Across the world: Alumna’s passion for art spans three continents

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Guido Alvarez, Ph.D. (M.F.A.’04/A; Ph.D.’15/H&S), teaches typography, motion graphics, visual expression and studio skills at Wenzhou Kean University in Wenzhou, China. He’ll be taking over VCU Alumni’s Instagram the week of May 29, giving you a look into what it’s like to teach and live in the city of Wenzhou.

What sparked your interest in art?

Well, my father is a professional watercolorist and was a professor of architecture at the University of Cuenca [in Ecuador]. He also served as dean of the schools of architecture and arts at the university and founded a local school of design.

I grew up in an environment where art was always present and that pushed me to attend a painting academy as a child.

What was your journey to VCU from Ecuador?

When it came time for me to choose a career, I wanted to become a photographer but, to this day, there are no schools of photography in Ecuador The closest professional path to follow was architecture, but after a semester of studying it, I decided that it wasn’t for me and transitioned into studying design and English at the University of Cuenca.

I applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in 1999 and was given three program choices: the Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Chicago told me I didn’t have the skills, and Yale told me I didn’t have the money, but VCU said, “Come over and have a partial scholarship.” That was enough for me, so my wife at the time and I packed what we owned and moved to the States. I arrived to a city I knew nothing about and a university completely unknown to me in a country that I loved but knew nothing about except the language. Little did I know, it would become such an integral part of my life, education and identity.

What was your time at the university like?

Odd, weird, strange and unique in its own way. My first semester in the M.F.A. program was rough. I knew what I was capable of, but I wasn’t ready for the different expectations. Each professor was unique and challenged me, helping me transform from a designer and computer operator to a design thinker, culture-maker and conceptual thinker.

Outside of the classroom, things weren’t easy. Money was scarce, and we often had to live off of credit cards. We had our first child during my first year in the U.S. and trying to live within the salary of a teaching assistant was hard. However, the experiences I had in Richmond and the people I met made a radical difference in our lives. I still consider Richmond to be my true home. It’s where I met the people I call my American parents, Bob and Wilma, who embraced me and my family and gave us unparalleled generosity.

I moved back to Ecuador for five years after completing my master’s degree and worked as director of the design program at a transnational university, but it wasn’t the right fit for me so I returned to VCU for my doctorate [in media, art and text].

My second time at the university was much more demanding. From writing with the rigor of academia to commuting two hours a day from Louisa County, where I took care of a property and two lap dogs in exchange for living space for me and my family, it was extremely different. I left Richmond in 2006 to teach at St. Olaf College in Minnesota but returned to VCU twice to defend my Ph.D.

Where did you go after earning your Ph.D.?

Well, during the time it took me to defend my thesis I applied to jobs all over the world. When I was finished, I moved back to Minnesota to be close to my kids, and while I was there, I was offered a position at Wenzhou Kean University. Without any other options, I said yes and flew into the unknown once again.

Being in Wenzhou has been an extremely transformative experience. It wasn’t an easy path, but it was worth pursuing. China is a beautiful country, with a rich culture and great food. The problem is that many aspects of the country are unknown to the rest of the world, and I wish that were different.

What projects are you working on now?

When I’m not teaching, I’m learning Chinese, word by word, character by character. It’s a beautiful language, yet nearly impossible to master.

I’m also preparing a presentation for the World Design Summit in Canada this October called “Typography Education with Multicultural Perspective,” where I plan to show the gaps between Western and Eastern cultures from the perspective of visual communication and, particularly, graphic design.

I’ll also be back in Richmond starting in June conducting research at Cabell Library while preparing for an exhibit of my drawings that will take place in Ecuador in July. It will integrate a robotic drawing device with my handmade work with the subject matter being China, of course.

How has VCU made an impact on your career?

It made everything possible. I recently got a red paper dragon tattoo on my arm while in Shanghai, a first for me. I’ll get my next one while in Richmond, and it will be “VCUarts.” It means that much to me.

