Joshua Hiscock named VCU associate vice president for alumni relations

Joshua Hiscock

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.

A decade of searching: Hadeer Omar finds her sweet spot among cultures and art

By Anthony Langley

“I’ve had a passion for art ever since I was a little girl,” says Hadeer Omar (B.F.A.’10/A; M.F.A.’16/A). “Following that passion and coming to [Virginia Commonwealth University] has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

In 2006, Omar was finishing high school in Alexandria, Egypt, when she was encouraged by her mother to enter the VCUQatar Design Competition. The annual contest awards five cash prizes from $200 to $1,000, and the winners are eligible to compete for two Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned Scholarships for Creativity, which provide a full, four-year scholarship to attend VCUQatar.

For the first part of the competition, where she was challenged to create a design that communicated the theme of building, cultivating and maintaining bonds, Omar produced a winning design conveying various world cultures and the bond between their past and their future.

She competed next for one of the two scholarships by creating a design based on the theme “Making a change” and won a full ride to VCUQatar. It was a fitting theme as moving to Doha, Qatar, gave Omar the opportunity to explore multiple career paths.

“I want to educate people around me about my culture and where I come from,” says Omar, who worked as a graphic designer in Qatar after she completed her bachelor’s degree. “Being in a multicultural environment allowed me to adapt and accept others and shaped me into who I am today.”

Feeling a responsibility to raise awareness about how artists use their creativity in the Middle East, Omar returned to her home country during an uprising in 2011 where she filmed and produced her first complete production, “Ouda w sala,” a documentary about the Egyptian revolution.

The following year, Omar opened Kroki Design Studio, a nonprofit online art studio with a twofold mission: to provide a portal for artists to collaborate and experiment with one another and to educate the public about the importance of art in culture.

“I research a specific idea then translate it into a proposal and then ask others to work with me,” Omar says. “It helps artists to innovate and gives them constructive feedback from their peers.”

In 2014, Omar returned to VCUQatar to pursue a master’s degree in design studies. Her thesis focused on culture hacking and how Egyptians took the increasingly globalized culture they found themselves in after the political protests and revolutions that spread across the Middle East beginning in 2011, known as the Arab Spring, and applied their own cultural tools to create a unique space in the world around them, a process she calls “Egyptianization.”

A photo from Omar’s thesis exhibit on culture hacking and “Egyptianization.”

“I realized I needed to take a step back and look at my position in the world around me,” Omar says. “I have my own questions and observations about the world, and I want to make art that reflects that.”

She currently works as a teaching assistant in the Art Foundation program at VCUQatar. Two days a week, she helps students to find their design process and spends the rest of the week working on research projects and her personal work as a visual communicator and independent filmmaker.

For Omar, having an American institution in the Middle East provides an opportunity to share her experiences with and to learn from students with diverse backgrounds.

“On one hand, I’m able to do research and develop my own methods in academia, and on the other, I can still be a part of the market and complete commercial projects,” Omar says. “Whether it’s sharing my work or sharing knowledge with students, it helps me grow and develop myself.”

Omar took over VCU Alumni’s Instagram last week. Her posts showcase the path she’s taken since completing her master’s degree and the unique perspective that comes from working for more than a decade to find her place in the world around her.

Behind the music

Monty (left) and Andrew Kier

Professor and son pen VCU’s first alma mater

By Anthony Langley

A year and a half ago, Lemont “Monty” B. Kier, Ph.D., began reflecting on his time and experiences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I’ve been here since 1977,” says Kier, who has taught and held various roles in VCU Life Sciences’ Center for the Study of Biological Complexity, the School of Allied Health Professions Department of Nurse Anesthesia, and the School of Pharmacy departments of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science and Medicinal Chemistry, the latter of which he served as chair for 10 years. “I’m so fond of the diversity and the opportunities that I’ve had here I began to write a little poem about it.”

As he started writing, Kier learned that VCU did not have an alma mater, which prompted him to take his poem and transform it into “We Gather Here,” the university’s new, official anthem. The song celebrates the values and memories Kier believes that each and every student makes while at VCU.

“When you walk around the campus, there are people from all around the world,” he says. “The opening verse tells you what our colors mean: diversity and value.”

