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

Dental Hygienist finds his Disney princess at VCU

By Anthony Langley

Jorel Belarmino, RDH (B.S.’06/H&S; B.S.’14/D), is a registered dental hygienist living in Kissimmee, Florida. When he’s not working, he’s either working out at the gym or spending time at Disney World where his wife, Honey (B.A.’10/WS; B.A.’10/WS), works as member services manager at the Disney Vacation Club. He will be taking over the VCU Alumni Instagram account next week to give us a glimpse into his life.

What drew you to VCU?

I was born in Toronto, Ontario, and my family moved to Surrey, British Columbia, when I was 8. I attended middle school and high school through 10th grade there before we relocated to Richmond, Virginia. When it came time to choose a college, I wanted to stay close to my younger brother. After doing some research and learning about the outstanding reputation the health sciences program [at VCU] has as well as just the community feel and diversity around campus, it seemed like a perfect fit. VCU is a place I call home.

Do you remember your favorite moment from your time on campus?

There’s so many to choose from! One that’s on the top of my list is a clinic session I had in the dental hygiene program. During one of our first clinic sessions as junior dental hygiene students, Joan Pellegrini Ph.D., RDH (Ph.D.’08/E), was on duty grading my clinical notes.

I signed them “Jorel” without my last name to which she commented, “Jorel, you didn’t put your full name. How do you spell your last name? I’ll put it in for you.”

I thought, how professional of her to write my name in for me. This was my opportunity to set the tone for the year. I said, “Oh OK, thanks Dr. P.! It’s A-W-E-S-O-M-E.” She turned around and gave me this blank stare with an underlying smile.

I apologized and told her I was kidding, then spelled out awesome again. She said, “Oh jeez, nevermind, you do it,” chuckled and walked away.

Why did you choose to study dentistry?

I grew up enjoying the sciences and thought about becoming a doctor. I really wanted to use my hands so I thought being a surgeon would be a good option for me.

When I sat down and considered my options, I thought about the costs, happiness and quality of life. Dental hygiene fit the bill; it’s a highly rewarding career with flexibility, and I get to deliver great patient care.

I think my favorite part of working in dentistry is educating patients on how to improve their overall health through dental care at home.

How did you and your wife meet?

After I finished my first bachelor’s degree in science at VCU, I decided I’d go back to school. Shortly after my first semester back, I was working as a teaching assistant and tutoring entry-level biology and physiology classes. One day I just happened to sit in on an introductory biology lecture and there she was, Honey Delo, in the first row taking notes.

We had some mutual friends, had been introduced to each other in the Student Commons once but that was it. So there I was enamored with this stunning girl in the front row of the class I was tutoring. I decided to go for it, and the rest is history.

What prompted your move from Richmond to Florida?

It was always my wife’s dream to work for Mickey. We both grew up loving the magical world of Disney so we decided to make it happen.

Together, we set a goal, drew up a plan and executed it. I completed my second bachelor’s in dental hygiene, which gave us a solid foundation. Once she finished her degrees, we made the move to Florida where she’s pursued a career with the Walt Disney Co. Now we live our lives filled with pixie dust!

The both of us always say you should never fully become an adult. We’ve been Mouseketeers at heart since we were kids. Walt Disney World is the happiest place on earth. What’s not to love?

Pharmacy professor named first da Vinci Center Faculty Fellow

Dayanjan “Shanaka” Wijesinghe, Ph.D.

Dayanjan “Shanaka” Wijesinghe, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’08/M),  wants to go beyond standard science.

“People like to say, ‘I’m doing arts, I’m doing science.’ No, no, no,” he said. “You are both doing art. It’s creating something brand new with the tools that you have. It’s art that’s based on a logical process, that’s true. But it’s creativity at its heart.”

The assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Pharmacy is the first da Vinci Center Faculty Fellow. Wijesinghe’s commitment to collaboration across disciplines brought him to Garret Westlake, the center’s director.

“He actually reached out to me,” said Westlake. “I think it was my first week at VCU, and he said, ‘I would like to be more involved with the da Vinci Center, I wanted to get your ideas about where you see the center going in the future.’”

The faculty fellowship’s purpose is to highlight VCU faculty who champion cross disciplinary collaboration and innovation. Wijesinghe saw an opportunity to bring pharmacy and da Vinci students together to inspire entrepreneurship and creative thinking. He sees collaboration between the two as a ripe opportunity for student startups.

“Thinking outside the box, bringing the right people together and getting things done. That’s pretty much what we are trying to do here,” Wijesinghe said.

