VCU bids a fond farewell to a true “alumni star”

Diane Stout-Brown counts the “Tableith” sculpture honoring RPI as a proud accomplishment of her tenure at the university.

By Julie Young

In 1988, Virginia Commonwealth University celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding with an event known as Founders Day. The VCU Alumni Association subsequently started the Alumni Stars program to honor accomplished graduates during the annual celebration. Since 2008, the Alumni Stars ceremony has been a stand-alone biennial event, recognizing graduates from each VCU school who have a record of professional or humanitarian achievements.

Orchestrating the event throughout the years was an energetic VCU alumna, Diane Stout-Brown (B.S.W.’80/SW). To any colleague or graduate who worked alongside her, attended an event or met her in person, Stout-Brown was the real alumni star.

The senior director of VCU Alumni retires Dec. 20 after 30 years of university service. She began her VCU career as assistant director for student/alumni engagement, working her way up to her current position, even serving as interim executive director of the alumni organization.

Her responsibilities have included student programs, alumni engagement, membership and marketing, volunteer development and coordination, and special events development. Before joining VCU, she developed skills in fundraising, special events and programs with nonprofit organizations, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

Before retiring, Stout-Brown shared some favorite memories and her second-act plans, which include selling real estate.

How did your social work degree help prepare you for relating to alumni?

When I came to VCU, I was a suburbanite who grew up in conservative, homogenous Chesterfield County, Virginia. The School of Social Work and VCU taught me that the world is incredibly multicultural. It viewed others with an open and accepting mind, something I value highly. I felt like I was finally in an environment where I belonged.

Tell us how you transitioned from working at nonprofits into alumni engagement.

My field placement in the School of Social Work was with the Voluntary Action Center at the United Way, where I placed volunteers in a variety of service agencies. It led the way to other positions in nonprofits working with volunteers.

I worked with a good number of grass-roots volunteer boards for the American Cancer Society and other organizations. I enjoyed working with people who gave their time, talent and resources because of a passion or cause they believed in. I wanted to return to my alma mater because of the diversity and open-minded philosophy. When I started, the VCU Alumni Association was a nonprofit, run by a volunteer board with numerous committees. There were very few programs in place and so I had the opportunity to create some wonderful programs to engage alumni and students.

Tell us about your favorite event/moment and what made it memorable.

There are a lot of special memories. I think the most special ones are the ones where I’ve been absolutely frantic and nervous and then things came together at the end. Alumni Stars has been fantastic over the years. I especially enjoyed the years when we allowed alumni to speak from the heart because it put special meaning into the event. It showed how much of an impact higher education made on someone who went on to use their knowledge and gifts to make the world a better place. It was also fun to connect with our School of the Arts faculty and put together interesting entertainment.

The core of your success would seem to be how deeply you care about all alumni. How did you ensure that Richmond Professional Institute graduates were not overlooked through the years?

RPI graduates are extremely devoted and passionate. How can we not support this? This group of alumni has a high regard for their education and the experiences they had at RPI. They thirst for engagement and involvement. They cherish their history and want to be a proud part of VCU today. My role has been to help guide and facilitate projects with them so they can have a lasting legacy. I’ve developed some good friends from this group.

In all of the events you’ve overseen, there must have been a few bloopers or crazy tasks along the way.

Where do I begin? I guess the most memorable is when we were planning an alumni Life member reception at Robertson House. It was to be held before a Jay Leno performance in the Siegel Center. Everything was all set, and then a hurricane came through and there was no power in the city. I had to purchase lanterns and battery-operated lights for the bathrooms.  The caterer had to change the menu to cold items instead of hot. It actually turned out to be very nice and certainly gave everyone a conversation topic.

What are your plans and hopes for retirement?

I’m looking forward to giving my 88-year-old parents more of my time. They live independently in their home, and I want them to get the care and attention they gave me over the years.  Whenever I was stressed before some event, my mom would always ask if there was anything she could do to help out. She even volunteered to direct traffic when I was coordinating the state tournament of Odyssey of the Mind. Of course, I didn’t take her up on it, but she has given much to me over the years and allowed me to work a full-time job with peace of mind while my kids were little.