Fulbright recipient Fajir Amin studies benefits of ‘looping’ in United Arab Emirates classrooms

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Fajir Amin.

In 2014, Fajir Amin (B.I.S.’12/H&S; M.T’12/E) arrived in the United Arab Emirates to teach English, and was assigned to teach fourth-grade boys at a school on the remote Arabian Gulf island of Dalma. To get there, Amin had to undergo a seven-hour journey from the capital city of Abu Dhabi, and had no idea what to expect.

“Initially I was glad about [being assigned a fourth-grade boy’s English class], as I had taught fourth grade before in the United States, and liked that age group,” said Amin, who received a master’s degree in elementary education in 2012 from the VCU School of Education and taught in Virginia for two years. “However, when people on the island and co-workers asked what grade I had been given to teach, I only got two reactions from people: They would either laugh and chuckle or they would have a somber look on their face and say something like ‘Aww, you poor darling!’”

As it turned out, the students in Amin’s class had a total of five different English teachers the previous year, due to how “rough” the students were and because of the teachers’ inability to cope with conditions on the island.

“Clearly, my students had not experienced commitment for a while and were expecting me to pack my bags and run for the next ferry bound to the mainland,” she said. “I saw a bunch of kids that just needed an advocate and consistent leader.”

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Two VCU schools ranked in top 50 in updated U.S. News & World Report national rankings

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The School of Nursing is tied at No. 48 in the updated U.S. News & World Report “Best Graduate Schools” national rankings.

Two graduate schools at Virginia Commonwealth University join the ranks of the nation’s top 50 in the 2018 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” released March 14.

Among the graduate schools with updated rankings for the 2018 edition, the School of Education is tied at No. 41 and the School of Nursing is tied at No. 48.

Two other graduate programs ranked among the nation’s top 100: the part-time MBA program within the School of Business is No. 80, and the psychology program in the College of Humanities and Sciences is No. 65.

To learn more about the 2018 rankings, including a complete list, visit http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools. Not all program areas receive updated rankings each year.

For more about VCU’s rankings, including graduate programs ranked in the top 50 during previous updates by U.S. News & World Report, visit http://www.vcu.edu/about/facts-and-rankings.

VCU School of Education, Richmond Public Schools team up to boost student success at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School

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The VCU School of Education and Richmond Public Schools have launched an innovative partnership to work together to improve student performance in academics at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

“Our goal, over the long term, is to increase student success on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests in the four major content areas — English, mathematics, science and social studies,” said Diane Simon, Ph.D., senior associate dean for student affairs and a professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education at the VCU School of Education.

The collaboration, known as the MLK Jr. Collaborative Intervention Project, grew out of a survey in the spring by the Virginia Department of Education called “College/University Partnerships with Challenged Schools,” which sought to determine the capacity of Virginia’s colleges and universities to help boost student performance at some of the state’s most challenged schools.

Over the summer, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden, Ed.D., reached out to VCU School of Education Dean Andrew Daire, Ph.D., to ask if VCU might be able to lend its expertise to help MLK Middle School.

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Researcher receives $2.5M grant to assist young people with intellectual disabilities gain completive employment

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Katherine Inge, Ph.D.

Katherine Inge, Ph.D.

Virginia Commonwealth University researcher has received a five-year, $2.5 million

grant to help young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities — including autism spectrum disorder — to achieve competitive employment based on the individual’s choices, interests and skills.

The research grant from the National Institute on Disability Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was awarded to Katherine Inge (B.S.’75/AHP; Ph.D’95/E), Ph.D., director of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of People with Physical Disabilities in the VCU School of Education.

Teacher Tales: Participants in the School of Education’s Richmond Teacher Residency program share lessons they’ve learned in city school classrooms

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Grace Giampietro, a graduate student in the VCU School of Education who is participating in the Richmond Teacher Residency program, teaches a third grade special education class at Linwood Holton Elementary School.  Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

Grace Giampietro, a graduate student in the VCU School of Education who is participating in the Richmond Teacher Residency program, teaches a third grade special education class at Linwood Holton Elementary School.
Photos by Julia Rendleman, University Marketing.

