After graduating from VCU program, young people with intellectual disabilities find employment and fulfilling, independent lives

Troy Carter, who graduated this spring from ACE-IT in College, is working at Richmond Region Tourism.

Troy Carter, a 20-year-old from Henrico County with an intellectual disability, was told in high school that attending college was likely out of the question, and that his future career options would be limited.

But Carter knew he wanted more out of life. He applied to Virginia Commonwealth University’s ACE-IT in College program for students with intellectual disabilities. In ACE-IT, Carter and his classmates took VCU classes, worked on campus in part-time jobs and participated in internships — all with the goal of securing employment in each of their individual areas of interest.

“I always keep my eyes on the prize,” he said.

In the spring, Carter was one of five students to graduate from ACE-IT. Shortly after graduation, he landed a job with Richmond Region Tourism.

“Troy is great and we are connecting very well,” said Michelle G. Lovatt, vice president of administration for Richmond Region Tourism. “He is working for all departments of our organization and will help with all kinds of projects. He made packets … for our I Am Tourism ambassador program and he started an inventory project in our visitor center.”

Including Carter, all five students in this year’s ACE-IT graduating class have landed competitive post-graduation jobs that will allow them to live more independent and fulfilling lives.

“It’s so important to be independent because you can’t rely on your family all the time,” Carter said. “It’s sad but true, but your family is not always going to be there for you in life. So you have to learn to do things yourself.”

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50 years after Virginia’s first heart transplant, $1M gift breathes new life into historic lab

The former laboratory of Richard Lower, M.D., the pioneering surgeon who performed the first heart transplant in Virginia in 1968, will be transformed into a $5 million suite of research facilities.

How in the world do you thank anyone for saving your life three times?” It’s a poignant question for David Cottrell.

When Cottrell arrived at VCU Medical Center, he thought he had the flu. He had no idea just how ill he was — or how much time he would spend in the hospital. His actual diagnosis: a staph infection, which led first to bacterial spinal meningitis, then spread to his heart valves. He experienced multiple strokes and began to experience multisystem organ failure.

The outlook seemed bleak, but a large, diverse team at VCU Medical Center oversaw Cottrell’s care, navigating each challenge and complication that arose. Through the most harrowing times of his illness, he and his wife, Christy, never gave up. “We never lost faith in the quality of the care or team that surrounded us,” Christy Cottrell said. And the couple took advantage of the academic health center’s collaborative approach, listening to the team and knowing that the team was listening to them. After 10 months and four surgeries ­­— including three open-heart procedures — David Cottrell was truly on the road to recovery.

“I have been able to retire, spend more time with my family, travel and focus on the things I love,” Cotrell said of his life today. “I was able to walk my daughter Leah down the aisle. I owe the teams at VCU my life.”

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Help welcome VCU’s newest students this summer

Join VCU Alumni and VCU New Student and Family Programs for our summer send-offs. Come enjoy conversation with members of VCU’s Class of 2022 before they start their college careers. We will have hearty hors d’oeuvres and beverages to savor while welcoming VCU’s newest students and their families.

The summer send-offs are a great opportunity for incoming students to learn from alumni in a networking-type setting about VCU, post-grad life and what it means to be a Ram. They also give alumni a chance to connect with the newest members of the community.

Send-offs have been planned for late July and early August in Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., Charlotte, N.C., Virginia Beach, Va., Washington, D.C., and Roanoke, Va. Alumni are invited to register here.

Scientist, artist, inventor, dean: The many sides of Shawn Brixey

After two semesters at VCU, Shawn Brixey sees the School of the Arts in the position of upholding a large legacy, while at the same time projecting into the future.

At first glance, Shawn Brixey’s lab looks like any other in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering.

For starters, there are optical isolation tables, lasers, video microscopes, circuit board printers, oscilloscopes, and computer numeric control machine tools. It looks and feels a lot like a hybrid physics/engineering lab.

Brixey, dean of the VCU School of the Arts since July, is perhaps the first art school dean to have a laboratory rather than a studio. To be sure, Brixey is a rarity — equal parts artist and scientist.

With strong arts, design, science and engineering knowledge — and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology education — Brixey is equally comfortable among scientists as he is with artists. He recognizes that scientists share the same sense of awe and wonder, derived from the same place, as artists.

“We use different methodology and we approach creative problem solving differently,” he said. “But one of our fundamental goals is as we experience the structure and behavior of the world around us through observation, experiment, intervention and expression, we both want to discover what it means to be human and then document that in ways that no one’s ever really imagined.”

