Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success

Strengthening and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion at Virginia Commonwealth University

iCubed members socialize after their annual meeting. They gather in a large auditorium.

VCU’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation, also known as iCubed, is coming off of a record breaking year, having secured more than $8 million in grant funding. But the nearly 80 scholars engaged in the innovative, transdisciplinary research program say they’re just getting started. At a recent kick-off meeting for the coming year, iCubed leaders discussed leveraging last year’s success with an emphasis on collaborative team science.

“Let’s take this journey again together. But, this time, rather than create an institute, let’s institutionalize the institute. Imagine transdisciplinary communities of practice and research rather than siloed colleges and schools. Imagine that these communities of practice and research were governed by principles of community rather than by-laws. Imagine that 50-page strategic plans became one-page logic models.,” said Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., Vice president for institutional equity and VCU’s chief diversity officer.

iCubed, a signature initiative of the Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES), serves as a catalyst for engaging faculty, staff, students, and other stakeholder groups in collaborative activities that connect science, pedagogy and practice within urban communities. In other words, they knock down traditional silos to bring together talented individuals from a variety of places to create unexpected solutions to real-world challenges.

iCubed consists of 79 VCU faculty members representing more than 20 departments across the university. That includes two of iCubed’s newest scholars, McKenzie Green, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and Daniel Gutierrez, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Education, who say iCubed is offering them exactly the kind of opportunities and collaborations that attracted them to higher education.

“I fell in love with social science research and the real world application of it as an undergraduate student at VCU in 2013, so coming back as a faculty member within the Urban Education and Family Core unit of iCubed is really exciting,” shared Green. “As a community psychologist, I am eager to combine my expertise with the brilliance of the other core faculty members from various disciplines to promote equity and excellence for Black and Latinx families in Richmond and beyond.”

“I truly believe that team science is the most effective way to address the problems facing society,” Gutierrez said. “The work we are doing in iCubed can help advance science and do remarkable good in our communities. I’m especially excited about working alongside the other scholars in the Urban Education and Family core and engaging in work that empowers learners, and promotes excellence and equity.”

iCubed currently works on eight program areas. Previously, iCubed cores have launched innovative initiatives such as Little Ram Pantries, which are installed around VCU campus and stocked with free non-perishable food items and toiletries, and a project to reduce homelessness among LGBTQIA+ youth and pregnant and parenting youth.

iCubed scholars also work directly with students through the Commonwealth Scholars Program. The program matches students at VCU who are identified as both high-need and high-talent with exceptional faculty who specialize in inclusive community-engaged research. iCubed scholars provide these students with mentorship and research opportunities that are otherwise often difficult to access for students with high financial need.

“Every student at VCU, irrespective of their financial background, should have the opportunity to have the research experience at a Carnegie-designated Research 1 university. I truly believe this, and it was such a pleasure to see and speak with another cohort of our students earlier today. They truly are fabulous students; and I am certain that each will have a successful and rewarding experience under our iCubed faculty mentorship,” said Nasim.

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