Brighter futures

Any parent of a child with serious health conditions knows how important access to top-notch care that is close to home can be in keeping everyone in the family healthy and sane during times of tremendous stress. When your child has 30-plus appointments a month, small details can make a huge difference.

Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center has long been dedicated to making things better for such families, and this month things are looking up for the region’s children in more ways than one.

December played host to several special events, all marking major milestones in VCU Medical Center’s continued commitment to advancing children’s health in the region. An announcement of an unprecedented gift to establish a pediatric cardiac surgery program in Richmond, a “topping out” ceremony for a new children’s outpatient facility and a groundbreaking of a new and improved pediatric psychiatric facility – all this December – highlighted Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s continued growth and dedication to improving pediatric care for the region’s smallest patients.

“At VCU, we are most proud of our continuing investments in children’s health care,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health System. “This commitment to advance our programs and capabilities for the region’s children stems from our desire to be the best partner with the community we can be, as a research-focused, state-of-the-art academic medical center.”

CHoR announced today a gift of $28 million from Children’s Hospital Foundation that will be used to build a children’s cardiac surgery program. Such a program will allow families access to specialized heart services for children that have not been available in the region before now, and will prevent them from having to travel elsewhere for heart surgery.

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Richmond Christmas Mother pledges to match donations made during VCU game

Donations to the Richmond Christmas Mother Fund at tonight’s VCU basketball game will automatically double, thanks to Maya and Shaka Smart.

Maya Smart, this year’s Richmond Christmas Mother, and husband Shaka Smart, the Virginia Commonwealth University basketball coach, pledged to match donations from some 8,000 fans at the Siegel Center.

“While we have a captive audience, it’s a good opportunity to introduce the Christmas Mother Fund to our VCU fans,” she said.

Maya Smart has made appearances at previous games to build awareness for other organizations she supports, such as Prevent Child Abuse Virginia and Friends Association for Children, she said. “Our friends are used to seeing me advocating for something or other,” she said.

“This year, because it’s the 80th anniversary of the Richmond Christmas Mother Fund and a one-time opportunity for me to promote that particular endeavor, we thought it would be nice to also match the contributions of our supporters. Our goal is $5,000, but we know that VCU fans are overachievers. We’ll match whatever is raised” tonight.

Read more from The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Business: 25 years after starting school, degree completed

Heather Herring

Heather Herring

Many of Saturday’s graduates may not appreciate how much Virginia Commonwealth University has changed over the past 25 years. But Heather Herring (B.S.’14/B) is not one of them. After all, it was more than 25 years ago that she set out to earn the bachelor’s degree that she received this weekend. It was 1988 when Herring first came to VCU. Like many students, she worked part time while going to school. But she fell victim to a classic temptation that lured her away from school: money. Herring worked in the collections department at Capital One when the credit card company opened a new department that would employ workers Sundays through Thursdays from 4 p.m. to midnight.“Being young and thinking I could take on the world, I said ‘I’ll do it,’ because it was good money,” Herring said. “And I figured I’d have all day to go to school.”

But what she didn’t realize at the time was how overwhelming it can be to both work and attend school full time. She went from five classes a semester to four the next and continued to cut back until she was taking just one class per semester. Finally, around 1994 or 1995, she stopped altogether.

“It really ended up that work just overtook [everything],” she said. “I did well at Capital One, and I kept getting promoted and they kept giving me more responsibilities. School took a back seat. … And I got blindsided by the money of it and not having to take tests. ‘I can make money, I can be an adult.’”

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Challenging new grads to ‘be disruptive’

During fall commencement ceremonies today, Kay Coles James, former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, challenged Virginia Commonwealth University’s newest graduates not to accept mediocrity but to be disruptive.

“Based on what I see in the world, I want you to know that we need you. We need you now,” said James, who is also the founder and president of the Gloucester Institute, a nonprofit organization that trains and nurtures African-American leaders. “Take what you’ve got. Go be a leader and be disruptive.”

James also served as Virginia’s secretary of health and human resources and as assistant secretary for public affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Students received professional, graduate and undergraduate degrees at the ceremony at the VCU Siegel Center. Approximately 2,100 students attended the ceremony, and more than 2,500 degrees were conferred.

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., called on the graduates to use what they’ve learned at VCU to tackle life’s “unknowns.”

“The research we do here — which is the bedrock of your unique student experience — begins in the unknown … then becomes innovation, creativity and opportunity for people everywhere,” Rao said. “At VCU, we discover what no one has ever understood before. We create what no one has ever seen before. We cure people who have never had hope before. The unknown doesn’t scare us. It inspires us.”

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Business: Globalization and sustainability certificate offered

25_windowsThe VCU School of Business Center for International Business Advancement is pleased to offer a new certificate program, the Certificate of Completion in Globalization and Sustainability. The 10-week program, for which VCU partners with Environic Foundation International, examines how global forces are changing how organizations make decisions, produce goods and deliver services.

When: 6-9 p.m. Feb. 11-April 22 (Wednesdays)
Where: Snead Hall, Room B-3189
Cost: $1,500*
Register: Online
*$500 discount available for early registration (register by Jan. 10, 2015)

Learn more about the program.

Read the course syllabus.

Why globalization and sustainability?

