VCU aims to become the university of the future by partnering with Adobe

As the pace of change continues to accelerate, employers expect their workforce to embrace lifelong learning and skills development. To prepare students for their careers, universities and other institutions of higher learning are looking for new ways to teach students the essential skills needed to succeed. Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is bridging the gap between career demands and world-class learning, creating a new blueprint for the university of the future.

In this article

  • Prototyping the future of higher education with da Vinci
  • Find new career paths by embracing design
  • Embracing Innovation for Students and Faculty
  • Explore future creative technologies

“The world is increasingly defined by exponentially growing technologies, big data, and artificial intelligence,” says Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at VCU. “People’s current experiences are also being redefined as technology impacts everything people do. Our vision is to enable our students to master the basics of computational thinking, but also to develop skills that machines cannot, such as compassion, understanding and creative design.

As Adobe Creative Campus, VCU is taking an important step towards realizing its vision. Making digital literacy a priority for all students and faculty across all disciplines is the goal of the VCU and Adobe partnership. Students, faculty, and staff have access to all Adobe Creative Cloud apps on any device, for use anytime. This means that any course in any discipline becomes a way for students to practice digital literacy through critical thinking, problem solving, and creative communication.

Want to know how universities teach digital skills? Read more.

VCU da Vinci Center.

Prototyping the future of higher education with da Vinci

Giving all students a common technological base opens up new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. As part of VCU’s Quest 2025 strategic plan, the university aims to reshape the campus experience with more experiential, project-based learning that reflects the real world.

The VCU da Vinci Innovation Center is the university’s hub for interdisciplinary experiences and innovation that mirror real-world experiences. It offers a space where students can experiment, take courses, obtain certificates and acquire unique experiences that will help them succeed in their academic and professional careers.

“There is always the question of how to make student learning more effective and accessible,” says Garret Westlake, executive director of the da Vinci Center. “At the da Vinci Center, we are creating a prototype for the future of higher education with more digital and user-centric environments.”

The da Vinci Center is built on three main opportunities: academic, experiential and experimental. In other words, the Center supports academic courses, engaging experiences, and innovative experiences that revolve around real-world interdisciplinary skills. Adobe Creative Cloud apps add value to all three domain types by providing tools that support creative thinking and problem solving.

Find new career paths by embracing design

As an academic center for VCU, the da Vinci Center offers many courses and certificates to help students unlock their potential as innovators and business leaders. Product Innovation courses bring together ideas from art, business, and engineering to teach students what it means to bring a product to life, from initial design concept through development. Human-Centered Design courses help students understand how to put clients, customers, and people at the center of any product, service, or business. Students can take these elective courses or apply the credits to a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies.

Adobe Creative Cloud applications are used throughout these courses. Students use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to design logos and packaging for their products. Adobe XD is used for prototyping not only for its ease of use, but also for its ability to share and review prototypes digitally – an essential feature for busy student collaboration in the digital age. Apps and services like Adobe InDesign and Adobe Portfolio allow students to create digital resumes and portfolios that help their work stand out in job searches.

Jon Mirador and Devin Singh are two students who saw their career paths change thanks to interdisciplinary learning and design internships obtained thanks to the da Vinci Center. Mirador originally entered VCU as a mechanical engineering major, but he also embraced his artistic side as a photographer for the school newspaper, Commonwealth time. After taking electives at the da Vinci Center, he began to wonder if engineering was the right place for him.

“I fell in love with the ideas of innovation, creation, and human-centered design,” says Mirador, who graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, specializing in user experience and user interface. “The da Vinci Center mentors pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me find my passion for UI/UX design.”

Image by Jon Mirador, VCU 2021 graduate.

Jon Mirador, VCU 2021 graduate.

Mirador has taken full advantage of Creative Cloud to develop his design skills and become a better designer. “I learned to work with Adobe InDesign and Illustrator because I could experiment anytime on my own computer. Adobe XD was the biggest change for my UI/UX design workflow. It’s so easy to use and the ability to share designs with others makes it easy to collaborate with others,” Mirador adds.

Singh joined VCU with the aim of entering the field of medicine. “I had almost all of my pre-med classes when the pandemic hit, and it made me realize that medicine wasn’t my passion,” says Singh, who graduated with a bachelor of science in psychology in 2021. “I love helping people, interacting with patients and tapping into human empathy, but I didn’t like the real science of medicine.

Image of Devin Singh, VCU 2021 graduate.

Devin Singh, VCU 2021 graduate.

While researching how she could apply her psychology major to other careers, Singh discovered UX design. The ability to use problem-solving and strategy skills to help people appealed to Singh, and she immersed herself in the courses and certificates available through the da Vinci Center. This led to an internship in UX design, followed by a job offer to become a user experience design strategist.

“Working in UX is actually very similar to medicine: you have to look at your audience’s pain points, understand their problem, find out what they want, and strategize on how you can help them,” Singh says. “I use Adobe Creative Cloud applications daily to innovate, prototype, and think creatively about possible design solutions.

Embracing Innovation for Students and Faculty

The da Vinci Center also supports students through experiential and experimental activities. Experiential refers to the engaging experiences offered by the da Vinci Center. An example is the Shift Retail Lab, a real space where student entrepreneurs can present and test new products, services and ideas. The Shift Retail Lab has been selected as an Honorable Mention in the Urban Design category in the World Changing Ideas Awards 2022 for fast business because of its unique approach to promoting student innovation.

Image of the JACKED logo.

Image of a JACKED jackfruit bag.

Julien Reininger’s Jacked, graduate student of the Master of Product Innovation VCU. A jackfruit jerky featured at Shift in 2021.

Some students use Shift Retail Lab as a storefront, selling finished goods. Others use the space to interact with the public and get valuable feedback to help refine ideas and even secure investment. These student entrepreneurs, or “Shelfies,” receive support from the da Vinci Center to help them learn how to refine and present their ideas. Adobe Creative Cloud apps are used throughout the experience, whether Shelfies are designing a product, communicating with co-creators, or creating signs and messaging for their corner of the Shift Retail Lab.

“Building cross-functional teams is really at the heart of what we do at da Vinci,” says Andrew Ilnicki, Director of Digital Innovation at the da Vinci Center. “We love that our transformational experiences allow students to work with other people in a way that mirrors real life.”

The da Vinci Center also acts as a hub for experimentation across VCU. The Shift Retail Lab started out as an experiment before becoming an experience in its own right. Next, the da Vinci Center plans to begin rolling out Adobe Office Hours to support adoption of Adobe Creative Cloud across all disciplines.

Explore future creative technologies

VCU continues to push all disciplines to provide new experiences for students. Several departments are exploring ways to adopt the Adobe Substance 3D collection, such as creating 3D mockups of new products or sculpting interesting objects used in interior design.

“Innovation and creativity benefit all students,” says Ilnicki. “Our goal is to bring interdisciplinary collaboration and expertise to everything from business to nursing to public policy. Adobe Creative Cloud will continue to play a role in helping us move education into the future. »

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