Nursing alumna Lisa Feierstein takes her career beyond the hospital

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Like many teenagers, Lisa Feierstein (B.S.’78/N) dreamed of becoming independent after high school and making an impact on the world through meaningful work. After weighing her options, she decided that becoming a nurse would be the best way to make her way in the world.

“I saw nursing as a way to fuel my desire,” she says. “I could make a living and effect change, why wouldn’t I go for it?”

She enrolled at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing and, once on campus, was immersed into both academic and clinical work that gave her the tools and knowledge she needed to forge her own path.

“Looking back on it now, we were doing incredible things at a very young age,” Feierstein says. “It was intense, but I wouldn’t go back and change a single thing.”

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree and initially worked at the then-Medical College of Virginia Hospitals. Feierstein went on to work in home health, public health and medical sales before deciding to return to school. With the goal of growing into a leadership role, she enrolled at Western New England University where she earned an M.B.A. with a minor in health care administration.

“I understood that health care was a business, but after getting my M.B.A., I was starting to understand its inner workings,” she says. “It was a natural fit for me.”

A few years later, she married her husband, Steve, and the couple decided to take destiny into their own hands and start a business. After talking to industry experts and conducting formal research, they leveraged their respective strengths and started Active Healthcare Inc. Partnering with nurses, physicians and other health care professionals throughout North Carolina, the company has provided medical equipment to those with asthma and diabetes statewide for the past 27 years.

“Everything I learned as a nurse and at VCU was a prerequisite for owning my own business,” she says. “I learned collaboration, leadership and, most importantly, how to empower people to take back their health.”

Wanting to give back to the program that gave her the skills she still relies on today, in 2016 Feierstein and her husband established the Feierstein Leadership and Innovation Fund in the VCU School of Nursing. The fund supports a lectureship series or other activities that propel nurses to influence health care through innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship.

The inaugural Feierstein Lecture, held in July, drew 150 students, faculty, alumni and health care professionals to the school to hear Michael R. Bleich, Ph.D., RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, CEO of NursDynamics LLC, talk about how nurse caregivers, educators and scientists possess a unique perspective that makes them ideal innovators.

“When alumni invest in your school that makes it even more special because they’re demonstrating they want others to obtain a great education like they received,” says Jean Giddens, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing. “Lisa went on to become a game changer in her industry and has established this fund with her husband to help us develop nurse leaders who will shape the future of our profession.”

Going forward, Feierstein hopes that the fund will empower nurses to think about their skills in a creative way.

“Nurses have the capability to chart the course of health care as we move forward,” she says. “I wanted to provide them the same opportunities that I had and give them the tools to push the envelope even further.”

Alumna transitions from blackhawks to block planes

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Alicia Dietz (M.F.A.’16/A), a former Army pilot, is a woodworker, craftsman and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Craft and Material Studies in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. If she’s not at her Richmond studio creating functional and concept art, she’s traveling up and down the East Coast doing art projects with military veterans. Follow along with her next week as she takes over the VCU Alumni Instagram account.

What was your time as a pilot like?

I have wanted to fly since I was 6 years old and watched medevac helicopters land on the roof of the hospital that my mom worked at. When I got to high school, I talked to as many pilots as I could and asked them how they learned to fly. The overwhelming majority said they learned in the military so that’s why I joined the Army. I earned my undergrad in advertising and journalism at Ohio University, going through the Army ROTC program while I was there. I graduated in 2001 and was just entering flight school when 9/11 happened. I was in flight school for just over a year before getting assigned to a unit stationed out of Germany that was already deployed to Iraq.

I was in the Army for just over 10 years, flew as a maintenance test pilot and commanded two different companies, one in Alaska and one in Egypt. I took aircraft on flights after repairs to test their airworthiness before releasing them back onto the flight schedule. That feeling when the wheels just lift off the ground is one that never got old for me.

How did you get into woodworking?

