Two VCU alumnae to serve in Peace Corps

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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.

VCU’s commitment to LGBTQ+ students recognized

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Ted Lewis, executive director, Side by Side; Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, associate vice president, Division for Inclusive Excellence; and Michael Thorne-Begland, board chair, Side by Side. (Photo by Jeffrey Ocampo)

Virginia Commonwealth University was honored recently with the 2017 Catalyst Award by Side by Side, an organization dedicated to creating supportive communities where Virginia’s LGBTQ+ youth can define themselves, belong and flourish.

Side by Side specifically cited efforts such as VCU’s Lavender House, an inclusive living-learning community for first-year LGBTQ+ students, and the Lavender Empowerment Summit, a weekend forum aimed at empowering LGBTQ+ students to pursue individual and community leadership roles. Side by Side also noted efforts spanning student affairs, athletics, courses offered in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies and Safe Zone workshops.

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Community members, VCU reflect on tradition of community-university partnerships

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Representatives of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League honor Catherine Howard, Ph.D., vice provost for community engagement at VCU, (center) for her work on the Carver-VCU Partnership. Tito Luna, neighborhood outreach director at VCU, is at far left. Barbara Abernathy, a key figure in the founding of the partnership, is third from right.
Photos by Steven Casanova.

In 1996, Barbara Abernathy, president of the Carver Area Civic Improvement League, felt a creeping concern about Virginia Commonwealth University’s potential expansion into the Carver neighborhood on the north side of Broad Street, particularly in light of the pending construction of the Siegel Center. She arranged an appointment with then-VCU President Eugene Trani, Ph.D., to discuss those nagging worries and invited along her City Council representative, Tim Kaine, the future governor and U.S. senator.

The meeting proved highly productive with an open and candid exchange and marked the beginning of something new and vital between the neighborhood and university. From that appointment forward, a close collaboration developed between Carver and VCU that still thrives today. For more than two decades, the Carver-VCU Partnership has worked to create a shared urban community with a commitment to improving the neighborhood’s quality of life, while providing learning opportunities for students.

At the 10th anniversary celebration of VCU’s Division of Community Engagement on Wednesday, held at Cabell Library, Kaine reflected via a recorded video message on that partnership and VCU’s other community-minded contributions to the Richmond area. He called the university “a wonderful academic institution” that was also a “vibrant heart” of the city.

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Lobs & Lessons celebrates 8th year of Young Aces QuickStart Tennis Tournament

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More than 200 fourth and fifth graders from Richmond will showcase their QuickStart tennis skills April 27 at the eighth annual Young Aces Open at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Mary and Frances Youth Center.

The Young Aces Open will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is organized by VCU’s Lobs & Lessons program. Entrance to the event is at 120 S. Linden St., between the Cary Street Gym and Cary Street Field. The rain location will be at the Richmond Volleyball Club.

“One day leads to a year, which creates a lifetime memory. This is what we hope to inspire through Young Aces Open and the Lobs & Lessons program,” said Tina Carter, director of the VCU Mary and Frances Youth Center. “Tennis can help create opportunities for youth throughout their lives, whether they play for fun, to stay healthy or it becomes part of their educational path.”

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Richmond youth who have faced homelessness and housing instability use research and advocacy to help others in similar situations

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Advocates for Richmond Youth members Tiffany Haynes (left), and Elaine Williams, a senior social work major at VCU.

Dmitri Blair, a 16-year-old junior at Richmond’s Armstrong High School, began experiencing homelessness and housing instability the summer before he entered the fifth grade when he, his mother, sister, brother and stepfather found themselves living in a local shelter.

“I think I was 11 at the time,” Blair said. “Then I was in a hotel for most of middle school and beginning of high school. Just recently, we’re getting housing and it’s starting to get a little better.”

As a young person dealing with uncertainty over housing, Blair said it was difficult to understand how to navigate the social services system and how to find, ask for, or even be aware of, resources that might be available to help.

Now, Blair — along with a group of other Richmond young people who have dealt with homelessness and unstable housing called the Advocates for Richmond Youth — is working to improve the support of young people in similar situations.

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Natural Wonders

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The James River’s humble rock pools take center stage for a new project that blends research, coursework and community outreach

Open High School students fanned across the undulating rocks on the James River near the south end of Belle Isle, peering into a series of small circular pools that had formed over thousands of years and now pockmarked the exposed granite bedrock surface. On first glance, the pools looked no different from one another. However, as the students rotated from pool to pool, they learned from the day’s instructors, a collection of senior biology students from Virginia Commonwealth University, about the subtle but significant distinctions between the tiny ecosystems and the conditions that had created them.

One group of students marveled at the trails that snails had etched across the muddy bottom of a pool. Then they moved to an adjacent pool to study hydrilla, the invasive plant species that had flourished there. Nearby, VCU student-instructors explained the insect life that had taken hold in two small pools, including one where mosquitoes thrived precisely because the setting was so inhospitable for any other form of life — including predators. Students near shore received a close-up examination of the leaves and branches of multiple species of trees, learning the nuances that separated one piece of plant life from another and how leaf litter falling into pools near the forest edge could form the base of the food web.

