Startup roundup

Entrepreneurship, particularly the development and launch of a startup business, requires robust reserves of energy, smarts and guts. Virginia Commonwealth University students and alumni have demonstrated a willingness to test themselves and their ideas in this highly competitive and demanding realm, and interest in the startup world is growing at the university — as are the resources VCU and its entities are making available to students who have the drive to pursue their business plans.

A 2014 survey revealed that 51 percent of VCU students have a high or moderate interest in starting their own company. In that same survey, 15 percent said they had already started a company, had a business idea or were actively pursuing business formation. At VCU’s May commencement ceremony, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe praised VCU as “a great training ground for the real world,” while citing the university’s high number of entrepreneurial-minded students.

Eric Edwards, M.D., Ph.D., a VCU alumnus and one of the founders of kaléo, a young pharmaceutical company, said the university is a natural incubator for the startup-inclined.

“As a diverse, urban university where opportunities for mentorship, networking, creativity and entrepreneurial education are becoming increasingly a part of VCU’s DNA, it is refreshing to see the university taking a leadership role in the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Edwards said.

Here we profile five recent VCU alumni who have embraced the wide-open possibility of startups while remaining unbowed — maybe even thrilled — by their inherent uncertainty.

Arts: VCU Anderson Gallery closes

The Anderson Gallery, the VCU School of the Arts exhibition facility, closed May 18, but the gallery’s rich permanent collection of artwork will become more accessible than ever after it moves to VCU Libraries.

A leading venue for contemporary art in the Southeast for more than 40 years, the Anderson Gallery is well-known for presenting the work of regional, national and international artists, as well as the annual graduate and undergraduate student exhibitions.

Two new VCU venues will welcome the gallery’s large following. The Depot on Broad Street, which opened last fall, provides significantly increased exhibition opportunities for student artwork, while the Institute for Contemporary Art will become a showcase for cutting-edge art and performance from around the world.

The School of the Arts is partnering with VCU Libraries to care for and safeguard the Anderson Gallery’s permanent collection, which will transfer to Special Collections and Archives in the new, expanded library on the Monroe Park Campus. The improved, climate-controlled housing will ensure the longevity of the collection, which comprises more than 3,100 pieces.

“This project — the closing of the gallery and moving the collection — has been carefully and thoughtfully planned over a roughly two-year period,” said Joseph H. Seipel, dean of the School of the Arts. “It strengthens an already close connection of VCU Libraries collections to VCUarts, which is a chief user of materials from the book arts and comic arts collections. For the first time, items from various artists instrumental in the history of VCUarts will be consolidated in one place.”

For instance, Special Collections already houses Theresa Pollak’s papers and will now gain as part of this transfer the Theresa Pollak reference collection of drawings, prints and paintings.

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Make your voice heard

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Robertson: Alumna pens award-winning Holocaust book

Nancy300Nancy Beasley’s (M.S.’00/H&S) career as a journalist started with a wager — one that she lost. In 1979, Beasley’s husband bet her $10 and a haircut that she could get a job as a reporter at the Richmond News-Leader. She took him up on the bet thinking she wouldn’t get the job, seeing as she had never written professionally. She lost the bet, and now 36 years after this accidental beginning, the VCU School of Mass Communications alumna is still writing.

Earlier this month, Beasley was selected as the Monroe Scholar at VCU for her book, “Izzy’s Fire.” The book is a nonfiction account about a family that sheltered a Lithuanian Jewish family during the Holocaust. It has won numerous awards on the national and state level and is currently being taught in schools and universities across the country.

“It was a story that broke my heart,” Beasley said. “I didn’t think I could call myself a journalist if I didn’t write it.”

The Monroe Scholar program at VCU recognizes alumni that have authored successful pieces of work in both fiction and non-fiction. In regard to being honored as the Monroe Scholar, Beasley said she was absolutely “incredulous.”

Beasley credits much of her success to Clarence Thomas, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at VCU, who helped guide her through the struggles of graduate school as a nontraditional student.

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H&S: White House recognizes student as ‘Champion of Change’

VCU Senior Sixto Cancel

VCU senior Sixto Cancel

Sixto Cancel, a senior Virginia Commonwealth University student, will be among a dozen former foster youth who will be recognized by the White House for making a difference in their communities.

Cancel, a senior in the Department of Political Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is the founder of Think of Us, a newly launched nonprofit organization that aims to use data, technology and multimedia to provide tools that help young people in foster care, as well as adults who work with foster care youth.

“I really believe that when you know better, you do better. And when we start looking at the outcomes of people who experience foster care, and they age out at 18, with no supports or services, by the age of 26 only 2.5 percent of us achieve a bachelor’s degree. Almost half of us experience homelessness by that age,” Cancel said. “There’s so many negative outcomes that you have to ask yourself: What can you do to help?”

The White House will recognize Cancel and 11 other former foster youth on Tuesday, May 19, as “Champions of Change” in honor of their courage, resilience, contributions to their communities, and commitment to furthering their education.

The event, which is part of National Foster Care Month, will feature remarks by Arne Duncan, the U.S. secretary of education, and Roy L. Austin Jr., deputy assistant to the president for urban affairs, justice and opportunity.

“It’s humbling and it makes me realize how far one can go with their passion and their advocacy,” Cancel said. “It’s a testament to what can happen when you stick to your mission and work towards it every day.”

Think of Us recently opened an office at 913 W. Grace St., and has started developing content, notably including an online training course for a grocery store chain that will train employees on how to best work with foster care youth.