Wijesinghe recently sat down for an interview to discuss his roots as a scientist, and what intrigues him about the future.

Read more.

An unexpected journey: Peace Corps takes alumnus from Richmond to southern Africa

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

December 2014 marked six months since Anthony Muron (B.S.’14/H&S) had interviewed with the Peace Corps. He spent those months keeping busy, volunteering with Commonwealth Catholic Charities and working the house painting job he had held for five years. In fact, he was 30 feet in the air on a ladder when he got the email.

Muron still remembers the feeling that brisk December day, climbing down the ladder teary-eyed to tell his co-workers that he had been invited to serve.

“I called my mother immediately to tell her the good news,” he says. “If it wasn’t for [her], I would have completely lost my way and may not have even gone to college. All my hard work had finally paid off.”

His father helped him pay his way through college, but it still  took a few years for Muron to strike a balance between studying and working during his time at Virginia Commonwealth University. By his third year, he was so concentrated on work that graduating on time was not an option. He knew that if he didn’t refocus on his schoolwork, his only other option would be to drop out of college.

“That was the moment where I told myself to pull up my bootstraps and put myself on the right track,” Muron says.

Wanting to make the most of his college experience in his senior year, which he paid for himself, he hit the ground running and signed up for every extracurricular activity that came his way. He re-joined Students Today Alumni Tomorrow, VCU Alumni’s student organization, serving on its Leadership Council and later its board of directors. He also became a member of the Student Government Association, Honor Council and Psychology Anonymous.

“Being involved with STAT was a huge turning point in my college career,” he says. “I was constantly working, zipping around campus on my bike, and attending meetings on both campuses right up until my last day as a student.”

Brendan Hood (B.S.’15/B), who worked with Muron on STAT’s board of directors, praised him for his work ethic.

“[Anthony] is a proud VCU alumnus, who always put others before himself and leads the way in showing the world how far loyalty, friendship and positivity can go,” says Hood.

Less than a year after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Muron was on a plane to Mozambique. He has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the country for the past two years, working closely with local hospitals to counsel HIV patients about treatment options, to form patient help groups to ease medication distribution, to search for patients who have missed consultation dates and to educate the public about malaria and nutrition.

He also works on the Jovems Unidos no Trabalho do Oportunidades e Successo (United Youth in the Work of Opportunities and Success) project that meets weekly with local youth ages 13 to 23 to discuss health-related topics, to practice theater and to dance and play games. Youth also learn English through the English Theater Network where children from all 10 provinces in Mozambique come together annually to perform a play centered on various health and social topics.

“They’re a great group of kids,” Muron says. “Each one of them is active in their community, and they all have bright futures ahead of them.”

Last summer, Muron had the opportunity to pursue another one of his interests, environmental sustainability, while continuing his work with the Peace Corps. After visiting Mount Namuli in the heart of the country’s Zambézia province, he learned about the work that the Legado Initiative, another nongovernmental organization, was doing to introduce perma-gardening and sustainable agricultural activities in the area.

“Local leadership knows the damage that is being done to the rivers and streams through unsustainable farming methods and that preventing them requires a collective effort and alternative economic resources,” says Muron, who volunteered to help with the initiative. “The Legado: Namuli team realized this as well and wanted to use education as the first step.”

With support from government leaders, the team is working to identify change agents who can stop farmers from using the slash-and-burn agriculture method and recruit them to help introduce sustainable farming techniques.

“So far we’ve held training sessions in each of the six Namuli communities and reached 15 leaders in each, many of whom have already begun to implement perma-farm techniques in their own farms,” Muron says. “The key is perseverance and communication. There will be a lot of resistance and setbacks, but without pain there’s no progress.”

Today, the project has agreements with community leaders to stop the farming and burning of high-elevation forests in exchange for agricultural development, income generation and infrastructure building as well as funding from multiple private organizations that will help Legado accomplish its goals.

Over the next decade, the Legado: Namuli project will continue toward its goal of protecting one of Mozambique’s most ecologically diverse and important environments while at the same time ensuring that future generations will have adequate access to natural resources and freshwater supplies.

“If you give corn to a community, it will go hungry the following year; but if you teach them to grow corn, they’ll have food for generations,” he says. “We’re not saving these communities. We’re providing them the means to save themselves. That’s the purpose of sustainable development.”

In August, Muron will become Mozambique’s Northern Regional Peace Corps Volunteer leader where he’ll provide Volunteer and organizational support and develop sites for new Volunteers to live. Although he’s leaving the Zambézia province, he knows that the work he’s done will continue and is excited for the next step in building a better future for the country.