Upon completing the lyrics, he brought them to his son, Andrew Kier (B.M.’90/A), who took his father’s words and sketched out a rough melody on paper, adding in chords to fill in spaces where needed. About a week later, he loaded the finished music into a software program that helped him finalize the musical arrangement.

“I think it will draw people together,” says Andrew Kier. “It’s a great honor to have it chosen as the alma mater, and I’m proud to be connected to VCU in this additional way.”

While the father-and-son duo were working on the song, Monty Kier shared a draft with Gordon McDougall, associate vice president for university alumni relations, who in turn shared it with VCU’s leaders.

“The university asked the VCU Alumni board of governors to adopt ‘We Gather Here,’” McDougall says. “I’m proud of what Monty and his son accomplished. It’s a great moment for the university.”

In March, the board approved “We Gather Here” as VCU’s official alma mater. Kier is excited to see what comes next for the song and its impact on the university.

“It tells a story about how good it is here. There’s a wonderful spirit that surrounds everyone at VCU,” he says. “Making this contribution is one of the highlights of my career.”

– Anthony Langley is a VCU senior majoring in mass communications.

 “We Gather Here”

Lyrics: Monty Kier
Music: Andrew Kier

We gather here, our voices raise, of VCU we sing our praise, the Black and Gold our colors show, diversity and value grow. We’ve learned so much beyond each class, the joy of friendship will not pass.

So much in life is mem’ry borne, of VCU they’ll not be shorn.

The mem’ries of a campus walk, so many friends, we stop to talk, the friendships here were made to last, they’re in our minds though years have passed. The seasons pass, the years roll by, from VCU the reason’s why we are enriched from values learned, they bring us joy that we have earned.

Next year again we will be here to see our school and give a cheer. So VCU keep all that is great, you’ve brought us joy that is our fate. So come let us sing of VCU, with ev’ry verse we will renew the mem’ries from our campus time, each one embedded in a rhyme.

Listen to the alma mater.

Making a surgeon

By Anthony Langley


Mireille Truong, M.D.

Mireille Truong, M.D. (B.A.’03/H&S; Cert.’04/B; M.D.’08/M), had no idea what Richmond, Virginia, would be like.

“I’m originally from Canada, so when I got here, everything was brand new to me,” she says.

After her parents found jobs in the city, Truong, a college freshman at the time, moved to Richmond and, with her mother’s help, began researching colleges around the state. She applied to Virginia Commonwealth University to be as close to her family’s new home as possible.

She transferred to VCU her sophomore year, studying French and Spanish, and quickly got involved in campus life, serving as the student body vice president. Together with friends, she co-founded an organization to help expand diversity on campus and led efforts to turn the Intercultural Festival into a major annual event for students and VCU’s neighbors.

“I have friends who have kids now that go to the ICF, and I’m still amazed that it’s a big part of VCU tradition and the Richmond community,” she says. “I don’t know how many people get the chance to experience this — watching something they are passionate about, that they started, grow alongside them into something so huge. I am so grateful for that experience, and for those who shared this with me.”

Napoleon Peoples, Ph.D., was one of those individuals. The former associate dean of student affairs for VCU’s MCV Campus previously served as director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, where, as a faculty member, he worked with students on developing the ICF.

“She was instrumental in moving the ICF forward,” he says. “She had vision. …. She was an outstanding leader.”

Truong’s love of language inspired her to pursue a career in diplomacy, wanting to become an ambassador. She intentionally front-loaded her class schedule with the required science classes to get them out of the way.

“I never enjoyed the classes before I got to college, but I had great professors at VCU who changed my view of sciences,” she says. “That was what got me interested in sciences.”

While studying Spanish, she volunteered at a local OB-GYN clinic translating for Spanish-speaking patients. In her two years working there, she grew to enjoy her interactions with the patients and eventually became a clinical assistant, helping the physicians with patients.

With encouragement from her professors and mentors, Truong continued to work in medical settings, volunteering at the Fan Free and CrossOver clinics as well as shadowing physicians at VCU Medical Center. By the time she reached her junior year, she knew her career path was headed in a different direction.

“I had a biology professor, Dr. [Rhonda] Perozzi, who told me that I should go to med school one day,” Truong says. “She probably doesn’t even remember saying that to me, but it stuck.”

