Alumna finds the sweet spot of success

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Professional chef and owner of Ruby Scoops Ice Cream & Sweets Rabia Kamara (B.S.’10/B) whips up small-batch, locally sourced, handcrafted desserts and baked goods that she sells in the Washington, D.C., area. Kamara was recently named one of the top black chefs influencing the capital’s culinary culture by Spoon University and will make her first national TV appearance April 30 on Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games.”

Kamara will take over VCU Alumni’s Instagram the week of Monday, April 24. During that week, she will share her preparations for D.C.’s Broccoli City Festival, set for May 6, and the path she’s taken since graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010.

What made you choose to attend VCU?

One of my sisters, Sawida (B.S.’99/H&S; M.P.H.’02/M), attended VCU for both her undergrad and master’s degrees. We didn’t grow up together so I didn’t start spending regular time with her until middle school while she was living in Richmond and attending VCU for her master’s. She and her friends all seemed to love the city and school, which really stuck with me.

As I got ready to apply for college, I decided to seriously look into going to VCU. I knew it would challenge me academically, but growing up in Montgomery County, Maryland, I was used to the challenge. I also wanted to be out of state but close enough that if there were an emergency, I could get in my car and drive home.

The first time I visited VCU’s Monroe Park Campus, it solidified my decision. I was in love. There’s a liveliness to campus that I’d never been exposed to or been a part of before, but as soon as I breathed in the air, I was in.

What’s your favorite memory from your time as a student?

Where do I even begin!? From staying up until 5 a.m. in my dorm and still managing to make it to an 8 a.m. class to parties in the Commons and probates. I remember when I first moved off campus and finally got to experience Richmond and fall in love with the city on my own terms. Above all, it was the relationships I made with the people around me and having the chance to reinforce my relationship with myself that I remember the most.

Did you always want to be a chef?

Food has always been a passion of mine, but when I first came to VCU I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. When I realized I wasn’t going to go to law school as my family wanted, but that I actually wanted to go to culinary school and pursue my passion, it created lot of inner turmoil and tension. It was my friends in the city and at the university who provided me the support system I needed to stick to my guns. They helped me follow my dreams, and I never thought that being at VCU would have led me on that path.

So how did you come to start Ruby Scoops?

I graduated with a B.S. in marketing, which I’ve utilized every day since graduating. I saved the money from my first, and only, noncooking full-time job as a cushion when I started culinary school. I attended L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland and graduated with distinction in 2012. I’ve been cooking professionally for five years now and started Ruby Scoops in 2015. It’s been great because my fellow Rams have been ridiculously supportive, buying and boosting my brand, and the lessons I learned as a student have been extremely helpful on my entrepreneurial journey.

What’s next for you and Ruby Scoops?

Currently we’re partnering with FRESHFARM farmers markets to raise $10,000 through a Kiva microloan to do more wholesale and save for a brick-and-mortar location next year. This summer we’ll be making our RVA debut at the Heart & Soul Brewfest at Hardywood, and we’ll also be at this year’s Broccoli City Festival in D.C.!

I’d really love to come back to Richmond and open up a shop someday near campus. My dream is to live above my shop and show not just my fellow Rams, but also Richmond, what can happen when you follow your dreams and work hard to reach them.

Lobs & Lessons celebrates 8th year of Young Aces QuickStart Tennis Tournament

More than 200 fourth and fifth graders from Richmond will showcase their QuickStart tennis skills April 27 at the eighth annual Young Aces Open at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Mary and Frances Youth Center.

The Young Aces Open will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is organized by VCU’s Lobs & Lessons program. Entrance to the event is at 120 S. Linden St., between the Cary Street Gym and Cary Street Field. The rain location will be at the Richmond Volleyball Club.

“One day leads to a year, which creates a lifetime memory. This is what we hope to inspire through Young Aces Open and the Lobs & Lessons program,” said Tina Carter, director of the VCU Mary and Frances Youth Center. “Tennis can help create opportunities for youth throughout their lives, whether they play for fun, to stay healthy or it becomes part of their educational path.”

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Inaugural ball will celebrate black excellence, award $5,000 in scholarships

Virginia Commonwealth University is hosting its inaugural Black Excellence Scholarship Ball: Celebrating a Heritage Rooted in Excellence that will recognize the academic and personal accomplishments of VCU’s black students, faculty, and alumni.

The event will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 22 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, 403 N. 3rd St., Richmond. Faculty, staff and alumni tickets are available for $25, and can be purchased at https://blackexcellencescholarshipball.com/. Student tickets are sold out.

