Poetic justice: Friends and colleagues honor professor’s legacy with scholarship

Claudia Emerson. Photo by Kent Ippolito.

Claudia Emerson. Photo by Kent Ippolito.

Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry in 2006. Poet Laureate of Virginia 2008–2010. Passionate professor.

Though Claudia Emerson came late to the world of poetry, she embraced the genre and said in a PBS interview shortly after winning the Pulitzer that she processed the world through poetry.

Almost immediately after her death from colon cancer in December 2014, friends and colleagues at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she was a creative writing professor in the English department of the College of Humanities and Sciences, established the Claudia Emerson Scholarship to celebrate her life and her dedication to her students.

The scholarship assists students by providing access to enrichment opportunities such as conferences and workshops. The scholarship monies also help increase the stipends available for graduate teaching assistants.

Emerson was at VCU for a short time only, arriving in summer 2013. But the impression she made has been etched for a lifetime.

“I worked with Claudia during my second year,” said Christie Maurer, now a third-year graduate student pursuing an M.F.A. in poetry. “We would get coffee, and she’d invite students to her home for workshops. She was amazing.”

Awarded to undergraduate and graduate students in the poetry or creative nonfiction program in the department, the Claudia Emerson Scholarship has already benefited five students as they hone their craft. Maurer is one.

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Tragedy leads to celebration of life at Theatre VCU


Jett Higham

In just a 10-minute walk covering no more than three blocks in the Richmond neighborhood of Jackson Ward in July 2013, 18-year-old Jett Higham was gone − fatally shot during what police called a “robbery gone bad,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Toni-Leslie James

Toni-Leslie James

“It’s a reality I hope no one has to go through – losing a child to such senseless violence,” said Higham’s mother, Toni-Leslie James, director of costume design and associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Theatre in the School of the Arts.

“Jett was such an amazing, vibrant, beautiful kid,” James said. “We just have to continue on. I can understand how this type of tragedy can totally destroy a family. It’s been our mission to keep our family intact and to try to love and learn and laugh and continue on.”

Struggling with the enormity of the crime and looking for a way to support James in its aftermath, faculty, staff and friends at Theatre VCU rallied to create the Jett Higham Costume Design/Technology Scholarship to celebrate his life and to help talented students.

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VCU squares off against UR in fourth annual Battle for the Capital


Perhaps, as fans, we have less influence than we would like over the outcome of the on-court encounters between Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond. However, when the two basketball teams meet again at 7 p.m. on Feb. 19 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, there is one way to put the friendly rivalry and competitive spirit to good use.

Battle for the Capital, an annual giving challenge pitting the alumni of the two universities against each other, runs this year Feb. 12-19.

The idea behind the battle is that each university scores a point every time it receives an online or credit card donation ($5 minimum) from its alumni. The winning university is the one with the most points at the end of battle week. Points are tallied only during the week that leads up to this season’s Atlantic 10 matchup on the court between the Rams and the Spiders.

A win this year would make a hat trick for VCU, which has won the past two of the three years the challenge has previously run.

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Helping hand: Through scholarship, dental alumni honor staff member

Hazel Luton learns a scholarship has been established in her name.

Hazel Luton learns a scholarship has been established in her name.

From throwing pool parties and frying chicken to helping navigate licensure exams and offering professional advice, Hazel Luton would do just about anything for the dentistry students at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Hazel was like a surrogate mother to me,” said Mark Beltrami, D.D.S. (D.D.S.’95/D), who received his D.D.S. from the VCU School of Dentistry in 1995. “She took students under her wing. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to help us.”

As the School of Dentistry Class of 1995’s reunion approached, along with Luton’s milestone anniversary of 40 years with the School of Dentistry, Beltrami set the pace for his classmates and colleagues with a $10,000 lead gift to establish the Hazel Luton Scholarship.

Luton is the first staff member at the school to be honored with the creation of a scholarship. Now surpassing $45,000 in gifts and pledges, the scholarship will be awarded for the first time in fall 2017 to a rising second-year student who embodies Luton’s compassion.

“Hazel is beloved by so many. She is a parental figure as well as a supportive staff member,” said David C. Sarrett, D.M.D., dean of the VCU School of Dentistry and associate vice president for VCU Health Sciences-Faculty Affairs. “This scholarship is a testament to her many kindnesses. It will benefit generations of students who will receive financial assistance in her name.”

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Massey Cancer Center’s Research for Life campaign exceeds its fundraising goal

The School of Medicine's McGlothlin Medical Education Building, where Research for Life funds established the Massey Research Pavilion. Photo by David Hale.

The School of Medicine’s McGlothlin Medical Education Building, where Research for Life funds established the Massey Research Pavilion. Photo by David Hale.

“Research is the best hope for saving and improving lives of cancer patients. Massey has a solid foundation, but we need to broaden and deepen our research operations,” said Gordon Ginder, M.D., director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center and Lipman Chair in Oncology, at the kickoff of the public phase of the Research for Life campaign in 2013.

Research for Life, which officially started July 1, 2007, and finished June 30, 2015, raised more than $108 million, having exceeded its goal of $100 million in December 2014.

“The philanthropy of our community and region has been truly phenomenal,” said Becky Massey, who co-chaired the campaign with retired Richmond banker C.T. Hill. “We are extremely grateful to all the individuals, corporations and foundations who contributed enormously to ensuring success for this campaign.”

People, places and programs

At the outset of the Research for Life Campaign, Massey identified “people, places and programs” as its three priorities for fundraising. These areas would facilitate the swift progression of research, improving Massey’s ability to extend and save the lives of people affected by cancer.

