VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter receives Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award

From left, RVA GOLD Chapter members Joseph Stemmle (B.S.’13/B), Timmy Nguyen (B.S.’11/B) and Khanh Burks (B.S.’13/B); Gov. Ralph Northam; and Allison Toney, associate director of outreach and engagement, Amy Beck, executive director of alumni outreach and engagement, and Josh Hiscock, associate vice president for alumni relations, from the VCU Office of Development and Alumni Relations (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter has been honored with the 2018 Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award for Outstanding Education Organization.

VCU Alumni’s Richmond alumni chapter received the award April 10 from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for making volunteering a key priority in its initiatives, from leading the charge against hunger in Virginia and delivering hot meals to area veterans to taking Richmond students back-to-school shopping and writing cards for overseas military troops. The chapter represents more than 65,000 VCU alumni who live in the Richmond metro area.

“VCU is proud of our RVA GOLD alumni chapter,” said Joshua I. Hiscock, associate vice president for alumni relations. “The value of engaging in service within the community was instilled in these leaders as students and continues to be a priority and passion for them as alumni. The RVA GOLD Chapter and its leaders are role models for fellow alumni and are a positive force for change within the greater Richmond community.”

One of the chapter’s largest efforts, the Alumni Charity Challenge, was launched in 2013 as a friendly competition among colleges and universities to see which alumni group could collect the most canned goods for FeedMore, Central Virginia’s core hunger-relief organization. Since its inception, the challenge has resulted in the donation of nearly 79,000 pounds of canned goods.

Douglas Pick, president and CEO of FeedMore, said he can’t imagine “a finer example of a volunteer group that exponentially leverages the energy of a community toward helping their fellow citizens in need.”

“Our VCU Alumni friends have been able to harness the passion and pride of alumni from now 30 different colleges toward some extraordinary results,” Pick said. “Their humble beginnings started with seven schools in 2013 collecting 2,776 pounds. This past year, they collected an amazing 48,355 pounds. The excitement and energy at the event is something to behold. It truly brings back faith that the world is still a good place.”

VCU received one of nine 2018 volunteer awards presented by Northam at the Virginia Governor’s Mansion. “These individuals, organizations and companies are wonderful examples of how we can all impact our communities,” the governor said. “Their selfless acts have made a real difference to so many lives across Virginia.”

The awards are presented by the Governor’s Advisory Board on Service and Volunteerism and the Virginia Department of Social Services’ Office on Volunteerism and Community Services on behalf of the Office of the Governor. These awards have recognized exceptional volunteer service in Virginia for more than 20 years. Visit http://virginiaservice.virginia.gov/volunteering/governors-volunteerism-awards/ to learn more.

From the Archives: VCU history alumna Nicole Kappatos digs up great stories from Richmond’s past for the Richmond Times-Dispatch

‘I am here to share the archives with the world and with Richmond,’ said Nicole Kappatos, newsroom researcher and archivist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Have you heard the story of how in the summer of 1935 Richmond was enthralled by reports of a monster named “Elmer” that was thumping under the floorboards and behind the walls of a Grace Street row house on what is now Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus?

How about when a lion, “Tricky Gilbert,” escaped from a circus parade in 1934 and rampaged through Richmond neighborhoods before being shot to death by two local men and city police?

Or what about the house built in 1895 on Sharp’s Island in the James River, just off the 14th Street Bridge, that served as a family’s bizarre vacation getaway in the 1950s?

These stories – and many more – have been brought back to life by the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s newsroom researcher and archivist, Nicole Kappatos (M.A.’14/H&S).

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Reunion: A reason to smile

Pediatric dentist aims to make her first class reunion one to remember

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

This year marks five years since Lindsey North, D.D.S. (D.D.S.’13/D) graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry. This is her first class reunion.

Each year, VCU’s health sciences schools — allied health professions, dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy — celebrate Reunion Weekend and invite five-year classes back to campus. When the chance arose to be involved in planning the event as a class chair, North was first to raise her hand and volunteer.

Reunion is the School of Dentistry’s most important alumni engagement activity. In a five year reunion cycle, more than 20 percent of alumni celebrating class reunions come back to their school. Having input from both a class chair and class committee is crucial to the event’s success, says Gloria Callihan, associate dean and director of development and alumni relations for the School of Dentistry.

“[Planning reunion] is a team effort, and the class chair is the glue that keeps the process running smoothly,” Callihan says. “Bringing them together for fun, fellowship and forays back into the school and labs rekindles memories and touches their hearts.”

This isn’t North’s first time organizing an event for her class. As a student, she worked with her classmates to organize the Miles for Smiles 5K that benefited the school’s Missions of Mercy project. As a Reunion class chair, she helped plan events such as the Molar Roller Student and Alumni Bike Ride, the annual golf tournament, the Class of 2013 party and other fundraising activities. She’s also had the chance to meet with current students and see how the school has changed over time.