“I haven’t changed the world, the world has changed me,” Muron says. “The people I’ve encountered in this part of the world have taught me so much more than I’ll ever be able to teach them.”

Alumna lifts her way to success

Melicia Limbo (B.S.’09/GPA) takes the reins of VCU Alumni’s Instagram account next week. Follow the marketing director and athlete as she works with her training team to prepare for upcoming powerlifting competitions.

Why did you choose to attend VCU?

I needed a change of scenery but didn’t want to move too far from home, and VCU also has a forensic science program, which helped me finalize the decision.

Also my brother, Mark (B.S.’09/H&S), is a Ram and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time on campus?

My entire 4 ½ years at VCU were so fun, but I would say my second and third years were the most exciting. I was that student who was at almost every basketball game yelling and being a die-hard fan, and I still am! This was the same year that Eric Maynor (B.I.S.’09/H&S), Mike Anderson(B.S.’08/H&S), Jesse Pellot-Rosa, B.A. Walker (B.S.’07/E) and Big Sam [Faulk] played [basketball] so they were really making a name for VCU across the country, and that was exciting to be a part of.

My second year, I figured out how to manage good grades and still be involved in student organizations and have a social life. In my third year, I tutored some athletes and was more involved with organizations, which influenced the way I work and connect with people today.

What did you do after earning your degree?

Well, in 2010 I started ROXYGREY+. It started out as a handmade accessory line, but within a short period of time, I shifted its focus into something I’ve been passionate about since I was as kid: writing. It became a platform for underground/local hip-hop artists to showcase their stories and music. I wanted quality music from artists who showed genuine passion for their art and not just fame, so I was very picky about the artists I featured, interviewed and reviewed.

Because of that, ROXYGREY+ earned a lot of respect over the years, and I was picked up by a handful of small networks as a featured interviewer and media personality. I’ve interviewed several notable names and brands like Pharrell, Pusha-T, No Malice, Greg Selkoe, Commonwealth (FTGG) and more.

Now, I mentor and advise a handful of creative artists, musicians, designers and business owners, working with them to generate ideas and create events to help them reach the next level in their career paths.

I think the purpose of ROXYGREY+ is still the same today as it was seven years ago: to serve as a platform for dreamers and doers to showcase their work and be a stepping-stone to their success.

In what ways has VCU tied into your career path?

I started working in the fitness industry at the Siegel Center, and three years later I was working the front desk at a fitness club where I was able to move up in the company to the position I am today as marketing director.

VCU helped me hone a lot of the skills that I use every day. In my line of work, I deal with budgets, events, advertising, networking and negotiating, so the writing and presentation skills I learned [at VCU] are vital. I also learned debate and discussion skills, attention to detail and my passion for people at VCU. Additionally, the connections I made while in school have been very helpful in networking and closing deals.

How did you get into powerlifting?

To give you some background, I’ve been an athlete since I was about 7 or 8 years old. I did tennis, swimming, running, martial arts and I started weightlifting for fun when I was 12. I was really just trying to compete with the guys in PE class.

I swam all four years in high school and while I was working at the Siegel Center, before it was the basketball team’s gym,  my co-workers egged me on to compete in the Bench Press Competition. You compete to see who can bench the highest weight. I ended up placing first in my weight class, and by the time I graduated, I was known as “Mighty Mouse” and “that girl who works out a lot.”

Fast-forward to last spring, a friend asked me if I’d be interested in powerlifting and told me that it would be a great sport for me. She had already been competing for a few years and told me to talk to her coach. So, I went out to one of her meets, met her coach and I’ve been going ever since. My first competition was in Pennsylvania last fall where I placed second in my weight class and qualified for nationals. I just competed again this past March at the SixKiller Open in Norfolk, Virginia, where I placed first in my weight class, was the second-best overall lifter in my division and qualified for both nationals and worlds.

Needless to say, there’s no turning back now!

Two VCU alumnae to serve in Peace Corps

Erica Ingram, at left, and Erin Geraghty.

Two Virginia Commonwealth University alumnae will share their knowledge of the English language during stints serving abroad in the Peace Corps.

Erin Geraghty (B.A.’16/H&S) leaves later this month to serve as an English teacher in Madagascar, while Erica Ingram (B.A.’15/H&S) will serve as an English teaching assistant in China.

Geraghty, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences in 2016, will begin with a three-month home stay in order to focus on language and culture. She sought “the opportunity to break out of the box and see how the rest of the world lives,” she said.

After the home stay, Geraghty will begin a two-year stint teaching middle and high school English and assisting with local teachers’ professional development, according to the Peace Corps.

