VCU Alumni recognizes alumni business owners

VCU Alumni is celebrating alumni entrepreneurs this month and offering them a free decal to show their Ram pride.

“VCU Alumni is proud of all of its alumni entrepreneurs,” said Amy Gray Beck, executive director of alumni outreach and engagement for VCU Alumni. “As successful business owners, our alumni embody the entrepreneurial spirit that lives at VCU, and they make a difference in their communities.”

Alumni who own a business can complete this online form by July 20 to receive the decal (while supplies last). They’ll also receive a digital decal to post on their website or social media. If they take a picture of the decal at their business and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag “#VCUAlumni,” VCU Alumni will share it with its followers on social media.

Send off the Class of 2021 in style

Join VCU Alumni and VCU New Student and Family Programming for our summer sendoffs in Washington, D.C., and in Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Richmond and Hampton Roads, Virginia. Share your VCU experience and postgrad life with VCU’s Class of 2021 before they start their college career and savor hearty hors d’oeuvres and beverages while talking with families.

Most of the events are free for alumni to attend. The Nationals Game in D.C. is the only event that requires a ticket.

Fredericksburg
When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1
Where: Kenmore Inn, 1200 Princess Anne Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401
RSVP: By July 28 to Allison Toney, associate director of outreach and engagement, or Lauren Leavy, program coordinator of outreach and engagement

Richmond
When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 3
Where: District 5, 1911 Main St., Richmond, VA 23220
RSVP: By July 28 to Allison Toney, associate director of outreach and engagement, or Lauren Leavy, program coordinator of outreach and engagement

Lynchburg
When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 8
Where: Charleys Restaurant, 707 Graves Mill Road (Route 501N, Exit 11), Lynchburg, VA 24502
RSVP: By July 31  to Allison Toney, associate director of outreach and engagement, or Lauren Leavy, program coordinator of outreach and engagement

Hampton Roads
When: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9
Where: Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library, Folio Room, 4100 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach, VA 23452
RSVP: By July 31 to Allison Toney, associate director of outreach and engagement, or Lauren Leavy, program coordinator of outreach and engagement

Washington, D.C.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12
Where: Nationals Park, 1500 S. Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC 20003
Cost: $29. Ticket includes entrance to the game and a $15 food and/or drink voucher. Please note tickets are nonrefundable.
Register: Online

What’s your legacy?

Students share the importance of being involved while on campus and staying involved after graduation

The legacies we leave tell the stories of the lives we touch. Through their thoughtful commitment to their alma mater and VCU Alumni, thousands of alumni members are creating a meaningful legacy, making a lasting impression on students’ lives.

VCU Alumni spoke to several students whose VCU experience has been enhanced by alumni involvement. Their stories show how members set an example for future alumni involvement and enable our students to pursue their dreams.


Kalyann Kauv

Fourth-year pharmacy student / Bachelor of Science 2013, VCU / National Public Relations Liaison, Student National Pharmaceutical Association / President, VCU Chapter, Student National Pharmaceutical Association / Alumni liaison, VCU Chapter, Phi Delta Chi Inc. / Volunteer, medical outreach trip, Dominican Republic / Volunteer, Healing Eagle Clinic, Mattaponi Native American Reservation / Fellow, Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement 

What inspires you to volunteer on campus and in the community?
It centers me. Volunteering unites people from a variety of backgrounds to accomplish one common goal of lending a helping hand, no matter how big or small. By assisting my fellow neighbors, I also benefit by increasing the exposure I have with the good Samaritans of our society.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your education at VCU?
VCU provides unique programs that allow me to feel like a person in a vast sea of students. As a first-generation college student, VCU’s undergraduate pipeline program through the Division for Health Sciences Diversity helped me acclimate to higher education while providing a support system throughout my journey. Just as VCU invested so much in me and my cohort, I hope I can continue this as a health care professional by sowing the seeds of the next generation so they, too, can understand the ability they have to make a difference.

Will you maintain your connection to VCU after graduation?
I would hope to continue involvement with my alma mater. No matter how big or small, you never know what impact you can make. For me, it is so exciting when fellow Rams share their success stories and continue to embody the VCU spirit within their respective careers!

