From zombie ants to shooting spores, biology course introduces students to all things fungi

Junior biology major Nicholas Kelly prepares to examine a slide of spores under the microscope.

Fungi have been shooting their spores all over a table in professor Fernando Tenjo’s classroom.

His students gather them up and joke about how “adorable” and “cute” the little reproductive necessities look under the microscope. Few people would use those same words to describe the fungi over by the window. That was scraped off rabbit dung and grows more hideous by the day.

“It’s amazing how many different types there are,” said Jonathan Eden, who just completed his bachelor’s degree in biology. “We’re only dealing with a few. There are so many more out there, and a lot of them are still a mystery.”

Eden and 10 other Virginia Commonwealth University students explored the good, bad and ugly of fungi this summer in a Fungal Biology class. It is designed to answer basic questions about fungi, how they grow, their relationships to humans and more.

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Chief residents conference a mini-reunion for members of the Class of 2012

Lindsay Collins, Pete Meliagros, Andrew Miller, Rawan Faramand, Archana Ramireddy and Lara Hamadani

From left to right: Lindsay Collins, Pete Meliagros, Andrew Miller, Rawan Faramand, Archana Ramireddy and Lara Hamadani.

For seven members of the Class of 2012, their first School of Medicine reunion took place a long way from the MCV Campus. The first step was discovering that a surprising number of classmates had been chosen to serve as chief residents in internal medicine at their respective institutions. That opened the door for the seven to meet up in Houston at the 2015 Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine Chief Residents Meeting this spring.

The cohort was made up of: Mai Grant Magliocco, from the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco; Lindsay Collins, from the University of Washington; Pete Meliagros, from the VCU Medical Center; Andrew Miller, from NSLIJ/Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City; Rawan Faramand, from the University of Maryland Medical Center; Archana Ramireddy, from the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital; and Lara Hamadani, from UCLA-Olive View.

Such a large contingent from the school came as a shock. “No one there could believe that so many members of our class ended up as chiefs,” said Miller. “It was incredibly exciting to see so many of my friends at the conference.”

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TiME program graduates transform how they teach, collaborate across disciplines

Cheryl Bodamer and Norma Maxvold

Cheryl Bodamer and Norma Maxvold participate in the TiME program.

Medical educators often face a grueling daily schedule. Classes to teach, rounds to make, research to conduct. With such a tightly packed agenda, it can be hard to make time to pursue opportunities outside of day-to-day responsibilities. Many find that they would like to improve their abilities as educators by learning more about pedagogical theory and techniques, but don’t have time to commit to earning a master’s degree.

Because teaching is a key part of the School of Medicine’s educational mission, Terry Carter, Ph.D. has created a 12 credit-hour graduate certificate program designed specifically for medical educators and their overloaded schedules. The Teaching in Medical Education(TiME) Faculty Fellows program celebrated its first graduating class of faculty members, basic scientists and clinician educators this spring.

“Medical educators are really busy people,” says Carter, who previously worked as the director of VCU’s Adult Learning Program. “So I carved out the most essential elements for teaching and learning – instructional strategies, curriculum design, group facilitation and basic adult learning principles – to give more people the opportunity to improve their teaching skills through the program.” To date, more than 70 medical educators from across the MCV Campus have participated in the program.

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Medical students spend summer with World Health Organization to improve global health

Rachel Shin, at left, and Michelle Baer, at right.

Two students in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine are interning this summer in Geneva at the World Health Organization to work on projects that seek to improve the cost-effectiveness of medical treatments and to stamp out the diseases of poverty.

Rachel Shin, who received a dual degree in Spanish and biology from VCU in 2014 and is entering her second year of medical school, is interning with WHO’s TDR Department, or the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, which seeks to facilitate, support and influence efforts to combat diseases of poverty.

“Since I specifically want to serve disadvantaged populations within the U.S. and internationally as a physician, TDR’s mission to equip low- and middle-income countries with the capacity to fight its own infectious diseases of poverty and empower communities to nurse themselves to full health is fully in line with the kind of impact I hope to involve myself with,” Shin said.

Michelle Baer, also a second-year medical student at VCU, is working with WHO’s Costs, Effectiveness, Expenditure & Priority Setting team, which works with policymakers at the country level on strategic planning. The department, she said, provides information on cost-effectiveness and ensures that the money spent on health is intelligently invested to produce the best possible health outcomes.

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VCU engineering professor receives $5 million grant to drive down costs of manufacturing two key AIDS drugs

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D.