“The ‘people’ part was about the retention and recruitment of excellent physicians and scientists,” Massey said. “The goal was to recruit up to 35 new, accomplished researchers and faculty members.”

These additions, along with the cancer center’s existing team, would be charged with maximizing its capacity to pursue groundbreaking scientific concepts, lead translational research and implement clinical trials.

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Cabell Foundation awards $1M challenge grant to bolster VCU’s new library


The new James Branch Cabell Library

The Cabell Foundation, known for its strategic and generous support throughout Richmond and Virginia, has awarded a $1 million challenge grant to VCU Libraries. Money raised will assist VCU Libraries in fully outfitting and equipping the new James Branch Cabell Library, as well as provide funding for future needs.

The grant challenges VCU Libraries to raise $1 million in new gifts and pledges by June 30, 2017. When VCU Libraries reaches that goal, the foundation will commit $1 million, bringing the total raised to $2 million for the new library. Half of the funds raised will support the New Building Fund, which will outfit and equip the new library with the kind of furnishings and equipment not provided by state funds, and will help VCU realize the full promise of this extraordinary new space for students. The other half of the funds will create a permanent Library of the Future Fund, an endowment earmarked to continually update technology in the building and to replace worn-out, broken and outdated furniture.

“The Cabell Foundation is such a tremendous friend and partner of VCU. Their visionary support over many years has forever impacted the university, and for this, we are most grateful,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “This challenge grant will provide support to each and every VCU student and faculty and staff member through the investment in the VCU Libraries.”

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Longtime VCU benefactor makes $16M Gift to VCU’s Center for Clinical and Translational Research

C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright

C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright

Virginia Commonwealth University announced today that longtime benefactor C. Kenneth Wright has made a $16 million gift to name the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research at VCU.

The gift, from Wright and the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Foundation, is the fifth-largest single gift in the history of the university. The gift will establish six C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chairs in Clinical and Translational Research and the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Physician-Scientist Scholars program, named for Wright and his late wife, Dianne.

“The center is improving the lives of patients at VCU Health,” Wright said.  “I am excited about helping to put the very best faculty and students in the laboratories and clinics so new discoveries can be made and new treatments can be developed. I am very grateful for the excellent care Dianne received at VCU Health, and I know that she would be very pleased about this gift and the impact it will have across VCU.”

The endowed chairs, established with $12 million of the gift, will enable the university to recruit distinguished clinical and translational researchers from around the country. Initially, faculty whose research is focused in the Pauley Heart Center and the Massey Cancer Center will be awarded the chairs, which will be held for five years. The chairs can then be renewed or shifted to other areas of excellence in the health sciences.

The additional $4 million will launch the physician-scientist scholars program, which will help VCU prepare the best and brightest students for careers in clinical and translational research, providing tuition and stipends for M.D.-Ph.D. candidates in the VCU School of Medicine.

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Alumna, husband fund scholarship for medical students

Nader Silver, the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund Scholarship in the School of Medicine.

Nader Silver, the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund Scholarship in the School of Medicine.

Rosemarie Greyson-Fleg, M.D. (M.D.’80/M), credits the VCU School of Medicine’s three-year program with jump-starting her career as a physician.

“It was great. I was an older student, and the possibility of doing a three-year program was very attractive to me,” said Greyson-Fleg, a diagnostic radiologist in Clarksville, Maryland. “Everything worked out really well. I was very grateful that I was given that chance at VCU.”

The three-year option is no longer offered, but the school’s accelerated degree program gave Greyson-Fleg the chance to rotate into internal medicine early, where she thrived. She ultimately made the decision to specialize in radiology, giving her more time with her family.

To express her gratitude, Greyson-Fleg and her husband, Jerry, established the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund in 2013 through generous gifts of stock. The scholarship is part of the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign to help reduce medical student debt.

“My husband and I have supported scholarships at other institutions,” Greyson-Fleg said. “Now it’s my turn to give back to VCU.”

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Pharmacy: Support the Class of 2019

white coats

In August, 140 members of the VCU School of Pharmacy Class of 2019 will take the student pharmacist oath as a symbol of officially joining the profession. Please help us support them as they make this transition.

To make your gift of $50 to buy a Class of 2019 pharmacy student’s white coat, please complete and submit the online form. You will receive an acknowledgment of your gift by email. If you have any problems or questions, email giving@vcu.edu. Thank you!

Startup roundup

Entrepreneurship, particularly the development and launch of a startup business, requires robust reserves of energy, smarts and guts. Virginia Commonwealth University students and alumni have demonstrated a willingness to test themselves and their ideas in this highly competitive and demanding realm, and interest in the startup world is growing at the university — as are the resources VCU and its entities are making available to students who have the drive to pursue their business plans.

A 2014 survey revealed that 51 percent of VCU students have a high or moderate interest in starting their own company. In that same survey, 15 percent said they had already started a company, had a business idea or were actively pursuing business formation. At VCU’s May commencement ceremony, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe praised VCU as “a great training ground for the real world,” while citing the university’s high number of entrepreneurial-minded students.

Eric Edwards, M.D., Ph.D., a VCU alumnus and one of the founders of kaléo, a young pharmaceutical company, said the university is a natural incubator for the startup-inclined.

“As a diverse, urban university where opportunities for mentorship, networking, creativity and entrepreneurial education are becoming increasingly a part of VCU’s DNA, it is refreshing to see the university taking a leadership role in the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Edwards said.

Here we profile five recent VCU alumni who have embraced the wide-open possibility of startups while remaining unbowed — maybe even thrilled — by their inherent uncertainty.