VCU has been a huge part of life and now I’m eager to explore other parts of the world. I want to travel, go to museums and concerts, drive to the beach in the middle of the week, read, do crafts, learn to play the violin, hike, organize my house and, of course, take lots of walks with my dog, Andy. Most importantly, I want to enjoy leisure time with friends and family and not have to always be in a rush or worried about not getting something done. I won’t be 100 percent retired because I have obtained my real estate license and will be working as a Realtor, helping people find their dream homes.

What is the one thing you would like to leave with the VCU Alumni staff as you start the second journey of your life?

Our staff is so amazing that I don’t know of anything they don’t have already. I would say to keep the alumni close, always stand behind them while they shine and always embrace VCU for the institution that it is. You are ones who have the benefit of having the most insight when it comes to VCU’s alumni. Don’t hesitate to stand up for them and to help others understand that even things that seem insignificant can blossom into much, much more.

What would you like your legacy to be? 

I think my legacy has been ensuring that the RPI alumni were able to get their sculpture and history wall installed on campus so they will be remembered in perpetuity. Bob Lindholm (B.S.’50/H&S) was the first RPI Alumni Council chairman. When Bob became ill and was dying, I asked his daughter to let him know I was thinking of him. His daughter sent me an email telling me what Bob had dictated to her on his death bed. He dictated the sweetest note and as I think about it, I can still hear his gentle voice. He was so appreciative of me, VCU and the support we had given RPI during his term as chairman. He was extremely grateful that we were able to get the sculpture “Tableith” (to honor RPI) installed. I know Bob would be so proud today if he could see the “RPI” on VCU’s seal.

My other legacy would be the Alumni Stars program, which grew from Founders Day in 1988 into a university tradition that has honored more than 250 alumni who are stars in their professions.

VCU has been a grand journey. I am forever grateful to my VCU family and all of the alumni I have met along this journey. Please stay in touch and feel free to reach out to me at dianesb@comcast.net.

Students, alumni, faculty and deans enjoy an early Founders Day gala, where the Alumni Stars were first honored.

 

Joshua Hiscock named VCU associate vice president for alumni relations

Joshua Hiscock will start at VCU on Jan. 4.

Virginia Commonwealth University announced today that following a national search Joshua Hiscock has been named associate vice president for alumni relations, effective Jan. 4. Hiscock currently serves as executive director of alumni benefits and services at the George Washington University.

In his new role, Hiscock will work closely with VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and senior leaders from across the institution, as well as volunteer alumni leaders to support VCU’s growing national reputation.

“We are thrilled that Josh will be joining the VCU team. Josh is an experienced alumni relations professional who impressed our search committee from our first meeting,” said Jay Davenport, vice president for development and alumni relations. “At a time when we are reorganizing our alumni relations effort, Josh has the vision, drive and passion to help connect all our alumni in a meaningful way. We look forward to welcoming Josh and his wife, Jennifer, to Richmond.”

Hiscock joined the George Washington University in August 2012 and was responsible for oversight of alumni benefits and services and advised the 60-member George Washington Alumni Association Board of Directors. Hiscock previously served as graduate coordinator for the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs at the University of Maryland from 2010-2012 and before that was graduate coordinator for the minor in leadership studies at Maryland. He has also held leadership roles in coordinating student activities and programs at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Roger Williams University and Boston University.

“VCU is a world-class institution with passionate alumni who are innovators changing Richmond, the commonwealth of Virginia, and the world in a wide array of professional industries,” Hiscock said. “I am excited to work collaboratively with offices across the institution to engage all our graduates through innovative new programming and volunteer opportunities that both reconnect alumni to their alma mater and fulfill critical university priorities that will enhance the experience for current students at VCU. There is no better time to be part of the VCU Alumni family and I am thrilled to join the team.”