My father and grandfather had always done woodworking in their spare time. My dad had a little workshop in our basement and over the course of a decade, built our entertainment stand and coffee and end tables. Then, while in the Army, they had Morale, Welfare and Recreation centers where you could learn how to frame things, throw a pot or build a table. I would go in during my downtime and play in the shop. It was a great way to de-stress and learn something new.  I got addicted!

After I got out of the Army, I used my GI Bill to go to a very traditional woodworking school in Vermont for two years, learning dovetails, mortise and tenon and traditional wood construction. I had the amazing opportunity to go to San Diego and do an internship with Wendy Maruyama, who studied at VCU for a bit and who was a real inspiration to me and introduced me to concept in my work. She was the one who encouraged me to go to grad school.

Why did you choose VCU, and what’s your favorite memory of being on campus?

Wendy had many positive things to say about VCU, and even though I was in Vermont, my partner was living and working just south of Richmond. I knew that when school in Vermont was over I was moving back to Richmond. It was extremely convenient that one of the best art schools in the nation was right in my backyard!

My favorite memories would have to both being a TA and now teaching [woodworking at VCU]. To see the spark ignite when a student falls in love with woodworking is truly magical.

The pursuit of ‘hoppiness’: Couple drafts a plan for success, opens Twisted Ales Craft Brewing

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

A need for adventure brought Debbi (B.A.’12/H&S; B.A.’12/H&S; Cert.’15/B; M.B.A.’17/B) and Jason (B.S.’17/B) Price to Richmond, Virginia. The couple had lived in California for more than 20 years, but when life started to feel the same, they pulled out a map of the East Coast and threw caution to the wind.

“We put our hands together and made a pointer, closed our eyes and said wherever our fingers landed was where we were going to move,” Debbi says. “When we opened our eyes, we had landed on Richmond. Everything else is history.”

In four months’ time, the Prices sold their home, picked up their two children and moved across the country, sight unseen, arriving in Virginia in 2004, just before Hurricane Gaston hit Shockoe Bottom.

“We turned on the news and saw cars floating down the streets,” Debbi says. “It was quite the first day, but we couldn’t turn back.”

Several years later, Jason started working at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Survey and Evaluation Research Laboratory as a Web developer, and he fell in love with the university and the diversity it offered. Having completed a two-year degree program at Riverside City College before leaving California, he wanted to obtain his bachelor’s in business. VCU was the perfect fit.
“I started in 2006 and had to learn to balance a full-time job, being a parent and going to school one class a semester,” Jason says. “I had more than 20 years of development experience behind me, but it was great to see the educational side of things, and I’m grateful I was able to impart some of my knowledge to my fellow students as well.”

Debbi, who had been studying at the University of Virginia, transferred to VCU where she took classes full time and immersed herself in the college experience. As an undergraduate, she double majored in history and international studies, founded the student organization History Now and served as a senator in the Monroe Park Campus Student Government Association.

She has worked as an academic adviser and administrative specialist in the VCU Department of History since 2013 and has earned both a Certificate in Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration from the VCU School of Business.

“VCU is a microcosm of the world,” Debbi says. “I love the fact that at every turn you can experience something new and culturally diverse. We’re very lucky to have that [on campus].”

Nearly a decade had passed since the family had arrived in Richmond, and the couple had developed a love for craft beer. After some convincing from his wife, Jason eventually decided he should learn to make his own.

“The closest thing we had to [craft beer] growing up in California was Corona and lime, so this was an incredibly new experience for me,” Jason says. “We entered some of our first batch into a competition and got second place. I just couldn’t stop after that.”

The Prices developed more recipes and entered more competitions, and as their success grew so did their ambition. Thinking it would be great if they could run a family business, they drafted a plan and set out to open their own brewery.

“Our oldest son has autism and suffers from a seizure disorder,” Debbi says. “Being able to provide him stable and safe employment was a huge factor in deciding to open a business on our own.”

This past June, nearly two years after that initial conversation about starting a business, their dream became reality when Twisted Ales Craft Brewing opened to the public in the trendy Manchester area of South Richmond. Named for Jason’s want to push the creative limits that craft beers are judged by in competitions, the community has welcomed them with open arms.

