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Full Board discusses financial aid challenges, medical research and entrepreneurship

The Board also heard from new student and faculty representatives and thanked five outgoing members for their contributions

<p>The Full Board met both Thursday and Friday, and spent more than 90 minutes of its Friday meeting in a closed session.&nbsp;</p>

The Full Board met both Thursday and Friday, and spent more than 90 minutes of its Friday meeting in a closed session. 

The Full Board of Visitors met Thursday and discussed talent retention and recruiting at the School of Medicine, challenges pertaining to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and possible investments into entrepreneurship on Grounds. The Board also heard from new student and faculty representatives Friday before going into a closed session that lasted over 90 minutes.

The Thursday meeting was divided into three segments — “Something Great,” “Something Challenging” and a discussion on the Pan-University Entrepreneurship Initiative, a project launched in 2023 that aims to help develop more entrepreneurial ventures at the University for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Thursday’s meeting saw a discussion of the issues surrounding FAFSA — which experienced large nationwide delays this admissions cycle, as well as technological issues submitting and filling out forms that led to issues with financial aid applications for many incoming students. 

The FAFSA Simplification Act, passed by Congress in 2020, overhauled the online FAFSA form with the goal of making it more accessible and convenient to fill out. Vice Provost for Enrollment Stephen Farmer said that though the changes that caused the delays were meant to make the process easier — and that he believes these changes have the potential to do so — their rollout has been an issue due to its timing and the technological issues pertaining to form submission and long waiting rooms.

However, according to Farmer, the University did well in adjusting to the FAFSA issues and accommodating student needs when requesting financial aid. Notably, Farmer said that Steve Kimata, assistant vice president for Student Financial Services, and the larger SFS team cut the average response time to aid requests by a third, even after seeing a roughly 20 percent increase in the number of questions and concerns received from accepted students and parents. 

Farmer also said that the incoming class contains more low-income students and that the number of financial aid packages processed by SFS went up 10 percent compared to this time last year — which he again attributed to the hard work of Kimata and the SFS team. 

“[The delays affect first-generation students] nationwide for sure,” Farmer said. “I think we’re in better shape because of [Kimata] and his team and because of the College Advising Corps that we have.”

Dr. Babur Lateef, board member and chair of the Prince William County School Board, ended the FAFSA discussion by telling the story of a class president from a Prince William County school who was accepted early decision to the University but nearly could not attend due to financial concerns exacerbated by the FAFSA delays. He said that Virginia Tech offered the student a large scholarship, but because of the work done by the University’s SFS office, the student was able to get the aid he needed to attend the University. 

“[The FAFSA rollout] has been a colossal screw-up nationwide,” Lateef said. “And it does impact people on a daily basis, but the University has done a great job. These are some of the students we’re really competing for, and we were able to win that competition because of the hard work of [SFS].”

Prior to talking about the FAFSA challenges, the Board discussed “something good” with an announcement and discussion of medical research, as well as faculty talent acquisition and retention. Dr. Melina Kibbe, dean of the School of Medicine, introduced two researchers — new hire Evan Scott, professor of biomedical engineering and microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University and Assoc. Neuroscience Prof. John Lukens, who has been with the  School of Medicine since 2014.

Kibbe said the researchers will be instrumental in advancing research at the University, particularly in their future involvement with the Paul and Diane Manning Institute of Biotechnology — a medical research institution that is a part of the University’s 2030 Strategic Plan to become the top public university by the end of the decade.

Scott was hired to direct the University’s Institute for Nanoscale Scientific and Technological Advanced Research, known as nanoSTAR. Lukens will work as the inaugural director of the Harrison Family Translational Research Center in Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases. According to Kibbe, nanoSTAR and the Translational Research Center are the only two centers that are currently a part of the Manning Institute. She said the University will continue to invest in these two centers so that Scott and Lukens can recruit talented faculty.

“They have both been given resources to recruit other rockstar, amazing individuals,” Kibbe said.

Following the conversations surrounding the FAFSA and the School of Medicine, the Board discussed the Pan-University Entrepreneurship Initiative — a project that leaders hope will help foster and support entrepreneurial ventures at the University — and possible investments into the plan to inspire more innovation and entrepreneurship on Grounds. Business Administration Prof. Michael Lenox delivered a presentation on these topics, in which he discussed the past and potential future of entrepreneurship support at the University. 

