Getting a college degree isn’t easy for anyone.
Exams, essays, research projects, impossible assignments, demanding teachers, late nights and occasional bouts with self doubt confront everyone. Perseverance is a prerequisite.
Circumstances also can intervene, placing meddlesome and occasionally serious roadblocks unrelated to school in the way. Sometimes, the greatest challenges take place outside of the classroom. Sometimes, getting to college is the toughest part.
That’s why graduation day always holds a special power. The obstacles have been cleared and the prize finally captured. All of the hard work has reaped its reward.
VCU will hold fall commencement exercises on Dec. 14 at the Siegel Center, honoring approximately 2,600 graduates from August and December.
The stories below highlight just three of the thousands of stories of great resolve among VCU’s newest graduates.
Katie Chapin knew they had a good idea. She just didn’t know how good. Chapin was part of a team of students in the VCU Brandcenter wrestling with a project for a local branding effort. Venture Richmond, an organization devoted to enhancing the vitality of the Richmond community, was exploring ways to brand Richmond as a way of building pride within the city and attracting attention outside of it.
Chapin’s class had been tapped to develop concepts. Chapin and her partners, who included Jarrod Higgins, Michael Whitten, Cecilia Bogardus, Pankaj Rawat and Sara Cobaugh, had come up with a deceptively simple concept: A logo with the letters “RVA” that was a sort of blank canvas, open to interpretation by artists, businesses, organizations, anyone who wanted to place their own personal stamp on it. The idea, they figured, was that the brand would be the community’s in the most authentic way possible.
“It was a way to give people a chance to own that term,” Chapin said. “Richmond means different things to different people.”
On workdays, Daisy Pollock wakes up and takes her usual bath. She has her nails cleaned, her teeth and hair brushed, and then she slides into her blue uniform. Some days a local commercial in which she currently stars will play on the TV across the room.
This is the usual prep work to make sure she’s clean and ready to see patients at the VCU Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, where she routinely visits some of the facilities’ sickest patients.
Daisy has encountered more than 2,300 patients in her celebrated four years on the job and shows no signs of slowing down.
At work, she moves swiftly from room to room, patient to patient and admiring staff member to admiring staff member. Research has demonstrated that her presence twice a week at the hospitals reduces fear, anxiety and depression in patients and triggers positive effects on physiological patterns such as blood pressure and heart rate.
You may be surprised when stepping off the elevator on the fourth floor of James Branch Cabell Library. But don’t worry, that’s not a piece of driftwood you’re looking at. It’s a bookshelf.
Cabell Library’s newest art installation is the work of five Art Foundation students in a class called Space Research. The students were challenged to design and build bookshelves, each with a similar function and a unique artistic vision. The shelves are on display throughout the library, through Dec. 5.
“I asked each artist to draw a fantasy research shelf on a piece of paper as big or bigger than themselves,” said Suzanne Seesman, an adjunct professor in the School of the Arts. “In Space Research we are tasked with considering space intentionally. We also try to make work that enables others to consider spaces, objects and activities that are normally overlooked or taken for granted.”
Susann Cokal’s first foray into young adult literature is getting rave reviews.
Cokal, who is an associate professor in the Department of English, part of the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Humanities and Sciences, is the author of “The Kingdom of Little Wounds,” a novel set in the Scandinavian Renaissance that was published by Candlewick Press in October. The book has received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal. “The Kingdom” also earned an ALAN citation from the National Council of Teachers of English, and Publishers Weekly named it one of the best books of 2013 for teens.
“The Kingdom” is a tale of palace intrigue set on the eve of a royal wedding in the fictional kingdom of Skyggehavn in Scandinavia in 1572. The plot turns on the dark schemes of a cruel, power-hungry courtier and the dangers of a mysterious illness that has afflicted the royal family. A royal seamstress and a mute slave are pulled into court politics and must fight to save themselves and the royal family’s young princesses. The novel explores a time and place when adolescent brides and the institutionalized abuse of women were commonplace.
