VCU students earn Boren Scholarships for international study

Gabrielle “Gabby” Beckford, at left, and Caroline Butler.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Beckford, at left, and Caroline Butler.

Two Virginia Commonwealth University students will study foreign languages overseas next academic year with support from Boren Scholarships.

Gabrielle “Gabby” Beckford will study Arabic in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, while Caroline Butler will study Wolof and French in Dakar, Senegal. Butler will also spend eight weeks this summer taking an intensive Wolof course at the University of Florida as part of Boren’s African Flagship Languages Initiative.

Supported by the National Security Education Program, the Boren Scholarship provides opportunities for U.S. undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. national security interests. The scholarship includes a commitment to work for the federal government.

“Their studies at VCU have certainly prepared Gabby and Caroline for this intensive, exciting opportunity,” said Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We look forward to their return to Richmond with a richer, more nuanced understanding of language and culture.”

Read more.

Public radio project launched by VCU alumna documents a changing Richmond through personal stories

Kelley Libby, a 2010 VCU graduate, is interviewing Richmond residents about their personal stories, documenting how the city is changing. Photo by Michael K. Lease.

Kelley Libby, a 2010 VCU graduate, is interviewing Richmond residents about their personal stories, documenting how the city is changing. Photo by Michael K. Lease.

As part of a newly launched public radio project called “UnMonumental,” a Virginia Commonwealth University alumna and a VCU instructor of African American Studies are telling everyday histories of Richmond through the voices of the people who live in the city today.

“Richmond’s got a lot of monuments, but they don’t all speak to the experiences of the people who live here,” said Kelley Libby(M.A.’10/H&S), who graduated from the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2010. “I wanted to create a project that tells a different, more nuanced story of Richmond than the one that’s set in stone in places like Monument Avenue.”

Libby, along with community producer Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D., an instructor in the VCU Department of African American Studies, have been recording interviews with Richmond residents — mostly at a story booth at the Richmond Public Library — and documenting the changing city.

“So Brian Phelps talks about the moment when a B.B. King CD changed his perspective on ‘heritage’ and the Confederate battle flag, and Lori Hunter talks about the impact of development in Jackson Ward on her family and community during the 1960s, and Cristina Ramírez talks about her experience as Richmond’s only multilingual Latina professional librarian,” Libby said.

“UnMonumental” has been airing Fridays on “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” on WVTF/Radio IQ (92.5 FM in Richmond), and Libby and I’Anson will be featured in June on “With Good Reason,” a public radio program produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities that airs in 13 states and Washington, D.C.

Read more.

VCU Police officer, alumna honored with Governor’s Public Service Awards

VCU Police Officer Ellsworth “Sonny” Pryor receives the 2016 Governor’s Public Service Award on May 12. From left: Chris Shockley, executive vice president of the Virginia Credit Union; Ric Brown, secretary of finance for Virginia; VCU Police Officer Ellsworth “Sonny” Pryor; Nancy Rodrigues, secretary of administration for Virginia.

VCU Police Officer Ellsworth “Sonny” Pryor receives the 2016 Governor’s Public Service Award on May 12. From left: Chris Shockley, executive vice president of the Virginia Credit Union; Ric Brown, secretary of finance for Virginia; VCU Police Officer Ellsworth “Sonny” Pryor; Nancy Rodrigues, secretary of administration for Virginia.

For the second consecutive year, a Virginia Commonwealth University employee has been honored by Gov. Terry McAuliffe for outstanding service to the commonwealth.

On May 12, VCU Police Department Officer Ellsworth “Sonny” Pryor was recognized at the governor’s mansion with the Governor’s Workplace Health, Wellness and Safety Award. The award was one of seven Governor’s Public Service Awards given to state employees. Among the other recipients was Velma Ballard Velma Ballard, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’15/GPA)., who recently earned a Ph.D. in public policy and administration from the VCU L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. Ballard was honored with the Governor’s Career Achievement Award.

