VCU da Vinci Center Receives $1.5 Million Grant from Altria
Public-private partnership fosters diversity of thought
Cassie Williams Jones
University Public Affairs
The Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center for Innovation received a donation of $1.5 million from Altria Group Inc. to continue in its efforts to produce well-rounded, marketable students.
A celebration event was held Monday on campus and brought together leaders from the university, executives from Altria and students of the da Vinci Center.
An original collaboration of the Schools of the Arts, Business and Engineering, the VCU da Vinci Center is a unique collegiate model that advances interdisciplinary innovation and technology-based entrepreneurship. Through academic and other program offerings, the da Vinci Center catalyzes innovation through the unity of arts, business and engineering principles as it prepares students to enter a product innovation career and supports learning initiatives by partner organizations.
“Altria’s gift will help the da Vinci Center to continue to improve the learning experience and grow its programs so that it serves as a campus-wide catalyst for innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Kenneth Kahn, Ph.D., professor of marketing in the VCU School of Business and director of the da Vinci Center. “The gift also allows the Center to not only impact our VCU community, but the Richmond region, including workshops and a keen partnership with the Science Museum of Virginia.”
The grant will be distributed over a five year period, 2012 to 2017, with $300,000 allotted per year. The funds for the Center are focused in four areas: (a) leadership and administrative support for the Center; (b) the launch of the of the nation’s first master’s in product innovation program; (c) a community partnership with the Science Museum of Virginia to provide STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning for low-income middle school students; and (d) commercialization and entrepreneurship initiatives.
Altria is the parent company of Philip Morris USA and several other brands. According to its executive vice president and chief technology officer, Jack Nelson, Altria believes this investment aligns with the company’s ongoing support for STEM education, as these skills are fundamental for success of the 21st-century workforce. It also serves the ongoing need for talented, highly skilled professionals who can innovate in real-world situations.
“Life is an interdisciplinary experience,” said Nelson, as he addressed the attendees of Monday’s events. “We are looking forward to great things from the da Vinci Center.”
The Center offers an undergraduate certificate in Product Innovation, and recently launched the nation’s first Master of Product Innovation program. In addition to the current collaboration, the College of Humanities and Sciences will be joining the Center later this semester.
“The da Vinci program was one of the things that attracted me to VCU,” said Luca Terziutti, mechanical engineering senior in the undergraduate certificate program. “It’s been a great opportunity that exposes me to other ways of thinking that I don’t get in the engineering program. This program really adds some color to my undergraduate experience.”
Altria has supported the university in numerous ways throughout the years, and was a corporate project sponsor for the da Vinci’s first student project. VCU is also one of the top universities where Altria’s companies recruit engineering, finance and marketing talent.
“The da Vinci Center prepares students for today’s competitive work environment by making them T-shaped. Through our programs, students solidify understanding of their own discipline as they develop the capability and acumen to span across disciplines,” said Kahn. “This hones their innovation and team skills because they learn how to think critically, explore options and communicate clearly in the course of solving today’s complex, interdisciplinary challenges.”
The Center currently has 51 students in its undergraduate Certificate in Product Innovation program and 10 students in the inaugural class of the Master of Product Innovation. Another 40 students are enrolled in the Center’s Seminar in Product Innovation class – an introductory class on innovation open to the university community.
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