Students from Iraq, VCU develop social media campaigns for Richmond-area nonprofit organizations

Twenty-four Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program students 13 VCU students are taking the VCU Social Media Institute this summer, and developing social media campaigns for local nonprofit organizations.

Twenty-four Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program students 13 VCU students are taking the VCU Social Media Institute this summer, and developing social media campaigns for local nonprofit organizations.

Dahshti Frya knew how he wanted to spend his summer after talking with some of his close friends back home in northern Iraq — he wanted to travel to the United States.

More specifically, he wanted to attend the seventh annual Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program held at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Humanities and Sciences.

When his peers came back from the IYLEP program and shared their stories of coming to the U.S. and being exposed to a new city and a new way of learning how to assist nonprofit organizations achieve their missions, Frya knew he wanted to experience the same thing.

“There was something in me that wanted to come to America,” Frya said, shortly after giving a group presentation in class of his respective region in Iraq. “My friends that had done IYLEP told me about the city and the nice people and also the things they studied. All these things inspired me to apply for the program.”

Frya is one of 24 IYLEP students, along with 13 current VCU students, enrolled in the VCU Social Media Institute this summer. In the course, students help develop and implement social media campaigns for local nonprofits over a three-week period.

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New da Vinci Center director sees university as a living lab

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, in the former vault housing the center's 3-D printers and other high-tech tools. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, in the former vault housing the center’s 3-D printers and other high-tech tools. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

As associate dean of student entrepreneurship in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Arizona State University, Garret Westlake oversaw the university’s status as the country’s No. 1 most innovative university — beating out Stanford and MIT, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Westlake, who became the executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center July 1, sums up the cause of ASU’s success with an anecdote about the school’s swim coach.

“We had a student robotics team that wanted to test an underwater robot,” Westlake said. “They came to me and said, ‘The deepest body of water in all of Arizona is the ASU swim team and dive pool. Is there any way we can test our robot in the swim team pool?’ I called the swim coach [but] thought this was never going to happen. And his feedback to me was, ‘I understand that entrepreneurship is one of our values at this institution. So anything this team needs to do in the pool outside of hours we can absolutely make it available to them.’

“And I thought a culture where your swim coach recognizes the value of entrepreneurship and innovation and opens the doors to facilities that might not otherwise be thought of as, you know, test beds for new technology, really speaks to an innovative culture across an institution.”

Westlake believes one way to create such a culture is to allow students the opportunity to fail, which means allowing them to put into practice what they’re studying, rather than just sitting in a classroom or reading. Whether that means experimenting with an underwater robot in the pool or a creating a new resin for gloves used by the tennis or golf team, the goal is to turn the whole university into a living lab.

In a Q&A with VCU News, Westlake explained how he has hit the ground running in creating that environment.

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Patients’ quality of life restored after brain surgery

Kathryn Holloway was recently ranked the one of the most active deep brain stimulation surgeons in the nation by Medtronic, a Minnesota-based medical technology company.

Kathryn Holloway was recently ranked the one of the most active deep brain stimulation surgeons in the nation by Medtronic, a Minnesota-based medical technology company.

Eight years ago William Pappadake’s life and his lifestyle were interrupted.

Things he had done effortlessly, like golf, write, and carry his plate during an evening out at dinner, became a debilitating struggle because of a 2008 diagnosis of essential tremor. The disease, a nerve disorder that surfaces in different parts and different sides of the body, caused Pappadake’s hands to tremble uncontrollably. A practicing psychologist, Pappadake was losing his independence in a way that was frightening and progressive.

After his prescribed medication failed to control the tremor, Pappadake’s neurologist suggested he have deep brain stimulation surgery to more aggressively reduce his tremors. His surgery was performed in March by VCU Health neurosurgeon Kathryn Holloway, M.D., who was recently ranked the one of the most active deep brain stimulation surgeons in the nation by Medtronic, a Minnesota-based medical technology company.

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Coffee bike helps Rams in Recovery stay on the road to wellness

A cargo tricycle outfitted with a custom coffee station will create a moveable space for conversations about addiction and recovery at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We are building a bike to ride around campus and around Richmond to share our project and experiences in recovery over cups of coffee,” said John Freyer, assistant professor of cross-disciplinary media in the VCU School of the Arts Department of Photography and Film. “Students from the Rams in Recovery group will be riding this coffee bike around and making pour-over coffee for people.”

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Rising freshman finds his voice through Vocal Arts Project

Trevor White.

Trevor White.

Even though he’s been singing for only three years, rising Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Trevor White had no problem acing the audition for the School of the Arts voice program.

White attributes it to hard work. Lots of hard work. And a bit of kismet.

“That was it,” he said. “If I hadn’t worked hard and I hadn’t had such a strong work ethic, I wouldn’t be here.”

The teen’s first love was drama.

“I loved acting and that was everything I wanted to be — an actor,” White said.

But White’s high school drama department experience was less than stellar. He didn’t have many chances to act, or grow as an actor. Upset at the lack of opportunity, he shifted to music and joined the school’s choir program.

“Through that low point in my life, music was there for me when not a lot of other things were,” White said. “And now I’m pursuing music because I want to be able to give that back and show the power of music to everyone and show how it can help.”

As part of his high school choir, White visited VCU his junior year for the university’s chamber music festival. There, he met Becky Tyree, assistant professor of choral music education in the Department of Music and director and founder of its Vocal Arts Project, an intensive performing arts summer camp for rising sixth-through-12th graders.

