Family ties lead to VCU, and love, for alumni


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.


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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VCU Broad Street Mile returns for 4th annual event


Virginia Commonwealth University returns as the signature sponsor of the VCU Broad Street Mile. The event will allow participants to enjoy a free festival, compete in a series of 1-mile fun runs or a 5K, and raise money for local organizations. The fourth annual event will take place on Broad Street between Belvidere Street and Hermitage Road on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The VCU Broad Street Mile will offer an opportunity to support VCU and many other community organizations in the Richmond area. And this year’s event is part of the launch of the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, a comprehensive fundraising campaign to support students and faculty, spark creative partnerships and expand the university’s research capacity by providing world-class facilities, equipment and materials.

“With VCU’s upcoming comprehensive campaign, we are focusing on faculty, staff and alumni engagement paired with community involvement,” said Chris Ritrievi, senior associate vice president for campaign leadership and constituency relations at VCU. “VCU’s continued engagement with Richmond is pivotal to the campaign’s success and the success of the Broad Street Mile.”

The VCU Broad Street Mile provides a unique opportunity for people of all ages and fitness levels. Athletes ranging from novice to elite can choose to run or walk the 5K or one of the 1-mile fun runs. Each of the fun runs has different themes, including the Spirit of Giving Mile, Kids Mile, No Limits Mile and Doggy Dash. In an effort to expand the community impact, this year’s event will not require participating organizations to have a 501(c)3 designation.

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VCU part of national $3.4 million award for research on infants with delayed skills

Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles has been part of the START-Play Program since April.

Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles has been part of the START-Play Program since April.

Thanks to a $3.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, a team of researchers that includes Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Physical Therapy faculty has begun work on an initiative to rehabilitate infants with motor skill delays.

The START-Play program is one of the largest national clinical trials of its kind. The project’s purpose is to evaluate the effectiveness of a fully developed intervention that targets sitting, reaching and motor-based problem-solving in infancy. VCU is one of four intervention sites across the United States.

Stacey Dusing, Ph.D., associate professor in the VCU Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions, is the primary investigator on the project.Emily Marcinowski, Ph.D., is a VCU postdoctoral fellow in charge of recruitment and assessment. The study will take place over four years, Dusing said, and will include students from the Department of Physical Therapy, the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Rehabilitation and Movement Science.

“We are excited to be part of this effort because the research we’re conducting will contribute to research going on around the world on this topic,” Dusing said. “One goal of the study is to advance the motor and cognitive skills of enrolled children in order to better prepare them to learn in preschool and beyond.”

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University fund champions innovative faculty research projects


Pamela Lawton, Ed.D.

Pamela Lawton wants to replicate an almost extinct style of learning that once happened naturally when multiple generations of families lived together. A research award through the VCU Presidential Research Quest Fund will help her determine if it is possible.

Lawton, Ed.D., associate professor in the Department of Art Education in VCU’s School of the Arts, received a $48,000 PeRQ award to build on 15 years of research as an art educator. Her project, Artstories, involves a process of bringing together multiple generations of people in underserved communities and connecting them through visual stories.

Her grant was one of more than 20 projects to receive funding this year through PeRQ. Funding totals more than $930,000, including matching funds from faculty departments and schools.

The PeRQ Fund is designed to support faculty research projects across the university and its institutions.

“As a premier public research university, VCU is committed to supporting our faculty’s new, emerging and continuing research,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “In today’s competitive research funding environment, the PeRQ Fund supports impactful research to advance knowledge, inspire creativity and improve health in the community, nation and world.”

awton’s research has several layers. In addition to intergenerational learning she is also interested in the process of communities healing by building rapport and trust among individuals who work on art projects together.

“If you think about troubled communities, it’s hard to think about healing taking place without trust, and trust without a rapport being built — that’s my experience,” Lawton said.

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Community Roots

The new Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden supports the Center for High Blood Pressure and VCU’s RamPantry one tomato at a time


It could have just been a few parking spaces. Instead, a townhouse-sized lot tucked behind the West Cary Street Parking Deck at Virginia Commonwealth University houses a new garden that grows food for students and community members in need.

“Because of its location there are a lot of people walking by, and I get the opportunity to talk to people all the time,” said Hannah Wittwer, learning garden coordinator in the Office of Sustainability and resident farmer-in-chief.