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Yeri Park

Fourth-year medical student / President, School of Medicine Class of 2017 / Co-president, Student Family Medicine Association / Member, leadership board, Women in Medicine Student Organization / 2015 Service by a Medical Student Award, Medical Society of Virginia Foundation / Pharmacy chair, 2014 Honduras Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort / Co-founder, Farmworker Health Outreach project / Volunteer, Mattaponi Healing Eagle Clinic / Volunteer, Crossover Healthcare Ministry / Volunteer, Center for High Blood Pressure

What led you to co-found the Farmworker Health Outreach project on Virginia’s Eastern Shore?
My co-founder and I were thinking of different ways to give back to the community. He originally had a vision of working with farm workers during his time in undergrad and had read a lot about them. They are truly at a vulnerable position to receiving inadequate medical care due to the migratory nature of their jobs. We started the organization to create opportunities for medical students to learn about the population, at least to gain awareness in working with farm workers.

What inspires you to volunteer your time with the community?
Definitely our city and the population that we serve! Especially thinking about student burnout, I believe that volunteering and giving back to the community is one of the best ways to reflect and to build resiliency. I know that during times when I felt stressed, going to student-run free clinics kept me happy and focused toward my goals. It is through volunteering that I learned more about our wonderful city. I have had some of the most memorable and beautiful interactions with my patients through volunteering. Volunteering keeps me humble and thankful for the opportunities that I have received, especially with my patients who share their stories with me when I am simply a medical student.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
Yes, of course! VCU has given me variety of opportunities to pursue current and new passions, ample amount of support from other students, faculty and staff and, most importantly, a chance to grow. I am thankful for the people and the memories I have made during my time at VCU, and it will always play a big role in my future endeavors. I think it’s important for alumni to stay involved with VCU because we wouldn’t be where we are today without the support we received from our previous alumni, and we should continue to support new physicians in training.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Tommy Tran

Senior, mass communications major with a double concentration in creative and strategic advertising / Co-chair, Student Government Association External Affairs Committee / Member, VCU LEAD / Co-founder and president, Dominion Place Partnership / Participant, 2016 VCU Qatar Leadership Exchange / Volunteer, Global Brigades at VCU

Why are you involved on campus?
I was a part of the Emerging Leaders Program as a freshman, and the students who were involved in ELP really wanted to make a difference and make an impact on campus. Being surrounded by them and becoming friends with them inspired me to use the time I have at VCU to reach my full potential. I am involved on campus because I want to become someone who matters, someone who makes a difference, someone who has made an impact.

Why is it important for alumni to stay involved with VCU?
It is important to keep in touch with where you came from. Of course, none of us are born into VCU, but I like to think that VCU has shaped us as people and leaders. We were developed at VCU, and it is important to stay connected to ensure that the university continues to foster the success of students who follow in our footsteps.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Emily Tull

Sophomore, health, physical education and exercise science major / Director of awards and recognition, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow board of directors / CASE ASAP chair, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow Leadership Council / Presenter, Regional CASE ASAP Conference and National CASE ASAP Conference / Volunteer, VCU Health

How did you become involved with VCU Alumni’s Students Today Alumni Tomorrow organization?
I became a general body member of STAT at my VCU freshman orientation. I remember it being the most lively student organization there! When the school year started, I attended STAT’s first general body meeting where I met Belicia DeBose, STAT’s vice president at the time. Belicia was an excellent representation of STAT: She took me to coffee and told me how I could progress as a student leader in STAT. Receiving this kind of encouragement prompted me to apply to help plan a state conference hosted at VCU by STAT, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education – Affiliated Student Advancement Programs (CASE ASAP) Virginia. I never could have guessed how this conference would impact my future as a STAT student leader. While still in the midst of helping plan the conference, I applied for a position on STAT’s Leadership Council. I remember being told to wear whatever showed my school spirit for my interview; I ended up wearing a morph suit so, to say the least, I will never forget it. I was selected to serve on the Leadership Council where I was appointed CASE ASAP chair. At CASE ASAP, student leaders in alumni or ambassador groups come together from different colleges to network and help further each other’s organizations. These conferences occur on a state, regional and national level. Being in STAT has given me the opportunity to help plan a state conference and present at two regional and one national conference. I recently became STAT’s director of awards and recognition and am excited to see STAT continue to grow.