“I wanted to find a way to get more involved since I moved back to Richmond [Virginia],” she says. “I haven’t seen some of my classmates since commencement, so this was the perfect opportunity for me.”

After graduating from VCU in 2013 with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree, North completed a residency in pediatric dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she learned to care for patients with complex medical issues, developmental disabilities and children with anxiety or fear of the dentistry setting or oral sedation. She practiced in both Chicago and Charlottesville, Virginia, before returning to Richmond in late 2016.

Since then, she’s reconnected with fellow VCU graduates and friends through Richmond Dental Society meetings and other VCU events but, for North, helping with Reunion Weekend is special. The festivities start this weekend, and she’s excited to reconnect with classmates, celebrate their accomplishments and catch up for the first time in years.

“The longer we’re in practice, the more pride we have in our education from VCU,” North says. “I hope that we’ve made it a memorable event for everyone.”

Changing the next generation of pharmacists

Lauren Caldas, Pharm.D., BCACP (Pharm.D.’11/P), honed her commitment to community service as a student in the VCU School of Pharmacy, when she developed a healthy-living program for diabetics at her church. After residency, she helped patients manage their medications and save money at a Kroger Marketplace pharmacy. She now shares her expertise at VCU as an assistant pharmacy professor and at CrossOver Healthcare Ministry as a clinical pharmacist to Central Virginia’s underserved and uninsured.

VCU professors join elite biomedical engineering group

Three Virginia Commonwealth University professors have joined the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, an elite group that comprises the top 2 percent of medical and biological engineers nationally.

AIMBE inducted Gregory Buck, Ph.D., of the VCU School of Medicine, and B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’00/,H&S) and Lukasz Kurgan, Ph.D., both of the VCU School of Engineering, into its prestigious College of Fellows Class of 2018 on Monday at a formal induction ceremony during AIMBE’s 27th annual meeting.

These inductions bring the university’s total number of AIMBE Fellows to 12.

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VCU Alumni launches class giving campaign

A new initiative at Virginia Commonwealth University aims to get students thinking about giving back to their alma mater before they graduate.

The I ♥ VCU Challenge: Class Giving Campaign invites members of the Class of 2018 to commemorate their graduation year with a $20.18 gift to support a fund of their choice.

Kejdi Abazi, who will graduate this spring with a degree in health, physical education and exercise science, made a gift to the class giving campaign during its soft launch in December.

“Every student has been supported by a donation at one point or another during their years here, so I think it’s important for us to pay it forward and make sure that future students have the same opportunities that we’ve had,” she says.

The campaign is set to run throughout the spring semester but will receive a boost April 9-13, when members of Students Today Alumni Tomorrow sponsor Class Giving Week. As part of the initiative, VCU Alumni has unveiled a new website, vcualumni.org/classgive, to explain the different ways students can support the university and make a gift online. Members of STAT will table daily at convenient locations across campus, equipped with laptops and tablets for students to view the website, decide how to designate their support and then make their donation.

“I always knew I would become a donor to VCU one day, but I thought I would have to give thousands of dollars for it to really count,” says Abazi, who is a member of STAT. “This campaign helped me understand that even a gift of just $20.18 can have an impact. Once I realized that, I knew I didn’t have to wait until I graduated – I could start right now.”

The I ♥ VCU Challenge: Class Giving Campaign is organized by VCU Alumni and the Office of Annual Giving. Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations Joshua Hiscock explains that the class giving campaign is a great opportunity for students like Abazi, who want to give back to the university but wonder how much of a difference they can make with a gift within their budget.

“One student’s gift of $20.18 may seem small, but consider how powerful that amount becomes when many individuals join together to give,” he says. “Whether it is giving to scholarships or student organizations, every gift of every amount matters and can open doors for students, providing new opportunities that could transform someone’s life.”

To learn more about the 2018 class giving campaign, contact Michael P. Andrews (M.S.’05/E), executive director of annual giving, at (804) 828-0236 or andrewsmp@vcu.edu, or visit vcualumni.org/classgive.

A teaching assistantship in Ivory Coast is the latest adventure for this VCU Fulbright scholar

Tyler Tresslar, pictured here rock climbing in Cape Town, South Africa, is one of seven VCU alumni studying abroad as part of the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. (Courtesy photo)

For someone who didn’t do too well when he started college, Tyler Tresslar (B.S.’17/B) has come a long way.

The 27-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University graduate is a 2017-18 Fulbright scholar with an English teaching assistantship in Ivory Coast.

“I came to VCU as a transfer student, having not done too well [in] my first attempt [at the University of New Mexico],” said Tresslar, who grew up in Fredericksburg and moved around often. “I [had gone] back to community college to get my grades up, then transferred to VCU. Honestly, I don’t remember exactly how I ended up at VCU. It seemed like the obvious choice as a transfer student wanting to study business. Looking back, it was definitely the right choice. I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities at another school.”