At around 1,500 square feet, the Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden was laid out to maximize productivity and soak up the sun. As July approaches, crops are sprouting from eight wooden raised beds, vertical planters, old whiskey barrels and dozens of large coffee bags.

Produce from the garden goes to RamPantry, a food pantry for VCU students, faculty and staff in need, and the nearby Center for High Blood Pressure, a free clinic serving uninsured Richmond residents. Wittwer said she aims to grow and donate 800 pounds of food this year.

“The garden doesn’t have a fence around it intentionally, so people will feel more welcome to come in and explore,” said Erin Stanforth, director of sustainability.

Growth spurt

This lush, green scene was quite different just a year ago. Originally purchased as part of a parking project, the space was gifted to the Office of Sustainability from VCU Parking and Transportation.

“We did a survey in 2014 at our annual flagship event, Campus Sustainability Day, and we asked students from freshmen to seniors if they would be interested in an on-campus learning garden,” Stanforth said. “Overwhelmingly the response was ‘Yes.’ Coupled with RamPantry’s lack of access to fresh produce, we decided to see if we could create a learning garden on the site.”

Sustainability applied for a grant from the Council for Community Engagement and received a stipend for the project last summer. That, combined with office funds, allowed the site to be graded and piped for water, and also allowed for the addition of an accessible parking spot.

Wittwer brought years of agricultural experience to the role when she joined VCU in January. But gardening between a four-story parking deck and a privately owned apartment building presented new tests.

“My background in rural agriculture made it feel more challenging. Rural farms are typically wide open space,” Wittwer said. She reached out to local gardeners at places such as Tricycle Gardens and the Sacred Heart Community Center, finding “an enormous amount of support from local gardeners.”

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VCU paves new path for clinical trial recruitment through launch of StudyFinder


Clinical trial recruitment remains one of the biggest obstacles faced by researchers today. The inability of researchers to recruit enough viable participants results in failed clinical trials that do not produce measurable results, thus Virginia Commonwealth University was inspired to create a simpler, more user-friendly platform for potential research participants to find and enroll in clinical trials.

VCU’s StudyFinder officially launches July 1 as a central point for all enrolling clinical trials at VCU. Interested volunteers can easily navigate the interactive site to identify studies that are recruiting participants.

The creation of StudyFinder also provides a unique avenue for health care providers to educate their patients on the importance of clinical trials. In a 2005 survey of nearly 2,000 cancer patients, 73 percent of those who joined a clinical trial said they did so because of their health care provider’s awareness of clinical trials.

“Participating in research at VCU is a powerful way of contributing to the future of health care,” said Tim Aro, manager of clinical research informatics at the VCU C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research’s Enterprise Informatics. “With StudyFinder’s easy-to-use features, potential volunteers can search for clinical trials and communicate with study teams quickly and easily with just a few clicks of the mouse. Contributing to science has never been easier.”

The VCU version of StudyFinder, which houses more than 480 enrolling studies, was developed by the Wright CCTR. The center is part of a national Clinical and Translational Science Award consortium supported by a National Center for Advancing Translational Science award (No. UL1TR000058), which is granted by the National Institutes of Health. The StudyFinder tool was originally developed by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the University of Minnesota (No. UL1TR000114).

Volunteers interested in learning more about open clinical trials at VCU can search by age, health status, keywords or general categories. They will then be taken to a study match page that clearly outlines the title of the study, name and contact information of the coordinator, and eligibility requirements.

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VCU’s Center for Sport Leadership ranked eighth in the world


The Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University is ranked eighth worldwide and seventh in North America in the 2016 Sports Business International Postgraduate Sport Course Rankings, released Friday. It is the first time the CSL has been included on the list of top sports management programs. The CSL is also ranked eighth worldwide in the Graduates Choice category, which is based on student satisfaction surveys.

“We are honored to be recognized as one of the best sport management programs in the world,” said Carrie LeCrom, Ph.D., executive director of the CSL. “This designation signals the consistent growth and evolution of our program, its students and our alumni.”

This is the fifth year Sports Business International has conducted rankings for sport business and sports management programs worldwide. The publication received a record number of entries for consideration. The methodology of the rankings are based on several factors: graduates employed within three months of graduation; work placement; male/female ratio; domestic/international student ratio; and average salary after three years of graduation. There is also a student satisfaction component, which is based on a survey filled out by a program’s alumni from a designated year.

The CSL has more than 700 alumni working in all areas of the sport industry, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, USGA, and more than 50 Division I college athletic departments across the country.

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