VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter receives Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award

From left, RVA GOLD Chapter members Joseph Stemmle (B.S.’13/B), Timmy Nguyen (B.S.’11/B) and Khanh Burks (B.S.’13/B); Gov. Ralph Northam; and Allison Toney, associate director of outreach and engagement, Amy Beck, executive director of alumni outreach and engagement, and Josh Hiscock, associate vice president for alumni relations, from the VCU Office of Development and Alumni Relations (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter has been honored with the 2018 Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award for Outstanding Education Organization.

VCU Alumni’s Richmond alumni chapter received the award April 10 from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for making volunteering a key priority in its initiatives, from leading the charge against hunger in Virginia and delivering hot meals to area veterans to taking Richmond students back-to-school shopping and writing cards for overseas military troops. The chapter represents more than 65,000 VCU alumni who live in the Richmond metro area.

“VCU is proud of our RVA GOLD alumni chapter,” said Joshua I. Hiscock, associate vice president for alumni relations. “The value of engaging in service within the community was instilled in these leaders as students and continues to be a priority and passion for them as alumni. The RVA GOLD Chapter and its leaders are role models for fellow alumni and are a positive force for change within the greater Richmond community.”

One of the chapter’s largest efforts, the Alumni Charity Challenge, was launched in 2013 as a friendly competition among colleges and universities to see which alumni group could collect the most canned goods for FeedMore, Central Virginia’s core hunger-relief organization. Since its inception, the challenge has resulted in the donation of nearly 79,000 pounds of canned goods.

Douglas Pick, president and CEO of FeedMore, said he can’t imagine “a finer example of a volunteer group that exponentially leverages the energy of a community toward helping their fellow citizens in need.”

“Our VCU Alumni friends have been able to harness the passion and pride of alumni from now 30 different colleges toward some extraordinary results,” Pick said. “Their humble beginnings started with seven schools in 2013 collecting 2,776 pounds. This past year, they collected an amazing 48,355 pounds. The excitement and energy at the event is something to behold. It truly brings back faith that the world is still a good place.”

VCU received one of nine 2018 volunteer awards presented by Northam at the Virginia Governor’s Mansion. “These individuals, organizations and companies are wonderful examples of how we can all impact our communities,” the governor said. “Their selfless acts have made a real difference to so many lives across Virginia.”

The awards are presented by the Governor’s Advisory Board on Service and Volunteerism and the Virginia Department of Social Services’ Office on Volunteerism and Community Services on behalf of the Office of the Governor. These awards have recognized exceptional volunteer service in Virginia for more than 20 years. Visit http://virginiaservice.virginia.gov/volunteering/governors-volunteerism-awards/ to learn more.

Changing the next generation of pharmacists

Lauren Caldas, Pharm.D., BCACP (Pharm.D.’11/P), honed her commitment to community service as a student in the VCU School of Pharmacy, when she developed a healthy-living program for diabetics at her church. After residency, she helped patients manage their medications and save money at a Kroger Marketplace pharmacy. She now shares her expertise at VCU as an assistant pharmacy professor and at CrossOver Healthcare Ministry as a clinical pharmacist to Central Virginia’s underserved and uninsured.

Virus detective: VCU alumnus stands at the forefront of flu research

Emergency hospital during 1918 influenza epidemic, Camp Funston, Kansas
Courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C., Image NCP 1603

By Julie Young

A pioneering virologist with medical and doctoral degrees from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine has unlocked secrets to a deadly flu virus through plots and twists befitting an Indiana Jones movie.

Jeffery Taubenberger, M.D., Ph.D.

As a med student in the mid-1980s, Jeffery Taubenberger, M.D., Ph.D. (M.D.’86/M; Ph.D.’87/M) couldn’t have imagined that his chief interest, basic immunology, would catapult him into scientific stardom.

The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic that killed more than 40 million people worldwide was barely a blip in his medical education but turned into a hobby and eventually his life work. Today, Taubenberger serves as deputy chief of the laboratory of infectious diseases at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He’ll be at VCU Monday, Feb. 19, for a special VCU Libraries lecture, “On the Centenary of the 1918 Flu: Remembering the Past and Planning for the Future.”