Why is it important for students to be involved with an alumni organization?
It’s an excellent opportunity that I think many students don’t realize they have. I know coming into college as a freshman, I was very focused on just simply all the new changes coming and how to deal with them. Once I learned about STAT, I realized the organization is a great way to meet people who have already been in our shoes and prospered through it; those are our alumni. Networking with alumni has not only given me opportunities I couldn’t be more thankful for, but also has given me lifelong mentors.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
Go Rams! Of course I will always continue my connection with VCU. This university and everything it has to offer has shaped me into the young adult I am! The atmosphere of Richmond, the spirit of VCU and the people of my alma mater make this place home for me. I think as an alumni it’s important to give back to those following in our footsteps and allowing them to know they can do this, too.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Travis Weimer

Fourth-year dental student / Founder, General Dentistry Club at VCU / Board member,
student membership, Virginia Academy of General Dentistry / Volunteer, Magic Wheelchair

Why are you involved on campus?
Dental school is hard enough. If I can make it easier for others, then they can get as much as they can out of their education. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and be a problem-finder and not a problem-solver. I started the General Dentistry Club to provide a resource for students like me who are focused on the practice of general dentistry versus a specialty. The club also gives other students an opportunity to be involved and helps prepare them for being a leader within their own practice or company. The experience showed me that with the help of others you can identify a need and fill it.

Why is it important for alumni to stay involved with VCU?
We all want to leave some kind of legacy when we go through our lives, and staying connected to your alma mater is one way. I’d like to remain involved with VCU, especially with the General Dentistry Club, whether it’s providing financial support or advice to the classes coming up after me.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Fred Williams Jr.

Senior, chemical engineering major / President, Activities Programming Board / Squad leader, VCU Ram Camp / Member, VCU Globe / Member, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow / Member, American Institute of Chemical Engineers / PCI chair, National Society of Black Engineers / Participant, 2014 VCU Qatar Leadership Exchange / Member, VCU Rowdy Rams / Resident assistant, VCU Residential Life and Housing

What led you to join VCU’s Activities Programming Board?
After my freshman year, I was looking to get more involved at VCU and stay connected with VCU as I transitioned to my sophomore year. I was looking for something that would enable me to get involved with event planning at VCU but also provide me with an opportunity to learn and grow my network. Fast-forward three years, and I was selected to serve as APB’s first president. I wanted to be president because I was looking for a final opportunity to give back to the VCU community, my peers and my friends.

What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had working with the APB?
Some of my most memorable experiences include being able to meet celebrities such as Iyanla Vanzant, Giancarlo Esposito, Tyler Oakley and Party Next Door. Another memory I will cherish is from the monthly bingo nights. I spent so much time interacting with different people, trying to find a new way to make bingo nights fun and engaging, whether it was entertaining for them by playing pranks, Milly rocking and even saying a few bingo jokes. On a much more serious note, one last thing that I will cherish are my memories of the people I have been able to work with, whether it was blasting Missy Elliott in the office or getting a milkshake from Chick-fil-A on Mondays. Together, we have been able to transform APB into the organization that it is today.

In addition to your involvement with APB, you devote time to other organizations and activities, including the National Society of Black Engineers, Ram Camp and VCU Globe. What motivates you to be so involved on campus?
During my freshman year, I was a participant in the inaugural class of Ram Camp students. Ram Camp jump-started my experience here at VCU by enabling me to see everything that VCU has to offer. When I came to VCU, I was amazed to see so many avenues to get involved, and I took advantage of each opportunity along the way. Getting involved is a part of the college experience; however, I got involved with things that I was interested in and wanted to learn more about. I am really interested in getting to know people of different backgrounds, and getting involved was the best way of aiding me in doing that.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
I definitely plan to stay well connected with VCU after graduation. I spent a lot of time here on campus between the Commons, School of Engineering West Hall and Club Cabell, each time interacting with different people. I think it’s important for alumni to stay involved with their alma mater because it signifies the importance of a college experience. Personally, I have had so many opportunities afforded to me because I chose to attend VCU. Alumni have the ability to help shape the experience of new students and supporting the university by giving back. I can definitely say that I would not be the person that I am today if a few special alumni didn’t support me along my college journey.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Leave your legacy. Join VCU Alumni.

