With ‘Boardgrab,’ VCU student’s company aims to reinvent how surfers buy used surfboards

Tony Cannella  Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

Tony Cannella
Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing.

Over the summer, Virginia Commonwealth University student Tony Cannella lived out of his pickup truck as he traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to northern New Jersey, visiting just about every surf shop along the way to sign them up for his fast-growing used surfboard startup company, Boardgrab.

“We’re calling it [that] we went on tour. I loaded up the truck, and lived out of it all summer,” said Cannella, a senior in the School of Business. “The routine was: Wake up at six in the morning, go to Starbucks and work for four hours, then go to the surf shops as soon as they opened and catalog boards until they closed. Then I’d go back to Starbucks and put the boards up on our site.”

The close-knit surf community can sometime be leery of outsiders when it comes to doing business, so Cannella, a longtime surfer, knew he would need to reach out to each individual surf shop owner in person.

“I would walk in and tell them, ‘We’re Boardgrab, the best place to buy used surfboards,’” Cannella said. “‘We partner with surf shops to catalog their used inventory to our site to help you sell more used surfboards faster. We aren’t charging anything right now — we think of ourselves as surf shop support to help get your boards out to the public and limit your dead inventory in the shop.’”

Nearly 30 surf shops up and down the East Coast agreed to let Cannella post their used surfboard inventory to Boardgrab’s site. Only one shop declined the offer.

“We’re pretty happy with those results,” Cannella said. “We’ve had almost a thousand boards come through the site already.”

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Monroe Park renovation to begin in November

Photo by Thomas M Kojcsich/University Marketing.

Photo by Thomas M Kojcsich/University Marketing.

Mayor Dwight Jones, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Monroe Park Conservancy have announced completion of a multiyear campaign to raise $3 million in private funds to renovate Richmond’s oldest city park. The announcement sets in motion procedural steps to allow construction to begin later this year.

“Many of us have labored for more than a decade to launch the renovation of Richmond’s oldest park,” said Alice Massie, president of the Monroe Park Conservancy. “I’m grateful to the mayor, VCU and the many generous Richmonders who have brought us to this moment. It’s exciting to know that the work can now begin.”

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VCU School of Nursing sickle cell disease expert answers questions in Twitter chat

Suzanne Ameringer, Ph.D.

Suzanne Ameringer, Ph.D.

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic, life-limiting disease in which chronic anemia, sickled red blood cells and inflammation cause debilitating pain and fatigue, as well as long-term complications to bodily organs.

In the United States, the disease affects up to 100,000 people, the majority of whom are African-American. Globally, it affects millions, and the number of infants born with sickle cell anemia is expected to increase by approximately 30 percent by 2050, according to a study published in the weekly medical journal PLOS Medicine.

September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month and, in recognition of the awareness month, VCU Health hosted a VCU Health Chat from 11 a.m. to noon on Sept. 21 with Suzanne Ameringer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing at VCU School of Nursing.

Ameringer is currently working on a two-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health that aims to examine improved approaches to self-managing exercises in adolescents and young adults with sickle cell anemia.

During the chat, she answered questions about how to diagnose, treat and live with the symptoms caused by sickle cell disease.

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Engineering alumna receives patent for a second energy-saving invention

Melissa Peskin.Melissa Peskin’s (B.S.’07/En) inventions help utility companies keep prices and environmental impact low.

Peskin earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007 and is a consulting engineer with Dominion Voltage Inc., a subsidiary of Dominion Resources. She has worked on two patented technologies that help utilities conserve energy safely without compromising power quality for customers.

“Both of these patents use the new smart meters as sensors to ensure power quality for customers,” said Peskin. Smart meters record energy consumption in short intervals and communicate that information back to the utility.

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‘Everything a good professor should be’

It’s the third week of the semester and Pam Burch already knows all 170 of her students by name.

Senior Austin Flagg is pleasantly surprised, although by now he probably shouldn’t be. Even though the class has only met a handful of times, it has already presented one surprise after another. For example, on the first day Flagg was surprised to find the class playing Operation, the child’s game that tests coordination and motor skills. Not something he expected in a Statistics 302 course.

Today, Burch brings out her BB bucket and plays a clip from “The Price is Right.” The bucket contains about 14,000 BBs of three different colors. Burch does not rely on games and videos so she can do as little work as possible. It’s quite the opposite. She goes an extra mile beyond the extra mile to motivate her students.

“I try to do as many experiments as I can because it’s more interesting than watching me do stuff on the board,” she said.

Plus, she wants her students to experience the collection of data. She uses the BB bucket to teach confidence intervals. Students use paddles with BB-sized crevices to scoop up the pellets, from which they then try to estimate what proportion of the BBs are a certain color.