Hiscock is currently a candidate for a Doctor of Philosophy in college student personnel administration at the University of Maryland. He received a Master of Arts in counseling and personnel services — college student personnel from the University of Maryland in 2005 and received a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, in American studies from the George Washington University in 2003.

VCU researchers receive $4.2M NIH grant to study treatment for chemical attacks

With the backing of a five-year award of approximately $4.2 million in total costs from the National Institutes of Health, Robert DeLorenzo and a team of Virginia Commonwealth University researchers are studying and developing ways to treat and prevent human fatalities and morbidity that could result from chemical attacks on U.S. soil.

DeLorenzo, M.D., Ph.D., the George Bliley Professor of Neurology in the VCU School of Medicine, is the principal investigator on the team that received the grant from the NIH Countermeasures Against Chemical Threats program. CounterACT supports basic and translational research aimed at identifying medical countermeasures against chemical threats.

DeLorenzo said public safety is the key goal behind the research. He is working with Robert Blair, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’98/M), and Laxmikant Deshpande, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’06/M), assistant professors in the VCU School of Medicine Department of Neurology, as well as Rakesh Kukreja, Ph.D., the Eric Lipman Professor of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, and Matthew Halquist, Ph.D., assistant professor and laboratory director in the Department of Pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy.

Devanand Sarkar’s quest to cure liver cancer

When Devanand Sarkar, Ph.D., came to VCU Massey Cancer Center in 2008, he wanted to pursue a new direction in his research. Driven by the loss of a close friend and colleague, Sarkar was on a mission to better understand the processes that drive the development of liver cancer. Nearly a decade later, his research is close to bringing about new treatments for the disease while redefining how obesity is connected to cancer.

In America, one of the biggest drivers of liver cancer is fatty liver disease due to obesity. Obesity leads to the deposition of fat in the liver, which causes chronic inflammation and eventually develops into cancer. The mechanisms behind this transformation were once a mystery, and then Sarkar unraveled them.

“It started with this gene, AEG-1,” said Sarkar, the associate director for education and training at Massey who also holds the Harrison Foundation Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Research and is a member of Massey’s Cancer Molecular Genetics research program.

Sarkar and his colleagues had originally discovered and cloned AEG-1 at Columbia University in the laboratory of Paul Fisher, Ph.D., now professor and chair of the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics at VCU School of Medicine.

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VCU School of Nursing dean to receive one of nursing’s highest honors

VCU School of Nursing Dean Jean Giddens will receive the NLN Mary Adelaide Nutting Award for Outstanding Teaching or Leadership in Nursing Education.

Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing Dean Jean Giddens, Ph.D., will receive one of the National League for Nursing’s highest honors on Sept. 16.

Giddens, who was selected from a competitive field of nominees, will receive the NLN Mary Adelaide Nutting Award for Outstanding Teaching or Leadership in Nursing Education during the NLN Education Summit in San Diego. Named after a noted educator, administrator and author considered the world’s first professor of nursing, the award is presented to an NLN member who leads through scholarly activities, contributes as a leader in nursing education, encourages creative interactions with students from diverse backgrounds, mentors and serves as a role model for junior faculty, and publishes scholarly works that advance nursing education knowledge.

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VCU honors six at faculty convocation

VCU honored distinguished faculty with annual awards for excellence, service, teaching and scholarship Wednesday at faculty convocation.

Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., marked the beginning of the academic year Wednesday by recognizing distinguished faculty. First, he delivered an unwavering message about the university’s values.

“As a research university we have to continue to be mindful of the fact that we are leading in a very challenging time,” Rao said at VCU’s Opening Faculty Address and Convocation. “In light of a lot of things that have gone on in the last week or two, I want you to know that I absolutely abhor racism. I abhor anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, genderism, ageism and religious intolerance. I will not accept these anywhere at VCU, and violence or discrimination toward others simply because of who they are is unacceptable at our institution.”