White attended the Vocal Arts Project as a camper last year. The experience helped solidify his decision to attend VCU.

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VCU forensic science expert helps Amnesty International investigate atrocities committed in South Sudan, Nigeria

Tal Simmons, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Forensic Science, has long worked at the intersection of forensic science and atrocities, leading projects to document and identify human remains in the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Tal Simmons, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Forensic Science, has long worked at the intersection of forensic science and atrocities, leading projects to document and identify human remains in the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

The photos and videos that arrived in Virginia Commonwealth University forensic science professor Tal Simmons’ email inbox depicted a horrific scene. Bleached white bones were scattered across a field, representing all that remained of several people murdered in South Sudan.

The images were sent by Amnesty International officials investigating and documenting atrocities committed in the country. As part of their investigation, they needed to know how long ago the remains had likely been dumped in the field.

Simmons, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is a forensic anthropologist and an expert in postmortem interval estimation — estimating time-since-death.

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Tiny Tech: A startup bringing big changes to protective clothing

As cell phones and other wireless technologies proliferate, there is growing concern about the health effects of the electromagnetic radiation these devices emit. Tiny Tech, a startup that began in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, is addressing those concerns by weaving effective EM radiation shielding into clothing.

The Tiny Tech team brings together talent from the School of Engineering and the VCU Brandcenter, which is part of the School of Business. Umar Hasni (B.S.’16/En.), a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering, and Margaret Karles (B.S.’14/H&S), a student in the Brandcenter’s Experience Design Program, have joined Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to develop the product and form the company. They are united in their enthusiasm for technology, and in their commitment to make it safer.

“In the age of connectivity, everything is at the touch of our fingertips,” Hasni said. “In order to make that happen, radio frequencies and microwave frequencies are connecting everybody’s devices. You can’t stop technology from progressing — you want it to do better. So we’re focusing on how we can still progress in technology but keep ourselves safe as well.”

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Physical therapy fund provides opportunities for students

Sue Hirt, at right, has had lasting impact on the Department of Phys­ical Therapy through the Sue Hirt Fund.

Sue Hirt, at right, has had lasting impact on the Department of Phys­ical Therapy through the Sue Hirt Fund.

When Joseph D. Wilkins was a child, his father was involved in a serious car crash. The event planted the seeds of a career path.

“From the seventh grade, I wanted to go into physical therapy,” said Wilkins (M.S.’01/AHP; D.P.T.’06/AHP; M.S.H.A.’11/AHP). “After seeing the therapy that helped my father mobilize himself, I wanted to help people walk again. It had a huge impact on me and what I wanted to do.”

But as he searched for a way to attend graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University and pursue his dream of becoming a physical therapist, he realized he was going to need some help.

“Early on, as an undergraduate at William and Mary, I was on an academic scholarship, then I converted to a football scholarship,” Wilkins said. “So coming into graduate school, I was on my own. It seemed a little daunting, but I knew there was a light through the tunnel. I’d be able to survive and support myself.”

A scholarship from the Sue Hirt Fund enabled Wilkins to focus on being a full-time physical therapy student.

“The scholarship helped pay my rent, buy food and provide essentials such as clothing,” he said. “I dedicated my time to school because of the help it provided.”

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At ‘Enchanted Castle’ site, VCU students dig up Virginia history

VCU anthropology students Ben Snyder and Marianne Tokarz sift through dirt, searching for artifacts at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site near Fredericksburg.

VCU anthropology students Ben Snyder and Marianne Tokarz sift through dirt, searching for artifacts at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site near Fredericksburg.

Virginia Commonwealth University history major Jesse Adkins is slowly and steadily pushing a ground-penetrating radar device across a field near Fredericksburg, searching for underground anomalies that could help pinpoint the location of a long-lost 18th-century fort built by Alexander Spotswood, the colonial governor of Virginia from 1710 to 1722.

“She’s really looking for Pokémon,” joked Bernard Means, Ph.D., instructor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“I don’t know,” replied archaeologist Eric Larsen, Ph.D., who was demonstrating how to use the ground-penetrating radar. “Are Pokémon buried underground?”

Jokes aside, Adkins, along with seven other VCU students and recent graduates, as well one University of Mary Washington student, are enrolled in VCU’s archaeology field school, a five-week dig that aims to provide hands-on archaeology experience along with uncovering a piece of early Virginia history.

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Jazz professor releases album 15 years after its recording

Doug Richards, who came to VCU in 1979 to help create the Jazz Studies Program, released the long-overdue album “It’s All in the GAME,” in March.

Doug Richards, who came to VCU in 1979 to help create the Jazz Studies Program, released the long-overdue album “It’s All in the GAME,” in March.

Doug Richards found his passion for music as a boy when his father played a Glenn Miller record, which led him to explore a variety of musical genres. Inspired by artists such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Johann Sebastian Bach, he realized he wanted to make music.

“Great music has great nutritional value for your brain and your soul,” said Richards, now an orchestrator and professor of music at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I hear music in colors, which translate into timbres. I’m an explorer when it comes to music. It’s like telling a story, all great music is a narrative.”

In March, Richards released the long-overdue album “It’s All in the GAME,” which was recorded in 2001. Featuring renowned jazz artists such as René Marie, Jon Faddis and Joe Kennedy Jr. performing as the Great American Music Ensemble, or GAME, the album is rated in the top 50 jazz albums on the Roots Music Report. A Classicalite review of the album describes Richards as “one of the most respected composers/arrangers you’ve never heard of.”

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