“I hope to give my community the tools with which to think deeply and effectively and to instill within them a larger commitment to better themselves, their communities and the world around them,” Geraghty said in a statement. “I’m most excited to meet my fellow volunteers, my students and to go exploring around the island.”

Ingram, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 2015, will teach spoken and written English at the post-secondary level.

“I have always wanted to visit China and learn about the people and the culture,” Ingram said in a statement. “I attended an event where I met several returned volunteers who spoke of their experience and how rewarding it was for them.”

Ingram participated in VCU Globe and the Peace Corps Prep Program as a student. The program was launched in 2014 and currently enrolls 250 students, said Jill E. Blondin, Ph.D., director of VCU Globe. Two other prep program alumni are currently serving in the Peace Corps.

Ingram will live for three months with a host family, studying the language and culture, before serving two years in her teaching role.

“I want to become more organized so that this experience can help further my ultimate goal of becoming a professional ESL instructor,” Ingram said.

According to the Peace Corps, there are more than 328 Virginians currently serving around the world. The corps was founded in 1961, while the China and Madagascar programs began in 1993.

Across the world: Alumna’s passion for art spans three continents

Guido Alvarez, Ph.D. (M.F.A.’04/A; Ph.D.’15/H&S), teaches typography, motion graphics, visual expression and studio skills at Wenzhou Kean University in Wenzhou, China. He’ll be taking over VCU Alumni’s Instagram the week of May 29, giving you a look into what it’s like to teach and live in the city of Wenzhou.

What sparked your interest in art?

Well, my father is a professional watercolorist and was a professor of architecture at the University of Cuenca [in Ecuador]. He also served as dean of the schools of architecture and arts at the university and founded a local school of design.

I grew up in an environment where art was always present and that pushed me to attend a painting academy as a child.

What was your journey to VCU from Ecuador?

When it came time for me to choose a career, I wanted to become a photographer but, to this day, there are no schools of photography in Ecuador The closest professional path to follow was architecture, but after a semester of studying it, I decided that it wasn’t for me and transitioned into studying design and English at the University of Cuenca.

I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in 1999 and was given three program choices: the Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Chicago told me I didn’t have the skills, and Yale told me I didn’t have the money, but VCU said, “Come over and have a partial scholarship.” That was enough for me, so my wife at the time and I packed what we owned and moved to the States. I arrived to a city I knew nothing about and a university completely unknown to me in a country that I loved but knew nothing about except the language. Little did I know, it would become such an integral part of my life, education and identity.

What was your time at the university like?

Odd, weird, strange and unique in its own way. My first semester in the M.F.A. program was rough. I knew what I was capable of, but I wasn’t ready for the different expectations. Each professor was unique and challenged me, helping me transform from a designer and computer operator to a design thinker, culture-maker and conceptual thinker.

Outside of the classroom, things weren’t easy. Money was scarce, and we often had to live off of credit cards. We had our first child during my first year in the U.S. and trying to live within the salary of a teaching assistant was hard. However, the experiences I had in Richmond and the people I met made a radical difference in our lives. I still consider Richmond to be my true home. It’s where I met the people I call my American parents, Bob and Wilma, who embraced me and my family and gave us unparalleled generosity.

I moved back to Ecuador for five years after completing my master’s degree and worked as director of the design program at a transnational university, but it wasn’t the right fit for me so I returned to VCU for my doctorate [in media, art and text].

My second time at the university was much more demanding. From writing with the rigor of academia to commuting two hours a day from Louisa County, where I took care of a property and two lap dogs in exchange for living space for me and my family, it was extremely different. I left Richmond in 2006 to teach at St. Olaf College in Minnesota but returned to VCU twice to defend my Ph.D.

Where did you go after earning your Ph.D.?

Well, during the time it took me to defend my thesis I applied to jobs all over the world. When I was finished, I moved back to Minnesota to be close to my kids, and while I was there, I was offered a position at Wenzhou Kean University. Without any other options, I said yes and flew into the unknown once again.

Being in Wenzhou has been an extremely transformative experience. It wasn’t an easy path, but it was worth pursuing. China is a beautiful country, with a rich culture and great food. The problem is that many aspects of the country are unknown to the rest of the world, and I wish that were different.

What projects are you working on now?

When I’m not teaching, I’m learning Chinese, word by word, character by character. It’s a beautiful language, yet nearly impossible to master.

I’m also preparing a presentation for the World Design Summit in Canada this October called “Typography Education with Multicultural Perspective,” where I plan to show the gaps between Western and Eastern cultures from the perspective of visual communication and, particularly, graphic design.