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Gov. McAuliffe recognizes Ram Pantry coordinator

Gov. Terry McAuliffe recognizes Ram Pantry coordinator Terrence Walker (center) for exemplary public service. Here, Walker accepts the Governor's Public Service Award for Workplace Health, Wellness and Safety as his wife Tracy (left), son Joseph and first lady Dorothy McAuliffe join him.  Photo by Michaele White, Governor’s Office.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe recognizes Ram Pantry coordinator Terrence Walker (center) for exemplary public service. Here, Walker accepts the Governor’s Public Service Award for Workplace Health, Wellness and Safety as his wife Tracy (left), son Joseph and first lady Dorothy McAuliffe join him. Photo by Michaele White, Governor’s Office.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe honored Terrence Walker, an administrative assistant at University Counseling Services, and six other state employees for exemplary service and dedication to the commonwealth of Virginia.

Walker was recognized with the Governor’s Public Service Award for Workplace Health, Wellness and Safety for his role in creating Ram Pantry, a Virginia Commonwealth University food pantry.

The pantry was created after a survey of VCU students found 57 percent of respondents were not sure each day where they would get their next meal. The results led to the launch of Ram Pantry in January 2014.

Walker worked with others to secure space and equipment and organized a group of student volunteers to staff the pantry and run it as a student organization. The pantry served more than 1,800 people in its first year of operation.

The students running Ram Pantry partner with Food Lion grocery stores and other vendors to keep the shelves stocked. Senior executives from Food Lion have been so impressed that they have asked VCU to serve as a model for universities near the company’s North Carolina headquarters.

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Pharmacy: School’s PCOC program wins AACP Weaver Award

weaverVCU School of Pharmacy’s Pharmacist Collaborative Care and Outreach in the Community program has won its second national award since last fall: the 2014-15 Lawrence C. Weaver Transformative Community Service Award. Representatives from the school and its PCOC program will be on hand to accept the award at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s Annual Meeting in July. Previous recipients of the Weaver Award are the schools and colleges of pharmacy at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Minnesota, the University of Mississippi, the University of Washington, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Southern California.

H&S: WWII veteran’s harrowing mid-air escape commemorated with help of 3-D printer

Sitting on the tail fin of a model B-25 Mitchell bomber hanging from the ceiling of the Virginia War Memorial is a 6-inch-tall figurine of 95-year-old Richmond resident Russell Scott, who was shot down in a B-25 over Italy during World War II and held as a prisoner of war.

The figurine was 3-D printed by Bernard Means, Ph.D., director of Virginia Commonwealth University‘s Virtual Curation Laboratory, who used a handheld scanner to create a 3-D model of Scott last November while doing a 3-D scanning demonstration at the Virginia War Memorial for a public event.

“They said, ‘It’s a shame you can’t 3-D scan Russell here.’ I said, ‘I can!'” said Means, an instructor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “And, like I almost always do, I had my handheld 3-D scanner with me. So I asked Russell if he’d mind if I scanned him, and he said, ‘That’d be great. Go ahead and scan me.'”

After scanning him, Means was able to use his lab’s 3-D printers to create a plastic model of Scott that was scaled to the size of the model B-25 bomber.

Chelsea Miller (B.S.’15/H&S), a VCU history major who graduated last week and served as an intern at the Virginia War Memorial, researched WWII-era uniforms and painted the model so it looks like the flight suit Scott would have worn.

The Virginia War Memorial installed the figurine onto the tail fin of the B-25 replica, recalling how Scott managed to escape when his B-25 was shot down in 1944.

“Russell was the tail gunner on a B-25. When he was shot down, he kicked open the hatch, he slid out onto the tail, and had his feet hanging off before he rolled off and pulled his parachute,” said Jesse Smith, curator of archives and artifacts at the Virginia War Memorial.

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Education: Gold Line call reconnects alumna with alma mater, Richmond

Debbie House (M.T.’94/E) and her husband, Todd, with their children Kanna and William.

If it weren’t for a Virginia Commonwealth University Gold Line student caller asking for annual fund support, Debbie House (M.T.’94/E) might not have given her original $1,000 gift, made during the Battle for the Capital alumni giving challenge. But that phone call, combined with a love of basketball and Richmond, inspired her to reconnect with the city and the university she loves.

“I was sitting in my office one day and a student called me,” said House, who now lives in Atlanta. “It was nice to hear from VCU. I was asked for $10 a month. We started talking about basketball. It was a nice conversation.”

That phone conversation prompted her to give $1,000 to the School of Education’s master of teaching program to help prepare future leaders in education, just as she was prepared in the field at VCU. It also led her and husband, Todd, a Wake Forest alumnus, to discuss a further commitment to her alma mater.

“Todd and I are both interested in philanthropy and wanted to do something for our schools,” House said. “I wanted to do something for VCU and the city of Richmond. I have a special place in my heart for Richmond. It’s where Todd and I met and married. It’s a special place. So is VCU.”

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Social Work: Leaving a legacy

Gaye Shinall Jones

Gaye Shinall Jones

Gaye Shinall Jones (B.S.W.’90/SW; Cert.’93/AHP; M.S.W.’93/SW) knew how to draw connections and bring people together. In many ways, she was an exemplar of social work. Jones saw a need, worked to fill the void and brought people together to sustain positive change.

No one knew this better than her family. “From the first day she started the social work program at VCU, she was always trying to pull people together,” Gaye’s husband, Deacon William “Bill” Jones, said. She was a natural for group collaboration and she would often reach out student colleagues to bring them together for study groups, alumni meetings or sometimes to just be social and have fun.

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