The couple is planning an autism awareness fundraiser and is working with a group of VCU School of Pharmacy students who approached them to raise money for The Daily Planet,. The Prices are also partnering with Richmond’s Pink Ink Fund, which provides aid to those needing assistance with post-mastectomy tattoos.

“[Opening a business] hasn’t been easy, and we’ve had our ups and downs,” Jason says. “Regardless of what people tell you, you’re never really ready until it happens.”

With a successful business launch under their belts, the Prices are considering bottling and canning their brews and distributing them within the state, but they remain focused on doing what they can in Manchester.

“You know, there’s no grocery store in Manchester, so we’ve been talking about bringing in a farmer’s market,” Debbi says. “For us it’s more than beer, it’s a place where community can come together.”

Heading west with alumnus Will Gilbert

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Will Gilbert (B.S.’15/MC), a native of Natural Bridge, Virginia, recently worked in the Virginia Commonwealth University Office of Development and Alumni Relations where he produced videos and took pictures of featured donors, alumni and students for various communications campaigns. Next week, he’ll be taking over the VCU Alumni Instagram as he travels to Denver to begin the next chapter in his journey.

What drew you to VCU?

My mother went to VCU so growing up it was always in my head as a school of interest. I was intrigued by the possibilities at a big school in a big city, and I was drawn in by the creative vibe. By my senior year of high school, I knew it was the only university I wanted to apply to, so I put all my eggs in the VCU basket and was fortunate to be accepted.

I wanted to study theater in the School of the Arts but after an unsuccessful audition, I looked at programs where I could use the skills I gained in high school theater for something else. In my search, I came across the Robertson School and was immediately interested in studying broadcast journalism. I started the classes not knowing if I’d like them, but by the end, I loved them.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time as a student?

I did my best to be an active student so I involved myself in the Honors College, was an RA in Rhoads Hall, became secretary for the SGA and briefly worked with STAT (Students Today Alumni Tomorrow). One of my favorite activities was working on VCU InSight, the award-winning student newscast. It’s a capstone course in the journalism concentration, and I loved it so much I took it three times! I started out as a reporter and then spent two semesters as an executive producer. It was a great and challenging experience working with my peers and talented advisers to pitch, shoot, write, edit and produce a newscast for Richmond PBS every other week.

I was also fortunate to participate in the VCUQatar Leadership Exchange during my final semester. I spent a week in Doha, Qatar, working with student leaders at VCUQ on leadership techniques and experiencing the culture. I loved the city and the architecture. My favorite day during the trip was when we explored the Souq Waqif, the oldest marketplace in Qatar, walking around the thin, twisting walkways having vendors trying to sell you their wares. I would love to go back some day.

How has VCU tied into your career path?

VCU shaped my entire career path! My work in DAR definitely pushed me in the direction of working in video communications in either higher education or for a nonprofit. Although I don’t necessarily work in broadcast journalism, the skills I learned as a communications major obviously help me when shooting and interviewing. The education I received through the Robertson School and the Honors College is invaluable, and I believe the reason I see myself wanting to work in higher education is I want future students to have the same positive experience at their college or university that I did.

Why are you moving to Denver?

My older brother moved there eight years ago for work and has loved it. I’ve visited three times since then and one of my sisters has moved there as well. I love the atmosphere of Denver; it kind of reminds me of a larger Richmond. There’s so much to do and see there in terms of culture, food and outdoor activities. Denver has also attracted a lot of up-and-coming businesses, so there’s lots of job opportunity right now. Also, I’ve lived my entire life in Virginia, and it’s time for a new adventure!

What’s the last Richmond meal you had before leaving the city?

This was a difficult decision for me to make, but my intention was to have one final brunch at Liberty Public House in Church Hill. I love the food there, and the vegetarian options are great. Instead, I had my final brunch at the Boathouse with my former boss! An amazing meal, with an amazing view and a spectacular woman. I’m going to miss my DAR RAMily very much!

