Engineering: School welcomes new associate dean

Ram Gupta, Ph.D.

Ram Gupta, Ph.D.

On Aug. 15, 2014, Ram B. Gupta, Ph.D., began his position as the new associate dean for research with the VCU School of Engineering. Gupta joins the school from his previous position as program director for energy for sustainability with the National Science Foundation, the funding agency behind roughly 24 percent of all federally sponsored university and college research in the U.S. Gupta’s experiences during his two and a half years as program director for one of the largest programs with the NSF will be invaluable as VCU develops its research programs in engineering.

Gupta’s academic background includes nearly two decades as professor of chemical engineering at Auburn University. He earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering in 1993 from the University of Texas at Austin, followed by two years of postdoctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley.

He has held numerous board and consulting positions such as his current membership on the Editorial Advisory Board of the ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering journal and his recent role as president of National Academy of Inventors – Auburn University chapter. Gupta’s honors, awards and distinctions include the Auburn University Faculty Research Award. In addition to being a fellow of Alabama Academy of Science, Gupta is the recipient of its 2013 Wright A. Gardner Award, which acknowledges the outstanding work of researchers, educators, clinicians and industrialists in the state of Alabama.

As a researcher, Gupta’s interests lie primarily within the categories of nanomedicine, energy, and fuels. He has conducted research concerning supercritical carbon dioxide technology, nanotechnology, particles and smart medicine, among other topics. In the field of energy and fuels, Gupta concentrates on supercritical water technology, hydrogen fuel, renewable fuels, bioenergy and liquid fuels from biomass. He has authored several prominent books in these areas that are used worldwide.

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Social Work: Spotlight on alumna Marcia Harrigan

Marcia P. Harrigan

Marcia P. Harrigan

Marcia Harrigan (M.S.W.’74/SW; Ph.D.’89/E), emerita faculty and proud alumna of the schools of Social Work and Education at VCU, has continued to stay connected with the school for many years. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts and Psychology in Math at Muskingum University in southern Ohio.

How did you come to choose Social Work for your Masters?

My senior year of college, I went to The Merrill Palmer Institute of Human Development and Family Life, which was a separate foundation institute in Detroit, and is now a part of Wayne State. During that semester I volunteered to work with foster care youth living in group homes. It was then that I decided that I wanted to go into social work.

I remember the Merrill Palmer faculty trying to persuade me to get a Ph.D. in Psychology and not to go into Social Work noting the difference in salary; however, I finished my senior year and took a job as a foster care worker for Lorain County Family and Children’s Services in Ohio. It was a wonderful agency that provided great supervision plus a reasonably sized caseload. By my first year of grad school I had read pretty much everything that was assigned during my time at that agency. For the weekly supervision, sometimes lasting three hours, my supervisor would quiz me on all of my reading material so I actually had to know the information; this was more like a grad school tutorial.

In what ways has the VCU environment changed since you were a student?

A lot of change has happened!  In the early 70’s the university was considerably different. It has always been an urban institution but in the 70’s it was really considered to be a night school. The School of Social Work was obviously a stand-alone school, but it did not have the breadth of programs and the number of students that it does now. Over the years I was at VCU, it has changed both in size and in stature. When I started the medical campus and the academic campus had recently merged, so there was a lot of attention being placed on that.

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New library to transform research, campus center

spot1_LibraryBy Nan Johnson

When Virginia Commonwealth University’s James Branch Cabell Library opened in 1970, John Jay Schwartz (B.S.’69/B), like many students at the time, watched the construction from the ground up.

Today, an avid and loyal supporter of the university, Schwartz is playing a key role in the next stage of life of VCU’s library system as chair of the Friends of the Library fundraising committee. And he’s watching. Again.

“We offer students less [library] space per person than any other university in the commonwealth, and we’re one of the biggest schools in the state,” he said. “That’s got to change.”

That change is happening now.