The flu pandemic that fascinated Taubenberger led him to crack the 1918 strain’s genetic code and discover why it was so deadly. Mapping the genome unlocked the secret to pathogens responsible for the Spanish virus and revealed key behaviors of strains such as this year’s widespread flu.

After graduation in 1987, Taubenberger completed a pathology residency and worked as a staff pathologist at the National Cancer Institute. In 1993, he joined the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland.

“I set up a new group to use what, at that time in the early ’90s, was really kind of very cutting-edge, ‘Star Trek’-type medicine,” Taubenberger says. The strategy was to use molecular biology tools and new information about DNA mutations to diagnose diseases. “Traditionally, you make a diagnosis by looking at tissues under the microscope,” he says.

Taubenberger and his team worked in a Washington, D.C., building that housed the largest archive of pathology material in the world, which sparked his memory of that passing reference at VCU to the 1918 flu. “I was thinking that if we could find material from people who died of the 1918 flu, perhaps we could apply molecular biology tools to learn something about this huge, really virulent influenza virus,” he says.

After years of painstaking research, the team identified one positive flu case from a soldier who died in South Carolina in 1918. “We had a little tiny bit of lung tissue from that soldier’s autopsy, about the size of a fingernail,” Taubenberger says. It was enough to generate a partial sequence of the virus. The breakthrough was reported in 1997 in the journal Science.

Across the country in San Francisco, a freewheeling adventurer and retired pathologist named Johan Hultin read the Science article and wrote to Taubenberger. Hultin had traveled to Alaska’s Seaward Peninsula twice in the 1950s to extract DNA from flu victims under the permafrost in the village of Brevig Mission. He had tried unsuccessfully to culture the virus.

Hultin told Taubenberger that he could unearth larger samples of the virus. Using $3,200 of his savings, Hultin returned to the Seward Peninsula, where he exhumed and autopsied a flu victim nicknamed “Lucy.” He shipped her lung tissue to Taubenberger’s lab. The material tested positive for the virus.

Taubenberger used Lucy’s tissue and fragments from autopsies of other victims worldwide to sequence the entire genome of the virus. Using molecular biology techniques, a multi-institutional project was able to produce infectious copies of the deadly virus by 2005. Virologists hailed it as a lifesaving discovery, the largest-ever breakthrough in flu research.

“We’ve learned a lot,” Taubenberger says. “The concern that I have is that something like this could happen again. We would hope, obviously, that it never would, but we are concerned; therefore, what could we do to try to prevent that?”

Vaccination is the answer, he adds. But flu shots have proven to be only partially effective because “influenza is never standing still,” Taubenberger says. That’s what makes flu such a frustrating public health challenge.

“The reason the vaccine has to be remade every year is to try to keep up with this really rapid mutation of the virus,” he says. “It would be bad enough if it were just a human virus, but influenza viruses are present in hundreds of species of animals, including wild birds, domestic birds, pigs … and they have the ability to jump from one species to another.”

In recent years, his lab has pushed to develop a universal flu vaccine that would protect against all strains.

“This is a pretty tall order, but our hope is to develop a vaccine that would prevent the serious complications of influenza so that if you were exposed to a virus like 1918, perhaps you would feel ill for a couple of days but you would not develop pneumonia or need to be hospitalized. That’s the goal we would like to pursue,” Taubenberger says. “And having worked on the 1918 virus has really given us insights into how we could perhaps do that. We hope to have some of our initial candidate vaccines in clinical trials by next year, so we’re excited about that.”


Sanger Series: Going Viral with Jeffery Taubenberger, M.D., Ph.D.
“On the Centenary of the 1918 Flu: Remembering the Past and Planning for the Future”

Monday, Feb. 19
5-7 p.m.
Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building Auditorium, 1217 E. Marshall St.
Reception to follow

The lecture is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Catch all the A-10 action in D.C.

Mark your calendars for March 7-11 as the VCU Rams travel north to Washington, D.C., for the 2018 A-10 Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Join VCU Alumni and the VCU community for a host of exciting tournament activities! Need help getting around D.C.? Plan your Metro trip online.


