quality, experiential and career-focused learning experience during their time at VCU.

But most importantly, REAL is a promise:

  • A promise to engage all VCU students in hands-on learning experiences that contribute to their intellectual, professional and personal development as they build lives of meaning and careers of purpose
  • A promise to support faculty, staff and auxiliary units as they engage in a university culture that supports every student’s success through inquiry, discovery, innovation, civic engagement and creative expression
  • A promise to foster and support a universitywide community of practice.

Yes! VCU is a national leader in student engagement as the most recent NSSE data shows us. The challenge is in being able to coherently tell this story of student engagement and success and to harness the power of those experiences to the benefit of students.

While multiple departments and units identify themselves as providing REAL experiences, no shared set of definitions, criteria or practices allows us to tell that story in ways that are comprehensive, coherent and consistent. Formalizing these definitions and criteria for REAL experiences will allow us to not only better understand and share the power of these experiences with others, it will also allow us to look courageously at places where we aren’t reaching students to the degree we wish to.

REAL is a way to document the work you are already doing and to have it recognized. This might be especially beneficial for those faculty on the tenure track given the recent revision of the P&T guidelines to include community-engaged research and scholarship. Departments with high levels of engagement will also be able to share their work with other programs to both inspire and model engagement. They will also have a community of practice with whom they can consult and potentially build innovative, new partnerships.

The initiative will initially have the undergraduate experience as the primary focus. However, we know that some of our graduate programs, especially in the health sciences, are leaders in experiential and career focused education. The goal is to have greater exchange of information and greater dissemination of these practices throughout the curriculum.

Curriculum is the purview of the faculty and there is no plan to impose a change in credit hours or program core requirements.

National research indicates that students who engage in a structured and intentional program of study that includes coordinated advising, professional development, and opportunities for highly engaging experiential activities tend to do less major shopping, and to graduate on time.

No, but if departments choose to apply for those programs to be designated as REAL, they will be tagged in banner with a special attribute. We'll be meeting one on one with units to both help shape the criteria for REAL activities as well as how to best incorporate existing efforts into REAL.

While the Office of the Provost and the assistant vice provost for REAL facilitates the process, we are all responsible for student success and for implementing initiatives (such as REAL) that focus on engaged pedagogy and embody VCU’s anchor mission and commitment to community, inclusive excellence and innovation.