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Noah Scalin’s latest project: A portrait of Frances Lewis made out of canned food and sundries

Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

Noah Scalin isn’t the first artist to create a portrait of Frances Lewis. That distinction belongs to Andy Warhol, who became friends with the art collector and her husband, Sydney, in the 1960s.

But Scalin is the first to create Lewis’ portrait out of canned food and sundries. Part of his “Portrait of Innovation” series, the work is Scalin’s second large pop-up installation at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business. The piece takes on a different look depending where you stand and can only be fully recognized from a specific spot.

Scalin, the VCU School of Business’ first-ever artist-in-residence, has spent the 2016-17 academic year teaching faculty, staff and students how to hone their creative problem-solving skills by thinking differently. After challenging them to leave their comfort zone, he set an example himself with his latest portrait by experimenting with a new medium.

“This is the first time I’ve ever done a portrait of a living person,” he said. “It’s also the first time I’ve done a portrait using these materials. This was an incredibly frightening challenge, overwhelming to me.”

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VCU poet David Wojahn shares insights into his latest collection, ‘For the Scribe’

David Wojahn, an award-winning poet who teaches poetry and writing as a professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is the author of nine poetry collections, including his most recent work, “For the Scribe” (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017), which continues Wojahn’s explorations of the interstices between the public and the private, the historical and the personal.

“In his formidable ninth collection, Wojahn (‘World Tree’) catalogues extinctions personal, cultural, and ecological,” Publishers Weekly wrote in its review of “For the Scribe.” “‘Assume, dear vagabond, you are permitted/ One last survey,’ he writes in the opening poem, an elegy for his father. As longtime readers might expect, Wojahn’s own ‘last survey’ impresses with both its diversity and detail. Bristling with quotations and historical artifacts, his rhythmic lines capture bluesmen as well as they do woodpeckers. In the title poem, he writes ‘inscription/Is a form of weaving,’ and indeed, his brocaded compositions often have the richness of tapestry. Whether examining Glenn Beck or laundry robots, his ‘burnished effusions’ relentlessly hone in on the specific.”

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A decade of searching: Hadeer Omar finds her sweet spot among cultures and art

By Anthony Langley

“I’ve had a passion for art ever since I was a little girl,” says Hadeer Omar (B.F.A.’10/A; M.F.A.’16/A). “Following that passion and coming to [Virginia Commonwealth University] has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

In 2006, Omar was finishing high school in Alexandria, Egypt, when she was encouraged by her mother to enter the VCUQatar Design Competition. The annual contest awards five cash prizes from $200 to $1,000, and the winners are eligible to compete for two Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned Scholarships for Creativity, which provide a full, four-year scholarship to attend VCUQatar.

For the first part of the competition, where she was challenged to create a design that communicated the theme of building, cultivating and maintaining bonds, Omar produced a winning design conveying various world cultures and the bond between their past and their future.

She competed next for one of the two scholarships by creating a design based on the theme “Making a change” and won a full ride to VCUQatar. It was a fitting theme as moving to Doha, Qatar, gave Omar the opportunity to explore multiple career paths.

“I want to educate people around me about my culture and where I come from,” says Omar, who worked as a graphic designer in Qatar after she completed her bachelor’s degree. “Being in a multicultural environment allowed me to adapt and accept others and shaped me into who I am today.”

Feeling a responsibility to raise awareness about how artists use their creativity in the Middle East, Omar returned to her home country during an uprising in 2011 where she filmed and produced her first complete production, “Ouda w sala,” a documentary about the Egyptian revolution.

The following year, Omar opened Kroki Design Studio, a nonprofit online art studio with a twofold mission: to provide a portal for artists to collaborate and experiment with one another and to educate the public about the importance of art in culture.

“I research a specific idea then translate it into a proposal and then ask others to work with me,” Omar says. “It helps artists to innovate and gives them constructive feedback from their peers.”

In 2014, Omar returned to VCUQatar to pursue a master’s degree in design studies. Her thesis focused on culture hacking and how Egyptians took the increasingly globalized culture they found themselves in after the political protests and revolutions that spread across the Middle East beginning in 2011, known as the Arab Spring, and applied their own cultural tools to create a unique space in the world around them, a process she calls “Egyptianization.”

A photo from Omar’s thesis exhibit on culture hacking and “Egyptianization.”

“I realized I needed to take a step back and look at my position in the world around me,” Omar says. “I have my own questions and observations about the world, and I want to make art that reflects that.”