Total Internship Management Workshop

VCU Career Services presents the Total Internship Management Workshop with Mason Gates, founder and chief careers officer with ThincCareers.com/ThincInterns.com. This workshop will prepare organizations of all sizes to build successful internship programs from scratch. Participants will leave the event with a new-found approach to internship development, implementation and management. Learn more.

When: 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 6
Where: Renaissance Hotel, 999 Ninth St. NW, Washington, DC 2000

Learn more and register online. Questions? Email Danielle Pearles, associate director of employer and experiential development, VCU Career Services.


Alumni reception

VCU Alumni hosts a cocktail reception for all alumni and Ram fans.

When: 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, March 7
Where: Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, Amphitheater Foyer, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20004. The trade center is a 5-minute walk from the Federal Triangle Metro stop on the Blue, Orange and Silver Metro lines. It can also be accessed via the Metro Center Station stop on the Red line.
Dress: Business casual

Registration is closed for this event.


A-10 kickoff social

Join VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD, DMV GOLD and NYC chapters for a tournament pregame kickoff. All VCU alumni, family and friends are invited. There will be special giveaways for Rowdy Ram fans.

When: 10 a.m. Thursday, March 8
Where: Lucky Strike, 701 Seventh St. NW, Washington, DC 20001. If you’re coming by Metro, get off at the Gallery Place-Chinatown stop or park in the Gallery Place Parking Garage. Lucky Strike is located on the second floor of Gallery Place. Walk down the alleyway next to Clyde’s to access the lobby.  
Cost: Free. Food and beverages available for purchase.
RSVP: On Facebook

Questions? Email RVA GOLD Chapter leader Timmy Nguyen (B.S.’11/B).


Pregame socials

Meet at Penn Social before every VCU game to rally with Ram fans.

When: Before every VCU game
Where: Penn Social, 801 E St. NW, Washington, DC 20004. Penn Social is a three-minute walk from the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro Station (Green or Red line) and an 8-minute walk from Metro Center Station (Blue, Orange or Green line).


Folger Shakespeare Library tour

Join VCU Libraries for a special tour of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Check out collections from comic books to Shakespeare holdings. Space is limited so register early.

When: 10 a.m. Friday, March 9
Where: Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St., SE Washington, DC 20003. The library is an 8-minute walk from the Capitol South Metro Station (Blue, Orange or Silver line).

To register or for questions, email Kelly Gotschalk (B.F.A.’90/A; M.A.’97/A), director of development and major gifts, VCU Libraries.


ICA museum tours

Join the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU for guided tours of two D.C. museums.

The Phillips Collection
When: 10 a.m. Friday, March 9

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
When: 10 a.m. Saturday, March 10

To register, email Rachel Southard (M.B.A.’17/B), donor relations associate for the ICA, or call (804) 827-0563.


Greek Alumni Network lecture

Join VCU Alumni’s Greek Alumni Network for “Better Connections: Insights on Connecting With Today’s Recent Greek Alumni.” Guest speaker Amy Riccardi is a human capital and business strategist, an author, a CEO adviser, an employee engagement specialist and an entrepreneur. She is a frequent guest lecturer at both Georgetown and George Washington universities on change management issues and a frequent speaker on the workplace of the future and girl’s/women’s leadership issues. If you have a specific question or topic you would like Riccardi to address, email it to network President Kevin Taylor (B.F.A.’88/A).

When: 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, March 10 (doors open at 9:30 a.m.)
Where: George Washington University, Marvin Center
Cost: $10, includes a light breakfast
Register: RSVP by noon Friday, March 9

For questions, email Larry Powell (B.S.’85/H&S), assistant director of alumni outreach and engagement.


VCU Alumni pep rally

Join the VCU Peppas and VCU Alumni on the National Mall for a rousing pep rally.

When: Saturday March 10 (time determined by game time)
Where: National Mall on the corner of Madison Street and Seventh Avenue (in front of the National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art). The event is a 10-minute walk from the National Archives-Penn Quarter Station or L’Enfant Plaza (Green or Yellow line) and from the L’Enfant Plaza or Smithsonian station (Blue, Orange or Silver lines).