Virginia Commonwealth University engineering professor has received a $5 million grant to develop a more cost-effective way to manufacture two important drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS.

“Our overarching goal is to increase the availability of these drugs,” said B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., a professor in the VCU School of Engineering and chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering. “There’s a finite amount of funds available to purchase these drugs, but if we can reduce the cost then we can increase the availability.”

The grant, which was awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, supports a multidisciplinary project led by Gupton called the Medicine for All Initiative, which seeks cheaper and more efficient ways to manufacture drugs, particularly those needed to treat HIV and AIDS in developing countries. The project is being conducted in partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and collaborators at MIT and the University of Washington.

As part of the 18-month grant, Gupton’s team will find ways to drive down the costs of manufacturing the AIDS drugs tenofovir and darunavir. Darunavir is known as a second-line therapy and is often prescribed once a patient develops a resistance to first-line therapies.

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Fashion forward: VCU joins the prestigious YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund

Fashion Show 2015 5-sm

A scene from the 2015 VCU student fashion show. Photo by Jay Paul.

An elite fashion industry association has granted membership to Virginia Commonwealth University, giving its fashion design and merchandising students opportunities for scholarships, internships and mentoring from established industry professionals.

Membership in the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund is determined by reputation, said Karen M. Videtic, fashion merchandising professor in the VCU School of the Arts.

“They recognized that the School of the Arts creates great designers, great artists, and that includes fashion,” she said.

Notable alumni such as Donwan Harrell, founder of PRPS Jeans, and Kieran Donahue, vice president of marketing for the Americas at Hilton Worldwide, help boost VCU’s reputation.

The YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, an international nonprofit, brings together influential industry insiders from companies such as Vera Wang, Bloomingdales and Levi Strauss & Co. The exclusive group — comprising more than 45 member schools — only admitted four schools, including VCU, this year.

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VCU hosts Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

The 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows at VCU received an official welcome during a reception at the VCU Scott House on June 22.

Virginia Commonwealth University is proud to announce that it has been selected as a host institution for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

This flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative and President Barack Obama’s signature effort to invest in the next generation of global leaders is taking place on the VCU campus from Jun. 19 to Aug. 1. Twenty-five of Africa’s brightest emerging leaders in the area of public management will participate in an academic and leadership institute co-sponsored by the VCUGlobal Education Office and the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

“The Mandela Washington Fellowship exemplifies our nation’s commitment to help build capacity, overcome challenges and harness emerging opportunities on the continent of Africa,” said R. McKenna Brown, Ph.D., executive director of the Global Education Office. “We are honored to host such a group of prestigious young leaders who are at the forefront of change in their communities.”

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‘I was a failed Gallimius’

The Unnerving Presence of a Full-Size Velociraptor (Photo courtesy of TyRuben Ellingson)

TyRuben Ellingson, assistant professor in the School of the Arts’ Department of Communication Arts, served as the visual arts director on the original “Jurassic Park” film. Twenty-two years later, he talks with Film School Rejects about his experiences on the film that started it all.

Read the full interview at Film School Rejects.

House call team at VCU Medical Center plays a pivotal role in the success of a national at-home primary care initiative

This week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the initial year of results from the Independence at Home Demonstration, which is a CMS initiative designed to improve care while saving costs. The house call team at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center had a lead role in the creation and design of the initiative, working with Medstar Washington Hospital and University of Pennsylvania as the Mid-Atlantic Consortium.

The program’s medical team provides home-based medical care, also known as house calls, and personalized care coordination to Medicare beneficiaries that have decreased mobility and high illness burden. House calls provide the opportunity for providers to spend more quality time with patients, gain a much better understanding of the care environment and the patient’s goals, then match the care plan to actual needs. Quick access when conditions change is another key feature of at-home care. Working this way, the Mid-Atlantic Consortium’s home-based medical care programs reduced the cost of health care for this population by 20 to 30 percent. Programs can then receive funds to support the team care model, but only if measures of care quality and patient satisfaction are met.

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Champion’s Natural Fly Spray is a Safe Alternative to Harmful-Chemical Equestrian Sprays

Champion’s Natural Fly Spray is a fly repellent spray that is made from a proprietary blend of essential oils. The safe and effective spray is the creation of Brooke Riggs, a rising senior in Chemical Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). “The idea came to me when I was taking organic chemistry and became curious in the chemicals I was using to keep the flies at bay,” says Riggs. She then decided to investigate the use of plant-based essential oils to repel flies. This lead to the creation of Champion’s Natural Fly Spray.

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