One of the busiest academic libraries in Virginia, a crowded Cabell serves about 32,000 students. The building was designed for 17,000. In late 2015, an expanded and revitalized library will open in the same location near the Compass in Shafer Court. Designed to meet the needs of today’s students and researchers, the new facility features 93,000 square feet of new construction and 63,000 square feet of improvements to the existing building.

About 2 million people visit Cabell annually. That’s more visitors than the Library of Congress. Annual online use is also staggering: 9 million database searches, 3 million search box queries and 2.3 million journal downloads.
Alumni such as Schwartz have seen the Monroe Park Campus grow up around Cabell. A revitalized library is long overdue, but the transformation won’t be complete without the help of private philanthropy.

That’s where Schwartz and others like him come in.

“I’m trying to get all of my alumni friends to join in the fundraising efforts,” he said. “The student body, faculty, staff — we can all make it something to be very proud of, and we’ll step back and say, ‘Why haven’t we done this before?’ We will all be mesmerized.”

A private, $10 million fundraising campaign will augment the estimated construction budget of about $50.8 million, which is funded from public sources. The money raised will support three key areas of need: an endowment to ensure that furnishings and equipment for the new building can be adapted to the different ways VCU students will learn and study 40 years from now; an endowment to create first-in-class physical and technology capabilities for today’s students; and an endowment to further develop VCU’s collections of rare and unique materials in the expanded special collections area and archives.

More than 90 percent of the building will be dedicated to usable square footage for students and faculty, with an emphasis on technology-enabled space instead of space for storage of books and materials. It also provides more room for graduate- and professional-level study as well as university and community events.

“As an undergraduate student, I underutilized my time in the library,” said David Dennier (B.S. ’75), a member of the Friends of the Library board. “I used it for research and quiet study space. I really didn’t realize the immense treasures that exist in the library.
“The new library will not only ensure that the university has the premier library in the commonwealth but that it’s also one of the nation’s best urban, public research universities. Let’s take VCU to the next level.”

Plenty of treasures will await in this new academic hub — a large-scale display wall visible both inside and out, multiple gallery spaces, a 300-seat auditorium, an outdoor study terrace and event area, expanded special collections and archive spaces and much more.

“Our new library on the Monroe Park Campus will serve more students each day than any other library in the commonwealth,” said University Librarian John E. Ulmschneider. “I cannot imagine a building anywhere in Virginia that will be more visible to students, faculty and visitors, affect more students or have a greater impact on student success. A gift to help build our new library will help more students, every single day, than any other gift you can give.”

To request a copy of “Moving Forward,” a brochure about the new library, or to join the mailing list for construction updates and library news, contact Kimberly R. Separ (M.A.’97/A), director of development and community relations, at (804) 827-1163 or

Social Work: Planned gift celebrates school

SSW ColbysBy Nan Johnson

If it weren’t for a love of history, Ira Colby, Ph.D. (M.S.W.’75/SW), an internationally known social work educator, might have found his career taking a different path.

When his supervisor at the Worcester, Massachusetts, YMCA suggested he pursue an advanced degree, Colby and his wife, Deborah (M.S.W.’80/SW), made the trip to Virginia.

“I was enamored with the South, and I love history. I’m intrigued with how we got to where we are today as a society,” Ira said. “I read about Virginia Commonwealth University’s rich history and thought the school must be doing something right.”

The Colbys both pursued graduate studies in social work at VCU and the experience proved invaluable to their careers.

In appreciation of their time at VCU, the couple made provisions in their will to provide financial support for the VCU School of Social Work. The Deborah and Ira Colby Fund will create endowed scholarships for a graduate student pursuing a career working with children and families in the public sector and a Ph.D. student pursuing a career in higher education with a specialization in social welfare policy.

“Faculty members at VCU were amazing individuals,” Ira said. “They pushed and prodded and encouraged you to think differently. It was a vibrant place for students, and it gave me a chance to think about who I wanted to be and the best way for me to get there.”

