Research report: The numbers behind the innovation

Research conducted at VCU's Rice Rivers Center is one example of more than $218.9 million in university research expenditures.

Research conducted at VCU’s Rice Rivers Center is one example of more than $218.9 million in university research expenditures.

The impact of Virginia Commonwealth University researchers is wide-ranging — they have patented a canine vaccine for Lyme disease, led a nationwide effort to study concussions and aided the resurgence of sturgeon in the James River.

Those are a few of the ongoing accomplishments made with $218.9 million in VCU research expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development Survey, which outlines higher education expenditures in the U.S. for fiscal year 2015.

Nationwide funding for university research has declined the past four years. Still, VCU ranked among the top 100 institutions for the highest total expenditures dedicated to research in 2015, according to the report. The university has held this distinction three times in the past 10 years. VCU also has been ranked for five consecutive years by the NSF as a top 100 research university based on federal research expenditures. Presently, VCU is ranked No. 81 in that category, with $142.4 million in federal research expenditures for fiscal year 2015.

“It’s a fitting tribute to the community of VCU scholars who continue to propel our research enterprise upward even in times of economic adversity,” said Francis Macrina, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation at VCU.

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New report details VCU’s economic and cultural impact on the city, region and state

Virginia Commonwealth University generates nearly $6 billion in economic activity and supports 63,000 jobs in Virginia, according to a new report examining VCU’s economic and cultural impact.

The report, titled “VCU’s Impact on the Region: Talent, Innovation, Collaboration,” also found VCU’s economic impact within the city of Richmond is $1.5 billion, including about 18,000 jobs. In the metropolitan area, the impact is $4 billion and 47,000 jobs. And each dollar VCU spends, including payroll, employee spending and student spending, expands the Richmond economy by $2, the regional economy by $3.70 and the state’s economy by $3.20.

The report, released by university and community leaders today, also examined the impact on human health and wellness. The top-ranked VCU Health System is a nearly $3 billion enterprise, with more than 11,000 employees, and each year there are 36,000 admissions, nearly 100,000 emergency department visits and more than 650,000 outpatient visits. VCU Medical Center is the region’s safety-net hospital and its only academic medical center.

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VCU student awarded Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship

Alex Morales.  Photo by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs

Alex Morales.
Photo by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs

Alex Morales, a sophomore fashion merchandising student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, will study in Italy this semester with support from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program.

“In Europe, fashion is everywhere,” Morales said. “It’s such a global industry. It brings people together, nations together.”

Morales will study at the European Institute for Design (Istituto Europeo di Design) in Florence, and plans to take advantage of every formal and informal opportunity to develop his fashion industry sense.

Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad or internship program costs. Students work with the VCU Education Abroad office and the National Scholarship Office to develop competitive applications.

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The art of expression: VCU student gives back to the community through art, activism and service

Angelique Scott.  Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing

Angelique Scott.
Photo by Allen Jones, University Marketing

For someone who five years ago had no interest in applying to Virginia Commonwealth University — and hadn’t even heard of its School of the Arts — student Angelique Scott has given much to the university and the surrounding community during her time here.

Scott’s high school art and ceramic teachers had attended the VCU School of the Arts and persuaded her to apply.

“Not only did I not think that I would be accepted, but I also did not expect to receive as many grants and scholarships for my education,” Scott said.

The one thing Scott did know was that she wanted to study ceramics. As far back as she can remember, the Brooklyn native has loved art. Every Christmas, she received some sort of gift that allowed her to explore the world of art — from paint and an easel to a sewing machine and a trumpet.

“Whether it was fashion, painting or music, my passion for the arts has always been there,” she said.

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VCU’s weeklong celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. (Jan. 16-22) provides opportunities to reflect on his life and pursue service to others

Christina Hairston, a senior communication arts major at Virginia Commonwealth University, has attended VCU’s MLK Week in January each of the past three years. The schedule of events and activities honoring Martin Luther King Jr. has grown larger and more compelling each time. Last year, Hairston decided she needed to be more than a participant — she wanted to help plan it.