Rao’s remarks, typically congratulatory and light at the annual gathering to recognize notable faculty, were still lofty but also resolute Wednesday following the Aug. 11-12 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

“As a faculty I call on every one of us to come together to address the most challenging issue we face as human beings, and to do it together,” Rao said. “We have a vision of what the human experience needs to be, and we need to share that vision and continue to live in ways that enable us to be very strong in our commitment to realize this vision.”

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VCU awarded $1.2 million grant to study transition to employment for military dependents with autism spectrum disorder

Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University have received a $1.2 million grant to investigate the impact of an evidence-based program that supports military dependents with autism spectrum disorder who are seeking employment after graduating high school.

The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program grant is funding a study measuring the impact of “Project SEARCH plus ASD Supports” on employment outcomes for military dependents with autism between the ages of 18 and 22.

This is the first known intervention study that specifically targets transition aged military dependents with autism, a group frequently described as doubly disadvantaged by their disability and their family member’s service.

The principal investigator is Paul Wehman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the VCU School of Medicine and in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the VCU School of Education.

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New book co-written by VCU English professors tells the story of Japanese scientist’s unexpected path to the Nobel Prize

Osamu Shimomura received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008 for his discovery and development of Green Fluorescent Protein, which has become an important tool for studying the biological process in cells.

A new book co-written by Virginia Commonwealth University professors Sachi Shimomura, Ph.D., and John Brinegar, Ph.D., along with Shimomura’s father, Osamu Shimomura, Ph.D., tells the life story of the elder Shimomura, from his time growing up in wartime Japan and his eyewitness account of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki to his postwar research into jellyfish bioluminescence that ultimately earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008.

The book, “Luminous Pursuit: Jellyfish, GFP, and the Unforeseen Path to the Nobel Prize” (World Scientific 2017), narrates the life and scientific career of Osamu Shimomura, detailing his travels around the world to collect and research more than 15 bioluminescent species. He received the Nobel Prize for the discovery and development of Green Fluorescent Protein — which has become an important tool for studying the biological process in cells — as he was the first person to isolate GFP and the protein aequorin from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria in the early 1960s.

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School of Medicine alumnus treats the neediest patients in some of the world’s most dangerous countries

Adrian J. Holloway, M.D. (M.D.’06/M) has traveled the world — to some of the most dangerous countries, by State Department reckoning — as an educator and cardiac intensivist. He is treated children fleeing ISIS in Northern Iraq, malaria victims in Malawi and earthquake survivors in Haiti.

What has he learned?

“No matter where you go, mothers are the same,” said Holloway, a 2006 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. “They know when their child is sick, and they know when their child is healthy.”

Holloway, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, plans to make sure more of them stay healthy. It’s part of his work as program director of the Global Health Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship, the first of its kind, and it’s given him the chance to assist in coordinating efforts to develop the first pediatric intensive care unit in Malawi.

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English professor discovers, digitizes historic slave manuscript in Library of Congress

Katherine Bassard, a professor of African American literature in the Department of English, found the manuscript in a box tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Library of Congress labeled “African American miscellaneous.”

Fields Cook was born into slavery on a Virginia plantation in 1817, and though he died more than 100 years ago, his life and most intimate thoughts survive and were recently revived.

“A Scetch of My Own Life by Fields Cook” is one of the few, if only, surviving manuscripts written before the Civil War by a slave still in bondage. The historic document recently was discovered by Katherine Bassard, Ph.D., (M.A.’86/H&S). senior vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of African American literature in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences. She found the manuscript in a box tucked away in a forgotten corner of the Library of Congress labeled “African American miscellaneous.”

With the help of Joshua Eckhardt, Ph.D., associate professor of English, and two dedicated graduate student workers, Bassard is turning the manuscript into a digitized, searchable, and freely downloadable file.

“It’s the first enslaved writer of an autobiography, the first slave narrative with manuscript provenance, and the first African American writer writing primarily for an audience other than white northerners,” Bassard said.

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