“We don’t want to go through and count them all,” Burch said. “That’s typical of any statistics. You’ve got this huge population you want to know something about. So we use this to draw a sample and from that try to guesstimate what’s in the whole bucket.”

If Flagg hasn’t realized it yet, he’s in for an even bigger surprise: Statistics is fun.

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At VCU Broad Street Mile, ‘a great way to build connections’


The Broad Street Mile allows participants to support local charities by running in a 5K or several 1-mile fun runs.

Running is part of Joseph DiPiro’s morning routine. The dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy is typically on the road around 6 a.m., logging his daily miles — 4-5 on weekdays, 8-10 on the weekends.

DiPiro tries to run five days a week as part of his fitness regimen. But he also sees running as a way to build community.

“I’m really impressed by the social nature of running,” DiPiro said. “If we make a commitment to meet up on a Saturday morning, then that’s always going to be a higher-quality run. We’ll run maybe a little bit faster, a little bit farther. And you have more time to talk to people — when do you get an hour just to explore the world’s issues these days?

“It covers a lot of ground — the social, the health, the physical part of it.”

DiPiro is one of 577 runners already signed up for the Sept. 24 VCU Broad Street Mile — the annual fall street festival and road race held on the Monroe Park Campus. The run this year is part of a series of events launching the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, a comprehensive fundraising campaign with three priorities — people, innovations and environments. The campaign aims to touch every aspect of VCU: students, alumni, faculty and staff, patients, caregivers, researchers, schools, libraries, centers and institutes, athletics, and the community.

‘Beat the dean’

DiPiro is bringing his social philosophy to the race this year by issuing a “beat the dean” philanthropic challenge to pharmacy school students, faculty and staff participating in the 5K run. All proceeds from DiPiro’s challenge support the School of Pharmacy scholarship fund.

“It’s pretty simple: If I beat them they have to put up $5; if they beat me I have to put up $10,” DiPiro said.

The challenge is an initiative of the school’s Student Philanthropists Alumni Network, a new group formed to raise awareness of philanthropy among current pharmacy students. The school awarded $623,650 in scholarships to 183 students during the last fiscal year.

The Broad Street Mile, now in its fourth year, doubles as a fundraiser for local organizations. VCU announced in July that, in an effort to expand community impact, this year’s event does not require participating groups to have a 501(c)3 designation. Several university offices and schools, including the Grace E. Harris Leadership InstituteVCU ASPiRE and the School of Pharmacy, are participating as fundraising organizations in the Broad Street Mile for the first time as a result of this change.

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Cabell Library wins “2016 New Landmark Library” award

James Branch Cabell Library has been named a 2016 New Landmark Library by Library Journal, widely viewed as the most trusted and respected publication for the library community.

A highly competitive national competition, the New Landmark Library Award considered academic libraries where building projects were completed between 2012 and 2015. Five winners, including Cabell Library, were chosen by a panel of judges with knowledge of both libraries and architecture. The redesigned Cabell Library opened in December 2015.

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Playing for keeps: D.C. United player Andrew Dykstra keeps his eye on the goal

Feb 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (50) during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended in a 1-1 tie. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra plays during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended the Feb. 17, 2016, match in a 1-1 tie. Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By Anthony Langley

Andrew Dykstra (B.S.’08/H&S; M.S.’10/E) found his passion for sports early on as a 4-year-old constantly running outside to play.

“I started soccer very early, wrestled in middle and high school, swam and even played football,” he says.­­

As Dykstra entered his senior year of high school at Osbourn Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, he contemplated playing college football but instead returned to the sport he loved the most, soccer. He strategically weighed his college options based on which school was most in need of his position, goalkeeper, and could provide the most financial support. In the end, his decision to attend Virginia Commonwealth University came down to the opportunities he would have off the field.

“I knew I wanted to study a subject that lead to athletic training, and the sheer amount of health-related programs the university has is amazing,” says Dykstra, who majored in health, PE and exercise science as an undergraduate student. “The academics were a perfect fit. I knew I made the right decision.”

D.C. United graphic

VCU alumni, Ram fans, parents and families are invited to enjoy an evening of soccer at RFK Stadium with VCU Alumni’s DMV GOLD Chapter! Cost is $25 and includes entrance to the game and pregame tailgate spot when 25 attendees have registered. RSVP online by Sept. 30.

Dykstra was a standout goalkeeper on the VCU men’s soccer team, where he logged 73 matches and spent more than 6,500 minutes between goalposts, earning him All-CAA honors twice between 2005 and 2008.  During the summers, he played for the Richmond Kickers development team and continued to take classes at VCU.

