Full of ideas: An ax-throwing league? An air pump that’s twice as fast? For students in VCU’s Pre-X program, no idea is too big or too small

Shane McNamara’s startup business idea? An ax-throwing league for Richmond.

Shane McNamara, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, was at the Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games at the Richmond Raceway a few years back when he found himself drawn to an ax-throwing booth.

“I was standing there and watching these guys throwing axes and I was like, ‘Hell yeah,’” he said. “So I went home, bought some axes from [The] Home Depot, learned how to throw them and thought, ‘Hmm. This could work.’”

Fast forward, and now McNamara is one of more than 100 VCU students working this semester to get their roughly 70 startup ideas off the ground with the help of the university’s pre-accelerator program, VCU Pre-X.

McNamara’s idea? An ax-throwing league for Richmond.

“My idea is we could have a league for people who are really dedicated to it and love throwing axes. We could host competitions, events, corporate team building and that kind of thing,” he said. “The term I’m using for marketing purposes is experiential entertainment. Like bowling … [but] I want to replace it with something cool, like ax throwing.”

Joining McNamara’s ax-throwing league in the VCU Pre-X program are ideas such as an online marketplace for used guitars, a ride-sharing app aimed at college students traveling home for the weekend, a new and affordable device that kills mosquitos, a software framework that would allow escape room companies to provide a more “magical” experience, and a dating platform for people with chronic or terminal illnesses.

“I think the mosaic of ideas is exciting,” said Aaron Forrester, a faculty member with VCU’s da Vinci Center who is co-leading the Pre-X program. “To be in a room with over 100 students, each passionate about the idea they are working on, creates a contagious vibe. The room is full of people who want to be there, and you can tell.”

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Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU will open in April with exhibition that celebrates diverse perspectives

On April 21, Virginia Commonwealth University will unveil the Institute for Contemporary Art, a new, noncollecting contemporary art institution designed by Steven Holl Architects. The ICA will open with the inaugural exhibition, “Declaration,” an exploration of contemporary art’s power to respond to pressing social issues through the voices of 33 emerging and established artists from Richmond and around the globe. More than a third of the works presented will premiere at the ICA, including site-specific installations by Paul Rucker, Stephen Vitiello and Peter Burr with Porpentine Charity Heartscape; new works in all media by Autumn Knight, Deb Sokolow, Lily Lamberta and All the Saints Theater Co., Sonya Clark, Andrea Donnelly, Edie Fake, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Geof Oppenheimer; and performances and participatory works at the ICA extending into the city by Rucker, Hope Ginsburg, Marinella Senatore, Winter Count, Tania Bruguera and Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., among others.

The exhibition will remain on view through Sept. 9.

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VCU to celebrate Black History Month with events recognizing the past and looking toward the future

Ibram X. Kendi will discuss his book “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” at the 16th annual Black History Month Lecture.

Virginia Commonwealth University will celebrate Black History Month with a series of thought-provoking, educational and entertaining events throughout February centered on the theme of “continuing the legacy.”

“The goal for Black History Month at VCU this year is to talk about the legacy of black history,” said Reginald Stroble, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. “We’ll start with events that give us an understanding of Carter G. Woodson [who founded the precursor to Black History Month] and then we’ll hear from African Americans today who are continuing that legacy of excellence.”

All events are free and open to the public.

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Rao: VCU is a public university committed to the public good

 

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., highlighted university accomplishments from the past year and outlined details of VCU’s next strategic plan Thursday at his fifth annual State of the University Address.

Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., outlined key steps to shape the university’s future and provided details of VCU’s next strategic plan Thursday at his fifth annual State of the University Address. First, he took a moment to acknowledge VCU’s history.

“This is an institution that began 180 years ago with a commitment to the social good,” Rao said at James Branch Cabell Library. “And when we came together under the VCU name 50 years ago, our charter asked us ‘to confront on an intellectual and practical level the social environment which surrounds [us]. To relate [ourselves] to the community … and participate in the solution of existing problems.’”

That mission remains unchanged, Rao said in a speech in which he highlighted university accomplishments from the past year and emphasized VCU’s role as a public university committed to the public good.