Questions? Email Lauren Leavy, VCU Alumni’s senior coordinator of alumni engagement events.

 

Partners in practice: Pharm.D. grads mix skills to script successful careers

Diane and Tony Coniglio

By Julie Young

Diane Coniglio, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D.’87/P), and Tony Coniglio, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D.’86/P), met as undergraduate pharmacy students at the University of Rhode Island. They married in 1983 and moved to Richmond, Virginia, where VCU School of Pharmacy’s graduate program focused their careers, provide a lifelong network of colleagues and friends and cement their union as a married couple and business partners.

Tony entered the Pharm.D. program in 1984 and Diane in 1985. Through what Tony calls “quirky good fortune,” their years in Richmond were idyllic.

The Coniglios’ rented cottage in Richmond

While pursuing their degrees, the couple rented a tiny mother-in-law cottage behind a Riverside Drive home. For $50 a month, they had a home within steps of the James River near the Huguenot Bridge.

“It allowed us to go to school together” rather than taking turns, Tony says, “because we didn’t need to take out loans and could afford to live working weekends in the hospital pharmacy.”

Tony accepted a fellowship for a year while waiting for Diane to graduate. In spring 1987, they moved to New Jersey, where they chose to practice in a nontraditional sense. Tony debated between academia and the pharmaceutical industry, eventually choosing business. Diane became a medical writer and editor at a small medical communications firm.

VCU exposed Diane to career options she had never considered. “Before coming to VCU, I had no idea that drug information existed as a potential career,” she says. “I came upon it when I did my general hospital residency. It was a rotation. I only got to spend a month there, but I just loved it. When time came to graduate from the Pharm.D. program, it was the only type of job I was looking for — a hospital, large drug information center or small medical communications firm, which is where I ended up and loved what I did there. I guess for me, the bottom line is VCU opened my eyes to a new career path, and it’s what I’ve been doing since I left Virginia.”

Tony says he was fortunate to work in numerous pharma jobs, from roles in medical affairs, product development, strategic commercial, business development and licensing. He credits VCU with giving him the academic foundation and strong relationships needed to be successful. “We had only eight students per class, tremendous mentors and role models,” he says.

After three years of working from home while rearing a daughter, Diane opened a business, Opus Medical Communications to provide medical writing and editing services for patient education materials and drug sales training literature. “I decided with my husband’s support to go off on my own,” she says. “I got my first freelance writing assignment from another VCU Pharm.D. graduate.”

In 2008, Tony joined Diane’s business. Their complementary skill sets — his strategic commercial experience and her writing and editing — made the venture successful.

“Fortunately, we’ve been healthy busy for the last 10 years,” Tony says. “It’s all been word of mouth. We’ve been very lucky.”

Tony’s photography

In his spare time, Tony honed his skills as a portrait and landscape photographer and opened a professional studio in his home. He shoots mostly for friends and colleagues, charging no fee but requesting a charitable donation.

Tony has maintained strong bonds with VCU. At a post-baccalaureate Pharm.D. reunion in Richmond, he and his colleague Gene Cefali, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D./Ph.D.’87/P), rallied fellow alumni to host a dinner for pharmacy professor William Garnett, Pharm.D. (B.S.’69/P), the students’ mentor and close friend. From these events came the idea of a scholarship to honor Garnett’s 36-year legacy at the school. Coniglio, Cefali and William Fitzsimmons, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D.’85/P), challenged alumni to contribute; within days, enough money had been pledged to establish the William Garnett Scholarship Fund.

Tony also just completed a seven-year stint as a member of the School of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Advisory Board. He has mentored students and given talks on alternative career paths in the pharmaceutical industry.

“I tried to really emphasize to students that there are a lot of very interesting challenges and potentially very fulfilling roles in the pharma industry,” he says. “You can name almost any job — scientific, clinical, regulatory, and commercial — that Pharm.D.s and Ph.D.s are successfully performing within the pharma industry. Retail and hospital pharmacy will always be a very strong consideration for any student and these venues offer excellent careers. The pharma industry represents another pathway, and is a tremendous opportunity for people who want to do something different. And VCU has always and continues to have a very strong program that positions students well for any career path.”