“I am so pleased to honor these men and women for their outstanding work in public service to the citizens of our commonwealth,” McAuliffe said. “These individuals and their colleagues in our state workforce are committed to excellence, and they represent the backbone of our state government. These awards demonstrate the values that guide our workforce every day as our state employees provide the highest quality customer service, innovation, teamwork and community service.” 

Earlier this year, Pryor saved a woman’s life while on patrol at VCU Medical Center. The woman fell to the floor in full cardiac arrest inside the hospital. Pryor was outside when he heard the call for an unresponsive female over his police radio.

He quickly made it to the woman’s side and discovered she had no pulse. He administered CPR and automated external defibrillator treatments that restored her cardiac rhythm. After receiving further treatment at VCU Medical Center, the woman was awake and talking three days later.

Pryor was honored for his timely response and lifesaving emergency care as well as for past lifesaving efforts in the VCU Police jurisdiction.

Read more.

Art as activism: Using art to tackle ‘the human rights issue of our time’

Photos courtesy Performing Statistics.

Photos courtesy Performing Statistics.

Do you remember what it was like to be 8 years old? Did you have a gap-toothed grin and perpetually skinned knees? Did you love to play baseball or soccer? Did you spend your childhood incarcerated? That last one may seem preposterous until you consider that in 2014, 40 percent of Virginia’s incarcerated youth were between 8 and 14

Can you imagine?

Mark Strandquist (B.F.A’13/A) can.

An artist who prefers to create art with a community, rather than in a community, Strandquist’s community of choice is kids in the juvenile justice system.

“Working very closely with people in that system, you really understand just how much has to change,” Strandquist said. “And how it’s impacting not only the people directly involved in the conviction, but also their family and friends and neighborhoods and communities — at the end of the day, our entire democracy. It’s a huge human civil rights issue. More than anything, it’s the experiences with working with people closely and understanding the human cost of this issue that keeps me active.”

To transform the juvenile justice system, Strandquist, who graduated in 2013 with a major in photography and film from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts and a minor in sociology, created Performing Statistics, a project that connects incarcerated children and teens with artists, designers, educators and Virginia’s leading policy advocates to help tell their story and give it a human face.

Read more.

New grant explores ties between alcohol abuse, genetics and romantic relationships

Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received a roughly $750,000 grant to study the complex interplay between alcohol abuse, romantic relationships and genetic predispositions to alcoholism during emerging adulthood.

Jessica Salvatore, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was awarded the five-year grant, “Genetics, Romantic Relationships, and Alcohol Misuse in Emerging Adulthood,” from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health.

Salvatore, whose research focuses on how close relationships and alcohol misuse interface across development, particularly in the high-risk emerging adulthood period, recently discussed the new grant and how she hopes it will deepen our understanding of how genetic factors and close relationship factors come together to predict alcohol misuse.

Read more.

Innovative student projects serve as centerpiece of School of Engineering milestone celebration

A device that tests saliva instead of blood to determine a heart attack. An economically efficient phosphate removal system. An app that lets employees stand out from the crowd among job seekers.

These are a sampling of the projects that were recently presented by Virginia Commonwealth University students at the School of Engineering’s annual Capstone Design Expo and Dean’s Society events.

A signature event of the School of Engineering, the expo represents the culmination of the graduating class’s education and offers design teams the opportunity to display and demonstrate their prototypes to the Greater Richmond community. The event also serves to increase the awareness of the engineering profession among middle and high school students.

About 700 people, including a cadre of Richmond’s VIPs, turned out for the Dean’s Society event on the eve of the annual expo. While the event usually attracts about 200 to 250 people, the event this year — the School of Engineering’s 20th anniversary — attracted three times as many attendees.

Former Gov. George Allen called the event a birthday celebration for the school. Allen said he was proud of the progress and evolution of the School of Engineering, “this sapling that we planted 20 years ago.”

Read more.

VCU, Swedish study finds marriage protects against risk for developing alcohol use disorders

Marriage is causally related to a significant reduction in risk for development of alcohol use disorders, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden.

The study, which is titled, “Effect of Marriage on Risk for Onset of Alcohol Use Disorder: A Longitudinal and Co-Relative Analysis in a Swedish National Sample,” scientifically confirms the common observation that alcoholism is bad for marriages and that marriage might help protect against alcohol use problems. It was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on May 16.

