VCU and VCU Health name inaugural recipient of endowed professorship in quality, safety and service

Gene Peterson, M.D., Ph.D.

Gene Peterson, M.D., Ph.D.

Gene Peterson, M.D., Ph.D., has been appointed to the Professorship for Safety, Quality and Service in Resident Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Peterson joined VCU in 2013 as an associate dean for patient safety and quality care in the School of Medicine and chief safety and quality officer for VCU Health.

Peterson is the first incumbent to receive this recognition, which honors his exemplary contributions to teaching, research and public service. Commitment to safety, quality and service is an integral part of the VCU vision to make a difference as a major research university, which Peterson has helped to shape and design.

“VCU Health is on a journey to become the nation’s safest health care system,” said Jerome Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and executive vice president of medical affairs for VCU Health. “Achieving that goal starts with establishing the fundamental knowledge and behaviors on which all our future practitioners can build upon. From the classroom, to the simulation lab, and to the bedside, Dr. Peterson is the leader who makes these fundamentals stick. There is no one better suited to receive this recognition.”

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More than 400 people turn out for a Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion


The Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion was held Wednesday in the Richmond Salons in the University Student Commons.

The Richmond Salons in the University Student Commons were bursting at the seams Wednesday with students, faculty, staff and alumni eager to discuss diversity and inclusion at Virginia Commonwealth University.

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., announced the hour-long Presidential Forum on Diversity and Inclusion last week after a group of students rallied at the Compass in support of black students at the University of Missouri protesting discrimination.

At a meeting with the president last Friday, students shared their concerns about diversity and inclusion at VCU, including a lack of black faculty, the need for cultural competency training, hiring an ombudsperson to respond to student concerns and more financial support for cultural student organizations.

Rao credited the students for prompting an important conversation.

“I do believe that we all have the same vision for VCU – that everyone of any background can and will thrive and be successful,” Rao said. “We have a very clear vision. We know that the success of our people is at the center of it.”

The audience burst into applause when Rao told them “I want you to know that I think black lives matter.”

Following Rao’s introductory remarks, student Angelique Scott invited other student organizers to join her in front of the room as she read a prepared statement.

“What the black students at Mizzou are currently experiencing could be at VCU,” Scott said. “While VCU’s racial tension is not at their highest, VCU has failed black students at many levels. We are tired of hearing about old initiatives that have not reached measurable outcomes. We need VCU to end its search for cosmetic diversity and reach real diversity.”

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VCU School of Medicine names new Department of Neurosurgery chair


Alex Valadka, M.D.

Virginia Commonwealth University recently appointed Alex Valadka, M.D. (H.S.’93/M), as chair of the Department of Neurosurgery in the School of Medicine.

Valadka succeeds founding chair Harold F. Young, M.D., who joined VCU as a professor of neurosurgery in 1976.

“Alex Valadka is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of neurosurgery and traumatic brain injury,” said Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “He has led major clinical trials in brain injury and is a sought-after consultant. He will enrich an already exceptional community of traumatic brain injury researchers at VCU and VCU Health.”

After earning his medical degree at the University of Chicago in 1987, Valadka completed his residency training in neurosurgery at VCU. “I knew I wanted to study neurotrauma and critical care, and my adviser told me to go to VCU because it was the best place in the world to learn about nervous system trauma and critical care research,” Valadka said.

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With help from VCU class, five Richmond-area immigrants sworn in as U.S. citizens

VCU students pose with new U.S. citizens Daisy Pinto, Giancarlo Orsatti and Ariadna Rendon (center) outside the federal courthouse in downtown Richmond.

VCU students pose with new U.S. citizens Daisy Pinto, Giancarlo Orsatti and Ariadna Rendon (center) outside the federal courthouse in downtown Richmond.

Twelve years after leaving their native country of Mexico and settling in the Richmond area, siblings Giancarlo Orsatti and Ariadna Rendon became U.S. citizens this week, having been guided through the naturalization process by a service-learning course at Virginia Commonwealth University that assists the local immigrant population.

“Now we have a voice in our country. We can vote for president. And we now have more opportunities as citizens than as residents,” said Orsatti, an HIV counselor and psychology student at John Tyler Community College who will be transferring to VCU in the fall.

Orsatti and Rendon took part in a class taught by Anita Nadal (B.A.’05/H&S; Cert.’07/H&S), an assistant professor of Spanish, and her students at VCU that teaches Richmond-area immigrants English and prepares them for the U.S. citizenship test.

“It’s important to me because we’re now part of this country,” said Rendon, who works as a medical interpreter for VCU Health. “Before, we [lived here] but we didn’t fully belong. Now that we’re sworn in, we are committed to serve this country. It’s special.”