“It’s such a great program,” she said. “I really wanted to be a part of it.”

Hairston is one of a host of students who have been heavily involved in the creation of the 2017 MLK Week, which will run Jan. 16-22. Students such as Hairston serve on a universitywide committee alongside staff and faculty from various VCU units to develop a celebration that will emphasize community and service while providing ample time and opportunity to reflect on King’s legacy today.

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Experimental new VCU course takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the phenomenon of migration

Mayda Topoushian, Ph.D., gives a lecture drawing parallels between the Armenian genocide and the conflict and Syria to an experimental new School of World Studies course on modern migration.  Photo by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

Mayda Topoushian, Ph.D., gives a lecture drawing parallels between the Armenian genocide and the conflict and Syria to an experimental new School of World Studies course on modern migration.
Photo by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

Mayda Topoushian, Ph.D., an instructor of international studies, is giving a lecture drawing parallels between the Armenian genocide that occurred 100 years ago and the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in Syria, which is leading to a massive wave of migration across Europe and around the globe.

“Why is it important today?” Topoushian asked the classroom filled with VCU students. “We are sitting here in the luxury and security of our campus. Why should we care about events that are occurring far away?”

Many of the students expressed frustration that the atrocities being committed are failing to provoke significant outrage or action in the U.S.

“People in general don’t care, but really they should,” said Chalen Aleong, a political science major in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Because what does that say about us? And what will it say about us 20 or 30 years from now, when we did nothing?”

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Practice makes perfect

Keira Robinson.  Photos by Skip Rowland.

Keira Robinson.
Photos by Skip Rowland.

When Virginia Commonwealth University opened the 62,000-square-foot Basketball Development Center in October 2015, it was a game-changer for the men’s and women’s basketball teams in every way, providing a state-of-the-art space for everything from morning practices and weightlifting sessions to afternoon naps and team meals.

“It’s a place for these athletes to not only work on their craft but to bond as a team,” says Daniel Ludwin, who was introduced to VCU basketball in 2009 by his friend David Boardman (B.S.’91/B). After just one game, Ludwin declared himself a “rabid Ram fan.”

Ludwin and Boardman both made pledges to support the construction of the practice facility. With private donors like them funding $14.5 million of the building’s approximate $25 million cost, the Basketball Development Center was the largest private fundraising project in VCU Athletics history.

“We pride ourselves at VCU in developing student-athletes into the best versions of themselves, and our supporters make that possible,” says Ed McLaughlin, associate vice president and director of athletics. “This facility is one of the top five in the country.”

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‘Support for NPR comes from … ’: VCU’s Chioke I’Anson named a voice of NPR

Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D.

Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D.

Listeners of NPR stations across the country are now hearing the voice of a Virginia Commonwealth University faculty member introduce the underwriting credits — the credits that start with “Support for NPR comes from … ” — for NPR’s newscasts and podcasts.

Chioke I’Anson, Ph.D., an instructor in the Department of African American Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, joins Jessica Hansen as one of NPR’s two voices of underwriting. His voice started airing Nov. 28.

“I’ve been a public radio fan for a good 15 years,” I’Anson said. “[Underwriting announcers have been among] the most present, iconic voices on all of NPR. They are at the end of every newscast, of every show, and at the beginning of every podcast. They are as recognizable as Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish. The credits they read are essential to keeping the lights on, so to speak. It is a very nerdy dream come true to join Jessica as a voice of NPR.”

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From playing doctor, to being one: Alumnus travels to U.S. from Nigeria to fulfill childhood dream

Photo by Allen S. Kramer

Photos by Allen S. Kramer

By Anthony Langley

Oluyinka Olutoye, M.D., Ph.D. (Ph.D.’96/M; H.S.’98/M), remembers wanting to be a doctor from an early age. As he recalls, the desire stemmed from an encounter he experienced as a child in his home country of Nigeria.

“I had a sick family member, and a doctor made a house call to see them,” he says. “I remember following him around our home, trying to see as much as I could. After he left, I would play doctor around the house.”

