Making headlines: VCU journalism students are covering the General Assembly for 90 news outlets and feeding stories to the Associated Press


On a recent morning at the General Assembly, a Virginia Senate subcommittee considered legislation backed by the oil and gas industry that would keep chemical recipes used in fracking confidential as trade secrets. Among the lobbyists, activists and others observing the debate, Virginia Commonwealth University senior journalism major Tyler Hammel was listening carefully and taking notes.

Hammel, who was covering the meeting as part of the Capital News Service program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, quickly filed a news article about the meeting, “Panel amends and OKs bills on hiding fracking chemicals,” which was published by the The Daily Progress in Charlottesville and RVA Hub in Richmond.

“Covering the General Assembly is pretty hectic but rewarding,” Hammel said. “It’s almost like triage in a way because there’s no way you can possibly cover everything, so you have to make decisions about what is most important to you and what you think will get the most attention.”

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Practice makes perfect

Keira Robinson.  Photos by Skip Rowland.

Keira Robinson.
Photos by Skip Rowland.

When Virginia Commonwealth University opened the 62,000-square-foot Basketball Development Center in October 2015, it was a game-changer for the men’s and women’s basketball teams in every way, providing a state-of-the-art space for everything from morning practices and weightlifting sessions to afternoon naps and team meals.

“It’s a place for these athletes to not only work on their craft but to bond as a team,” says Daniel Ludwin, who was introduced to VCU basketball in 2009 by his friend David Boardman (B.S.’91/B). After just one game, Ludwin declared himself a “rabid Ram fan.”

Ludwin and Boardman both made pledges to support the construction of the practice facility. With private donors like them funding $14.5 million of the building’s approximate $25 million cost, the Basketball Development Center was the largest private fundraising project in VCU Athletics history.

“We pride ourselves at VCU in developing student-athletes into the best versions of themselves, and our supporters make that possible,” says Ed McLaughlin, associate vice president and director of athletics. “This facility is one of the top five in the country.”

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How I got the job: Devin Baker, once homeless, is now an art director at one of North America’s largest advertising agencies

Devin Baker.

Devin Baker.

Devin Baker went to New York in 2007 to advance a budding career in the entertainment industry. When he arrived, he found his housing arrangement had fallen through, leaving him without a place to live.

“Some things didn’t work out with family that I had in the area,” said Baker, 32, now an advertising student in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I ended up homeless for a little while until I found a room for rent in Brooklyn.”

It was an early experience in Baker’s long and circuitous path toward a career in advertising. He spent seven years in New York, mostly working at Universal Records, before moving to Richmond and going back to school at VCU. This past spring, he landed a summer creative internship with the advertising agency BBDO, and turned it into a full-time job as an art director by the end of July.

He views it all as a series of steps.

“I worked toward a specific goal — getting into VCU, getting the internship,” Baker said. “I would accomplish that step and keep going to the next thing.”

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VCU’s journalism program joins Google News Lab University Network


The Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture has joined the Google News Lab University Network, a new initiative by Google that will provide training materials and support to journalism professors and students on topics such as Google tool fundamentals, trust and verification, immersive storytelling, data journalism, advanced search and Google Trends, data visualization, mapping and more.

The initial cohort of 49 journalism schools around the world, including the Robertson School in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences, will gain access to journalism training and support that Google has provided to professional newsrooms for several years.

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Students from Iraq, VCU develop social media campaigns for Richmond-area nonprofit organizations

Twenty-four Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program students 13 VCU students are taking the VCU Social Media Institute this summer, and developing social media campaigns for local nonprofit organizations.

Twenty-four Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program students 13 VCU students are taking the VCU Social Media Institute this summer, and developing social media campaigns for local nonprofit organizations.

Dahshti Frya knew how he wanted to spend his summer after talking with some of his close friends back home in northern Iraq — he wanted to travel to the United States.

More specifically, he wanted to attend the seventh annual Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program held at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Humanities and Sciences.

When his peers came back from the IYLEP program and shared their stories of coming to the U.S. and being exposed to a new city and a new way of learning how to assist nonprofit organizations achieve their missions, Frya knew he wanted to experience the same thing.

“There was something in me that wanted to come to America,” Frya said, shortly after giving a group presentation in class of his respective region in Iraq. “My friends that had done IYLEP told me about the city and the nice people and also the things they studied. All these things inspired me to apply for the program.”

Frya is one of 24 IYLEP students, along with 13 current VCU students, enrolled in the VCU Social Media Institute this summer. In the course, students help develop and implement social media campaigns for local nonprofits over a three-week period.

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Black History Month at VCU aims to spark dialogue, celebrate black excellence

Keith Knight

Keith Knight

Virginia Commonwealth University will celebrate Black History Month with a variety of events throughout February that are meant to provoke thought and conversation.