“We have grown exponentially,” Rao said. “[But] we will never outgrow our mission. It is still, as it has ever been, simple in phrase but enormous in prospect: to improve lives, to save lives, and to give life meaning.”

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VCU prepares for weeklong celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week takes place Monday, Jan. 15, to Sunday, Jan. 21. The week’s events, which serve as a kickoff to the spring semester, offer an opportunity to honor and raise awareness of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. VCU and community-wide educational programs commemorate his distinguished contributions, leadership, spirit of service and dedication to nonviolence and justice.

This year’s events are sponsored by the Division for Inclusive Excellence and supported by a number of campus units. The week includes opportunities for arts, education, service and reflection on King’s life and legacy, and even a keynote address on Wednesday, Jan. 17, by Martin Luther King III, a human rights advocate, community activist, political leader and the oldest son of King.

Beverly Walker, program manager for career development in the HR Redesign Project Office, is the co-founder and fundraising chair of MLK Celebration Week. “What better way for our campus and community to learn more about Dr. King then from his own son, Martin Luther King III,” Walker said. “I’m excited that our students will have a chance to really engage with Mr. King and connect to our past, and be inspired for the future.”

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Martin Luther King III will headline MLK Celebration Week at VCU

Martin Luther King III

Martin Luther King III will provide keynote remarks Jan. 17 as part of VCU’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week.

Human rights advocate, community activist and political leader Martin Luther King III will provide keynote remarks Jan. 17 as part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week.

King’s keynote, which will be held at 7 p.m. in the University Student Commons, Commonwealth Ballroom, will be moderated by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. The event is free and open to the public. Guests can RSVP at go.vcu.edu/mlk3keynote.

King serves as an ambassador of his parents’ legacy of nonviolent social change. A graduate of his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College, King has devoted his life to working in the nonprofit sector to promote civil rights and global human rights and to eradicate the “triple evils” of racism, militarism and poverty his father identified as the scourges of humankind.

As the elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization co-founded by his father, King reinvigorated SCLC by stabilizing its governance, program and development components. As founder and president of Realizing the Dream, Inc., he has taken his father’s message to a global audience, spearheading nonviolence training in Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Israel and Palestine, Kenya, Sri Lanka and the United States.

VCU’s MLK Celebration Week was established in 2014 to honor and raise awareness of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through VCU and Richmond community-wide educational programs that commemorate his distinguished contributions, leadership, spirit of service and dedication to nonviolence and justice. MLK Celebration Week is scheduled for Jan. 15 to Jan. 21 and is sponsored by VCU’s Division for Inclusive Excellence.

The week’s theme, “50 years later: Don’t sleep on the dream,” commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Program and event attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about King’s lasting legacy and engage in making their community a better place for all. Learn more at mlkday.vcu.edu.

It takes a village: Community partners help VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter give back to the city

VCU Alumni Charity Challenge

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Every September, during Hunger Action Month, Virginia Commonwealth University Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter hosts the Alumni Charity Challenge, sponsored in part by Nationwide and Virginia Credit Union. The event brings together alumni chapters from 30 universities in Virginia as well as several out-of-state institutions who compete to donate the most canned goods FeedMore, the Central Virginia Food Bank and get their school’s name on a challenge trophy.

“One in 7 of our neighbors is struggling to put food on the table, and 1 in 6 children in our region aren’t receiving necessary nutrition,” says Tim McDermott (M.P.A.’82/GPA), chief development officer at FeedMore. “Events like the charity challenge help raise awareness and validate VCU’s continued investment in the Richmond community.”

With the help of sponsors, the event provides food trucks, giveaways and more when the participating alumni groups gather at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Virginia, to see which school’s graduates donate the most canned goods by weight.

“[Nationwide is] proud to sponsor the Alumni Charity Challenge because it gives us the opportunity to support the Central Virginia community and many of our alumni affinity partners, but it’s also at the core of what we’re all about,” says Ann Ritterspach, associate vice president of affinity solutions at Nationwide. “Supporting this basic need that affects so many is why Nationwide is proud to lend its support.”