Lenox discussed what he referred to as “quick wins” — smaller planned projects including a “clubhouse” for student entrepreneurs, a biotechnology accelerator that will help support innovation and entrepreneurship and a partnership with the Licensing and Ventures Group to provide support for entrepreneurs. He then moved on to discussing longer-term ideas, including possible future partnerships within the Commonwealth, thematic incubators for various types of startups and a building in the Emmet Road and Ivy Road Corridor that could serve as a “new front door for entrepreneurs.”

Some Board members were vocally skeptical about Lenox’s presentation, particularly due to its overall cost and potential use of government funding — which they saw as possibly wasteful, saying that entrepreneurship is not a product of facilities and resources so much as innate skills and passion. Board member James Murray said that he is uncertain if investing in facilities and programs to foster entrepreneurship using government money will actually have the intended effect, and that actual entrepreneurship and innovation comes from being surrounded by entrepreneurial-minded people.

“I really don’t think government money can create a great entrepreneur any better than it can create a great artist or a great musician,” Murray said. “These are inherent human skills that are not teachable … I think it’s a fool’s errand to think that [the University] is going to spend a lot of money and suddenly create entrepreneurs.” 

Lenox said that the purpose of the Pan-University Entrepreneurship Initiative is to serve as a catalyst for entrepreneurship that inspires and helps students and faculty get their ideas off the ground, rather than provide them with every possible resource.

Lenox said that while the University will likely never become an entrepreneurial hub like Silicon Valley, looking at other examples of smaller entrepreneurial centers, such as Boulder Colorado, home to the University of Colorado Boulder, shows that investing in entrepreneurship would lead to more businesses starting at the University and through its alumni. 

“Boulder has a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem that has launched numerous businesses and has relationships with the University [of Colorado Boulder],” Lenox said. “That, I think, is a model for us. The scale problem can only be overcome by continuing to build and inspire the entrepreneur who creates the next great business that inspires the next entrepreneur.”

The Friday meeting of the Full Board was shorter, with fewer topics discussed in open session. 

The Board first voted to commend Patricia Jennings, Education professor and outgoing faculty representative to the Board, for her service, as well as voting to honor the late Thomas Bliley, a former board member and United States representative, who passed away November 2023. The Board then gave a standing ovation to the five outgoing members — Mark Bowles, Elizabeth Cranwell, Thomas DePasquale, Lateef and Murray — before it heard from the new student and faculty representatives that had been selected this past semester  for their respective positions.

Lisa Kopelnik, student member of the Board and fourth-year College student, spoke on her values and priorities, which include student safety, socioeconomic diversity, civil discourse and student self-governance. Kopelnik previously served as the chair of the University Judiciary Committee and said that she hopes to work hard to represent the diverse student body and protect the cultures of discourse and self-governance.

“I truly believe that the culture of civil discourse is, in many ways, what makes U.Va. special,” Kopelnik said. “We have to work to ensure this value does not erode.”

Michael Kennedy, faculty representative to the Board, Faculty Senate chair and education professor, spoke after Kopelnik about the Faculty Senate. Kennedy spoke to the Board about bylaw changes in the Senate aimed at increasing representation. He also spoke about the May 10 meeting of the Senate, at which the Senate passed a resolution calling for an external investigation of the May 4 clearing of a pro-Palestine encampment on Grounds, as well as a resolution of solidarity in support of academic freedom.

After Kennedy’s update, the Board went into a closed session, which lasted around 30 minutes over its allotted hour. Going into the closed session, Rector Robert Hardie announced that part of it would be held as a “super executive” session, which only voting Board members could attend — meaning that the faculty and student representatives, as well as University employees such as University President Jim Ryan, had to leave the room. A similar session was held for the Audit, Compliance and Risk committee, and in neither case did anybody announce what would be discussed.

At the closing session of the Board, the Board confirmed all action items that had been voted on in the Thursday and Friday Committee meetings. The Board confirmed all items unanimously, barring Hardie recusing himself from the vote that would name the new Football Operations Center — which the Board visited Thursday — after him and his wife, Molly.

The Full Board will reconvene at the next Board meeting in September.


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