She currently works as a teaching assistant in the Art Foundation program at VCUQatar. Two days a week, she helps students to find their design process and spends the rest of the week working on research projects and her personal work as a visual communicator and independent filmmaker.

For Omar, having an American institution in the Middle East provides an opportunity to share her experiences with and to learn from students with diverse backgrounds.

“On one hand, I’m able to do research and develop my own methods in academia, and on the other, I can still be a part of the market and complete commercial projects,” Omar says. “Whether it’s sharing my work or sharing knowledge with students, it helps me grow and develop myself.”

Omar took over VCU Alumni’s Instagram last week. Her posts showcase the path she’s taken since completing her master’s degree and the unique perspective that comes from working for more than a decade to find her place in the world around her.

Richmond youth who have faced homelessness and housing instability use research and advocacy to help others in similar situations

Advocates for Richmond Youth members Tiffany Haynes (left), and Elaine Williams, a senior social work major at VCU.

Dmitri Blair, a 16-year-old junior at Richmond’s Armstrong High School, began experiencing homelessness and housing instability the summer before he entered the fifth grade when he, his mother, sister, brother and stepfather found themselves living in a local shelter.

“I think I was 11 at the time,” Blair said. “Then I was in a hotel for most of middle school and beginning of high school. Just recently, we’re getting housing and it’s starting to get a little better.”

As a young person dealing with uncertainty over housing, Blair said it was difficult to understand how to navigate the social services system and how to find, ask for, or even be aware of, resources that might be available to help.

Now, Blair — along with a group of other Richmond young people who have dealt with homelessness and unstable housing called the Advocates for Richmond Youth — is working to improve the support of young people in similar situations.

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What’s your legacy?

Students share the importance of being involved while on campus and staying involved after graduation

The legacies we leave tell the stories of the lives we touch. Through their thoughtful commitment to their alma mater and VCU Alumni, thousands of alumni members are creating a meaningful legacy, making a lasting impression on students’ lives.

VCU Alumni spoke to several students whose VCU experience has been enhanced by alumni involvement. Their stories show how members set an example for future alumni involvement and enable our students to pursue their dreams.


Kalyann Kauv

Fourth-year pharmacy student / Bachelor of Science 2013, VCU / National Public Relations Liaison, Student National Pharmaceutical Association / President, VCU Chapter, Student National Pharmaceutical Association / Alumni liaison, VCU Chapter, Phi Delta Chi Inc. / Volunteer, medical outreach trip, Dominican Republic / Volunteer, Healing Eagle Clinic, Mattaponi Native American Reservation / Fellow, Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement 

What inspires you to volunteer on campus and in the community?
It centers me. Volunteering unites people from a variety of backgrounds to accomplish one common goal of lending a helping hand, no matter how big or small. By assisting my fellow neighbors, I also benefit by increasing the exposure I have with the good Samaritans of our society.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your education at VCU?
VCU provides unique programs that allow me to feel like a person in a vast sea of students. As a first-generation college student, VCU’s undergraduate pipeline program through the Division for Health Sciences Diversity helped me acclimate to higher education while providing a support system throughout my journey. Just as VCU invested so much in me and my cohort, I hope I can continue this as a health care professional by sowing the seeds of the next generation so they, too, can understand the ability they have to make a difference.

Will you maintain your connection to VCU after graduation?
I would hope to continue involvement with my alma mater. No matter how big or small, you never know what impact you can make. For me, it is so exciting when fellow Rams share their success stories and continue to embody the VCU spirit within their respective careers!

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Yeri Park

Fourth-year medical student / President, School of Medicine Class of 2017 / Co-president, Student Family Medicine Association / Member, leadership board, Women in Medicine Student Organization / 2015 Service by a Medical Student Award, Medical Society of Virginia Foundation / Pharmacy chair, 2014 Honduras Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort / Co-founder, Farmworker Health Outreach project / Volunteer, Mattaponi Healing Eagle Clinic / Volunteer, Crossover Healthcare Ministry / Volunteer, Center for High Blood Pressure

What led you to co-found the Farmworker Health Outreach project on Virginia’s Eastern Shore?
My co-founder and I were thinking of different ways to give back to the community. He originally had a vision of working with farm workers during his time in undergrad and had read a lot about them. They are truly at a vulnerable position to receiving inadequate medical care due to the migratory nature of their jobs. We started the organization to create opportunities for medical students to learn about the population, at least to gain awareness in working with farm workers.