The brother and sister were among five students who took the class and were sworn in as U.S. citizens on Wednesday at the federal courthouse in downtown Richmond.

“There aren’t words to express how powerful it is to see the outcome of our service-learning course – the outcome of five new U.S. citizens,” Nadal said, outside the courthouse on Wednesday. “I’m just too emotional to describe how it feels. It’s just amazing.”

The class was supported by a $20,000 community engagement grant called “A Welcoming Richmond.” These grants are awarded annually by the Council for Community Engagement and administered by VCU’s Division of Community Engagement.

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Swim, study, bike, study, run: Samone Franzese balances medical school and triathlon

Samone Franzese

Samone Franzese

Medical students face long days of clinical rotations, long nights of studying and intense pressure to succeed. As a result, students seek activities outside of school that help them relax and decompress. For many students this means spending time with their families, reading a good book or volunteering in the community. For Samone Franzese, however, unwinding means intense training sessions two times a day to prepare for her next triathlon.

On a typical day, Franzese, a fourth-year student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, starts by heading to the pool to swim for an hour, then comes to campus for eight to 10 hours, and then heads out for another hour or two of training at the track or on her bike.

This routine changes depending on her school schedule — a surgery rotation that required 70- to 80-hour work weeks limited her training to key track and bike workouts, and required more time management. She intentionally scheduled her pediatrics rotation during the summer to try to avoid getting sick.

A long-time runner, Franzese was introduced to triathlon while recovering from an injury during her first year of medical school. “I was talking to a trainer who was helping me get back to running, and she suggested I join the triathlon team because there would be more variety in my training and a group to work with,” said Franzese. “That sounded great to me, so I joined and just fell in love with triathlon. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”

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Students create artwork and books to benefit children in need


Last year, three Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts students created an online shop, DoDream, to raise funds for a child in poverty. Proceeds from the sales of art such as calendars, note cards and clocks go to their surrogate brother Adolof Imbiri, a 10-year-old in Indonesia.

Wanting to help more children, especially those in need locally, the students are expanding their charitable efforts to distribute original children’s storybooks to local orphanages and hospitals for free.

The DoDream team — communication arts majors Woojin Ahn and Jane Lee, and graphic arts student SongYae Han — enlisted English students from the College of Humanities and Sciences to write stories aimed at 6- to 12-year olds about overcoming suffering. The art students are illustrating the books.

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Pediatric emergency medicine chair receives statewide honor

Robin Foster, M.D.

Robin Foster, M.D.

The chair of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University has received the prestigious Virginia Governor’s EMS Award for Outstanding Contribution for Children.

Robin Foster, M.D. (M.D.’89/M; H.S.’92/M), a longtime advocate for children and pediatric health care in Virginia and medical director of pediatric emergency medicine at CHoR, received the honor on Saturday at an awards ceremony held in conjunction with the 36th annual Virginia EMS Symposium in Norfolk.

Each year, the statewide award recognizes an individual or organization that exemplifies outstanding dedication and service to the contribution, development and enhancement of EMS for children in Virginia.

“It is overwhelming to receive this recognition for that work when every day I see the sacrifices and the commitment of [Office of Emergency Medical Services] and EMS providers to the health and well-being of every person in the commonwealth,” Foster said.

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VCU representatives visit Cuba as part of historic higher education delegation

IIE delegation on the steps of the Universidad de La Habana

IIE delegation on the steps of the Universidad de La Habana

Virginia Commonwealth University recently participated in a historic delegation visit to Cuba from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1. R. McKenna Brown, Ph.D., Global Education Office senior international officer; Joseph H. Seipel, dean of the School of the Arts; and Joann Richardson, Ph.D., associate professor and director of undergraduate studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, represented VCU in the delegation. The purpose of this visit, led by the Institute of International Education, was for U.S. universities to learn more about the current state of higher education in Cuba and to explore potential partnership opportunities. The visit was part of a broader initiative that seeks to reinvigorate higher education engagement between the U.S. and Cuba in light of the opening of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“For years, VCU has partnered with universities around the world that provide our students with global opportunities that enrich their educational experience,” Brown said. “We were thrilled to participate in this historic event that promises new research and teaching collaborations with our Cuban neighbors and the potential to expand VCU’s global footprint in this region.”

“I really approached this opportunity with an open mind,” Richardson said. “It was incumbent upon us as academics to not allow the politics between the U.S. and Cuba over the last 50 years to cloud our ability to see the possibilities that the future holds. And they didn’t.”

