Students first: Retired professor launches rehabilitation counseling scholarship

Anne Chandler, Ph.D.

Anne Chandler, Ph.D.

The Department of Rehabilitation Counseling in Vir­ginia Commonwealth University’s School of Allied Health Professions prepares students to help those with disabilities find lives with meaning and purpose — two words that, after many years serving on the faculty, resonated with Anne Chandler, Ph.D.

The recent retiree gave $100,000 to establish the Anne L. Chandler Scholarship in Rehabilitation Counseling, creating the department’s largest endowed scholarship.

“I just felt like it was my time to give back,” Chandler said. “The rehab department is an extremely strong department. It’s nationally ranked, and I’m proud of my affiliation with my outstanding colleagues.”

It’s an affiliation that goes back 33 years. After graduating with both her master’s and Ph.D. in rehabilitation counseling from Michigan State University in 1974 and 1978, respectively, Chandler became assistant professor of rehab counseling in a VCU program based in Fishersville, Virginia. She worked there for two years before joining the University of South Carolina. When a position in rehab counseling on campus at VCU opened three years later, she was recruited back.

“Rehabilitation counselors, they’re the people who go into their communities, roll up their sleeves and work with populations who are typically marginalized,” said Amy Armstrong, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’02/E), chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling. “The goal is to enhance the well-being and community inclusion of people with disabilities.”

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Two VCU School of Engineering students awarded NSF student fellowships

Nicolas Miguel Andrade, left, and Patrick Link, at right.

Nicolas Miguel Andrade, left, and Patrick Link, at right.

Two Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering students have received prestigious fellowships from the National Science Foundation.

Nicolas Miguel Andrade and Patrick Link will receive three-year, $34,000 annual stipends and $12,000 education allowances, along with international research and professional development opportunities.

“This program is the most prestigious award for graduate students that the NSF supports,” said Gregory Triplett, Ph.D., associate dean of graduate studies at the School of Engineering. “We are hopeful that we will have many more success stories. Faculty, staff and administration share in the success of these students.”

The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, founded in 1951. It has supported more than 50,000 fellowships aimed at students pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in the sciences.

As a high school student drawn to research, Andrade connected with Ümit Özgür, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical engineering.

“I went to Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, and we had a mentorship program. We were able to go out in the community and pick anyone we wanted to work with,” Andrade said. That early bond led to years of experiments in Özgür’s lab working with light-emitting diodes and vertical cavity lasers.

Andrade, a member of the Honors College, will graduate in May and continue his education in a joint master’s-Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkeley, where he hopes to study high-efficiency transistors and light-switching technologies. He is also earning a degree in physics from the College of Humanities and Sciences.

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A common bond: School of Medicine scholarship connects two immigrants

Joseph Gazala, M.D., and Samuel Sessou

Joseph Gazala, M.D., and Samuel Sessou

They come from worlds apart, but two families with origins far away from Richmond, Virginia, share a common bond on the MCV Campus of Virginia Commonwealth University.

A graduate of the Royal College of Medicine in Baghdad, Joseph Gazala, M.D., came to the United States in 1953 for specialty training in ophthalmology at the New York University Post Graduate Medical School at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. In 1958, he and his wife, Rose, moved to Richmond, where he started his private practice.

The couple grew to love the city as well as VCU, where Gazala served as an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Ophthalmology in the School of Medicine.

Likewise, with his three siblings and his mother, Samuel D. Sessou came to Sterling, Virginia, from Togo in 1996. His father had arrived five years before, in search of a better life. Three years ago, with an interest in health care and an undergraduate degree in neuroscience from the College of William and Mary, Sessou entered the VCU School of Medicine’s class of 2017.

Sessou is the first recipient of the Joseph R. and Rose N. Gazala Scholarship, which the Gazalas established in 2012 with a gift of $100,000. They had been inspired by stories they had read in campus publications of others who had been helped by private philanthropy.

Since 2013, Sessou has received more than $13,000 from the scholarship, which is awarded on the basis of financial need as well as merit, to help pay for his medical education. As long as he stays in good standing at the school, he’ll continue to receive benefits through his final year.

Sessou and Joseph Gazala met for the first time last summer over lunch. It gave them a chance to share experiences and get to know each other.

“Sam is a bright young man,” Gazala said. “He and his family spoke French when they arrived, so he spent the first few years learning English. He was determined to make it and to work hard. His mind was set at that young age to become a doctor.

“It’s not easy to come up with money for all the expenses, and he said the scholarship has filled a gap for him,” Gazala continued. “At the time I was going to medical school, my family was under financial stress — my father had passed away 20 years earlier — so I feel for those students. It’s not easy for them.”

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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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Students examine computer pioneer’s legacy during research trip to California

Ayah Oweis and Marina Green study a keyset at the Doug Engelbart Institute. The keyset was used for typing and entering commands in concert with the first-ever computer mouse. Photos by Alice Campbell.

Ayah Oweis and Marina Green study a keyset at the Doug Engelbart Institute. The keyset was used for typing and entering commands in concert with the first-ever computer mouse. Photos by Alice Campbell.