Membership in VCU Alumni creates opportunities for alumni to have a positive influence on VCU and to ensure a powerful legacy for the benefit of future generations. Leave your legacy. Join VCU Alumni today.

Plus, if you join VCU Alumni or renew your membership by May 15, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a three-day car rental from Avis/Budget. Memberships must be purchased by midnight May 15 to be eligible to win. Winners will be announced June 15. Rental car voucher good through June 30, 2018. Join or renew your membership now.

At VCU Broad Street Mile, ‘a great way to build connections’

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The Broad Street Mile allows participants to support local charities by running in a 5K or several 1-mile fun runs.

Running is part of Joseph DiPiro’s morning routine. The dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy is typically on the road around 6 a.m., logging his daily miles — 4-5 on weekdays, 8-10 on the weekends.

DiPiro tries to run five days a week as part of his fitness regimen. But he also sees running as a way to build community.

“I’m really impressed by the social nature of running,” DiPiro said. “If we make a commitment to meet up on a Saturday morning, then that’s always going to be a higher-quality run. We’ll run maybe a little bit faster, a little bit farther. And you have more time to talk to people — when do you get an hour just to explore the world’s issues these days?

“It covers a lot of ground — the social, the health, the physical part of it.”

DiPiro is one of 577 runners already signed up for the Sept. 24 VCU Broad Street Mile — the annual fall street festival and road race held on the Monroe Park Campus. The run this year is part of a series of events launching the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, a comprehensive fundraising campaign with three priorities — people, innovations and environments. The campaign aims to touch every aspect of VCU: students, alumni, faculty and staff, patients, caregivers, researchers, schools, libraries, centers and institutes, athletics, and the community.

‘Beat the dean’

DiPiro is bringing his social philosophy to the race this year by issuing a “beat the dean” philanthropic challenge to pharmacy school students, faculty and staff participating in the 5K run. All proceeds from DiPiro’s challenge support the School of Pharmacy scholarship fund.

“It’s pretty simple: If I beat them they have to put up $5; if they beat me I have to put up $10,” DiPiro said.

The challenge is an initiative of the school’s Student Philanthropists Alumni Network, a new group formed to raise awareness of philanthropy among current pharmacy students. The school awarded $623,650 in scholarships to 183 students during the last fiscal year.

The Broad Street Mile, now in its fourth year, doubles as a fundraiser for local organizations. VCU announced in July that, in an effort to expand community impact, this year’s event does not require participating groups to have a 501(c)3 designation. Several university offices and schools, including the Grace E. Harris Leadership InstituteVCU ASPiRE and the School of Pharmacy, are participating as fundraising organizations in the Broad Street Mile for the first time as a result of this change.

Read more.

Playing for keeps: D.C. United player Andrew Dykstra keeps his eye on the goal

Feb 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (50) during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended in a 1-1 tie. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra plays during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended the Feb. 17, 2016, match in a 1-1 tie. Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By Anthony Langley

Andrew Dykstra (B.S.’08/H&S; M.S.’10/E) found his passion for sports early on as a 4-year-old constantly running outside to play.

“I started soccer very early, wrestled in middle and high school, swam and even played football,” he says.­­

As Dykstra entered his senior year of high school at Osbourn Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, he contemplated playing college football but instead returned to the sport he loved the most, soccer. He strategically weighed his college options based on which school was most in need of his position, goalkeeper, and could provide the most financial support. In the end, his decision to attend Virginia Commonwealth University came down to the opportunities he would have off the field.

“I knew I wanted to study a subject that lead to athletic training, and the sheer amount of health-related programs the university has is amazing,” says Dykstra, who majored in health, PE and exercise science as an undergraduate student. “The academics were a perfect fit. I knew I made the right decision.”