In particular, Richardson sought to explore opportunities related to the medical and health care fields.  “Cuba has a universal health care system and much of their medical practice focuses on prevention,” she said. “With the emergence of a more preventative health care model here in the U.S., I was interested in exploring how their systems operate and determining how studying them might shape sustainable student and faculty exchanges.”

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Medical student and professor honored by Medical Society of Virginia


Yeri Park

Michael Czekajlo, M.D.

Michael Czekajlo, M.D.

Yeri Park, a student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, and Michael Czekajlo, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, were honored by the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation last month. Park and Czekajlo were presented with Salute to Service Awards at the MSV’s annual meeting in Chantilly on Oct. 24.

Park received the Service by a Medical Student Award for her impact on medically underserved communities. She served as the pharmacy chair for the 2014 Honduras Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort trip to the Dominican Republic that provided preventive care for more than 1,000 patients. In addition, Park is co-founder of the Farmworker Health Outreach project on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, which is focused on the needs of migrant workers, and she also volunteers with the Mattaponi Healing Eagle Clinic, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry and the Center for High Blood Pressure.

Czekajlo was presented with the Service to the International Community Award. It acknowledges his long-term service and commitment, including establishing the CPR for Schools program in Poland, which has now trained 1 million school children in the mechanics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He also introduced innovative technology at an interdisciplinary simulation center in Poland that trains about 5,000 each year, teaching Polish health professions students the key aspects of treating heart disease and training American military and first responders on critical care practice.

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VCU ignites flame in the heart of alumnus

“My mother gave me coloring books when I was a child,” says Neil Duman (B.F.A.’77/A). “Instead of giving the little people solid-colored shirts, I made them all have plaid shirts. That’s how it started.”

Being artistically inclined from a young age, Duman excelled in art classes at school, and his skills led him to display his pieces at local art shows. As a result of his early success, he was accepted into the art program at I.C. Norcom in Portsmouth, Virginia, during its first year as a magnet high school, and he was also offered space in the summer ceramics program at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia.

Despite his talent, Duman never pictured himself as a professional artist. Instead, he wanted to become an art therapist, helping people cope with their problems through creative expression.

He enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he planned to complete an undergraduate degree in art and then enter graduate school to further study art therapy. Duman had dabbled in nearly every artistic medium before attending VCU, so he met with his assigned adviser, Kent Ipsen, a professor of craft and material studies in the School of the Arts, to discuss what he should do next.

“We went through the list of options, and he looks at me and says, ‘Have you ever blown glass?’ I told him I haven’t tried that one yet, and he told me to meet him in class at 8 a.m. Monday morning,” Duman says.

He recalls walking down the driveway behind the President’s House on West Franklin Street, which at the time was where the glass and metal workshops were located. He remembers hearing the sound of the exhaust fans and the roar of the furnace, feeling its heat in the air, and saying to himself, “This will be fun.”

“When I was close to graduating, there was a sociology professor, Bernie Scotch, taking a few glassblowing classes as well, and one day I was talking with him and he told me his wife, Charlotte, was an art therapist,” Duman says. “So I had dinner with them one night, and she told me it’s not the best place to be, it wasn’t really catching on.”

After that conversation, Duman again met with Ipsen, also a glassblower, who persuaded him to continue studying glass at the graduate level. After completing his bachelor’s degree, focusing on both metal and glasswork, Duman was working as a graduate teaching assistant at VCU when Harvey Littleton, one of the pioneers of the contemporary glass movement, visited his class to critique student work. He asked Duman if he planned to become a teacher.

“I looked at him like he was crazy,” Duman says. “Dealing with the students and the parents just as a TA was hard enough. I wanted to learn.”

Littleton told Duman that unless he wanted to teach, he’d learn more at home opening up a glass shop in his backyard, and that’s exactly what he did.

Since then, he’s been blowing glass out of his studio in Waynesboro, Virginia, and teaching whenever he gets the chance. Duman has created numerous pieces throughout the years including the piece that impresses him the most, a commission for a church in Maryland. The piece features three glass birds with 41-inch wingspans mounted on blue steel rods standing nearly 12 feet high. The sculpture is strategically situated in the church’s main lobby so that when the sanctuary doors open, it’s visible from the center aisle.

“When I finished that one, I just looked back and said, ‘Woah, I made that,’” Duman says.

He also designed this year’s VCU Alumni Stars award. Ipsen designed and created the original Alumni Stars award that was presented to honorees in previous years. Duman wanted to honor Ipsen’s original design with the techniques he learned from his former adviser while staying true to his own style.

“If it wasn’t for VCU and Kent, I would never have blown glass to begin with. Everything in my life would have been different,” he says. “I can’t really say whether it would be better or worse, but I know I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I have.”

– Article by Anthony Langley, video by William Gilbert