After Ira received his master’s degree, the couple moved to Ferrum, Virginia, where Ira developed the B.S.W. program at Ferrum College and Deborah worked as a juvenile probation officer in Rocky Mount, Virginia. Following Ira’s example, Deborah completed her master’s degree in social work after learning of a part-time program offered by VCU with course work in Richmond and field work in Roanoke, Virginia.

“It was innovative and ingeniously set up,” she said. “I would drive to Richmond Monday morning for classes — after withdrawing $10 from my bank account for the week — and I would stay with friends overnight, go to classes Tuesday during the day and be home that night.”

Withdrawing money every week, she said, was significant. “I couldn’t have gotten through it without my scholarship money.”

The couple’s generous planned gift is a percentage of their estate, which at this time would be the largest individual commitment in the school’s history.

“Ira and Deborah both developed a sense of and a passion for social work education when they were here at VCU,” said James E. Hinterlong, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Social Work. “Their generous gift reflects their commitment to the future of the profession and to VCU.”

The Colbys are grateful for the foundation that VCU provided.

“We both recognize that VCU was very important to our professional lives,” Ira said. “If it weren’t for VCU having a program in social work education, I know I wouldn’t be here today.”

To learn more about planned giving, contact Tom Burke (B.S.’79/E; M.P.A.’95/GPA), executive director of the VCU Foundation, at (804) 828-3958 or

Brandcenter: Scholarship recognizes alumnus’s perseverance

burdettBy Nan Johnson

“I’m still in awe that it exists,” Ted Burdett (M.S.’08) said of the scholarship created in his name at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.

Burdett, an alumnus of Tulane University and of the Brandcenter’s second creative brand management class, is now an account supervisor on the Google Fiber account at San Francisco’s Venables Bell and Partners.

His road to Venables, though, wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.

“During a Tulane reunion, I met up with a few friends at the New Orleans Jazz Festival,” he said. “We started talking about what we were doing and a few of them were Brandcenter students. I remembered that my favorite undergraduate courses were in advertising.”

But instead of applying to the Brandcenter at his friends’ recommendation, he traveled to Thailand to teach English with the intention of bouncing from country to country to see the world and to experience different cultures.

“I got homesick in Thailand. It was hard to reach out to family and friends, and I started thinking about those conversations I had at jazzfest with my Brandcenter friends,” he said.

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18 VCU alumni appointed to McAuliffe administration

Last month, VCU Alumni started keeping a tab on the total number of Virginia Commonwealth University alumni newly appointed to the McAuliffe administration. As of Aug. 29, the count was eight. However, after Governor Terry McAuliffe announced additional appointments to his administration Sept. 5, 10 more VCU alumni were added to the governor’s administration. Through their respective positions, the new appointees will be tasked with the responsibilities to focus on issues that will stimulate Virginia’s economy and to improve the state’s job market. The effort exhibited by these alums proves that when you start from VCU, you can go anywhere. Go Rams!

Here is the list of VCU Rams who were recently appointed to the McAuliffe administration:

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Helene D. Clayton-Jeter (B.S.‘83/H&S) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Dr. Frazier Frantz (H.S.‘95/M) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Yvonne P. Haynes (Cert.‘88/AHP; M.S.W.‘88/SW) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Trula E. Minton (B.S.’79/N; M.S.‘06/N) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Martha K. Perry (B.S.‘65/N) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Ellen B. Shinaberry (B.S.‘87/P) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Dr. James D. Watkins (D.D.S.‘86/D) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Sandra J. Adams (M.S.W.‘05/SW) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Kent C. Dickey (M.P.A.‘89/GPA) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Kelly Thomasson Mercer (B.A.‘01/H&S) was appointed to the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority by Governor Terry McAuliffe on Sept. 5, 2014.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna E. Ayn Welleford, Ph.D. (M.S.’91/AHP; Ph.D.’98/H&S), was appointed to the Community Integration Advisory Commission by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

The Greater Richmond Career Expo

ECPI University is partnering with RichTech this fall to host the Greater Richmond Career Expo, 8 a.m.-noon Wednesday, Oct. 8, at the Westin Hotel (6631 W. Broad St.). All students may attend free of charge. The exhibition will showcase several on-going career seminars throughout the event for anyone interested in attending. Expect a diverse representation of industries with a heavy emphasis on technical, business and criminal justice career fields. VCU alumni are also welcome to attend.