D.C. United graphic

VCU alumni, Ram fans, parents and families are invited to enjoy an evening of soccer at RFK Stadium with VCU Alumni’s DMV GOLD Chapter! Cost is $25 and includes entrance to the game and pregame tailgate spot when 25 attendees have registered. RSVP online by Sept. 30.

Dykstra was a standout goalkeeper on the VCU men’s soccer team, where he logged 73 matches and spent more than 6,500 minutes between goalposts, earning him All-CAA honors twice between 2005 and 2008.  During the summers, he played for the Richmond Kickers development team and continued to take classes at VCU.

Despite on-field talent, the VCU men’s soccer team didn’t post a strong season in 2007-08, Dykstra’s senior year, resulting in less attention from scouts looking for new recruits for the majors. As graduation grew closer, Dykstra didn’t think he was ready to play on a professional level. He had a redshirt year, which allowed him to attend classes and practice with the team, and with some convincing from his coach, Dykstra remained on the team and began his master’s in sports leadership.

Though he wasn’t scouted, Dykstra was not ready to admit defeat. He hired a friend as his agent, who arranged for Dykstra to travel to Florida to attend a training and conditioning camp led by United Soccer League coaches.

At the end of the combine, Dykstra traveled to Germany, hoping to try out for one of the European soccer clubs, when he got a call from the Chicago Fire inviting him to that team’s training camp. Impressed by his performance, the team kept him on as the third goalkeeper. Dykstra moved to Chicago and completed the master’s degree he started at VCU online in 2010.

Dykstra played for the Fire for two seasons followed by a single season in 2011 for the Charleston Battery where he earned MVP for leading the USL Pro League in lowest goals against average and fewest goals allowed during the regular season, which helped the team win the USL Pro title.

After leaving the Battery, Dykstra’s agent arranged for him to practice with D.C. United, a move that brought him closer to home. The team signed him for the next season.

“His reliability and locker room presence are irreplaceable,” says Dave Kasper, the team’s general manager. “The coaching staff and players are very confident when Andrew’s number is called [to the field].”

Playing in the nation’s capital allows Dykstra to maintain his Richmond roots. In addition to playing for D.C. United, he remains on loan to the Richmond Kickers, the team’s USL PRO affiliate. He was a key player in helping the Kickers advance to the USL PRO semifinals in 2013 and ending the season with the league’s fewest goals against average and 10 shutouts.

In 2014, Dykstra ruptured his left Achilles tendon in a friendly international match with Fulham F.C., ending his season abruptly. During his recovery, he picked up a hobby that’s near and dear to Richmond: He began to homebrew beer.

“I figured it would be a cool way to meet new people and make great friends along the way,” he says.

Now in his fifth season with D.C. United, Dykstra is back on the field and ready to take on the NYC Football Club on Oct. 16 at RFK Stadium during VCU Alumni Night with D.C. United.

Sharing a common wealth: The AAAC Mentoring Circle connects students to mentors

Students and alumni mingle during the Mentoring Circle's Mocktail event.

Students and alumni mingle during the Mentoring Circle’s Mocktail event.

By Anthony Langley

A few years ago, Jeffrey Roberts (B.S.’87/E) and Gail Coles-Johnson (B.S.’86/B), members of VCU Alumni’s African-American Alumni Council, were looking for ways to create an intergenerational conversation between alumni and current students. But they weren’t sure of the best way they could go about it.

“When we were in undergrad, we didn’t have the opportunity to seek out mentors,” Roberts says. “So we wanted to create a way we could give back and students could pay it forward as well.”

During the AAAC’s inaugural Conversations and Cocktails events, Michelle Jones (B.S.’87/H&S) brought in a group of students to get their perspective on what the alumni group could do to help them as they neared graduation.

“I think that in order to create a pipeline of future AAAC members, relationship building and finding out what is valuable to students is the best way to go about it,” Jones says. “I mentor college students at my church; I know how valuable it is for them to have these experiences.”