Why would a future history teacher and social worker want to spend their spring break learning about early pioneers of computer technology? For Virginia Commonwealth University students Ayah Oweis and Marina Green, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Oweis, a sophomore studying education, and Green, a senior studying social work, are the 2015-2016 recipients of the Engelbart Scholar Award at VCU. This award covers enrollment in six special sections of UNIV 200: Inquiry and the Craft of the Argument, sections nicknamed “Thought Vectors in Concept Space.” This course in research and writing in the digital age that is the brainchild of Gardner Campbell, vice provost for learning innovation and student success and dean of the University College. The scholarship includes an all-expenses-paid spring break trip to the Doug Engelbart Institute and other academic research facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It is a huge honor being an Engelbart Scholar,” Oweis said. “Since winning the scholarship, I have learned about a whole new world I had no idea about.”

Doug Engelbart was a pioneer of computer technology. In the 1960s he invented the computer mouse because he felt that people working on early computers needed to work more efficiently. Instead of using keyboard strokes only, Engelbart invented a device that provides quicker access to areas on a video display (also an innovation) and would therefore make solving problems with the computer exponentially faster. Engelbart died in 2013, but his legacy of solving the world’s problems survives in the people whose lives he continues to touch.

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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 Brandcenter announces Excellence Scholarship

To kick off its 20th anniversary celebration, the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter is giving back to students in the form of new scholarships totaling $50,000.

The VCU Brandcenter Excellence Scholarship will award one $10,000 scholarship to an applicant in each of its five tracks — Art Direction, Copywriting, Creative Brand Management, Experience Design and Strategy — for the 2016-2017 school year. In addition to celebrating the Brandcenter’s upcoming 20th anniversary, the scholarship provides an incentive for the school’s quality applicants. This new scholarship is in addition to the over $100,000 given during the school year to Brandcenter students.

“Due to the collaborative nature of our program, and the fact that we accept students from all backgrounds, attracting quality applicants from all over the world continues to be a top priority for us,” said VCU Brandcenter Director Helayne Spivak. “We felt the best way to celebrate our upcoming 20th anniversary was to celebrate what makes our program unique: the varied student body that shares a common goal of learning how to creatively and collaboratively solve business problems.”

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Engineering: Fulbright scholarship takes alumna to Australia

Eng Hayward-1-feature

Less than a year after her graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University, Laura Hayward (B.S.’15/En) is filling Eppendorf tubes with DNA and centrifuges with tubes in a lab down under.

The 23-year-old is looking for a way to make life-saving treatments accessible to everyone. By manipulating and sequencing DNA, she hopes to improve the tools doctors use to diagnose and treat patients with cancer or other diseases.

She doesn’t yet know all of the answers to make her experiment a success, but this only motivates her.

Hayward used to fear what she didn’t know.

And when she came to VCU as a freshman in 2010, she didn’t know what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

So, she started asking questions. No matter what she didn’t understand or how much temporary embarrassment it brought, she kept asking questions.

That simple tactic took Hayward from confusion to clarity, from the classroom to the laboratory, and from Richmond to Brisbane, Australia, where the Fulbright scholar is working to fashion technology in an effort to improve personalized medicine.

“This has definitely been a life-changing experience,” said Hayward, a 2014 graduate of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, part of the School of Engineering. “I have grown as an individual and been able to explore a part of the world that seemed too out of reach.”

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Business: Sophomore awarded the Boren Scholarship

A Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduate student has been awarded the David L. Boren Scholarship to study in the United Arab Emirates during the next academic year.

Asya Wilson, a native of Atlanta, is a sophomore majoring in business administration with a concentration in international business management in the School of Business. She will use the award to become proficient in Arabic while also taking international business courses at the American University of Sharjah, in the UAE.

“The economy in the UAE is quickly growing,” said Wilson. “It is a very business-oriented country and often referred to as a center for trade and commerce. As an international business major, it appeared to be the perfect place for me to pursue my interests in both business and Arabic.”

Wilson is currently enrolled in VCU Globe, the university’s global education living-learning program, and attributes her readiness to apply for the Boren scholarship to her participation in the program. “Being a part of Globe gave me a unique advantage that many universities don’t offer their students,” she said. “My experiences in this program, along with my language interest, really gave me the confidence that I needed to feel like receiving the Boren was even a possibility.”

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VCU license plates support student scholarships

DMV1On an increasing number of vehicles across Virginia, students, alumni, employees and fans of Virginia Commonwealth University are showing their Ram pride with the purchase of specialty VCU license plates.

Those purchases also support Virginia undergraduates at VCU through the VCU Affinity License Plate Scholarship Award. Last month, 11 students each received $3,000 in scholarship funds through the program, which is coordinated through VCU Business Services and has existed for nearly 25 years.

“Fifteen dollars from the sale of each license plate goes directly to the scholarship fund, which supports undergraduate students at VCU who are Virginia residents,” said Diane Reynolds, assistant vice president for business services. “And this year, we’ve seen a great deal of interest because our license plates have the new logo. That’s allowed us to provide $33,000 in scholarships this year.”

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