“I am truly excited for this year’s Black History Month events and the dialogue that may come as a byproduct of these programs,” said Yolanda Avent, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs in the Division of Student Affairs, which coordinates VCU’s Black History Month activities. “We have a month full of thought-provoking educational and social programs designed to engage and celebrate black excellence.”

All of the events will be free and open to the public, though registration may be required for certain events.

Political cartoonist Keith Knight will deliver the 14th annual VCU Libraries Black History Month Lecture, titled, “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They? From Ferguson to NYC, Political Cartoonist Keith Knight on Police Violence in the U.S.” He will speak on Feb. 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Lecture Hall (room 303) of James Branch Cabell Library.

Knight is known for creating funny, politically astute comics strips that touch on many divisive issues, including racially motivated police violence. His talk will be followed by a book sale and signing, as well as a public reception.

“Keith Knight is a cartoonist for the modern age who deftly uses his humor to address often divisive political, social and racial issues,” said Cindy Jackson, library specialist for comic arts with VCU Libraries, which is sponsoring the lecture. “His comics will make you laugh, but most importantly they will make you think.”

For more details or to register for Knight’s lecture, go to

Get the full list of Black History Month activities at VCU.

Next in line: Legacy students forge fresh paths at VCU



For some parents and other family members who attend Virginia Commonwealth University’s Family Weekend Oct. 23-25, they won’t be visiting campus for the second or third or even fourth time — they’ll be coming home. That’s because many VCU students follow in the footsteps of other relatives who attended VCU before them and make their own memories on their family members’ old stomping grounds.

Legacy students often bond with their relatives through their shared experiences at VCU — all while experiencing the university in their own unique way. Below are a few of their stories.

The Etiennes

Darice Etienne is the sixth member of her family to attend VCU, a tradition that goes back three generations and five decades. The legacy began with Darice’s grandmother, Carol Belton-Bynum, who studied education at what was then the Richmond Professional Institute in 1966, followed by Darice’s mother, Sheronda Bynum, who graduated with a degree in fashion and merchandising in 1999. “Actually, my mother had me while she was going to school here,” says Darice. “I even remember going to her graduation when I was 4 years old.”

Darice’s father and uncle, twin brothers Derrick and Darrell Etienne, studied mass communications and played soccer for VCU from 1995 to 1997 before starting professional soccer careers, while her aunt on her mother’s side, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, graduated with a B.S. in political science in 2010.

You might say Darice was destined to be a Ram, but she wasn’t convinced until her mother gave her the grand tour of campus. On her one-woman guided tour, Sheronda pointed out the highlights that remained from her time at VCU in the ’90s, such as the Pollak Building where she studied and John Chandler and Kat Farley’s Mobile Munchies campus food kiosk. But she also noted the array of new buildings to show her daughter how VCU had developed in the past 20 years.

Read more about the Etiennes and other legacy families.

‘Art Doors’ challenge raises awareness of community organizations


A door designed by sculpture major Lindsay Parnell is perched in front of The Diamond.

In the past couple of weeks, freestanding doors have been popping up all over Richmond. At first glance they may appear to lead nowhere, but for the Virginia Commonwealth University community they could lead to free indoor cycling sessions.

The creators of Find Art Doors, a public art installation and quest, issued a special challenge to the VCU community: During the UCI bike races Sept. 19-27, wear VCU gear or colors, find the doors, take selfies with the doors and post to Instagram. Whoever posts the most Ram-centric selfies with the doors will win a five-class package for Boho Cycle Studio in the Museum District.

The art doors bring awareness of the missions of Virginia Supportive Housing and Art on Wheels. Professional and amateur artists, including several VCU alumni and students, participated.

The Richmond Flying Squirrels asked sculpture major Lindsay Parnell, daughter of Todd Parnell, the team’s COO, to design the door at The Diamond.

“I was super-stoked about the mission of the project,” she said. “I also liked the idea of my work being exhibited outside of the ballpark since I practically grew up in that setting. Virginia Supportive Housing and Art on Wheels are both amazing organizations in our community so it was a no-brainer to want to be a part of this. I also think it provides a great opportunity for people to explore Richmond by going to each venue or organization that has a door on display. The doors are now installed at museums, parks, historic sites and other landmarks around Richmond.”

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Six VCU alumni selected for Fulbright grants


Six Virginia Commonwealth University alumni have been awarded Fulbright grants for the 2015-2016 academic year. The awards include four English Teaching Assistant grants and two research grants.

With this newest group of Fulbright student scholarship recipients, 34 VCU students and recent alumni have been offered Fulbright awards since VCU established the National Scholarship Office in 2005.

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