VCU volunteers help critically ill children from developing countries feel welcome in Richmond

Betty Balanos (left) and VCU Spanish professor Anita Nadal read a picture book to Ana Sophia Balanos, 2, who has been undergoing craniofacial surgeries at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and who was brought to Richmond by the World Pediatric Project. (Brian McNeill)

Ana Sophia Balanos, a 2-year-old from Belize, has undergone three major craniofacial surgeries at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU since she was brought to Richmond earlier this summer by the World Pediatric Project. She has one more surgery to go, but she is giggling and excited as she receives a visit from Spanish professor Anita Nadal (B.A.’05/H&S; Cert.’07/H&S) and her Virginia Commonwealth University students.

“¡Hola, princesa!” Nadal says, as she gives Ana Sophia a picture book as a present. “We’re here to spoil la princesa. Es muy importante.”

Nadal, a professor in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and students taking her class on understanding language and Latin American cultures this summer have been volunteering with the World Pediatric Project, which brings critically ill children from developing countries to the United States for medical care.

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Cheeky greeting cards with a VCU twist

Old Tom Foolery cards designed by VCU graduates Tim Shumar and Jenny Yoon.

If you can’t stand sappy, hackneyed greeting cards, Old Tom Foolery might be your savior. Joel and Lauren Gryniewski founded the tongue-in-cheek greeting card business in 2008, knowing that humor was a stable foundation for relationships and business.

“Lauren and I started Old Tom Foolery because we enjoyed trying to one-up each other with funny greeting cards when we were dating, but we had a hard time finding high-quality letterpress cards that weren’t super feminine looking.” Joel Gryniewski said. “So we decided to create a brand that combined nice letterpress printing with a gender-neutral look and tone.”

Since then, the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter graduates have discovered their brand of humor translates into an acclaimed business. The Greeting Card Association has awarded Old Tom Foolery six LOUIE awards (the greeting card equivalent of an Oscar) since 2008, and awarded the company a Most Humorous award in 2012.

When done well, humor has a way of strengthening the connection between a card giver and recipient,” Joel Gryniewski (M.S.’05/MC) said. “When two people have the same sense of humor, it’s almost like a secret code they share. It’s fun to be able to write cards that help people express their shared, irreverent sense of humor in a way traditional cards can’t.”

In 2016, the Gryniewskis began collaborating with students from their alma matter, allowing them to write and design their own greeting cards. May 2017 graduates Tim Shumar (B.S.’15/MC; M.S.’17/B), Jenny Yoon (M.S.’17/B) and Conor McFarland’s (M.S.’17/B) greetings carry the same strain of humor that make Old Tom Foolery’s cards stand out from the familiar, cringeworthy occasion cards you can find at a drug store or supermarket.

For Shumar, writing greeting cards has a dual purpose.

“As everyone knows, greeting-card writing is a surefire way to attract ladies,” he said. “I did it for them. … [I was also hoping to bring] world peace or [end] hunger. Whichever.”

These Brandcenter alumni have flexed their creative muscles for a successful company. The Gryniewskis themselves see Old Tom Foolery as a product of perseverance.

“Starting a business [and sticking with it] isn’t easy,” Joel Gryniewski said. “Lots of people talk about doing it. But we actually did it. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been able to keep it going for the past 10 years.”

How I got the job: After missing out on an internship, business grad’s persistence helps her land a job at Altria

Brianna Earl is an associate compensation analyst in the department of human resources at Altria.

Brianna Earl (B.S.’17/B) attended an internship fair at the beginning of her freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University. She met representatives from several companies, including Altria, the tobacco and wine giant and one of Richmond’s largest employers.

“I knew that I wasn’t really qualified yet for any position but I wanted to get a feel for the internship environment at VCU,” Earl said. “When I met [with Altria] I noticed how happy their employees seemed. I wanted to do some more research into the company.”

That first meeting, nearly four years ago, put Earl on a path to her first job. Today, the School of Business graduate is an associate compensation analyst in the department of human resources at Altria, a position that — among other things — is allowing her to learn about how the company operates.

