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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Researcher investigates environmentally friendly mosquito management

Katie Bellile, VCU alumna, published the results of her undergraduate research on environmentally friendly mosquito management.

Katie Bellile, VCU alumna, published the results of her undergraduate research on environmentally friendly mosquito management.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Katie Bellile (B.S.’14/LS) has always been very clear about what she wants. From a young age she knew she wanted to go to VCU and immerse herself in environmental studies.

Bellile, 28, grew up in Richmond around the university where her mom was working toward a master’s degree in urban planning. She remembers being inspired by the Eugene P. and Lois E. Trani Center for Life Sciences building, which was new at the time.

Last year, Bellile graduated with a master’s degree in environmental studies in Life Sciences after completing her undergraduate degree in the same discipline, and started her career at Stantec as an environmental planner, protecting limited freshwater resources. Now, the research she conducted as an undergraduate student has been published — a unique achievement. And she has done it all as a single mom.

Bellile’s paper is an investigation of environmentally friendly mosquito management. Specifically, she looked at the combination of biological pesticides and leaf litter in controlling the emergence of adult mosquitoes from the egg and larval stages. The paper was published this month in the Journal of Vector Ecology, and is the culmination of research Bellile conducted with her faculty mentor James Vonesh, Ph.D., associate professor in the VCU Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Read more about Bellile’s work and her newly published paper.

VCU Health celebrates new one-of-a-kind outpatient facility


In the lobby of the new VCU Health Neuroscience, Orthopaedic and Wellness Center on Tuesday night, more than 150 guests cheered as VCU leadership officially cut the ribbon for the new outpatient facility.

The N.O.W. Center, located just outside the Short Pump Town Center in Henrico County, focuses on human movement. The vision for the center is to restore motion and help patients with orthopedic and neuroscience illness not only survive, but thrive and optimize their personal potential. The new five-story building is 111,000 square feet with more than 80 exam rooms. It offers a unique model of care that is regionally focused and represents the future of interprofessional care delivery. The center is led by a trio of medical directors, Kevin Hoover, M.D., William Jiranek, M.D., and Bruce Mathern, M.D.

“The VCU Health Neuroscience, Orthopaedic and Wellness Center is a new facility that brings together the physicians, staff and support services needed to optimize the ability of patients to move,” Hoover said. “The quality of the patient experience is at the center of our care model and drives our effort to shorten the time from initial patient contact to definitive management. By leveraging our tremendous depth of expertise, the commitment of our staff and advanced technology, we will measurably improve the quality of their care.”

Much like the popular children’s song, “Dry Bones,” where the “hip bone is connected to the back bone,” the care team at the N.O.W. Center are also connected to one another. The interdisciplinary model offers many subspecialties in one location. The care is coordinated so patients can get everything they need in one day without having to set foot outside the building.

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VCU basketball stars visit Richmond jail to shoot hoops, and inspire inmates and their sons

Torey Burston and Mo Alie-Cox greet fathers and sons during a break on the basketball court.

Torey Burston and Mo Alie-Cox greet fathers and sons during a break on the basketball court.

VCU basketball stars Mo Alie-Cox (B.S.’15/GPA) and Torey Burston embraced the smiling fathers and sons as they entered the classroom Wednesday at the Richmond City Justice Center.

The men — inmates at the Richmond and Chesterfield jails — and their sons, ranging from pre-schoolers to eighth graders, sat in rapt silence as the student athletes relayed their motivational message of hope, hard work and perseverance and then shared some dribbling and twirling techniques.

“This means a lot to me,” said Jerrylee Wright, holding the hand of his 4-year-old son, Jerrylee Jr., before heading to the gym with the group to play ball. “Being able to spend time with him on the basketball court is a blessing. Words can’t describe it. And just hearing the insights from Mo and Torey means a lot.”

Alie-Cox, who’s pursuing his master’s in Criminal Justice from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, and Burston, a homeland security and emergency preparedness major at the Wilder School, came to the jail as part of Hoops for Hope, a program sponsored by the Richmond City and Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Offices to help male inmates build relationships with their sons.

Hoops for Hope is part of the REAL — Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles — program at the Richmond jail, started by Wilder School alumna Sarah Scarbrough, director of internal programs. In the voluntary program, inmates to take classes in areas including parenting skills, anger management and remedial math. The men had to apply to participate in Hoops for Hope and were excited about meeting the players.

“I can’t say enough about the athletes coming here. They are role models and great examples,” said Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. “They’re helping the fathers in the program by being here. You can be a good father inside the jail, but you can be a better father outside the jail.”

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