“With this study, we were trying to determine if marriage influences individuals’ future risks for alcohol use disorders,” said first author Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., professor of psychiatry and human and molecular genetics in the Department of PsychiatryVCU School of Medicine. “The answer is yes, and actually quite profoundly.”

First marriage resulted in a 59 percent reduction in risk of alcoholism in males and a 73 percent reduction in risk for females. In both sexes, the protective effect of marriage was significantly stronger in those with versus those without a family history of alcohol use disorder. “It is the person who is most vulnerable to the risk of alcoholism from a genetic background who might be the most sensitive to the protective effects of marriage,” Kendler said.

More than 3.2 million individuals born in Sweden between 1960 and 1990 were involved in the study, which was limited to people who were single at the onset of the study and who had no personal history of alcoholism. The correlative design of the study supported the conclusion of the causal effect of marriage on the development of alcoholism.

Read more.

Engineering students receive more than $300,000 in fellowships from U.S. Department of Energy

Left to right: Hunter B. Andrews, Daniell Tincher, Aaron W. Lam.

Left to right: Hunter B. Andrews, Daniell Tincher, Aaron W. Lam.

Three Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering students have received highly competitive awards in the 2016 round of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Integrated University Program.

Ph.D. candidates Hunter B. Andrews and Daniell Tincher are two of just 33 students in the country to receive DOE graduate fellowships this year. Aaron W. Lam is one of 57 undergraduates nationwide to receive a $7,500 undergraduate scholarship through this program.

The graduate fellowships provide each recipient $50,000 annually for three years, with an additional $5,000 for a summer internship. These awards will help Andrews and Tincher advance nuclear engineering projects.

Andrews will use his fellowship to develop safer – and more useful – ways to reprocess used nuclear fuel. When used nuclear fuel goes into storage, there’s a risk of unauthorized material extraction.

Andrews, a VCU senior who is entering the Ph.D. program this fall, hopes to mitigate that risk by combining two processes currently used to analyze nuclear fuel properties. Using an electrochemical technique called cyclic voltammetry, he will record changes in the current levels in surrogate materials that mimic stored used nuclear fuel.

He will subject the same surrogate material to laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, also known as LIBS, in which a high-energy laser is fired and releases energy in the form of light. When that light is captured, its components can be analyzed.

“When both of these tools are used, we can create a real-time database,” Andrews said. “We’ll be able to analyze the materials and see if anything is missing or anything is weird – it will be a way to see if anything has been stolen.”

Read more.

Widows, widowers are happier in the face of adversity than others, VCU study suggests

Widowed patients suffering from neurological illness experience greater levels of happiness than married individuals with a similar condition, according to a Virginia Commonwealth University-led study.

The results replicate and extend the findings of a prior VCU-led study. In 2013, principal investigator James B. Wade, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the VCU School of Medicine, and his colleagues examined the concept of post-traumatic growth following the loss of a spouse in approximately 2,000 chronic pain sufferers. The authors found that widows and widowers experienced less emotional suffering and greater psychological hardiness than their married, divorced, separated or single counterparts.

“Humans are incredibly resilient,” Wade said. “By being confronted by and forced to deal with challenge, we develop new strategies for coping that allow us to better deal with future lifestyle threats.”

The present study, titled “Does the Death of a Spouse Increase Subjective Well-Being: An Assessment in a Population of Adults with Neurological Illness,” was published in the journal Healthy Aging Research this month. It served to replicate and extend the findings of the 2013 publication.

Both studies suggest that being confronted by and forced to cope with major lifestyle adversity propels an individual to develop new ways of coping and thinking about oneself in relation to the world. This form of post-traumatic growth has important societal implications. People are living longer and after the loss of a spouse the surviving partner will likely live for several years. For some, the loss of the spouse will lead to psychological adaptation resulting in a higher level of psychological resilience. “The loss of a spouse results in a form of emotional inoculation, protecting against future lifestyle stressors,” Wade said.

Read more.