The overall effect on the teenagers was one of a gentle nudging awake. Here, these simple rock pools were serving as a real-life lab where many of the scientific principles they studied in class were playing out in compelling fashion. For most of the students, the small pools and their inhabitants would never have attracted more than a casual glance. Now, as their instructors brought each insect or plant into sharp relief, the lifeless came alive. The pools transformed into portals to unique worlds inhabited by remarkable creatures, all in an urban setting within a short walk of their school and in sight of the whining weekday traffic above them on the Lee Bridge.

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VCU announces month of thought-provoking events to celebrate Black History Month

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Angela Davis.
Photo by Nick Wiebe

Iconic activist, writer and educator Angela Davis, National Book Award-winning author Colson Whitehead and rapper and Public Enemy member Professor Griff will visit Virginia Commonwealth University in February as part of the university’s celebration of Black History Month.

The month’s events will also feature discussion panels, arts and cultural events, and public lectures, all designed to spark thought and conversation related to the history of the black experience in the United States.

“It is my hope that everyone can find a program or event that excites them and moves them to learn and engage others around their unique perspectives and ideas,” said Yolanda Avent, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs in the Division of Students Affairs at VCU. “Black History Month is a time to celebrate, educate and inspire the community and to acknowledge the rich history of African-Americans’ contributions to society.”

All of the events will be free and open to the public, unless otherwise noted.

Davis, who has been an activist on behalf of women’s rights, racial justice, prisoners’ rights and more since the 1960s, will deliver a lecture Feb. 24 in the Commonwealth Ballroom of University Student Commons. She will address the current racial, political and economic climate, in addition to her own perspective as an activist and scholar. Davis’ talk is open only to VCU students, faculty and staff. To register, email omsa@vcu.edu or call 828-6672.

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VCU School of Education, Richmond Public Schools team up to boost student success at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School

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The VCU School of Education and Richmond Public Schools have launched an innovative partnership to work together to improve student performance in academics at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

“Our goal, over the long term, is to increase student success on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests in the four major content areas — English, mathematics, science and social studies,” said Diane Simon, Ph.D., senior associate dean for student affairs and a professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education at the VCU School of Education.

The collaboration, known as the MLK Jr. Collaborative Intervention Project, grew out of a survey in the spring by the Virginia Department of Education called “College/University Partnerships with Challenged Schools,” which sought to determine the capacity of Virginia’s colleges and universities to help boost student performance at some of the state’s most challenged schools.

Over the summer, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden, Ed.D., reached out to VCU School of Education Dean Andrew Daire, Ph.D., to ask if VCU might be able to lend its expertise to help MLK Middle School.

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Teacher Tales: Participants in the School of Education’s Richmond Teacher Residency program share lessons they’ve learned in city school classrooms

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Grace Giampietro, a graduate student in the VCU School of Education who is participating in the Richmond Teacher Residency program, teaches a third grade special education class at Linwood Holton Elementary School.  Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

Grace Giampietro, a graduate student in the VCU School of Education who is participating in the Richmond Teacher Residency program, teaches a third grade special education class at Linwood Holton Elementary School.
Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

For the past five years, a partnership between Richmond Public Schools and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education has prepared 77 new teachers who have made an immediate impact in 24 of the city’s most challenged public schools.

The Richmond Teacher Residency program is a highly selective urban graduate teacher residency program that aims to create a sustainable pipeline of highly effective teachers who are committed to the students of Richmond Public Schools for the long term.

“Despite overwhelming research that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in student achievement — and that teacher effects on student learning have been found to be cumulative and long-lasting — poor and minority students consistently are taught by the least prepared, least experienced teachers,” said Therese A. Dozier, Ed.D., director of the RTR program.

“This results in a constant churning of teachers in urban schools that comes with a huge price tag — $6 million each year for Richmond Public Schools, according to the 2014 National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future ‘Teacher Turnover Calculator’ — and, most importantly, the cost to students in terms of the lack of stability in schools and its negative impact on student achievement,” she said.

The RTR program is designed to end these educational inequities. Similar to a medical residency, the teachers co-teach alongside a Richmond Public Schools master teacher for a year, receive extensive mentoring and support, earn a master’s degree in education, and commit to teach at least an additional three years in Richmond Public Schools.

“Teachers who are unprepared in curriculum, teaching methods, child development, and with no student teaching experience leave at twice the rate of teachers who have had this training,” Dozier said.

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VCU’s Green Zone program has become a national model for supporting military students on campus

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Photos by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs

Photos by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs

On a Wednesday afternoon in the University Student Commons at Virginia Commonwealth University, staff and faculty members pepper a panel of students with questions.

“What would you guys like to see from your academic advisors, as far as being sensitive to the needs of our student veterans?”

“What can we say in our communications to veterans? I can’t get them in my office in the first place.”

“Can student veterans get minors, or double majors?”

“I’ve had some students approach me about being in large classrooms that have made them uncomfortable in certain situations. Have you guys ever found yourself in a situation like that?”

“Can you tell us a little bit more about what the GI Bill actually covers, and what the timeframe is?”

By sharing their experiences as part of the Green Zone program, the military and veteran students on the panel are helping faculty and staff learn about the strengths, opportunities and challenges fellow veterans bring to campus.

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