I’ll also be back in Richmond starting in June conducting research at Cabell Library while preparing for an exhibit of my drawings that will take place in Ecuador in July. It will integrate a robotic drawing device with my handmade work with the subject matter being China, of course.

How has VCU made an impact on your career?

It made everything possible. I recently got a red paper dragon tattoo on my arm while in Shanghai, a first for me. I’ll get my next one while in Richmond, and it will be “VCUarts.” It means that much to me.

This VCU grad’s company may provide the next level in computer science instruction

Michael Smith – who graduated earlier this month from VCU’s Master of Product Innovation program, shows off a piece of Radiant RVA’s prototype learning system that will teach users how to program for wearable technology.

A company that emerged from the da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University has built a prototype device that may soon teach aspiring programmers how to write code and develop for wireless systems, Bluetooth technology and the internet of things.

Radiant RVA, co-founded by Michael Smith (M.P.I.’16/B), who graduated earlier this month from VCU’s Master of Product Innovation program, is aiming to roll out a curriculum along with an interactive device that will teach programming skills to students of all ages, preparing them for computer science projects and future careers.

“Our focus is on doing something in the digital world and seeing it come to life in the physical world,” Smith said. “With this device, you’re going to learn hardware programming techniques. So, if I do some coding, I can turn the lights on and off. You’re learning how to do coding that interacts with the real world. It’s tangible. You’re able to see it, touch it and hear it.”

The company’s learning system device, called the Vector iQ Learning System, looks a bit like a series of model rocket ships, each featuring lights and sounds. The student will use a smartphone to wirelessly connect to the system, and will write code that manipulates the device — turn the lights on and off, change the lights’ colors, make tones and sounds — all while completing lessons from the accompanying curriculum. As the student progresses through the curriculum they will unlock more advanced modules that cover topics ranging from sensors and data collection to cyber-security principles.

Read more.

This VCU graduate is finding ways to improve access to dental care

Sydney Brown.
Photo courtesy of Posters on the Hill

Affordable and convenient access to adequate dental care is a major public health obstacle in the United States. The U.S. greatly lags behind other industrialized nations with more than 45 million adults and children living in areas with poor access to dental care, according to a 2014 report by The Commonwealth Fund.

That’s a problem Sydney Brown (B.I.S.’16/H&S) is trying to solve through independent research. Brown, who graduated Saturday with a degree in interdisciplinary studies from the College of Humanities and Sciences, was honored at the Council of Undergraduate Research’s annual Posters on the Hill event in April. The competitive research conference featured the work of 60 undergraduate researchers from across the country, chosen out of hundreds of applicants to showcase their work to policymakers in Washington, D.C.

Brown and other researchers shared their findings with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin.

“It was an honor to be able to advocate for the importance of undergraduate research,” Brown said. “I also wish I could speak to more policymakers about improving access to dental care. It’s amazing how much policy impacts public health.”

Read more.

An interview with Anna Journey, author of ‘An Arrangement of Skin’

When Anna Journey (B.F.A.’04/A; M.F.A.’07/H&S) was a student in the master of fine arts in creative writing program at Virginia Commonwealth University, she attracted international news coverage for her discovery of an unpublished poem by Sylvia Plath in the archives at Indiana University. The poem, “Ennui,” was published in November 2006 in Blackbird, an online literary journal of the VCU Department of English and New Virginia Review Inc.

Today, Journey continues to attract attention, but it is her writing rather than her research that is the source of her renown. Journey is the author of the essay collection “An Arrangement of Skin” (Counterpoint) and three books of poems: “The Atheist Wore Goat Silk” (LSU Press), “Vulgar Remedies” (LSU Press) and “If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting” (University of Georgia Press), which was selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. Her poems have drawn praise from such luminaries as the film director David Lynch, who called Journey’s poetry “really magical,” and the poet Erin Belieu, who said Journey “brings me surprise after surprise in language so vivid, peculiar, truthful, and moving, that I gulp the poems down, a glutton for their strange energies and observations.”

Journey holds a B.F.A. in art education from the VCU School of the Arts, an M.F.A. in creative writing from the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences and a Ph.D. in creative writing and literature from the University of Houston. She’s currently an assistant professor of English at the University of Southern California. “An Arrangement of Skin,” which was published in March, is Journey’s latest work. In his praise for the book, Mark Doty, the National Book Award-winning poet, said Journey “might be our first Southern Gothic essayist, and she invigorates the form with both a poet’s lyricism and the distinctive signature of her character: a vulnerable heart wedded to an acute, comic, unsparing eye.”

Read more.