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Small particles, big implications

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Patricia Turpin (B.S.’17/H&S; B.S.’17/LS) credits her high school math teacher, Mr. Kaiser, for teaching her to appreciate the certainty that came with math and science.

“When I’d write an English essay, there was always room for answers to be partially correct,” she says. “But with math, there was always one true answer, and I really liked that.”

Turpin enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University after high school, following a trend that began with her grandfather William H. Turpin. He served as director of VCU’s mass communications school, known today as the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, and as professor for 16 years. Her parents, Gregory (B.S.’87/GPA) and Cheryl (B.S.’88/E), also met and graduated from the university.

“Listening to my family’s stories about [VCU] definitely had an impact,” Turpin says. “I fell in love with campus and the feel of the city the moment I got here.”

Turpin took an interest in computer programming and immersed herself in classes that taught programming languages, quantitative analysis and statistical modeling.

“[Patricia] was an exceedingly bright student driven by a deep curiosity about how things worked” says Tarynn Witten, Ph.D., professor and director of research development in the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity at VCU Life Sciences . “She was also exceptionally ardent, and her work was always top of the line.”

In 2017, she graduated with two bachelor’s degrees, one in statistics and the other in bioinformatics, and soon after landed a laboratory technician position at the California Institute of Technology in the lab of Nobel laureate David Baltimore, president emeritus and the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology. There, she’s working alongside one of the lab’s postdoctoral fellows researching the link between the causes for retained introns and genetic disorders and cancers.

RNA, a nucleic acid present in all living cells, acts as a messenger to carry instructions from DNA for controlling the synthesis of proteins. RNA is composed of two types of sequences, introns and exons. While introns typically remain in the nucleus of a cell, exons are eventually turned into proteins. “Occasionally introns attach themselves to proteins and leave the nucleus, and there isn’t a commonsense answer as to why they do,” Turpin says. “We’re hoping to figure out why by suppressing certain genes that we think affect these retained introns” and then see if there is a link to genetic disorders and cancers.

After Turpin’s yearlong position at Caltech ends, she plans to start a doctoral program in bioinformatics, though she is still deciding on whether to pursue a career in academia or go into the professional industry.

“[VCU] gave me the confidence to say that I actually know things,” she says. “I’m not sure of my exact path just yet, but I know my time at the university has prepared me for anything.”

‘Fall Line’ bench in Cabell Library lobby evokes Richmond’s stretch of James River

“Fall Line,” a wood sculpture and functional bench, echoing the 7-mile stretch of the James River, was installed in James Branch Cabell Library over spring break.

A wood sculpture — and functional bench — that evokes the 7-mile section of the James River that runs through Richmond has been installed in the entranceway of Virginia Commonwealth University’s recently expanded James Branch Cabell Library.

The sculpture, titled “Fall Line,” was created by Heath Matysek-Snyder (B.F.A.’00/A), an assistant professor in the Department of Craft/Material Studies and lead professor of the wood area in the School of the Arts, who has been working on the piece in his Scott’s Addition studio for more than two years.

“My hope is that when people walk into Cabell Library, they’ll recognize it as the James River, which I find to be an amazing element of Richmond, a really amazing feature of the city,” Matysek-Snyder said. “This will be an object that greets you. It will be a place to meet. And it will be a feature that says goodbye as you walk back out.”

The 27-foot-long white oak bench mimics the contours of the James River from Pony Pasture to the 14th Street Bridge, with aluminum on top of the bench representing the outline of the river, including Belle Isle. The bench is broken into four sections, with each of the three negative spaces representing a different iconic Richmond bridge, also rendered in aluminum, and allowing pedestrians to walk through.

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Honors College revamps curriculum to emphasize collaboration and experiences, and to solve real problems facing Richmond

Instructor Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead (left) is teaching Humans of RVA and VCU this semester, a new course that will play a key role in the Honors College’s revamped curriculum in the fall.

As part of a new course in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Honors College, students are working in small, diverse groups to interview Richmond residents and post their stories and photos to social media, with an eye toward gaining a better understanding of the many facets of the community.

Inspired by Humans of New York, the new course, Humans of RVA and VCU, provides students with the opportunity to study the nature of community, as well as community engagement and their role in it, said instructor Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead (M.F.A.’03/A).

“My students are learning about RVA and its history. They’re learning about community, humanity and social justice, and also about themselves and each other,” Gardinier Halstead said. “They’re looking forward to interviewing RVA residents after spring break. I can’t say enough about our students. They’re bright and inquisitive and thoughtful and creative, and they’re change-makers, too.”

Humans of RVA and VCU, which is being piloted this semester, will be a key part of a newly revamped curriculum for the Honors College that will go into effect this fall.

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