VCU bids a fond farewell to a true ‘alumni star’

Diane Stout-Brown

Diane Stout-Brown counts the “Tableith” sculpture honoring RPI as a proud accomplishment of her tenure at the university.

By Julie Young

In 1988, Virginia Commonwealth University celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding with an event known as Founders Day. The VCU Alumni Association subsequently started the Alumni Stars program to honor accomplished graduates during the annual celebration. Since 2008, the Alumni Stars ceremony has been a stand-alone biennial event, recognizing graduates from each VCU school who have a record of professional or humanitarian achievements.

Orchestrating the event throughout the years was an energetic VCU alumna, Diane Stout-Brown (B.S.W.’80/SW). To any colleague or graduate who worked alongside her, attended an event or met her in person, Stout-Brown was the real alumni star.

The senior director of VCU Alumni retires Dec. 20 after 30 years of university service. She began her VCU career as assistant director for student/alumni engagement, working her way up to her current position, even serving as interim executive director of the alumni organization.

Her responsibilities have included student programs, alumni engagement, membership and marketing, volunteer development and coordination, and special events development. Before joining VCU, she developed skills in fundraising, special events and programs with nonprofit organizations, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

Before retiring, Stout-Brown shared some favorite memories and her second-act plans, which include selling real estate.

How did your social work degree help prepare you for relating to alumni?

When I came to VCU, I was a suburbanite who grew up in conservative, homogenous Chesterfield County, Virginia. The School of Social Work and VCU taught me that the world is incredibly multicultural. It viewed others with an open and accepting mind, something I value highly. I felt like I was finally in an environment where I belonged.

Tell us how you transitioned from working at nonprofits into alumni engagement.

My field placement in the School of Social Work was with the Voluntary Action Center at the United Way, where I placed volunteers in a variety of service agencies. It led the way to other positions in nonprofits working with volunteers.

I worked with a good number of grass-roots volunteer boards for the American Cancer Society and other organizations. I enjoyed working with people who gave their time, talent and resources because of a passion or cause they believed in. I wanted to return to my alma mater because of the diversity and open-minded philosophy. When I started, the VCU Alumni Association was a nonprofit, run by a volunteer board with numerous committees. There were very few programs in place and so I had the opportunity to create some wonderful programs to engage alumni and students.

Tell us about your favorite event/moment and what made it memorable.

There are a lot of special memories. I think the most special ones are the ones where I’ve been absolutely frantic and nervous and then things came together at the end. Alumni Stars has been fantastic over the years. I especially enjoyed the years when we allowed alumni to speak from the heart because it put special meaning into the event. It showed how much of an impact higher education made on someone who went on to use their knowledge and gifts to make the world a better place. It was also fun to connect with our School of the Arts faculty and put together interesting entertainment.

The core of your success would seem to be how deeply you care about all alumni. How did you ensure that Richmond Professional Institute graduates were not overlooked through the years?

RPI graduates are extremely devoted and passionate. How can we not support this? This group of alumni has a high regard for their education and the experiences they had at RPI. They thirst for engagement and involvement. They cherish their history and want to be a proud part of VCU today. My role has been to help guide and facilitate projects with them so they can have a lasting legacy. I’ve developed some good friends from this group.

In all of the events you’ve overseen, there must have been a few bloopers or crazy tasks along the way.

Where do I begin? I guess the most memorable is when we were planning an alumni Life member reception at Robertson House. It was to be held before a Jay Leno performance in the Siegel Center. Everything was all set, and then a hurricane came through and there was no power in the city. I had to purchase lanterns and battery-operated lights for the bathrooms.  The caterer had to change the menu to cold items instead of hot. It actually turned out to be very nice and certainly gave everyone a conversation topic.

What are your plans and hopes for retirement?

I’m looking forward to giving my 88-year-old parents more of my time. They live independently in their home, and I want them to get the care and attention they gave me over the years.  Whenever I was stressed before some event, my mom would always ask if there was anything she could do to help out. She even volunteered to direct traffic when I was coordinating the state tournament of Odyssey of the Mind. Of course, I didn’t take her up on it, but she has given much to me over the years and allowed me to work a full-time job with peace of mind while my kids were little.

