Author of ‘Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States,” to speak at VCU

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, Ph.D., author of “Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States” (NYU Press 2016), will deliver the Powell-Edwards Lecture for Religion and the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Khabeer, a scholar-artist-activist and an associate professor of American Culture and Arab and Muslim American Studies at the University of Michigan, will speak Tuesday, March 27, at 4 p.m. in the James Branch Cabell Library third-floor lecture hall. Her lecture will be free and open to the public.

“Dr. Khabeer’s work on the interconnections between religion, racial identity and artistic expression highlights the value of interdisciplinary research and conversation, demonstrating how valuable the humanities are in helping us to understand our contemporary world,” said Richard Godbeer, Ph.D., director of the Humanities Research Center in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

The Humanities Research Center is hosting the Powell-Edwards Lecture Series for Religion and the Arts in partnership with the Religious Studies Program in the School of World Studies.

“The programming at VCU of events like this that encourage informed and constructive conversation about the world of Islam is particularly important at the moment as misinformation and misunderstanding about Muslim beliefs and culture are widespread,” Godbeer said. “The Humanities Research Center is happy to partner with the Religious Studies Program in this endeavor.”

Khabeer’s lecture is part of the Humanities Research Center’s spring speaker series that has featured a variety of topics, including the rise of podcasting and literary and cinematic depictions of the 2007 financial crisis.

VCU programs recognized among the best in updated U.S. News & World Report rankings

Several academic programs at Virginia Commonwealth University received top 50 rankings in the newest edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” released March 20. VCU now has graduate programs ranked in the top 50 in 19 fields, according to the publication.

Those with updated top 50 rankings in this year’s edition include Nuclear Engineering (No. 24), the School of Education (No. 26), the School of Social Work (No. 30), the School of Nursing (Master’s, No. 41; Doctor of Nursing Practice, No. 48), and the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs (No. 44).

To learn more about the newest rankings, visit Not all program areas receive updated rankings each year.

Angell named dean of the School of Social Work at VCU

Beth Angell, Ph.D.

Beth Angell, Ph.D., has been named dean of the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University, effective July 16.

Angell comes to VCU with nearly two decades of experience in the field of social work. She currently serves as associate professor and chair of the faculty for the School of Social Work at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

“We are delighted to have Dr. Angell join the VCU leadership team,” said Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at VCU. “Her prolific and widely recognized work within her field of research, as well as her leadership in faculty development, will add to the momentum of VCU’s School of Social Work in reaching its next level of success.”

Angell previously served as assistant and associate professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, Center for Mental Health & Aging Research.

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Small particles, big implications

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Patricia Turpin (B.S.’17/H&S; B.S.’17/LS) credits her high school math teacher, Mr. Kaiser, for teaching her to appreciate the certainty that came with math and science.

“When I’d write an English essay, there was always room for answers to be partially correct,” she says. “But with math, there was always one true answer, and I really liked that.”

Turpin enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University after high school, following a trend that began with her grandfather William H. Turpin. He served as director of VCU’s mass communications school, known today as the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, and as professor for 16 years. Her parents, Gregory (B.S.’87/GPA) and Cheryl (B.S.’88/E), also met and graduated from the university.

“Listening to my family’s stories about [VCU] definitely had an impact,” Turpin says. “I fell in love with campus and the feel of the city the moment I got here.”

Turpin took an interest in computer programming and immersed herself in classes that taught programming languages, quantitative analysis and statistical modeling.

“[Patricia] was an exceedingly bright student driven by a deep curiosity about how things worked” says Tarynn Witten, Ph.D., professor and director of research development in the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity at VCU Life Sciences . “She was also exceptionally ardent, and her work was always top of the line.”

In 2017, she graduated with two bachelor’s degrees, one in statistics and the other in bioinformatics, and soon after landed a laboratory technician position at the California Institute of Technology in the lab of Nobel laureate David Baltimore, president emeritus and the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology. There, she’s working alongside one of the lab’s postdoctoral fellows researching the link between the causes for retained introns and genetic disorders and cancers.

RNA, a nucleic acid present in all living cells, acts as a messenger to carry instructions from DNA for controlling the synthesis of proteins. RNA is composed of two types of sequences, introns and exons. While introns typically remain in the nucleus of a cell, exons are eventually turned into proteins. “Occasionally introns attach themselves to proteins and leave the nucleus, and there isn’t a commonsense answer as to why they do,” Turpin says. “We’re hoping to figure out why by suppressing certain genes that we think affect these retained introns” and then see if there is a link to genetic disorders and cancers.

After Turpin’s yearlong position at Caltech ends, she plans to start a doctoral program in bioinformatics, though she is still deciding on whether to pursue a career in academia or go into the professional industry.

“[VCU] gave me the confidence to say that I actually know things,” she says. “I’m not sure of my exact path just yet, but I know my time at the university has prepared me for anything.”

VCU da Vinci Center to host new summit for aspiring social entrepreneurs

The IMAGINE Social Good summit will take place March 23-25 at VCU.

The Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center is launching a social good summit focused on students and their work in social justice and social entrepreneurship.

IMAGINE Social Good” takes place March 23-25 at the Academic Learning Commons, 1000 Floyd Ave. Students from more than 20 campuses worldwide who are pursuing diverse social good projects are attending.