The dialogue created during that meeting inspired Roberts and Coles-Johnson to found the AAAC’s Mentoring Circle. The program aims to connect students and alumni in a professional environment, which helps them gain the skills needed to enter today’s workplace environment and provide them an opportunity to learn from an alumnus as a mentee.

“This is the ultimate give-back,” Rodney Harry (B.S.’90/H&S), president of the AAAC, says. “It strengthens the bonds between alumni and students showing how prosperous we can be.”

The Mentoring Circle’s premier event is the alumni-student Mocktail party, a simulated networking event where students learn everything from how to approach a potential employer to whether they should eat or drink at catered events.

Kevin M. Smith (B.S.’86/B) generously donated the funds needed to sponsor the event,” Roberts says. “He realized the worth of mentoring during his 25 years in the corporate world and wanted to help.”

The event begins with a presentation on the art and importance of networking, followed by an abbreviated version of the Myers-Briggs personality test, which helps to determine the best ways for introverts and extroverts to handle a networking situation.

“After the presentation, we put the students to the test,” Coles-Johnson says. “As soon as they enter the next room, they are in a networking event.”

After 15 minutes, time is called and the observers, who are trained prior to the event, are asked to give general observations about how the students conducted themselves. The floor is then opened for students to ask questions of alumni about areas in which they can improve. After that, they go back and start the event over.

At the end of the Mocktail event, the student mentees are matched with an alumnus who had a similar major or is in the career field the student would like to be in. He or she becomes their mentor for an entire year.

“I went in thinking that they’d just be conducting mock interviews; I had no idea I would leave with a mentor,” says Riqia Taylor, a rising junior majoring in African-American studies and the first recipient of the Coles-Johnson Mentoring Circle Scholarship. “I was able to connect with a phenomenal African-American woman who was an excellent role model.”

Taylor was matched with Nina Sims (B.S.’93/MC), who provided her with both educational and personal insights, from giving her the resources and advice she needed to decide on her major to supplying Taylor with volunteer and internship opportunities in the Richmond community and even inviting her to several family functions.

“She’s squeezing every drop of experience she can out of VCU, and it’s transforming her into an incredible communicator,” Sims says of Taylor. “She’s taught me so much, and I’m thrilled to learn that I have nurtured a new mentor who will continue the cycle.”

In their time together, Taylor mentored an after-school group at John Marshall High School that hoped to lead teen girls to identify issues in their community and tackle them through social change. Sims provided Taylor with community resources that could help expand and grow the program.

“During our year together she supported me through many life changes and made me feel loved,” Taylor says. “It would be an honor to be a mentor just like Mrs. Sims.”

Although the program is only in its second year, the Mentoring Circle has expanded immensely. The initial 10 students in the first cohort nearly quadrupled to 37 students in the second. Clif (B.S.’89/AHP) and Deborah (B.S.’87/H&S) Porter agreed to serve as the program’s co-managers moving forward and will provide leadership as the Mentoring Circle progresses to its third cohort.

“It grew much quicker than we anticipated, but we do this to help the students, not for ourselves,” Deborah says.

The husband-and-wife team coordinate the Mocktail party event and engage other alumni, match students to their mentors and plan all of the other Mentoring Circle events. They’re looking to create an event during the fall semester, which would give the mentors and mentees an opportunity to come together in between the Mocktail party and their end-of-the-program send-off event. The Roberts also plan to create an internship program with AAAC members that aligns with students’ career goals to give them professional training before they enter the world of work.

“The biggest thing we do is help students come to an accelerated realization that who they are and what they become isn’t defined by the things they studied in school,” Roberts says. “When the rubber meets the road, mentoring is what helps guide young men and women to where they want to be in life.”

Learn more about the Mentoring Circle and how you can volunteer to become a mentor online.

Family ties lead to VCU, and love, for alumni

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Catherine and Edward Cary

By Anthony Langley

A huge snowstorm hit Richmond, Virginia, in November 1987, blanketing the city and causing nearly everything to shut down, including Virginia Commonwealth University. If it weren’t for that snowfall, Catherine (B.S.’89/P; Pharm.D.’95/P) and Edward (B.S.’88/P) Cary might have never met.

