Business: Student finds passion in real estate

Kara Nickerson

Kara Nickerson

As academic disciplines go, musical theater and real estate may seem, at first blush, to be very far apart. But for Kara Nickerson, a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, both involve an element of performance that is deeply appealing.

“No matter what you do in real estate,” Nickerson said, “there’s always some type of sales or pitch aspect to your project.”

Since transferring to VCU in 2014, Nickerson has performed so well that last year she became the first recipient of the Virginia Housing Development Authority scholarship and internship, created in memory of Sam Kornblau, a legendary friend and benefactor of the VCU School of Business who served eight years on the VHDA board — including several as chairman.

“Kara is very engaging,” said Robert Taylor, executive director of VCU’s Kornblau Real Estate Program. “She has that drive, that desire and thirst for knowledge.”

Taylor oversees the program’s various forms of outreach, including the Real Estate Trends Conference in October, which typically attracts around 1,400 attendees. He also organizes student enrichment activities such as the Real Estate Circle of Excellence Executive Lecture Series and the recently completed Villanova Real Estate Challenge, where Nickerson helped VCU’s team place fifth among 14 contestants.

Born and raised in Newport News, Nickerson began her academic career at Christopher Newport University where she’d planned to study musical theater. But after only one semester, she changed her tune.

“I kind of realized I really liked musical theater, but maybe it wasn’t a career,” Nickerson said.

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The pride of membership

Every member makes an impact. We can’t wait to hear your story! Share on social media why you’re #RamProud.

Join or upgrade your current membership by June 15 and receive the new VCU Alumni Tech Tattoos. Phone, tablet, laptop — all of your devices can display how proud you are to be a member. Now is the perfect time to join VCU Alumni!

Sims family

Calling all VCU alumni members!


All active, dues-paying members of VCU Alumni are invited to attend the inaugural VCU Alumni Annual Meeting and the Alumni Leaders Colloquium to follow the business meeting.

When: 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, May 16
Where: Snead Hall, Room B1115, School of Business
RSVP: Online by May 14

VCU Alumni officers and committee chairs will review the accomplishments achieved this fiscal year. At the Alumni Leaders Colloquium, the group will discuss various topics including progress reports on last year’s Colloquium findings, as well as moderated panel discussions on effective volunteer leadership structures and diving into “thorny issues.”

If you are not a current member of VCU Alumni and would like to attend this event, join today!

Life Sciences: Alumna wins prestigious grant

Alice Besterman (B.S.'13/L.S.)

Alice Besterman (B.S.’13/LS)

Alice Besterman (B.S.’13/LS) thought she would be an anthropologist, but she was wrong.  Her curiosity simply took a different turn.

Early in her studies at VCU, she transitioned to pursuing a B.S. in environmental science and quickly became immersed in ecological research. She participated as a student in the Panama Avian Field Ecology class in 2011, and from that experience became deeply interested in field ecology and avian research. Under the guidance of Dr. Lesley Bulluck (Biology and CES), she conducted an Independent Study, the goal of which was to examine how caterpillar prey resources might affect Prothonotary Warbler reproductive success.  Simultaneously, Besterman developed an interest in wetland ecosystems (thanks in part to taking Wetland Ecology from Dr. Ed Crawford) and pursued opportunities in wetlands research, including interning as a hydrologic technician for the U.S. Geological Survey.

After graduating from VCU, she enrolled at the University of Virginia, and is currently a first-year Ph.D. student working in Dr. Michael Pace’s lab, seeking ways to integrate her interests in birds, wetlands and ecosystem processes. Following up on previous graduate students’ work, she currently is interested in addressing the effects to mudflat ecosystems caused by an invasive seaweed, Gracilaria vermiculophylla. This invader proliferates on tidal flats throughout the barrier island/lagoon system along the eastern shore of Virginia. Previous work has found that this macroalga is associated with increased numbers of benthic invertebrates, as well as higher concentrations of pathogenic strains of Vibrio bacteria. Vibrio can become concentrated in the meat of filter-feeding molluscs, and so can pose a health risk to shellfish consumers. For her dissertation she is interested in investigating how the changes to the spatial dynamics of benthic invertebrates caused by this alga may lead to upward cascading effects for shorebird feeding, possibly resulting in changes to Vibrio abundance and distribution.

Recently, Besterman was awarded a fellowship from The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (often abbreviated NSF GRFP).  This program awards students early in their graduate careers with stipend and educational funds. Submissions must include a research proposal and also a personal statement describing the applicant’s interest in science, background, and future goals. Around 2,000 awards are given out each year across all fields of science. The fellowship provides $34,000 per year of stipend money given directly to the fellow, and $12,000 per year of educational costs for three years. Fellows also qualify to apply for NSF grants that foster professional development and research opportunities, such as internships with federal agencies and international collaborations.

VCU Life Sciences, the VCU Center for Environmental Studies and the VCU Rice Rivers Center all congratulate Ms. Besterman on her accomplishments and look forward to seeing the results of her ongoing research.

