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5 more reasons Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond is pretty cool

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"While you weren't looking, Richmond got cool," according to Frommer's 2014 travel guide listing Richmond as a top destination for its history, fresh cuisine and outdoor recreation.

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As a matter of fact, Richmond was Outside.com's choice for 'Top River Town' in 2012; became the site of the Washington Redskins Travel Camp in 2013; will host the first National Beer Expo in July to promote artisan-made craft beers as well as the region's growth as "a major foodie and brewing mecca;" and next May, Richmond shows off its "world-class event facilities, hotels and entertainment" when it welcomes international cycling with UCI's 2015 Road World Championships.

That's a pretty cool 21st century list for the former confederate capital. Yet, that's not all - Richmond is also home to a pretty cool urban, public research school: Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU.)

Located just a mile and a half from the Virginia State Capitol and adjacent to Richmond's revitalized downtown, VCU is known for its medical center and arts programs, Schools of Business, Education, Engineering and Medicine, and the nation's number one ranked Department of Nurse Anestesia. With two Richmond campuses, an international campus in Quatar, a medical campus in Fairfax and many satellite sites, VCU's 31,000 students can choose from 64 bachelor's and 74 master's degree programs; 16 NCAA Division 1 varsity sports; and more than 500 clubs.

All of this and more keeps VCU "abuzz" with engaged students who love its diversity, its energy and its convenient location in Richmond where they can, for example, walk to see 'Wicked' at the newly renovated historic downtown theatre, join friends at the James River for whitewater rafting or head to the nearby Richmond International Raceway for a NASCAR event.

Everything students love about the campus would be too long to list; here is a random assortment of 5 more pretty cool things about VCU:

1. VCU is charming. Sure, there are high-rise dormitories and plans underway for a modern $32 million zinc-walled Contemporary Art Institute, but past and present development plans have attended to VCU’s architectural heritage with an eye to being a part of, not apart from, the preservation efforts made for downtown Richmond. Students continue to walk brick-paved walkways and lamp-lit, tree-lined streets; enjoy gathering places with the community in carefully carved out courtyards, quads and the nearby Monroe Park; and visit the Spanish-tiled Ginter House (former mansion of cigarette magnate Major Lewis Ginter,) which serves as VCU's main administrative building.

2. VCU initiated a 'living and learning' dormitory in 2012 called ASPIRE (Academic Scholars Program in Real Environments,) where residents complete a Certificate in Community Engagement together over two years. The program teaches students to be agents of change in their communities through volunteerism, leadership and targeted coursework. VCU Globe, a second 'living and learning' dormitory opening this fall, will teach students to navigate personally and professionally in global contexts.

3. VCU pioneered the nation's first Master of Product Innovation degree when it opened the da Vinci Center for Innovation in Product Design and Development in 2011. Any undergraduate student in Arts, Business, Engineering, or Humanities and Sciences can add interdisciplinary strength to their major by concurrently completing a Certificate in Product Innovation from the Center.

Marketing professor and Director at the da Vinci Center, Dr. Kenneth B. Kahn, says his students discover how to open their minds to "creating innovation opportunities" and "how innovation is magnified when multiple disciplines are involved." "Companies have commented that our students are better prepared, with honed professional skills," he adds, and graduate students "are getting jobs such as innovation analysts, product managers and project managers."

4. VCU's study abroad program is vast, flexible and enthusiastically encouraged by the university. Students can travel for a week, a month, a semester or a year; choose a faculty-led excursion or a full-immersion educational experience; select a location based on their major to complete department requirements, on a language to further their linguistic skills, on a culture to better understand their heritage, or for a service learning opportunity. Students can even research, develop and apply for an alternative program if they desire. Several types of partial and full scholarships are available.

5. VCU people win distinction. Just this spring, for example, sophomore Alex Coyle won carmaker MINI's online design contest with her MINI DeLux model, showcased in April during the New York Auto Show; Professor Corin Hewitt was named the 2014-15 winner of the Rome Prize in Visual Arts from the prestigious American Academy in Rome; and Alumnus Ronnie Greene, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, was project editor for the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

These selections highlight just a few of the opportunities for students at the large, bustling urban campus of VCU. If you haven't visited lately, give the campus and environs a fresh look to find even more reasons why VCU in Richmond is pretty cool.

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