For the past five years, a partnership between Richmond Public Schools and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education has prepared 77 new teachers who have made an immediate impact in 24 of the city’s most challenged public schools.

The Richmond Teacher Residency program is a highly selective urban graduate teacher residency program that aims to create a sustainable pipeline of highly effective teachers who are committed to the students of Richmond Public Schools for the long term.

“Despite overwhelming research that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in student achievement — and that teacher effects on student learning have been found to be cumulative and long-lasting — poor and minority students consistently are taught by the least prepared, least experienced teachers,” said Therese A. Dozier, Ed.D., director of the RTR program.

“This results in a constant churning of teachers in urban schools that comes with a huge price tag — $6 million each year for Richmond Public Schools, according to the 2014 National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future ‘Teacher Turnover Calculator’ — and, most importantly, the cost to students in terms of the lack of stability in schools and its negative impact on student achievement,” she said.

The RTR program is designed to end these educational inequities. Similar to a medical residency, the teachers co-teach alongside a Richmond Public Schools master teacher for a year, receive extensive mentoring and support, earn a master’s degree in education, and commit to teach at least an additional three years in Richmond Public Schools.

“Teachers who are unprepared in curriculum, teaching methods, child development, and with no student teaching experience leave at twice the rate of teachers who have had this training,” Dozier said.

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Professor’s new book helps children better understand dementia

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Paul Gerber, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the School of Education and former Ruth Harris Professor of Dyslexia Studies, has authored a children’s book illustrated by his wife, Veronica Geran Gerber, which serves as a vehicle for discussion and understanding of loved ones who suffer from dementia.

Ferguson the Forgetful Frog: A Story about Dementia,” is written for children ages 5 to 8 and provides an age-appropriate format for dealing with a family member with dementia. Gerber and his wife produced the book after experiencing dementia among family members.

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Playing for keeps: D.C. United player Andrew Dykstra keeps his eye on the goal

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Feb 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (50) during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended in a 1-1 tie. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra plays during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended the Feb. 17, 2016, match in a 1-1 tie. Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By Anthony Langley

Andrew Dykstra (B.S.’08/H&S; M.S.’10/E) found his passion for sports early on as a 4-year-old constantly running outside to play.

“I started soccer very early, wrestled in middle and high school, swam and even played football,” he says.­­

As Dykstra entered his senior year of high school at Osbourn Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, he contemplated playing college football but instead returned to the sport he loved the most, soccer. He strategically weighed his college options based on which school was most in need of his position, goalkeeper, and could provide the most financial support. In the end, his decision to attend Virginia Commonwealth University came down to the opportunities he would have off the field.

“I knew I wanted to study a subject that lead to athletic training, and the sheer amount of health-related programs the university has is amazing,” says Dykstra, who majored in health, PE and exercise science as an undergraduate student. “The academics were a perfect fit. I knew I made the right decision.”

D.C. United graphic

VCU alumni, Ram fans, parents and families are invited to enjoy an evening of soccer at RFK Stadium with VCU Alumni’s DMV GOLD Chapter! Cost is $25 and includes entrance to the game and pregame tailgate spot when 25 attendees have registered. RSVP online by Sept. 30.

Dykstra was a standout goalkeeper on the VCU men’s soccer team, where he logged 73 matches and spent more than 6,500 minutes between goalposts, earning him All-CAA honors twice between 2005 and 2008.  During the summers, he played for the Richmond Kickers development team and continued to take classes at VCU.

Despite on-field talent, the VCU men’s soccer team didn’t post a strong season in 2007-08, Dykstra’s senior year, resulting in less attention from scouts looking for new recruits for the majors. As graduation grew closer, Dykstra didn’t think he was ready to play on a professional level. He had a redshirt year, which allowed him to attend classes and practice with the team, and with some convincing from his coach, Dykstra remained on the team and began his master’s in sports leadership.

