Novelist David Baldacci and wife, Michelle, give $1.1M to VCU for scholarships, experiential learning

From left: David Baldacci; Michelle Baldacci; Montse Fuentes, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences; and VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D.

Bestselling novelist and Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus David Baldacci (B.A.’83/H&S; H.L.D.’01) and his wife, Michelle, are making a $1.1 million gift to VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences that will establish a scholarship for political science students and will create a fund to provide students with a variety of experiential learning opportunities.

“Our continuing partnership with VCU is incredibly meaningful to us both,” said David Baldacci. “The endowed fund and endowed scholarship will provide direct support to any university’s most important asset: its students. We look forward to helping VCU students in achieving their full potential as students and in their endeavors after graduation.”

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., said the Baldaccis’ gift is an invaluable contribution in support of VCU students’ education.

“Michelle and David’s support of the College of Humanities and Sciences beautifully illustrates their belief that our students are committed to contributing to the common good now and in the future,” Rao said. “Along with my colleagues, I look forward to watching our students learn, discover and flourish as a result of the Baldaccis’ endowed scholarship and fund.”

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‘I bring this life with me wherever I go’ — an interview with author Katy Resch George

Katy Resch George.

When Katy Resch George (M.F.A.’12/H&S) was a creative writing student at Virginia Commonwealth University, she distinguished herself with both her vivid, honest storytelling and the generous, insightful feedback she offered her classmates. Now, Resch George, who earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from the Department of English, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences at VCU, has published her first book, “Exposure,” a collection of short stories from Kore Press that brings readers into the tense lives of an assortment of flawed, compelling characters so sharply drawn as to seem summoned from real life.

Allison Titus, a poet, novelist and fellow alumna of the VCU creative writing program, said, “The stories in ‘Exposure’ sear like light trails, glimmering and striking their lyrical, luminous pitch. Resch George’s characters are searchers, feeling through the darkness of their suburban lives to the edges that shape a deeper truth by which to reckon their experiences and their desires — always conscious of the pulse beneath the surface.”

Resch George answered questions from VCU News about her book and her experiences as a student at VCU.

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VCU physicists discover a tri-anion particle with colossal stability

A rendering of protons, neutrons and electrons in an atom.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have achieved a feat that is a first in the fields of physics and chemistry — one that could have wide-ranging applications.

A team in the lab of Puru Jena, Ph.D., a distinguished professor in the Department of Physics in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has created the most stable tri-anion particle currently known to science. A tri-anion particle is a combination of atoms that contains three more electrons than protons. This discovery is novel because previously known tri-anion particles were unstable due to their numerical imbalance. These unstable particles dispel additional electrons, interrupting chemical reactions.

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Seeds of War and Peace: At Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden, a VCU history class explores the roots of rationing, Victory Gardens and wartime food policy.

Emilie Raymond, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History, (center) and students tend their garden bed.

The students were talking about tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant, but they weren’t filling plates in a dining hall — they were in a special topics class, exploring Victory Gardens and the role of food during World War II.

Victory Gardens — planted outside private homes and in public parks — sprouted across America during World Wars I and II, providing locally grown produce during a time when food was rationed.

“World War II had a big impact on food policy, nutrition and the American diet long after the war,” said Emilie Raymond, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Gold compounds could lead to new approaches in HIV drug development

An artist’s rendering of a gold compound interacting with a zinc protein on the cover of the scientific journal Chemical Communications by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom. Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D. has found that gold compounds impede a specific zinc protein’s role in HIV infectivity.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have discovered that gold compounds can be effective at reducing the infectivity of HIV in laboratory experiments.

The experiments have shown gold compounds may inhibit HIV by binding to an essential zinc-based protein and changing the shape of the protein, which prevents its attachment to DNA and RNA. The zinc-based proteins occur widely in nature and have roles in the progression of many diseases.