“I love it,” said Earl, who just finished her second month on the job. “I’m able to see what goes on within the company, even if it’s not related to my position. It’s a lot of great early exposure and it’s setting the foundation for me to see what I want to move into further on in my career.”

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Humility, hunger pave alumnus’ way to new Netflix series

VCU graduate Jason Butler Harner in “Ozark.” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

More than three decades later, Jason Butler Harner (B.F.A.’92/A) still remembers a few things he learned in Mrs. Rubin’s fourth-grade class at Lemon Road Elementary School.

He learned how to play mahjong, which he still plays on airplane flights to this day.

He learned a lot about Christmas pageants, and appreciates the irony considering his teacher was Jewish.

And he learned that he loves performing.

“We had to do book reports in her class where we dressed like the character and then reported on the book,” Harner recalled. “And I was, and I still am, a huge procrastinator — a lot of creative people are. And I had only half-read the book. So I dressed up as the guy from the book and got really nervous presenting in front of the class.

“And then discovered that I kind of liked it.”

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Up in the air with ASPiRE graduate Georgia Cipriani

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Georgia Cipriani (B.S.’16/H&S), a flight attendant for American Airlines, spends a lot of time flying between Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., but her job also sends her to many new and exciting places around the world. She’ll be taking over the VCU Alumni Instagram account next week giving us a glimpse into her travels.

What was your time at VCU like?

I fell in love with VCU from my first visit. There are so many amazing moments that I wish I could go back in time and relive. I loved being an RA, had great professors, loved being a part of my sorority and graduated from the ASPiRE program!

I also had the chance to study abroad in Perugia, Italy. Not only did I learn a lot of Italian, but I had a blast and met so many new people who I still talk to today. Having the opportunity to study abroad got me out of my comfort zone and I honestly still benefit from that experience to this day. When you’re introduced to a new lifestyle, it lets you learn a lot about yourself.

On top of it all, the study abroad office at VCU was so helpful whenever I had any questions; it really gave me peace of mind.

How has VCU tied into your career path?

My aunt is a child psychologist, and she’s always been a major role model and influence in my life. She sparked my interest in studying psychology early on, so when I got to VCU I knew exactly what I wanted to study, and I plan on continuing my education and eventually getting my master’s.

While you don’t need a specific major to become a flight attendant, I think VCU gave me all the right tools I need to excel at it. I believe the airline industry is one of the most diverse industries to work in, not only because we fly all over the world but also because our passengers are from everywhere around the globe.

VCU’s diversity got me accustomed to being surrounded by people from different cultural backgrounds, and now I can’t think about ever working in an environment that doesn’t offer that.

What is the day-to-day like working for an airline?

As a flight attendant, you have to give up all expectations of a “typical day” or routine. You may think you are going to Los Angeles and end up in Tulsa, Oklahoma; there are no promises ever. My bag always has an umbrella, a bathing suit and a jacket because I can never be too sure of where I’m headed, so I wake up every morning ready for anything!

Where has been your favorite travel destination?

Since working for American, I’ve been able to travel all over the U.S. and a ton of countries in Europe. My favorite place has to be Italy because that’s where I was born and where half of my family is from. I also absolutely loved Copenhagen, Denmark, and cannot wait to go back.

The right moves: How alumnus Cameron Quayle learned the importance of planning ahead

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

“When I think about it, it’s the combination of science, arts and interacting with people that made dentistry the perfect fit for me,” Cameron Quayle, D.D.S. (D.D.S.’04/D) says.

Quayle, who grew up in Ogden, Utah, was recruited by nearby Weber State University to play college football though the sport was more of a diversion for him than a potential career. In high school, he decided to go into dentistry, and in the classroom, that’s where he focused his attention. At Weber, his junior year on the football field was a standout year and scouts started showing up to see him in practices and in games, but he never intended to play professionally.

Instead, he focused his efforts on applying to dental schools. Knowing the reputation that Virginia Commonwealth University had among Weber graduates who had attended the school, he knew that it would be a great fit for him.