“There had to be 20 inches of snow, and everyone who lived in the dorms was outside playing in it,” Edward says. “That was the first time I met her, and here we are today.”

They can also credit their families for bringing them to VCU. Edward’s sister, Carol Boswell (B.S.’79/N), and her husband, Peter Boswell (B.S.’76/H&S; M.H.A.’87/AHP), both matriculated at the university. Carol, who worked as a registered nurse at MCV Hospitals, encouraged Edward to apply to VCU, and it was through her recommendation that he chose to study pharmacy.

“She interacted with pharmacists in her day-to-day,” says Edward, who started out as a biology major on a pre-dental track. “She thought it would be a cool career, but told me I should try it out before making a decision.”

During his freshman year at VCU Edward accepted an unpaid position as a pharmacy technician at Johnston-Willis Hospital in Richmond, which piqued his interest in the field. A subsequent aptitude test revealed that his personality was perfectly suited for pharmacy. It was the final sign. He changed his major and never looked back.

“Without Carol’s recommendation, I’d probably be doing something else,” says Edward, staff pharmacist for the Mechanicsville, Virginia, Martin’s location. “I really credit her for my career in pharmacy.”

This fall he’s stepping back from his 30-year career as a pharmacist to pursue another interest: cooking. He’ll be taking classes part time at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College to earn a degree in culinary arts with plans to eventually become a chef. “I’ve always loved being a pharmacist, but I’ve always had a passion for cooking,” he says.

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Portrait of Daniel Herbert that hangs at Bremo Pharmacy

Like Edward, Catherine also has a sister, Michelle Thomas (B.S.’90/P), who attended VCU, and both women followed in the footsteps of their father, Daniel Herbert (B.S.’66/P). Daniel founded Richmond’s Bremo Pharmacy in 1976 and served as president of the American Pharmacists Association until his passing in 2004.

Catherine grew up working in her dad’s pharmacy and ran cross-country in high school, so when it was time to choose a college, VCU was the perfect fit. It supported a cross-country team, and at the time, was the only pharmacy school in Virginia.

“It was a natural choice for me,” Catherine says. “VCU had everything I was looking for. I knew this is where I wanted to be.”

Today, as president of Bremo Pharmacies, she oversees all three Bremo Pharmacy locations, continuing to build on the work that her father started nearly 40 years before.

Edward and Catherine both credit VCU for giving them the opportunities they have and joined VCU Alumni as Life members to give back to the university that provided them so much.

“The two of us have a real legacy here,” Catherine says. “This is where Bremo started, and if Ed’s sister had never come to the university, we may have never met all those years later. We owe VCU for our careers, and for each other.”

Professor’s research demonstrates link between gut bacteria and brain inflammation in chronic liver disease

Jasmohan Bajaj, M.D.

Jasmohan Bajaj, M.D., associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, had findings from his research on gut bacteria in cirrhosis published recently in the journals Hepatology and Scientific Reports.

The findings conclude that gut bacteria, found in the intestinal tract and stool, are associated with brain inflammation in cirrhotic patients and animals known as hepatic encephalopathy (HE). HE can lead to fatigue, the inability to concentrate, mental confusion and death.

“HE is an epidemic in patients with liver disease and cirrhosis,” said Bajaj, associate professor in the Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition in the VCU School of Medicine. “Bacteria can result in inflammation in the systemic circulation, which in turn could inflame the brain.”

His research published in Hepatology involved the study of germ-free and conventionally raised mice with cirrhosis. The researched shows that gut microbes are essential for brain inflammation in cirrhotic mice. The human study published in Scientific Reports shows that specific bacteria were associated with nerve cell or neuron damage, while others were associated with damage to supporting cells or astrocytes.

Further investigation must include HE treatment that targets particular gut bacterial populations and specific affected brain region that might be affected as a result, said Bajaj, who practices at both VCU Health and the McGuire VA Medical Center.

Despite treatment for HE using the current standard of care, patients still experience the progression to overt HE and residual brain damage, Bajaj said. Consequently, further treatment options must be researched and made available to patients, Bajaj said.