What inspires you to volunteer your time with the community?
Definitely our city and the population that we serve! Especially thinking about student burnout, I believe that volunteering and giving back to the community is one of the best ways to reflect and to build resiliency. I know that during times when I felt stressed, going to student-run free clinics kept me happy and focused toward my goals. It is through volunteering that I learned more about our wonderful city. I have had some of the most memorable and beautiful interactions with my patients through volunteering. Volunteering keeps me humble and thankful for the opportunities that I have received, especially with my patients who share their stories with me when I am simply a medical student.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
Yes, of course! VCU has given me variety of opportunities to pursue current and new passions, ample amount of support from other students, faculty and staff and, most importantly, a chance to grow. I am thankful for the people and the memories I have made during my time at VCU, and it will always play a big role in my future endeavors. I think it’s important for alumni to stay involved with VCU because we wouldn’t be where we are today without the support we received from our previous alumni, and we should continue to support new physicians in training.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Tommy Tran

Senior, mass communications major with a double concentration in creative and strategic advertising / Co-chair, Student Government Association External Affairs Committee / Member, VCU LEAD / Co-founder and president, Dominion Place Partnership / Participant, 2016 VCU Qatar Leadership Exchange / Volunteer, Global Brigades at VCU

Why are you involved on campus?
I was a part of the Emerging Leaders Program as a freshman, and the students who were involved in ELP really wanted to make a difference and make an impact on campus. Being surrounded by them and becoming friends with them inspired me to use the time I have at VCU to reach my full potential. I am involved on campus because I want to become someone who matters, someone who makes a difference, someone who has made an impact.

Why is it important for alumni to stay involved with VCU?
It is important to keep in touch with where you came from. Of course, none of us are born into VCU, but I like to think that VCU has shaped us as people and leaders. We were developed at VCU, and it is important to stay connected to ensure that the university continues to foster the success of students who follow in our footsteps.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Emily Tull

Sophomore, health, physical education and exercise science major / Director of awards and recognition, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow board of directors / CASE ASAP chair, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow Leadership Council / Presenter, Regional CASE ASAP Conference and National CASE ASAP Conference / Volunteer, VCU Health

How did you become involved with VCU Alumni’s Students Today Alumni Tomorrow organization?
I became a general body member of STAT at my VCU freshman orientation. I remember it being the most lively student organization there! When the school year started, I attended STAT’s first general body meeting where I met Belicia DeBose, STAT’s vice president at the time. Belicia was an excellent representation of STAT: She took me to coffee and told me how I could progress as a student leader in STAT. Receiving this kind of encouragement prompted me to apply to help plan a state conference hosted at VCU by STAT, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education – Affiliated Student Advancement Programs (CASE ASAP) Virginia. I never could have guessed how this conference would impact my future as a STAT student leader. While still in the midst of helping plan the conference, I applied for a position on STAT’s Leadership Council. I remember being told to wear whatever showed my school spirit for my interview; I ended up wearing a morph suit so, to say the least, I will never forget it. I was selected to serve on the Leadership Council where I was appointed CASE ASAP chair. At CASE ASAP, student leaders in alumni or ambassador groups come together from different colleges to network and help further each other’s organizations. These conferences occur on a state, regional and national level. Being in STAT has given me the opportunity to help plan a state conference and present at two regional and one national conference. I recently became STAT’s director of awards and recognition and am excited to see STAT continue to grow.

Why is it important for students to be involved with an alumni organization?
It’s an excellent opportunity that I think many students don’t realize they have. I know coming into college as a freshman, I was very focused on just simply all the new changes coming and how to deal with them. Once I learned about STAT, I realized the organization is a great way to meet people who have already been in our shoes and prospered through it; those are our alumni. Networking with alumni has not only given me opportunities I couldn’t be more thankful for, but also has given me lifelong mentors.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
Go Rams! Of course I will always continue my connection with VCU. This university and everything it has to offer has shaped me into the young adult I am! The atmosphere of Richmond, the spirit of VCU and the people of my alma mater make this place home for me. I think as an alumni it’s important to give back to those following in our footsteps and allowing them to know they can do this, too.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Travis Weimer

Fourth-year dental student / Founder, General Dentistry Club at VCU / Board member,
student membership, Virginia Academy of General Dentistry / Volunteer, Magic Wheelchair

Why are you involved on campus?
Dental school is hard enough. If I can make it easier for others, then they can get as much as they can out of their education. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and be a problem-finder and not a problem-solver. I started the General Dentistry Club to provide a resource for students like me who are focused on the practice of general dentistry versus a specialty. The club also gives other students an opportunity to be involved and helps prepare them for being a leader within their own practice or company. The experience showed me that with the help of others you can identify a need and fill it.

