Quirky Rams Research
Imagine loving an esoteric topic so much that you could go to school for years to study it. Then you spend the rest of your life teaching and researching and geeking out. This is the life of the university professor.
This year, Virginia Commonwealth University(VCU) became one of the National Science Foundation's top 100 institutions for research. According to a press release issued Thursday, April 5, VCU hosts more than $255 million in sponsored research across various disciplines—most notably in its life science programs at its VCU Medical Center campus.
With the VCU Parkinson's Disease Center and the VCU Massey Cancer Center, VCU Medical Center researchers may very well find cures to these and other ailments one day. One of the center’s most recent and boldest headlines? In March, VCU Medical Center researchers announced their findings that abusing "bath salt," an over-the-counter drug, can be as harmful as using cocaine.
But what about all of the VCU schools and departments outside of the VCU Medical Center? What do their professors study when they're not teaching? Arts and English professors in particular are probably ones you don't typically associate with research. That's where you are mistaken. They might not toil away at microscopes, but arts and English professors research all the same.
Here are examples of the kind of quirky research that's helped VCU earn its reputation for creativity and innovation:
Lee isn't the only professor who approaches fashion with scholarly discretion. Holly Price Alford, also of VCU's Department of Fashion, studied the influence of African-American hip-hop on Japanese youth culture in 2010, thanks to a grant from the VCU School of the Arts. Previously, news outlets, such as the Associated Press, BBC Radio, and The Baltimore Sun have interviewed Alford on topics ranging from First Lady Michelle Obama's inaugural attire to movie fashions that spiked trends. Alford's area of expertise lies at the intersection of fashion, history and pop culture. So, yeah, watching the Academy Awards is all part of a day's work!
But enough about fashion. What about VCU's wordsmiths? The English Department features several acclaimed novelists, poets and essayists, such as Kathleen Graber, who was named one of five finalists for the 2010 National Book Award in honor of her poetry collection, "The Eternal City." But lately, David Coogan's research on prison writing has received a lot of recognition.
Since 2006, Coogan has led a service-learning prison writing workshop. His students work with prisoners to help them write their way into understanding what led them to lives of crime. Currently Coogan is editing a book that tells the stories of 11 of the men who've participated in his workshop. Their autobiographical tales are raw, poignant and, at times, even eloquent.
So VCU professors not only engage the community, they also engage with each other. They collaborate to produce cutting-edge, interdisciplinary work (of a non-medical variety.)
Take Blackbird, for instance. Blackbird is VCU's 10-year-old online journal of art and literature. There's text; there's audio; there's photography and more. Members of VCU's Richmond and Doha, Qatar campuses crank out this electronic quarterly with the help of undergrads, grads, alumni, volunteers and New Virginia Review, Inc., a regional nonprofit.
The university grooms the next generation of quirky researchers, too. Its Ph.D. program in Media, Art, and Text (MATX) combines the faculty and resources of the Department of English, the School of the Arts and the School of Mass Communications. Dissertations about video games and Hollywood blockbusters are perfectly acceptable, even encouraged.
From making CDs to participating in big-time solo gallery shows, VCU's Art and English professors delve into their research without ever donning a lab coat. And that's not even to mention all the quirky work going on in the other humanities fields at the university, too.