“This finding could eventually lead to HIV-fighting therapeutics and open up a new direction in the field of medicinal inorganic chemistry,” said Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D., principle investigator on the experiments and a professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Previous studies from other researchers have shown some anti-HIV activity for gold compounds, which have a long history in medicine and also have been used to specifically to treat rheumatoid arthritis. But Farrell’s work elucidating the mechanisms of gold compound and zinc protein interactions suggests new pathways for this action. His research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Gold fingers

Before the zinc protein was exposed to the gold compound, zinc was bound in looped, finger-like structures to sulfur and nitrogen atoms in the protein’s cysteine — an amino acid that contains sulfur. The gold compound, which also takes on the finger-like quality of zinc, binds to cysteines because it has a high affinity for sulfur. The protein then changes from a tetrahedral shape (a pyramidal form) to a linear form. As a result, the protein is no longer able to bind to DNA and RNA, which impedes viral infectivity, Farrell said.

The researchers also used the diagnostic technique of mass spectrometry to identify the exact way gold replaces zinc in the protein. Mass spectrometry identifies and quantifies a specified molecule based on the molecule’s composition. A novel use of ion mobility mass spectrometry allowed the VCU researchers to separate the possible types of protein formed after interaction with the gold compound and to examine protein structure.

Top honors

Farrell’s findings were detailed in two papers — one featured in Chemical Communications at the beginning of 2017 and one featured in Angewandte Chemie this spring. The paper published in Angewandte Chemie was named a “Hot Paper,” which means it was chosen by editors for its importance in a rapidly evolving field of high interest.

Co-investigators on the initial paper include: Sarah R. Spell, Ph.D., and Erica J. Peterson, lab manager in the VCU Department of Chemistry; John B. Mangrum, Ph.D., and Daniele Fabris, Ph.D., in the Department of Chemistry at the University at Albany; and Roger Ptak, Ph.D., senior program leader of In Vitro Antiviral Drug Development at the Southern Research Institute.

Farrell was joined on the second publication by postdoctoral fellow Zhifeng Du, Ph.D., visiting graduate student Raphael E.F. De Paiva, Ph.D., in the Department of Chemistry and Kristina Nelson, Ph.D, director of the Proteomic Mass Spectrometry Core Facility and research assistant.

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.”

VCU School of the Arts, ICA, Department of African American Studies announce racial equity initiative

In fall 2017, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, one of the nation’s leading arts schools; the new Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU, opening in spring 2018; and the VCU Department of African American Studies will launch the Racial Equity, Arts and Culture Transdisciplinary Core, an initiative founded through the VCU Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation, known as iCubed.

Artists Meghan K. Abadoo and Paul Rucker, and scholar Onaje X.O. Woodbine will join the group as it explores efforts to redress social disparities and inequities within VCU and the broader Richmond community while drawing on the transformative potential of arts and culture.

“VCU is committed to recruiting faculty of exceptional quality who can help to reshape our educational landscape through their teaching, scholarship and service,” said Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., director of iCubed. “Meghan, Paul and Onaje will contribute to a pedagogy that promises to advance student learning in meaningful and productive ways, and encourages the community to become engaged as part of the process, leading to new findings relevant to our city and beyond.”

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz to give a public reading at VCU

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Díaz will give a public reading at VCU in September.

Acclaimed author Junot Díaz will give a public reading at Virginia Commonwealth University on Sept. 12.

Díaz will speak at 6 p.m. in the third floor lecture hall of James Branch Cabell Library. The reading will be followed by a Q&A, a book-signing and a reception. Admission is free and open to the public.

Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of “Drown”; “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and “This Is How You Lose Her,” a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist.

He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The event is co-sponsored by the Humanities Research Center in the College of Humanities and Sciences, the Office of the President, the Office of the Dean for Humanities and Sciences and the Creative Writing Program of the Department of English.

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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Organization co-founded by VCU student teaching chess, patience to Richmond youth

Legacy Chess Academy serves youth in Richmond and is aiming to serve more schools and organizations in the surrounding region.

In a Henderson Middle School classroom, dozens of Richmond children between the ages of 12 and 14 are paired off, each huddled over chess boards and playing intensely.

“Chess helps me think,” says Avery White, 12, a student at Falling Creek Middle School. “It’s a very patient game. It helps you think a few steps forward because if you make a wrong move, your opponent can get an advantage on you.”

The students were participating in a chess program run by Legacy Chess Academy — an organization co-founded by Virginia Commonwealth University senior Corey Hancock — and offered as part of the Richmond Police Athletic League’s summer program for Richmond youth.

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