Angela Starkweather, Ph.D.
The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing has received a three-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant totaling more than $1.2 million to study the influence of genetic factors on pain perception and how this may contribute to an increased risk of chronic low back pain.
Persistent back pain affects nearly 36 million Americans every year. It is one of the most costly conditions in the United States when considering direct medical expenses and lost productivity. Although most cases of acute low back pain will resolve in less time than six weeks, an estimated 40 percent of patients will continue to suffer from debilitating pain even after receiving standard health care treatment, according to Angela Starkweather, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant.
“This sets up a really frustrating course for the patient,” Starkweather said. “Pain is usually a protective mechanism that alerts the body of injury, but for patients with chronic low back pain, it’s no longer protective and it can be very difficult to find an effective treatment.”
The Harry and Harriet Grandis Family Foundation announced a $2.1 million gift this month that will endow a full-tuition scholarship in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and an endowed chair to support lung cancer research.
In their lifetimes, Harry and Harriet Grandis were devoted to supporting medical education and cancer research. To honor the legacy of the longtime Richmond philanthropists, their daughters, Betty Sue Grandis LePage and Nancy Grandis White, announced the gift Nov. 9 at a luncheon.
Their decision to support cancer research also was inspired by their late sister, Linda Grandis Blatt.
An endowed chair and research fund at VCU Massey Cancer Center will bear Blatt’s name. The family’s gift brings Massey’s total funds raised through the ongoing $100 million Research for Life Campaign to more than $85 million.
Allyson Kennedy researches what occurs in development to create human birth defects such as cleft lip.
Yet for a research project, Kennedy and her research partners employed a technique most often used to examine fossil records.
“And we read a lot of papers that were outside of our field to get an idea of how to best apply our method,” she said, citing works in ecology, paleontology and even psychology.
Stephen Via hopes to use his research to identify explosives hidden in soil by that soil’s plant life. In addition to plant physiology and ecology, Via and his team employ physics to examine how light reflects off the vegetation.
“We’re approaching soil chemistry, how the soil compounds go into the plants, how they’re then altering the plants’ health and function, and then how we can detect all of this,” he said.
Kennedy and Via are Ph.D. students in VCU Life Sciences’ Integrative Life Sciences (ILS) program. Each presented at Monday’s fourth annual ILS Student Research Showcase, which featured four student presentations and a poster session with 11 student presenters.
All of the research on display exemplified what Thomas Huff, Ph.D., VCU’s vice provost for life sciences and research, uses as a chief characterization of VCU’s ILS program: “radical interdisciplinarity.”
Virginia Commonwealth University has ranked in the nation’s top 20 percent of military-friendly campuses among colleges, universities and trade schools.
Victory Media’s fifth annual Military Friendly Schools list recognizes schools that most embrace military-affiliated students. It also serves to educate service members on which campus best fits their needs.
“It’s one thing we are really proud of,” said Brooks Taylor, the public relations and marketing specialist for VCU’s Military Student Services. “We have recognized (veterans’) needs and hope that we accommodate them as best as we can.”
Since the end of the Iraq War and the winding down of combat operations in Afghanistan, military veterans have become the fastest growing population in American colleges. According to Department of Veterans Affairs reports, nearly 1 million military members and their families have enrolled in college in the past four years.
Virginia Commonwealth University pre-med student Anand Gandhi spends much of his spare time volunteering to work at local free clinics. He cares for some of the city’s most vulnerable, including homeless patients, suffering from HIV and AIDS, heart disease, substance abuse and hypertension.
While Gandhi felt that providing treatment was important, he desired to do more to help patients prevent illnesses. He came up with a simple solution that could have a major impact on improving the health of his patients and others suffering from chronic illnesses.
With help from a $41,000 grant from the VCU Quest Innovation Fund, Gandhi worked with VCU partners and the Daily Planet to develop and implement a program called HELP, also known as the Health Education Literacy Program, for underserved patients.