The weekend consists of main-stage events with keynote speakers, inspiring workshops and multiple moments to meet, listen to and learn from experts and one another. Student teams will present their work on creating change in social good, social justice or social entrepreneurship to panels of experts during breakout sessions. The projects range from products to ideas. For instance, one student will present her interactive financial-literacy game, while another will initiate a discussion on challenging the portrayal of Native Americans in young adult literature.

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VCU launches public history certificate program, providing skills and hands-on experience at historic sites in Richmond and beyond

Emily Jones, a master’s degree student in the Department of History, is interning with the St. John’s Church Foundation, conducting independent research into their cemetery. Internships like Jones’ will be a key component of VCU’s public history certificate program.

Between the 1740s and 1820s, an estimated 1,300 people were buried at Richmond’s historic St. John’s Church, but only a small percentage have been identified. Those who have, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s first editor, Thomas W. White, are typically buried at the highest level and have grave markers. The rest have no headstones, and many are buried around the foundation of the church.

Emily Jones, a graduate student in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, is interning this semester with the St. John’s Church Foundation to identify as many of the people buried at the church as possible, learn what she can about their lives and build a publicly accessible database of the findings.

“We hope to find exciting stories of past Virginians that can be included in St. John’s tours or literature, and to be able to share these records with the public,” Jones said.

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‘Fall Line’ bench in Cabell Library lobby evokes Richmond’s stretch of James River

“Fall Line,” a wood sculpture and functional bench, echoing the 7-mile stretch of the James River, was installed in James Branch Cabell Library over spring break.

A wood sculpture — and functional bench — that evokes the 7-mile section of the James River that runs through Richmond has been installed in the entranceway of Virginia Commonwealth University’s recently expanded James Branch Cabell Library.

The sculpture, titled “Fall Line,” was created by Heath Matysek-Snyder (B.F.A.’00/A), an assistant professor in the Department of Craft/Material Studies and lead professor of the wood area in the School of the Arts, who has been working on the piece in his Scott’s Addition studio for more than two years.

“My hope is that when people walk into Cabell Library, they’ll recognize it as the James River, which I find to be an amazing element of Richmond, a really amazing feature of the city,” Matysek-Snyder said. “This will be an object that greets you. It will be a place to meet. And it will be a feature that says goodbye as you walk back out.”

The 27-foot-long white oak bench mimics the contours of the James River from Pony Pasture to the 14th Street Bridge, with aluminum on top of the bench representing the outline of the river, including Belle Isle. The bench is broken into four sections, with each of the three negative spaces representing a different iconic Richmond bridge, also rendered in aluminum, and allowing pedestrians to walk through.

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Aashir Nasim named new VP for inclusive excellence at VCU

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D.

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., a respected scholar and academic administrator, has been named the vice president for inclusive excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University, effective April 2.

Nasim currently serves as interim senior vice provost for faculty affairs and director of the Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry & Innovation (iCubed) at VCU. In his new position, Nasim will lead the Division for Inclusive Excellence and implement a newly adopted Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Action Plan designed to fulfill VCU’s vision of becoming a model university for inclusivity.

“Aashir is a respected scholar who is admired around the nation and who brings an important lens of diversity and inclusion to his work and to our university community,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “He is a thoughtful and passionate leader who embodies VCU’s mission of tackling difficult problems to serve the public good. I have valued his leadership over the past decade and look forward to working closely with him as he advances our commitments to diversity and inclusion everywhere and ensures that VCU will always be a place where all people can succeed.”

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At the Richmond Symphony, VCU students will offer tonight’s audience an inside look

Amy Comstock, a junior print and online journalism major, will be part of a team of VCU students operating video cameras during tonight’s Richmond Symphony performance.

At Friday night’s performance of the Richmond Symphony, a team of Virginia Commonwealth University student volunteers will be manning an array of cameras stationed on stage that will feed live video to an LED wall, providing the audience with a rare glimpse of what it’s like to be amid an orchestra as it performs.

“It will be almost like you’re sitting on stage,” said Laura Bordner Adams, director of orchestral operations for the Richmond Symphony. “You’ll be able to see the trumpet player as he’s playing two feet away as he’s playing the most famous passage of the piece. You might be able to see the conductor from the front and see his facial expressions as he’s conducting, which you never get to see as you’re sitting in the audience. The idea is that this will really give you an insider look.”

The Richmond Symphony’s experiment with live videography is the result of a partnership between the symphony and the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Three new genetic markers associated with risk for depression

After becoming the first to definitively discover genetic markers for major depression, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and collaborators have found more genetic clues to the disease.

study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry details the discovery of three additional genetic risk markers for depression, which builds on the groundbreaking discovery of two genetic risk factors in 2015. Lead authors include Roseann Peterson, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’12/M), an assistant professor of psychiatry at the VCU Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, and Na Cai of the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom.

Both sets of findings were the result of an international collaboration among researchers from the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, the University of Oxford and throughout China to shed light on genetic causes of the disease. Principal investigators Kenneth Kendler at VCU and Jonathan Flint at the University of California, Los Angeles led this large-scale collaborative effort, which resulted in a study of more than 10,000 Han Chinese women from 50 hospitals across China.

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