Angela Roisten, membership development director at Virginia Credit Union, echoes the sentiment.

“We’re proud of our great relationship with VCU students, faculty and staff, and we’re glad our relationship with many students continues post-graduation,” she says. “[VACU is] happy to participate in the Alumni Charity Challenge because it encourages alumni to give back, raises awareness and contributes significantly to the fight against hunger in Central Virginia in such a meaningful way.”

Since the first event in 2013, the Alumni Charity Challenge has collected more than 16 tons of food that has benefited 200,000 children, families and seniors in 34 cities and counties across Central Virginia. In addition, a portion of beer sales at the event are donated to the FRIENDS Association of Richmond, which provides child care, developmental skills and family support services to children and families in the area.

This year, the Alumni Charity Challenge raised a record 48,335 pounds of food for the Richmond community, more than double FeedMore’s goal of collecting 20,000 pounds.

“I think that every single [VCU alumnus] wants to make the world a better place,” says Joseph Stemmle (B.S.’13/B), director of volunteering for the RVA GOLD Chapter. “It doesn’t take an organization like the RVA GOLD Chapter to make that happen. Find a cause you love and go make that change happen.”

VCU’s new La Esperanza Lab to study health disparities, impact of immigration policy on Richmond’s Latinx population

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Growing up in Arizona as the son of Mexican immigrants, Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D., saw firsthand how the United States’ immigration policies could affect Latinx communities.

Now, as a new faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, Moreno is gearing up to study how policies — including access to health care, immigration restrictions and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — are affecting Latinx students at VCU, as well as the growing Hispanic population of the Richmond region.

“The reason why I do this is because I feel heavily involved with these communities. I come from a Latin community myself. I was raised in Phoenix, the hub of immigration policies [that were characterized by] discrimination constructs, prejudice and institutional biases,” said Moreno, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Now all that’s on a national platform, impacting communities like Richmond.”

Moreno’s La Esperanza Lab (“esperanza” is Spanish for “hope”) at VCU aims to understand and address health care disparities in the United States that affect individuals from low-income and racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.

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VCU launches newly expanded pre-accelerator program, called VCU Pre-X, to better support student innovators and entrepreneurs

Hilton Bennett

Hilton Bennett (B.S.’16/En; Cert.’16/B), then a senior engineering student and now a Master of Product Innovation student at VCU, pitches a business idea last fall to VCU’s pre-accelerator program. Bennett’s idea was centered around an invention he designed to allow mountain climbers to practice indoors.

The da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University is looking for entrepreneurial and innovative students, as well as mentors from the Richmond area’s business community, to take part in a newly expanded and revamped pre-accelerator program that helps VCU students turn their promising ideas into viable startup companies.

VCU’s pre-accelerator program launched in 2015 to identify, support and launch high-growth and high-potential startups and student founders. Over four cohorts, the program’s teams raised more than $2 million in investment and revenue, and three student-run companies went on to be accepted into Lighthouse Labs, the Richmond region’s startup accelerator program.

Now called VCU Pre-X, the pre-accelerator program has shifted to a new model in which all VCU students who meet the minimum requirements will be able to access the program’s curriculum, tools and mentorship. As they progress through the program, participants will have to meet benchmarks and compete with one another for funding.

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VCU recognizes veterans

Timothy P. Williams

Timothy P. Williams, adjunct general of Virginia, provides remarks at Friday’s event.

Virginia Commonwealth University celebrated military veterans Friday at a Veterans Appreciation Reception held at the Commons Theater.

The event, which doubled as the launch of the VCU Military Veterans Alumni Council, featured remarks from Saif Khan (B.A.’07/H&S), an Iraq War veteran and a graduate of the College of Humanities and Sciences; Timothy P. Williams, adjunct general of Virginia, who commands the Virginia Army National Guard, Virginia Air National Guard and Virginia Defense Force; Stephen Ross, director of VCU Military Student Services; and Dan-Viggo Bergtun, president of the World Veterans Federation.

Khan is the first president of the VCU Military Veterans Alumni Council, which offers an opportunity for VCU alumni to connect with one another and the current student body through their shared bond of military service.

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