Why is it important for alumni to stay involved with VCU?
We all want to leave some kind of legacy when we go through our lives, and staying connected to your alma mater is one way. I’d like to remain involved with VCU, especially with the General Dentistry Club, whether it’s providing financial support or advice to the classes coming up after me.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Fred Williams Jr.

Senior, chemical engineering major / President, Activities Programming Board / Squad leader, VCU Ram Camp / Member, VCU Globe / Member, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow / Member, American Institute of Chemical Engineers / PCI chair, National Society of Black Engineers / Participant, 2014 VCU Qatar Leadership Exchange / Member, VCU Rowdy Rams / Resident assistant, VCU Residential Life and Housing

What led you to join VCU’s Activities Programming Board?
After my freshman year, I was looking to get more involved at VCU and stay connected with VCU as I transitioned to my sophomore year. I was looking for something that would enable me to get involved with event planning at VCU but also provide me with an opportunity to learn and grow my network. Fast-forward three years, and I was selected to serve as APB’s first president. I wanted to be president because I was looking for a final opportunity to give back to the VCU community, my peers and my friends.

What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had working with the APB?
Some of my most memorable experiences include being able to meet celebrities such as Iyanla Vanzant, Giancarlo Esposito, Tyler Oakley and Party Next Door. Another memory I will cherish is from the monthly bingo nights. I spent so much time interacting with different people, trying to find a new way to make bingo nights fun and engaging, whether it was entertaining for them by playing pranks, Milly rocking and even saying a few bingo jokes. On a much more serious note, one last thing that I will cherish are my memories of the people I have been able to work with, whether it was blasting Missy Elliott in the office or getting a milkshake from Chick-fil-A on Mondays. Together, we have been able to transform APB into the organization that it is today.

In addition to your involvement with APB, you devote time to other organizations and activities, including the National Society of Black Engineers, Ram Camp and VCU Globe. What motivates you to be so involved on campus?
During my freshman year, I was a participant in the inaugural class of Ram Camp students. Ram Camp jump-started my experience here at VCU by enabling me to see everything that VCU has to offer. When I came to VCU, I was amazed to see so many avenues to get involved, and I took advantage of each opportunity along the way. Getting involved is a part of the college experience; however, I got involved with things that I was interested in and wanted to learn more about. I am really interested in getting to know people of different backgrounds, and getting involved was the best way of aiding me in doing that.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
I definitely plan to stay well connected with VCU after graduation. I spent a lot of time here on campus between the Commons, School of Engineering West Hall and Club Cabell, each time interacting with different people. I think it’s important for alumni to stay involved with their alma mater because it signifies the importance of a college experience. Personally, I have had so many opportunities afforded to me because I chose to attend VCU. Alumni have the ability to help shape the experience of new students and supporting the university by giving back. I can definitely say that I would not be the person that I am today if a few special alumni didn’t support me along my college journey.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Leave your legacy. Join VCU Alumni.

Membership in VCU Alumni creates opportunities for alumni to have a positive influence on VCU and to ensure a powerful legacy for the benefit of future generations. Leave your legacy. Join VCU Alumni today.

Plus, if you join VCU Alumni or renew your membership by May 15, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a three-day car rental from Avis/Budget. Memberships must be purchased by midnight May 15 to be eligible to win. Winners will be announced June 15. Rental car voucher good through June 30, 2018. Join or renew your membership now.

New capstone collaboration: Engineering and business students join forces to build startups

From left, Wesley Bosman, Majid Al Ashari, Jon Dyke, Marcus Massok, Ashraf Al Gumaei, James Walters and Justin Artis (not pictured) are one of 11 interdisciplinary teams of engineering and entrepreneurship students collaborating on capstone projects this year. They are designing — and commercializing — a wearable cardiac arrest detection device. (Courtesy photo)

Students in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering’s Capstone Design course are building entrepreneurship skills alongside students in the VCU School of Business thanks to a new program that teaches engineering and business students how to create a startup.

VCU Engineering’s yearlong Capstone Design course immerses all senior engineering students in the hands-on process of solving real-world problems. This year, 11 VCU Engineering Capstone Design teams have also joined the business school’s two-semester entrepreneurship capstone course, New Venture Strategy and Initiation, to learn the process of launching a new company. The goal is a cross-disciplinary learning experience that results in innovative products — and viable platforms for getting them to consumers. The engineering and business students will team up to present their innovations at the School of Engineering Capstone Expo on April 28 at VCU’s Stuart C. Siegel Center.

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