Truong completed her bachelor’s degree, obtained a certificate in international management and then dove headfirst into her medical studies at VCU’s School of Medicine, where she became involved with HOMBRE, a student-led group that organizes medical mission trips to Honduras, and Centering Pregnancy, a holistic model to prenatal care. Once she earned her medical degree, Truong left Virginia to complete a research fellowship in surgical simulation at Florida Hospital Nicholson Center and a fellowship in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at Columbia University Medical Center.

“I love that I can help improve a woman’s quality of life, and that’s why I do surgery,” she says. “VCU does a great job combining teaching with not just hands-on experience, but also creative and innovative teaching methods. It’s like one big family. That’s why I came back to Richmond.”

Truong is now an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the VCU School of Medicine and director of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at VCU Medical Center.

“It’s surreal that the people who helped me so much in medical school are now my colleagues,” Truong says. “Without them there to push me, mentor me and support me, I wouldn’t be here today.”

She serves as a pioneer in her field, developing surgical techniques that offer relief to patients suffering from abnormal menstrual cycles, fibroids, endometriosis or other lower abdominal pains who want to get pregnant or who are having difficulty conceiving.

“These issues can really affect their quality of life,” she says. “Oftentimes, it prevents them from going to work or school.”

Through minimally invasive techniques, endometriosis and large masses, such as fibroids and uteri, can be removed with incisions smaller than 1 centimeter, which allows women to recover faster and have less pain than traditional surgery.

“To get a phone call from a patient who was able to get pregnant after the surgery or seeing a patient who can now get back to living a normal life without pain or heavy bleeding, knowing that I was able to make a difference, that’s my favorite part,” Truong says.

– Anthony Langley is a VCU senior majoring in mass communications.


The woman behind Hannah’s Women (still) finds inspiration at VCU

Lucy Hudson

Lucy Hudson

Some people come to college, get their degree and leave. That’s not Lucy Hudson (B.S.’04/H&S; B.A.’08/H&S; M.Ed.’11/E).

“Sometimes I ask myself why I’m still here. It’s a hard question to answer,” says Hudson, assistant to the chair of the Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Humanities and Sciences.

This three-time graduate has been at VCU for 14 years and says she has “no plans on leaving any time soon.”

Hudson, who has bachelor’s degrees in urban studies and religious studies and a master’s in education focusing on social literacy, says VCU helped her develop into a leader by giving her the opportunity to work in the community. By studying on an urban campus, she says, she could see social issues and tackle them head on.

“I always wanted to help people succeed and reach their goals. I wanted to get involved and give back,” she says.

In 2007, Hudson started the nonprofit organization Hannah’s Women to help prepare youth living in her hometown of Emporia, Virginia, and in Richmond for the real world and provide them with after-school activities.

She says she was fortunate enough to grow up in a neighborhood where there was a community center. “But that’s not how it is in every neighborhood,” she says. “It’s very rural in Emporia. There’s not much for kids to do.”

Using her degree in urban studies to engage with the community and her religious studies to serve as the basis for the organization’s programming, she’s been able to provide structured activities and support for youth and their families.

Hannah’s Women works to improve family literacy by providing mentoring opportunities, tutoring programs and other outreach services. Through her VCU and local connections, Hudson has provided SOL preparation courses, has led students on tours of VCU’s campus and has offered community computing classes, which are promoted as part of the College of Humanities and Sciences’ Great Place Initiative effort.

She also used the skills she learned in her graduate studies to develop Lifeology 101, an adult life coaching class available in both cities.

“We had four people stick through the life planning course to the end. It was intense,” Hudson says. “Two of them ended up getting married and starting their own catering business together. The other two students were inspired by what they learned to go back to school and continue their education.”

In the immediate future, Hudson plans to expand the organization’s life coaching and tutoring efforts. She is also planning a financial aid workshop to prepare students in the Emporia area before college FAFSA applications are due. And that’s not the only thing on her horizon. She’s hoping to start on her Ph.D. in education and open tutoring centers in Emporia and Richmond in the next five years.

“Everyone in the office always tells me that they know I’ll leave VCU someday,” Hudson says. “They aren’t excited about it, but they know I’ll keep moving forward. I haven’t been compelled to leave. Until then, I’ll stay and learn everything I can.”

– Story by Anthony Langley, photo by William Gilbert