For more information, contact Van Wood, Ph.D., professor of marketing and Philip Morris endowed chair in international business, at

H&S: Course to explore historical Ferguson events

A new course at Virginia Commonwealth University will explore the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri – including the killing of Michael Brown, as well as the response by the community, police, prosecutors and courts – from a historical perspective.

“My hope is that this perspective will give students – who are already quite engaged in the national conversation surrounding the deaths of Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, and others – a useful set of tools for making sense of what is happening right now,” said Adam Ewing, Ph.D., an assistant professor in VCU’s Department of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Ewing will teach the course, “Ferguson, USA: Race and Criminal Justice in Historical Perspective,” in the spring semester at VCU.

The university is hoping to make parts of the course – public lectures, and possibly class discussions – available to the general public through online participation as a massive open online course, also known as a MOOC.

The course, Ewing said, was inspired by discussions in the Department of African American Studies after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, as well as protests by VCU students.

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Students help out at after-school programs, food pantries

Once a week during the past semester, VCU student Kirk Leppert would set up a table outside a barber shop in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood and offer fresh produce from Shalom Farms, a nonprofit organization that aims to fight hunger in the city’s food deserts.

“I was bringing fresh produce to a part of town where they don’t have easy access to fresh produce. The closest grocery store is the Kroger, which is all the way down Broad,” said Leppert, a junior English major in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “It made me feel like I made a little impact in the Richmond community.”

Leppert’s work providing free produce in Jackson Ward was part of a larger volunteer effort this semester in which he helped out at Ram Pantry, VCU’s student food pantry. “I’m really thankful I’ve been able to help with the VCU Ram Pantry and that it gave me the feeling of helping out my fellow Rams and local community,” he said.

Leppert is one of 49 students who participated in a newly designated service-learning course, Social Work 200: Building a Just Society, in the School of Social Work. As part of the course, which is geared toward non-social work majors, the students were assigned to volunteer with nonprofit organizations at VCU and in the Richmond community.

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Robertson: Alumni profile — Morgan Saunders

Morgan Saunders

Morgan Saunders

Morgan Saunders (B.S.’11/MC),  leads a hectic life. Right off the bat it became clear that the Hampton, Virginia, native likes to stay busy. During her time at VCU she joined  Alpha Kappa Alpha (2009), served as CEO for Fall Block (2010) and was the PR manager for VCU STRUT, a student-run fashion show.

Today, her schedule seems no less packed. Saunders is an assistant production manager for National Geographic Television International, based in D.C. She was offered the position by her former boss, Crystal Williams, of the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network.

“In this industry it’s 100 percent about who you know and the job you do,” Saunders said. “People pay attention to your work ethic, your professionalism.”

Before she landed the job with National Geographic, Saunders did freelance production work. While VCU provided a strong foundation of core skills, Saunders said you can never be totally prepared for any job you get as a recent grad.

“In my honest opinion until you get out in the workforce you have no idea what you’re in for,” Saunders said. “There’s a lot of learning on the job.”

As an assistant production manager, Saunders has many responsibilities regarding the logistics of TV programming. It’s up to her to organize travel as necessary, find a talented crew for production, budget and generally keep things on schedule. She’s also very involved in generating and managing web content. Saunders normally does this for multiple projects at once.

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VCU begins construction of new children’s psychiatric facility

CHOR featureVirginia Commonwealth University Health System broke ground Dec. 11 on the new Virginia Treatment Center for Children pediatric psychiatric facility that will provide increased access to clinical care for children from across the state.

The new state-of-the-art pediatric behavioral health center will replace the current 50-year-old facility located on VCU Medical Center’s downtown campus, and will feature technology and architectural designs tailored to creating a therapeutic environment. Patient areas were designed to meet the age-specific, special needs of children and adolescents and to support the needs of families.

Slated to be completed by fall 2017, this 32-bed facility will be almost 120,000 square feet and will house inpatient units, outpatient behavioral health office, a Children’s Mental Health Resource Center and the Commonwealth Institute for Child and Family Studies, the research arm of VTCC. The facility will be constructed on the Brook Road Campus of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, 2924 Brook Rd.

VTCC provides services for children and adolescents with mental health issues ranging from depression and ADD/ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorder and behavioral problems at home and school. Last year, VTCC had approximately 950 inpatient admissions for children between the ages of 3 and 17, and more than 7,600 outpatient visits.

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13 Virginia college faculty members to receive awards

Thirteen faculty members from Virginia colleges and universities will receive the 2015 Outstanding Faculty Award.

They’ll be recognized by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia in February.

The recipients are: Callan Bentley of Northern Virginia Community College; Stephen Bigelow Cushman of the University of Virginia; Paul Philip D’Andrea of George Mason University; Gail Elizabeth Dodge of Old Dominion University, Albert Farrell of Virginia Commonwealth University; Jennifer Jones of Radford University; Sarah Couborne Kucenas of the University of Virginia; Lance Allen Liotta of George Mason University; Tim Orland Moore II of the Virginia Military Institute; Aswini Kumar Pradham of Norfolk State University; Deborah Kay Steinberg of the College of William and Mary; James Turner Sr. of the Virginia Military Institute; and Miriam Liss of the University of Mary Washington.