VCU Rice Center

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News and events
July 3, 2013

Small investments pay big dividends

What difference do small investments make?

Every year, VCU Rice Center grants research awards covering a broad range of studies and students. These modest investments in students and their studies have long-term ripple effects in terms of furthering research and expanding community and global engagement.

Small grants for research become innovative classes. Independent studies funded by these grants turn into much larger research projects, publications and the furthering of our scientific, historical and cultural knowledge. Private sector philanthropy magnifies the effects of university-provided funds, enabling VCU students to collaborate with other universities and community partners to impact the world.


Small investments make an enormous impact.

Since 2005, the VCU Rice Center has granted 109 student research awards, which have involved 117 student researchers as principal or co-principal investigators. Averaging $1,000, the grants have been awarded to 24 undergraduates, 68 master’s students and 25 Ph.D. students. Most of the awards have been made to students from VCU’s Department of Biology, Center for Environmental Studies and the Integrative Life Sciences Ph.D. program. Students from other VCU programs, such as the School of Engineering and the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, as well as other institutions, such as the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, also have benefited from these research awards.

The VCU Rice Center recognizes the benefits of cultivating a research ethic in students through a hands-on, interdisciplinary approach; these awards greatly contribute to this mission.


Small grants for research become innovative classes. Innovative courses have been built around research conducted through Rice Center-related research and student awards. These courses provide students with experiences addressing critical environmental issues both locally and globally.

  • Panama Avian Field Ecology, an education abroad and service learning course involving 40 graduate and undergraduate students conducting avian research and outreach education in Panama and the U.S. over the past three years

  • Amphibian Landscape Ecology, a course designed as an undergraduate collaborative research project involving participants from 10 universities conducting a national-scale analysis of land use and frog diversity

  • Carbon Capstone Course, which, in conjunction with surrounding Richmond area high school classes, conducts carbon characterization and consumption experiments to better understand how carbon is cycled throughout inland water systems and ultimately affects global climate

  • Sustainable Water Resources, a month-long collaborative course between VCU and the University of Messina in Sicily, in which students from both universities participate in lectures and field work in both Virginia and Sicily, focused on water resource issues.

Field work in Sicily

Independent studies funded by grants turn into much larger research projects and publications.

Many undergraduates work on Rice Center-related projects for independent study credit. Teams of faculty mentors, Ph.D. candidates, master’s and undergraduate students participate in a number of Rice Center-related independent study projects each year, with those studies often turning into larger research projects and publications.

Click here for a list of publications by students and faculty on Rice Center-related research.

Private sector philanthropy magnifies effects of university-provided funds.

Where do the funds come from that support these student research awards? Some funds come from the VCU units whose students benefit from the awards. Donations from the private sector, however, are critical in enabling these student-faculty teams to collaborate broadly. They fund projects ranging across universities and continents, impacting international environmental science as well as local communities. Middle and high school students are exposed to scientific research methods, and students at all levels from middle school through graduate school receive ample field experience to apply the classroom learning they’ve received.


So what difference do small investments make? Plenty.