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With a $1M gift, alumna Iris Harrell and wife Ann Benson create a new scholarship for gender, sexuality and women’s studies at VCU

Ann Benson and Iris Harrell have made a $1 million planned gift to the College of Humanities and Sciences to support students studying in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

When Iris Harrell’s (M.E.’75/E) parents got divorced during her junior year at what is now the University of Mary Washington, her college education was left in jeopardy. She didn’t have enough money to supplement the scholarships that had allowed her to be the first member of her North Carolina farming family to attend college.

“But [Mary Washington administrators] went into a back room and found some scholarships that they hadn’t awarded,” Harrell said. “They just gave it to me and I was able to finish school. And my life has been way different — and better — because I got a college degree.”

Harrell, who went on to earn a master’s degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education in 1975, taught for several years, was a touring folk musician and ultimately founded a successful construction and remodeling company in California with her wife, Ann Benson, is now giving back to help students like her obtain an education.

Harrell and Benson have made a $1 million planned gift to the College of Humanities and Sciences to create the Harrell-Benson Scholarship for students in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

“Scholarships are about your legacy,” Harrell said. “I got mine. I want to make sure that the next generation of people get theirs.”

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VCU forensic science professor’s breakthrough in cell imaging could have major impact in crime labs

Unlike traditional forensic testing methods, Christopher Ehrhardt’s procedure can be used to identify different cell types in a sample without damaging the sample.

A Virginia Commonwealth University researcher has developed a procedure for identifying the source of cells present in a forensic biological sample that could change how cell types are identified in samples across numerous industries.

Many traditional techniques for distinguishing between saliva, blood, skin or vaginal tissue in an evidence sample are based on microchemical reactions that can be prone to false-positive or false-negative results, according to the researcher, Christopher Ehrhardt, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Additionally, they may be difficult to use on aged or heavily degraded samples.

“The information is often limited,” Ehrhardt said. “And when using conventional methods, you have to be prepared to consume part of the sample in most cases, which decreases the value of it.”

VCU receives funding for oyster restoration work

 

The partnership with Toadfish Outfitters will allow VCU to plant more than 2 million oysters in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program has partnered with Toadfish Outfitters of Charleston, South Carolina, to advance its efforts to replenish oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Toadfish Outfitters, a manufacturer of coastal lifestyle products, has designated the VOSRP as the sole recipient of proceeds from the sale of Toadfish products in Virginia. VOSRP will use the funding initially to acquire 20 million oyster larvae that will be planted on recycled oyster shell placed in Chesapeake Bay waterways. This will allow VCU to plant more than 2 million oysters in the watershed, and coincides with Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week.

“Oysters are the ultimate friend of the coast as they help to keep our waters clean,” said Casey Davidson, founder of Toadfish Outfitters. “Since day one, we’ve promised to give back a portion of every product sold toward oyster habitat restoration, so working with VCU was a natural fit.”

VOSRP, part of VCU’s Rice Rivers Center, is a collaborative, community-based oyster restoration program that works closely with the Virginia seafood industry. The VOSRP currently collects recycled oyster shells from more than 50 restaurants and 30 public drop-off locations statewide to use in the creation of sanctuary oyster reefs. The shells are seeded with juvenile oysters before they are planted. These efforts are direly needed because the Virginia oyster population is currently estimated to be at two percent of peak numbers.

“We are excited about the new partnership between Toadfish Outfitters and the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program to help bring the Virginia oyster back to Chesapeake Bay,” said Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of VCU Rice Rivers Center. “The work of Toadfish has supported oyster restoration in other states and this contribution will advance our waterway conservation efforts.”

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A new positioning system invented by a VCU professor delivers where GPS fails

Wei Cheng’s system allows a group of devices to know where they are in relation to one another, and could have hundreds of practical applications, from finding a friend at a concert to locating a Lyft driver at the airport.

A Virginia Commonwealth University computer science professor has developed a system that could change how we find friends in crowded places, Uber drivers in busy cities, and even family spread across a cruise ship.

Unlike GPS, which provides location data based on latitude and longitude, this new system — invented by Wei Cheng, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering — tells users where they are compared to others.

The system allows a group of devices to know where they are in relation to one another, what direction each device is traveling, and how fast each is moving.

“Think of this technology like a swarm of bees,” Cheng said. “The bees all know where the other bees are, and where they’re going.”

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VCU College of Engineering breaks ground on new research building and makerspace

From left: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Barbara Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering; and VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., break ground on VCU’s Engineering Research Building.