Despite on-field talent, the VCU men’s soccer team didn’t post a strong season in 2007-08, Dykstra’s senior year, resulting in less attention from scouts looking for new recruits for the majors. As graduation grew closer, Dykstra didn’t think he was ready to play on a professional level. He had a redshirt year, which allowed him to attend classes and practice with the team, and with some convincing from his coach, Dykstra remained on the team and began his master’s in sports leadership.

Though he wasn’t scouted, Dykstra was not ready to admit defeat. He hired a friend as his agent, who arranged for Dykstra to travel to Florida to attend a training and conditioning camp led by United Soccer League coaches.

At the end of the combine, Dykstra traveled to Germany, hoping to try out for one of the European soccer clubs, when he got a call from the Chicago Fire inviting him to that team’s training camp. Impressed by his performance, the team kept him on as the third goalkeeper. Dykstra moved to Chicago and completed the master’s degree he started at VCU online in 2010.

Dykstra played for the Fire for two seasons followed by a single season in 2011 for the Charleston Battery where he earned MVP for leading the USL Pro League in lowest goals against average and fewest goals allowed during the regular season, which helped the team win the USL Pro title.

After leaving the Battery, Dykstra’s agent arranged for him to practice with D.C. United, a move that brought him closer to home. The team signed him for the next season.

“His reliability and locker room presence are irreplaceable,” says Dave Kasper, the team’s general manager. “The coaching staff and players are very confident when Andrew’s number is called [to the field].”

Playing in the nation’s capital allows Dykstra to maintain his Richmond roots. In addition to playing for D.C. United, he remains on loan to the Richmond Kickers, the team’s USL PRO affiliate. He was a key player in helping the Kickers advance to the USL PRO semifinals in 2013 and ending the season with the league’s fewest goals against average and 10 shutouts.

In 2014, Dykstra ruptured his left Achilles tendon in a friendly international match with Fulham F.C., ending his season abruptly. During his recovery, he picked up a hobby that’s near and dear to Richmond: He began to homebrew beer.

“I figured it would be a cool way to meet new people and make great friends along the way,” he says.

Now in his fifth season with D.C. United, Dykstra is back on the field and ready to take on the NYC Football Club on Oct. 16 at RFK Stadium during VCU Alumni Night with D.C. United.

As presidential election approaches, VCU students seek to register to vote classmates, disenfranchised populations in Richmond

From left, Camilla Harris, a sophomore international studies major; Anthony Jones, a junior sociology and international social justice double major; and Cove Soyars, a junior bioinformatics majors, discuss felon voter rights restoration with Sylvia Clute, who teaches restorative justice at Virginia Union University.

From left, Camilla Harris, a sophomore international studies major; Anthony Jones, a junior sociology and international social justice double major; and Cove Soyars, a junior bioinformatics majors, discuss felon voter rights restoration with Sylvia Clute, who teaches restorative justice at Virginia Union University.

At a table loaded down with stacks of voter registration forms at the Mosby Court public housing development on Saturday, Virginia Commonwealth University student Anthony Jones is encouraging residents to get registered and vote in the upcoming presidential election.

“What’s up my man, you want a button?” he asks a young boy who has wandered over, curious about what’s going on. “We’re out here registering people to vote. We don’t care who you vote for, just that you get registered and vote for somebody.”

Jones, a junior sociology and international social justice double major, and Camilla Harris, a sophomore international studies major, are working this semester as part of a grant from the Andrew Goodman Foundation to promote election engagement among VCU students and disenfranchised communities in Richmond.

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Panel of distinguished alumni to serve as centerpiece of VCU campaign launch celebration

A panel discussion with a group of prominent Virginia Commonwealth University alumni highlights a series of events Sept. 23 marking the launch of the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history.

Top row: Tara Donovan, Aaron Gilchrist and Thomas Scalea, M.D.  Bottom row: David Baldacci and Marilyn Tavenner.

Top row: Tara Donovan, Aaron Gilchrist and Thomas Scalea, M.D.
Bottom row: David Baldacci and Marilyn Tavenner.

“In Real Life: A Conversation with Distinguished VCU Alumni” is at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 in the Event Hall of the James Branch Cabell Library, 901 Park Ave. Featured alumni speakers are David Baldacci, a best-selling novelist; Tara Donovan, a renowned sculptor; Thomas Scalea, M.D., an influential trauma surgeon; and Marilyn Tavenner, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans and former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. VCU alumnus Aaron Gilchrist, anchor of News4 Today (NBC) in Washington, D.C., serves as moderator.

The Make It Real Campaign for VCU, which launches publicly Sept. 22, is the largest, most comprehensive fundraising campaign in the history of the university. The panel discussion is just one of the events featured in “The Make It Real Series: Highlighting the Finest of VCU’s People, Environments and Innovations.”

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