VCU has been a huge part of life and now I’m eager to explore other parts of the world. I want to travel, go to museums and concerts, drive to the beach in the middle of the week, read, do crafts, learn to play the violin, hike, organize my house and, of course, take lots of walks with my dog, Andy. Most importantly, I want to enjoy leisure time with friends and family and not have to always be in a rush or worried about not getting something done. I won’t be 100 percent retired because I have obtained my real estate license and will be working as a Realtor, helping people find their dream homes.

What is the one thing you would like to leave with the VCU Alumni staff as you start the second journey of your life?

Our staff is so amazing that I don’t know of anything they don’t have already. I would say to keep the alumni close, always stand behind them while they shine and always embrace VCU for the institution that it is. You are ones who have the benefit of having the most insight when it comes to VCU’s alumni. Don’t hesitate to stand up for them and to help others understand that even things that seem insignificant can blossom into much, much more.

What would you like your legacy to be? 

I think my legacy has been ensuring that the RPI alumni were able to get their sculpture and history wall installed on campus so they will be remembered in perpetuity. Bob Lindholm (B.S.’50/H&S) was the first RPI Alumni Council chairman. When Bob became ill and was dying, I asked his daughter to let him know I was thinking of him. His daughter sent me an email telling me what Bob had dictated to her on his death bed. He dictated the sweetest note and as I think about it, I can still hear his gentle voice. He was so appreciative of me, VCU and the support we had given RPI during his term as chairman. He was extremely grateful that we were able to get the sculpture “Tableith” (to honor RPI) installed. I know Bob would be so proud today if he could see the “RPI” on VCU’s seal.

My other legacy would be the Alumni Stars program, which grew from Founders Day in 1988 into a university tradition that has honored more than 250 alumni who are stars in their professions.

VCU has been a grand journey. I am forever grateful to my VCU family and all of the alumni I have met along this journey. Please stay in touch and feel free to reach out to me at dianesb@comcast.net.

Founders Day gala

Students, alumni, faculty and deans enjoy an early Founders Day gala, where the Alumni Stars were first honored.

 

FAQ: Membership program change

VCU Alumni has discontinued its membership model as of Dec. 31, 2017, and now welcomes all graduates. Our goal is to be more inclusive by offering programs and services for all alumni of Virginia Commonwealth University, the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute.

Why is VCU Alumni eliminating its membership dues program?
In the past year, the VCU Alumni Board of Governors and the MCV Alumni Association Board of Trustees have been at a crossroads. The boards, along with alumni, staff and VCU leadership, spent a great deal of time discussing the organizations’ direction. In November 2017, the boards voted to eliminate paid dues as a requirement of membership. This decision follows national trends and best practices among universities. We believe a new association model that welcomes ALL graduates as members helps to create and sustain lifelong relationships for all alumni and, ultimately, strengthen our organizations. Every graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, the Medical College of Virginia and Richmond Professional Institute is part of VCU Alumni, regardless of dues or gifts. Alumni can engage and give back how they want, when they want and at what level they want.

When does this change take place?
The change is effective Jan. 1, 2018.

How does this change benefit alumni?
The new model enhances engagement by removing the barriers to participation that come along with the member/nonmember distinction. This transition allows VCU Alumni to open all programs and events to all alumni. Staff will work to deepen graduates’ relationships with their alma mater by providing increased engagement opportunities. For example, new chapters can be formed without a minimum percentage of dues-paying members.

Will alumni have to “opt in” when their current membership expires?
No, current members do not have to take any action. To receive the most up-to-date information on news and programs from VCU Alumni, please update your contact information.

How does this change affect Life members?
A new society will recognize Life members’ steadfast commitment to their alma mater. You’ll hear more about the society in coming months, but rest assured, the benefits and access Life members enjoyed will remain.

How does this change affect annual members?
First, you won’t ever need to make a dues payment again! Second, your benefits remain intact for the remainder of your membership. Moving forward, benefits and services provided by your alumni organization will be open to all graduates.

When will benefits be open to all alumni?
At this time, current Annual members and Life members have access to member-only benefits. In the coming months, we will open benefits to the greater VCU Alumni community. In the meantime, please check out benefits available to all alumni.