Virginia Commonwealth University leaders and dignitaries gathered Tuesday to break ground on a 133,000-square-foot research building that will significantly expand the College of Engineering’s laboratory capacity and serve as a collaboration hub for students and faculty.

The new Engineering Research Building, scheduled to open in 2020, will support advanced research and economic development with a design that emphasizes makerspaces, collaborative research facilities and flexible gathering areas. Richmond-based architecture firms Baskervill and Smith McClane Architects and Boston-based firm Goody Clancy designed the $93 million building, which is being financed by investments from the state, VCU and private support. Washington, D.C.-based Page/SST Planners designed the laboratory spaces.

“The college was established as a public-private partnership with a mandate to educate engineers who will fuel economic development in the region. The ERB reflects our commitment to meeting this goal,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering and the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Chair. “Virginia’s support of this critical addition to our teaching and research mission is a strong vote of confidence in our program. We are proud to step into this next phase of our development with the commonwealth as our partner.”

The building will support student-centered learning, meaningful research, workforce development and a culture that promotes creativity, entrepreneurship and global perspectives.

The ERB’s entrance at Cary and Belvidere streets, designed by Smith McClane Architects of Richmond, will continue the college’s tradition of architectural details that refer to past eras of engineering advances. The building’s pavilion design alludes to the 19th-century dawn of industrial engineering with a roofline that features updated smokestacks. A brick-and-glass pavilion and large courtyard will feature power-equipped seating areas so students can research and collaborate outdoors as well as in the large internal atrium.

The building’s first floor will include the office of Engineering Career Services and economic development resources for the college’s internship and co-op programs. A 9,000-square-foot Innovation Maker Facility, supported by a gift from Altria, will foster hands-on engineering and prototype development skills essential for transition into careers in industry. With resources that include 3D printing, bench electrical fabrication, tabletop equipment and hand tools, the makerspace will stimulate knowledge-sharing, collaborative problem-solving and the rapid design of new ideas.

Floors two, three and four will house faculty research labs, offices, spaces for graduate and undergraduate student research and interactive areas for group seminars. Multidisciplinary and collaborative faculty research “neighborhoods” will be furnished with wet laboratory facilities for biomedical research and dry laboratory spaces.

High-resolution renderings of the building are available for download on the college’s Flickr page.

Make It Real Campaign for VCU passes $600 million

Funds raised so far in the Make It Real Campaign for VCU have established 261 new endowed scholarships and student support funds.

Virginia Commonwealth University has raised $613.5 million toward its $750 million goal in the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, the university announced today.

Fiscal year 2018 has been the best fundraising year of the campaign so far, with $105.6 million raised to date. The university’s fiscal year ends June 30.

The campaign, which began with a quiet phase in July 2012 and launched publicly in September 2016, is the largest fundraising effort in the university’s history. It counts all funds raised through June 30, 2020.

Gifts to the Make It Real Campaign for VCU support critical university initiatives and growth in three areas: people, innovations and environments.

“This is an incredible milestone in the Make It Real Campaign for VCU and in the history of VCU as a whole,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “Our goal is ambitious, but so is our vision. Gifts made to this campaign help us continue transforming the lives of our students, fueling research that improves the human situation, and driving economic development long into the future. I am so grateful to our alumni and friends for the generosity and leadership that enables us to be a public university for the public good.”

Funds raised so far in the campaign have established 261 new endowed scholarships and student support funds, 52 new endowed professorships and chairs, and 72 new endowed faculty support and research funds. They have also supported a number of new buildings, including the Institute for Contemporary Art at the Markel Center, the Inger Rice Lodge at the Rice Rivers Center and a new building for the VCU College of Health Professions.

Of the $105.6 million raised this fiscal year, $38.9 million came from VCU alumni — including 1,789 first-time alumni donors — an increase of 80.4 percent in the committed revenue raised during the same time last year. Fifteen of 19 colleges, schools and units have raised more than 60 percent of their individual campaign fundraising goals. The College of Engineering and School of Education have exceeded their campaign goals and are having their best fundraising years so far. The College of Humanities and Sciences, College of Health Professions and School of Business also are having their best fundraising years to date.

“We cannot thank our donors enough for their generous support of VCU and VCU Health during the Make It Real Campaign for VCU,” said Jay E. Davenport, vice president of development and alumni relations. “We have always had a very generous community, but in this record-setting year, the support has been second to none. It is particularly gratifying to see more alumni giving back. They may be part of our history, but their support is guaranteeing a robust future not just for the students and patients of today and tomorrow but in everything we do.”

For more information about the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, visit campaign.vcu.edu.