Pharmacy: School shines at 2015 APhA Annual Meeting

APhA attendees included VCU School of Pharmacy Dean Joseph T. DiPiro (left); APhA president-elect and SOP alumna Kelly Goode (B.S.'89/P; Pharm.D.'94/P); and Tom Menighan, APhA executive vice president and CEO. / Photo by Cecily DiPiro

APhA attendees included VCU School of Pharmacy Dean Joseph T. DiPiro (left); APhA president-elect and SOP alumna Kelly Goode (B.S.’89/P; Pharm.D.’94/P); and Tom Menighan, APhA executive vice president and CEO. / Photo by Cecily DiPiro

About 20 VCU School of Pharmacy faculty, residents and students attended the American Pharmacists Association 2015 Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego in March.

The school was well-represented on a number of levels, including national recognition:

Among the poster presenters were Hannah Kuhn (2014-15 SOP Community Pharmacy Resident), Toni Larson (Pharm.D.’14/P; 2014-15 SOP Community Pharmacy Resident), Alyssa Lesko (2014-15 SOP Community Pharmacy Resident), Anjana Patel (2014-15 SOP Community Pharmacy Resident), Gayle Tuckett (Pharm.D.’12/P), Mackenzie Page VonCanon (Pharm.D.’14/P; 2014-15 SOP Community Pharmacy Resident); Whitney Webb (Pharm.D.’14/P) and Meagan Williams (2014-15 SOP Community Pharmacy Resident); and Pharm.D. students Jessica Cerullo, Nellie Jafari and Kristina Luong.

If you are a VCU SOP alumna or alumnus who presented or was recognized at the APhA meeting, please let us know by contacting

Athletics: VCU President Michael Rao’s statement on the hiring of coach Will Wade

Following is a statement from Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., on the hiring of VCU men’s basketball coach Will Wade:

I am pleased to welcome Coach Wade back home to Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the ideal leader for our men’s basketball team; even more, he will be an excellent representative for our entire university.

I am grateful to Ed McLaughlin and his team for their quick and thoughtful leadership in recruiting Coach Wade. I also appreciate those who have continued to elevate our program and our university nationally — including our players and fans — which has allowed us to bring aboard a rising star like Will Wade.

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Education: Register for the ninth annual golf tournament

golf-itemno-12Please join us for the School of Education Alumni Council’s ninth annual golf tournament. The tournament follows a captain’s choice format, with a shotgun start.

When: April 24 (11:30 a.m. check-in; 1 p.m. play begins)
Where: Brickshire Golf Club, 5520 Virginia Park Drive, Providence Forge, VA 23140

A tournament dinner will follow the event, starting at 6 p.m. There are still spots available for both sponsors and tournament participants. If you are interested in attending the event in either capacity, please fill out a registration form below. Email your completed form to Susan Younce at


Pharmacy: 2015-16 Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow selected

Rita A. Habib

Rita A. Habib

Rita A. Habib of Pittsburgh has been named the 2015-16 Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow. The fellowship, designed to offer pharmacists insight into health care policy analysis and development, is jointly sponsored by VCU School of Pharmacy, the American College of Clinical Pharmacy and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Medicine: CCTR Cancer and Molecular Medicine Ph.D. concentration confirms first graduate

Lauren Folgosa Cooley comes from a family of doctors, nurses and physical therapists, which is partly why she came to Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in 2010 to earn her M.D.

She was happy to follow a familiar familial path, but she also wanted to chart her own route. That’s why she chose to make a significant addition to her medical school curriculum: a Ph.D.

“Why I want to be a doctor has evolved over time,” she said. “It morphed into, ‘I can help people more. I can try to come up with ideas to make better treatments and better ways to help our patients.’”

In March, Cooley solidified her place among those who can and will discover the treatments of tomorrow when she became the first person to complete the Ph.D. concentration in cancer and molecular medicine at the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research.

The CaMM concentration, one of two at the CCTR, is designed to train students in the research skills required to perform translational research in cancer and molecular medicine. Translational research focuses on multidisciplinary collaboration that accelerates laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients.

Students from the VCU School of Medicine who choose to pursue a Ph.D. complete two years of medical school, then complete a Ph.D. program before finishing the remainder of medical school.

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VCU Libraries: Topping Off Ceremony

On March 18, thousands gathered on the Compass, the geographic heart of the VCU Monroe Park campus, to celebrate a major milestone: the topping off, or structural completion, of the new and much needed building currently being constructed beside James Branch Cabell Library. A 20-foot-long steel beam painted in VCU gold was placed on the Compass, and members of the extended VCU community, including community supporters, were invited to sign their names and write their best wishes for the library’s future. In just four hours, the beam was visited by some 3,000 signers. The library’s Innovative Media department created a green-screen photo booth beside the beam, and signers stopped to have their pictures taken in front of renderings of the new building, with the message “Greetings from your future library!” At a concluding ceremony, the crowd watched as the beam was lifted to the top of the new building and bolted into place.

The same afternoon, University Librarian John E. Ulmschneider and other leadership went on an extensive behind-the-scenes hard-hat tour. Attendees noted the impressive scale of the new building and the breathtaking views of the surrounding area. And a luncheon was held at the Scott House as a special thank you to longtime library supporters, board members and representatives from the VCU administration, Shepley Bulfinch and Mosely Architects–all of whom have been instrumental in bringing the construction process this far.