How will VCU Alumni fund programming without membership fees?
We will supplement with support from the university and will acquire sponsorships for events and programs.

Who should I contact with questions about the change?
Please call (804) 828-2586 or or email alumni@vcu.edu for more information.

Snap and share: Take Rodney with you

Rodney in ParisHere’s your chance to take Rodney the Ram with you! Snap a picture with Rodney wherever you go … on vacation, at work or at the grocery store. Then share it on Instagram or Twitter with #flatrodney. Don’t forget to wear your black-and-gold gear to show your school spirit.

Download Rodney, print and cut him out and take him with you today. We can’t wait to see all the places Rodney goes!

President’s message: An education Leonardo Da Vinci would have loved

Class of 2021

The fall semester at VCU has brought more than 8,000 new students into our Ram Family, one of our largest incoming classes. I expect it will also be one of our most engaged.

Beginning this fall, every student at VCU will complete an experiential learning requirement as part of their undergraduate curriculum, moving what they learn in the classroom and discover in their labs and clinics into the community to heighten their learning and to help those who need them. The REAL experience, short for Relevant Experiential and Applied Learning, will become a trademark for student life and education at VCU and further boosts our commitment to the city of which we are a part.

VCU’s founding mission, as chartered by the Wayne Commission, states specifically that the university should address the needs of our urban community through education, research, service and clinical care. Indeed, in the 50 years since our founding, our urban region has become our focus, and we have strived to be a resource that helps move Greater Richmond forward more equally for all. In fact, our distinctiveness as a university lies in our historic link of professional education and medical practice with the liberal arts and sciences, all seamlessly integrated into the fabric of our community. And so we commit to educational excellence and access through innovative, engaging and real-world learning experiences that positively affect communities in Virginia and beyond.

My vision is that, as a leading national urban public research university, VCU and its academic health science center will be distinguished by the integrated strength of our innovative and engaged learning, collaborative research and exceptional patient care, guided by our commitment to making a difference in the community.

In fulfilling this mission, some of the most important things we can do are to ensure that we have the resources to succeed and to be certain that those resources align with our priorities. To that end, I am pleased that our Make It Real Campaign for VCU is on track to meet or exceed its $750 million goal by June 30, 2020. We have already crossed the $500 million mark, and last year we received more than 30,000 gifts for the first time. That included a record 11,705 gifts from alumni, thanks to the continuing efforts of our annual giving program.

While, thanks to donors like you, we are ahead of the trend line for our campaign, we recognize that there is still a long way to go. I am pleased we have a new leader who will help us complete that work. Later this month, Jay Davenport will begin as vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, joining VCU from Wake Forest University. His appointment follows a national search in which he stood out as an experienced development professional with the vision and drive to elevate further the success of our development and alumni relations efforts. I am excited to work with him to deepen our connections with our alumni and friends like you.

Of course, all we do is possible only because we have friends like you, who care deeply and support us fully. Thank you for your continuing commitment to VCU. Thank you for helping us make it real.

Sincerely,

Michael Rao
President
Virginia Commonwealth University and VCU Health

Take VCU’s all-alumni survey

VCU has contracted the Southeastern Institute of Research to administer the first rigorous all-alumni survey since 2009. The research project will assess alumni engagement and support for VCU; identify barriers to and opportunities for increasing alumni engagement with VCU; develop a topline alumni engagement strategy; and develop the components of a strategic messaging architecture.

All alumni for whom VCU has a valid email address should receive an email the week of Oct. 23 with a link to access the survey. We want to hear from all alumni — from every major, class, department and experience — even if you haven’t connected with VCU in a while. The survey’s results will be most meaningful with participation by alumni from every generation and each of VCU’s schools.

Your responses to the survey are confidential. SIR will aggregate and analyze survey responses and will provide a summary report of findings. Your name and personally identifying information will not be associated with your responses in any reporting shared with the university.

Please consider contributing to the future of VCU Alumni. Your opinion is important to the development of future alumni programs and communications from both your university and alumni organization. The results will be available on the VCU Alumni website after completion.