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First female to win Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon twice in a row eyes higher prize

Melanie Kulesz

Melanie Kulesz

Virginia Commonwealth University M.B.A. student Melanie Kulesz never imagined she would go from a little-league soccer player to winner of the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon — let alone a two-time winner. But this year, cheered on by family, friends and spectators, Kulesz became the first female to win the 26.2-mile race in consecutive years.

Kulesz’ passion for running began during her days playing midfield on a youth soccer team.

“I was very unskilled, but I could just run and run,” the 25-year-old said. “Soccer made me realize I have a lot of endurance, but my older sister is the one who really got me into trying cross-country and track.”

Encouraged by her sister, Kulesz joined the UNC Asheville track and field team, running cross country and indoor and outdoor track. While she ran everything from the 800-meter all the way up to the 10,000-meter, her specialty became the 5k and 10k. Although Kulesz graduated in 2013, she still carries a piece of her alma mater with her today. Jesse Norman, the head coach at UNC Asheville, has been Kulesz’s trainer the past two years. Kulesz credits his support and knowledge for her success.

“He’s so smart and really brilliant,” she said. “Not only is [he] a full-time head track and field coach, but he has agreed to continue to coach me. I’m really thankful.”

Kulesz worked to conquer the 26.2-mile marathon course as well as her graduate school courses, training for two hours a day and even longer on the weekends. Balancing a full-time graduate school workload was hard, Kulesz said, but the flexibility of the Master of Business Administration Program at VCU made things a lot easier.

“VCU’s MBA classes all take place in the evenings to cater to full-time workers, so I am able to do all of my training in the morning and do additional training — weights, core, second run — in the evening before class,” she said. “I have a graduate assistantship at VCU, so my work and studies are flexible and I can work them around my training schedule and vice versa.”

Kulesz was drawn to the VCU School of Business because it was one of the few schools to offer a Business Analytics concentration. She also was in search of a graduate program close to her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., VCU was the perfect choice.

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How a VCU-based collaboration is reshaping our view of early Jamestown

Researchers—using energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy chemical analysis—examine particulate recovered from Jamestown Boy's lower left incisor at the Nanomaterials Core Characterization Facility at the VCU School of Engineering.

Researchers—using energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy chemical analysis—examine particulate recovered from Jamestown Boy’s lower left incisor at the Nanomaterials Core Characterization Facility at the VCU School of Engineering.

Medical researchers and archaeologists are studying the skull and teeth of a 15-year-old boy who died in 1607

The term “oral history” conjures images of man’s first attempts to learn from the past. Now an interdisciplinary team of researchers working in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering is giving those words new meaning.

School of Engineering postdoctoral fellow D. Joshua Cohen, M.D., and a team of medical researchers, as well as archaeologists from Jamestown Rediscovery at Historic Jamestowne, are studying the skull and teeth of a 15-year-old boy who died in Jamestown in 1607. They believe material recovered from the boy’s dental structures may yield clues about diet and other aspects of daily life in 17th-century Jamestown.

The Nanomaterials Characterization Core, a research core facility of the VCU Office of Research in the Institute for Engineering and Medicine, is assisting the effort. The NCC is also a partnership between the VCU School of Engineering and the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences. The samples were prepared in a clean environment that was provided by Wright Virginia Microelectronics Center at School of Engineering.

The project began when Martin D. Levin, D.M.D., who is an endodontist based in the Washington, D.C. area and also an adjunct professor at University of Pennsylvania, viewed the Smithsonian’s forensic archaeology exhibit “Written in Bone.” The popular show, which looked at what investigation of human skeletons could reveal about people and events of the past, included one skull that piqued Levin’s interest.

“I looked at the display of a young boy, showing his fractured teeth and associated abscess, and thought that further study might yield more information about his life,” Levin said.

The state-of-the-art instrumentation available in the NCC’s world-class, collaborative materials analysis facility made it the perfect place to uncover the next chapter of that story. So did something else.

“Dr. Levin came to us, and it was a bit of kismet that all of the parties came together, because [School of Engineering] Dean [Barbara] Boyan’s group has been researching in the field of bone for years,” Cohen said.

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