While he was still making the final decision on which dental school to attend, he received correspondence from Marshall Brownstein, D.D.S., former admissions dean at the VCU School of Dentistry, with more information about the university and the D.D.S. program. That solidified Quayle’s choice.

“I was just some kid halfway across the country applying to dental school,” Quayle says. “Dr. Brownstein got to know me at a personal level, and that made a difference for me.”

He was accepted into VCU’s dental program, but five months before graduating from Weber with a bachelor’s in integrative studies focusing on chemistry, zoology and marketing, Quayle received news that the Baltimore Ravens wanted to recruit him. He deferred his acceptance to VCU to play in the NFL.

“When the opportunity to play professionally fell into my lap, I just sort of jumped at the chance,” he says. “I always figured I’d run a small business, but life threw me a curveball, and I went with it.”

After a year with the Ravens, Quayle was drafted by the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe and played for one year before returning to the U.S. to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He injured his neck while playing for the Jaguars and that’s when he decided to hang up his cleats and go back to school.

“[Football] was good detour away from normal life for a few years,” he says. “When it all ended, I was luckily able to pick up right where I left off and came to Richmond.”

Back to Plan A

At VCU, Quayle specialized in pediatric dentistry and spent time as class president. What he loved the most about his education at VCU were the clinical hours he logged with the faculty and staff at the School of Dentistry.

“I got to know so many of the people within the [School of Dentistry] that it was difficult emotionally for me when I had to leave,” Quayle says. “On one hand I was excited to go on and complete my residency, but it was difficult to leave the people and friends that I made there.”

Quayle graduated magna cum laude from VCU in 2004 with a Doctor of Dental Surgery and returned to his home state of Utah to complete his residency at the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Today, Quayle oversees sedation training for pediatric dental residents at the hospital and runs his own practice in nearby Pleasant View, Mountain View Pediatric Dentistry, dubbed locally as the “Moose Dentist” because of the practice’s memorable smiling moose logo.

“When I was doing research on logos, I asked friends and family their opinions on some options we were thinking about,” Quayle says. “Whether they liked it the best or not, they would always mention how funny the moose with the big, sparkling white smile was. So we ran with it.”

The practice’s mascot, Mason the Moose, is now an integral part of the Mountain View team and attends school assemblies and other community events as part of the bigger goal to treat each patient as they would treat their children, with patience, compassion and understanding.

“I’ll get down on my knees, just to make myself a little bit shorter, and explain to [our patients] what’s going on and that they’ll be OK,” he says. “I’m their coach, and I’m going to get them through it. Every high five I get on the way out of the office keeps me going, day in and day out.”

Sharing lessons learned

While playing in the NFL was a detour from his intended path, Quayle knows that without having the foresight to pursue his degree, things could have turned out differently. Through a partnership with his former junior high school, Highland Junior High School in Ogden, he’s helping teach students the importance of having options.

“One day this teacher walks in with her two kids, and I instantly recognized her as one of my first junior high school teachers,” Quayle says. “She was teaching a career prep course at the time and wanted to see if I’d come and talk to the seventh-graders about my career path.”

What started as a one-time talk turned into a yearly engagement, and when his former teacher retired, school staff members worked with Quayle to turn it into a project for the entire seventh grade.

“It means a lot more [to the students] to hear from someone who’s been there, than it does from their teachers,” said Feliciana Lopez, a seventh-grade English teacher at Highland Junior High School, who was interviewed by local news station KSL 5 for a story they aired about Quayle and the contest.

Students write an essay about the careers they hope to have when they grow up, and they include a backup plan in case they, too, detour from their goal.

“It’s interesting. I want to say 70 percent of the kids want to be professional athletes when they grow up,” Quayle says. “I tell them to shoot for it, but just in case, have your fallback plan ready.”

The now annual writing contest promises the winner a gift basket from his practice and a $100 Visa gift card.

“I’ve heard from teachers that the students really get into it,” he says. “For a grownup, $100 isn’t all that much, but when you tell a seventh-grader that they have a chance at it? It gets them motivated.”