After high school, Olutoye enrolled in a six-year medical program at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, where he graduated in 1988 as valedictorian with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.

“I chose surgery because I liked being able to identify problems in the body and fix them,” Olutoye says. “When I was in school, I also enjoyed embryology, so pediatric surgery was a natural draw.”

Olutoye knew that if he stayed in Nigeria, he would not have access to the latest medical technology, so he moved to the U.S. but found his foreign degree a barrier to working as a surgeon in the States. Refusing to give up on his dream, he accepted a pediatric internship at Howard University Hospital. He remained focused on his goal to become a pediatric surgeon, and he says the team at Howard supported his ambition, even helping him apply for the National Resident Matching Program the following year, which landed him an interview at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine.

Andrew Wechsler, M.D., head of the VCU Department of Surgery at the time, offered him a residency, but it was the opportunity to conduct his own research and work on a Ph.D. during his residency that cemented Olutoye’s decision to come to VCU.

“Dr. Wechsler really took a chance on me, especially being a foreign medical graduate,” he says. “I am always eternally grateful for that.”

He made the most of his opportunities. Under the guidance of Arnold Salzberg, M.D., then-chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery, Olutoye completed his Ph.D. and his general surgery residency and landed a two-year fellowship position in pediatric surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“When I counted back, I was the 12th resident that [Dr. Salzberg] had gotten into pediatric surgery,” Olutoye says. “Many, if not all, who studied under him have gone on to become major contributors in the field. It makes me proud to say that I am a product of his legacy and a proud graduate of the VCU surgery program.”

Now, as co-director of Texas Children’s Fetal Center at Texas Children’s Hospital and professor of surgery, pediatrics and obstetrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Olutoye has achieved his childhood dream and more.

“He’s one of those special people who comes into your life and makes a lasting impact,” says Robert Diegelmann, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the VCU Medical Center and one of Olutoye’s thesis advisers. “In the lab, his energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and it has been a pleasure to watch him develop such a stellar career.”

In October, Olutoye co-led a team of 21 doctors to remove a sacrococcygeal teratoma, a large tumor that grows on the tailbone of a fetus, and then returned the 23-week-old fetus to the mother’s womb.

“What happened in this case was the fetal heart tries to pump blood not only through the child’s body but the tumor as well, which can cause the heart to fail,” Olutoye says. “We monitored the mother throughout pregnancy, and when the growth got too large, we discussed our options and decided surgery would be the best method to save the child.”

For the surgery, the mother and fetus were given general anesthesia, and the part of the fetus’s body where the tumor is attached was taken out of the uterus. Surgeons then removed as much of the mass as possible before returning the fetus to the womb. The team continued to monitor the mother over the course of her pregnancy to ensure that no further problems occurred until she was delivered at 36 weeks.

“It’s an honor and privilege to care for and support these families, especially at such vulnerable moments,” Olutoye says. “I’m looking forward to opportunities that allow me to care for even more children and have an impact. As long as we take it one patient at a time, and help as many as we can, we can help society at large.”

Designing Cuba

VCUarts alumnus Cody Huff (B.F.A.'16/A) examines a mosaic mural in Old Havana. The mural features prominent figures in Cuban history and the arts.

VCUarts alumnus Cody Huff (B.F.A.’16/A) examines a mosaic mural in Old Havana. The mural features prominent figures in Cuban history and the arts.

Sara Reed first noticed the posters last spring, scattered on walls throughout the Pollak Building. They promoted an engineering class on design in constrained environments. Reed, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of interior design at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, was curious.

“It sounded really intriguing,” she said. “What I was reminded of was research I had done for my dissertation on Cuban design and this idea of designing within material scarcity.”

The course was to be taught by Russell Jamison, Ph.D., dean emeritus and professor in the School of Engineering. Reed contacted Jamison, thinking she might be able to contribute to his class as a visiting speaker. The two met for coffee.

“I thought that it would be a guest lecture,” Reed said.

It turned into something much bigger than that.