Registration is quick and easy, so if you are interested in attending the Greater Richmond Career Expo, please register.

Business: Alumna wins a trip around the world

photo_3“Legally Blonde,” the 2001 film about an idealistic sorority girl who decides to go to Harvard Law School, became a sleeper hit for MGM, raking in $141.7 million worldwide. Almost 15 years later, the film remains as beloved as ever with its themes of girl power, friendship and determination.

But lightning rarely strikes twice and subsequent sequels flopped. No one could capture the magic of the original. No one, that is, until Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Shahbano Farid (B.S.’14/B) came along. While she didn’t try to create a subpar sequel, she did manage to parlay the film’s inspiration into a life-changing event.

Back in February, Farid, then a School of Business student, was feeling a bit dejected, much like Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.” While Farid’s boyfriend hadn’t left her to go to Harvard Law, she was miserable about not being able to find a job. Late one night, while working on a paper, she received an email from clothing store ASOS, promoting its Around the World internship competition. The prize consisted of an all-expenses-paid, six-week internship that included travel to six cities, an STA Travel tour in each city, a $3,000 stipend and a $1,000 ASOS gift card.

“The email read, ‘Hey students, want to travel the world this summer?!’ I thought to myself, ‘Uhh … yeah?!’ I read into the email and looked into the fine print and realized this was a legit offer to globe-trot for free and become the Around the World intern,” she said. Farid loves traveling and felt she had a strong chance of winning the competition. Plus, even when miserable, she was able to channel some of Elle Woods’ optimism.

“I truly believed I could do it because I was so passionate,” Farid said. “The entry was supposed to be a one-page typed Word document explaining why [I] would make the best possible candidate. Instead of a paper I put hyperlinks to a video I made about myself in the document.”

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Pharmacy: There’s still time to sign up for the golf tourney

Tee up this fall for a really great cause: pharmacy student scholarships.

You are invited to join fellow School of Pharmacy alums, faculty and students 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 9 at The Traditions at Brickshire Golf Club in Providence Forge. The fee for the 2014 Yanchick Invitational Golf Tournament is $95 for alumni and friends, $50 for students or $10 if you want to attend the awards luncheon only.

Come on down for fun, fellowship and perhaps a few bragging rights! Call Jasmine Davis at (804) 828-4247 for details, or register online.

Robertson: Surprise scholarship recognizes friend

robertsonBy Nan Johnson

George “Steve” Loder (B.S.’71/B) and Richard T. “Dick” Robertson (B.S.’67/MC; H.L.D.’05) have been friends for more than 50 years. From their high school days in Norfolk, Virginia, the two have remained close and communicate often.

But Loder didn’t communicate one thing with his friend until May 6, when Virginia Commonwealth University dedicated the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Loder recently established a scholarship in the newly renamed school.

In recognition of Robertson’s contributions to VCU as well to commemorate their longtime friendship, Loder and his wife, Linda, established the George S. Loder Scholarship, to be awarded for the first time in 2018. The merit-based scholarship will be available to students in the school in good academic standing.

“This was the perfect time to do something like this,” Loder said. “Everything in life is about timing, and this was the right time.”

Robertson began his 40-year television career in 1965 as a salesman for Richmond, Virginia-based WRVA-TV while earning a bachelor’s degree in advertising from VCU. Today, he is considered one of the architects of the syndicated barter television business and a powerful and innovative industry executive.