Though he wasn’t scouted, Dykstra was not ready to admit defeat. He hired a friend as his agent, who arranged for Dykstra to travel to Florida to attend a training and conditioning camp led by United Soccer League coaches.

At the end of the combine, Dykstra traveled to Germany, hoping to try out for one of the European soccer clubs, when he got a call from the Chicago Fire inviting him to that team’s training camp. Impressed by his performance, the team kept him on as the third goalkeeper. Dykstra moved to Chicago and completed the master’s degree he started at VCU online in 2010.

Dykstra played for the Fire for two seasons followed by a single season in 2011 for the Charleston Battery where he earned MVP for leading the USL Pro League in lowest goals against average and fewest goals allowed during the regular season, which helped the team win the USL Pro title.

After leaving the Battery, Dykstra’s agent arranged for him to practice with D.C. United, a move that brought him closer to home. The team signed him for the next season.

“His reliability and locker room presence are irreplaceable,” says Dave Kasper, the team’s general manager. “The coaching staff and players are very confident when Andrew’s number is called [to the field].”

Playing in the nation’s capital allows Dykstra to maintain his Richmond roots. In addition to playing for D.C. United, he remains on loan to the Richmond Kickers, the team’s USL PRO affiliate. He was a key player in helping the Kickers advance to the USL PRO semifinals in 2013 and ending the season with the league’s fewest goals against average and 10 shutouts.

In 2014, Dykstra ruptured his left Achilles tendon in a friendly international match with Fulham F.C., ending his season abruptly. During his recovery, he picked up a hobby that’s near and dear to Richmond: He began to homebrew beer.

“I figured it would be a cool way to meet new people and make great friends along the way,” he says.

Now in his fifth season with D.C. United, Dykstra is back on the field and ready to take on the NYC Football Club on Oct. 16 at RFK Stadium during VCU Alumni Night with D.C. United.

VCU’s Center for Sport Leadership ranked eighth in the world

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The Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University is ranked eighth worldwide and seventh in North America in the 2016 Sports Business International Postgraduate Sport Course Rankings, released Friday. It is the first time the CSL has been included on the list of top sports management programs. The CSL is also ranked eighth worldwide in the Graduates Choice category, which is based on student satisfaction surveys.

“We are honored to be recognized as one of the best sport management programs in the world,” said Carrie LeCrom, Ph.D., executive director of the CSL. “This designation signals the consistent growth and evolution of our program, its students and our alumni.”

This is the fifth year Sports Business International has conducted rankings for sport business and sports management programs worldwide. The publication received a record number of entries for consideration. The methodology of the rankings are based on several factors: graduates employed within three months of graduation; work placement; male/female ratio; domestic/international student ratio; and average salary after three years of graduation. There is also a student satisfaction component, which is based on a survey filled out by a program’s alumni from a designated year.

The CSL has more than 700 alumni working in all areas of the sport industry, including the NFL, NBA, NHL, USGA, and more than 50 Division I college athletic departments across the country.

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VCU School of Education’s Special Education, Counselor Education departments to merge

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The Department of Special Education and Disability Policy and the Department of Counselor Education at Virginia Commonwealth University will merge July 1, blending two of the School of Education’s top-tier programs to create an interdisciplinary academic environment focused on real-world learning and impact.

Students in the newly merged Department of Counseling and Special Education at the VCU School of Education.

Students in the newly merged Department of Counseling and Special Education at the VCU School of Education.

The two departments will merge into the new Department of Counseling and Special Education, bringing together a team of educators who are recognized as leaders in their fields, and a set of fully accredited graduate programs that are based on research, classroom and real-world experience.

“This merger provides an opportunity to enhance the interdisciplinary nature of our projects and research in counseling and special education,” said Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., chair of the new Department of Counseling and Special Education. “These programs complement each other, using a holistic approach to understanding and working with children, youth and adults, their educational needs, and their support systems. These two fields recognize the need to understand the context for a student’s education, including family life, health, emotional well-being and community resources.”

The two disciplines, Thoma said, complement one another, and together will foster a rich diversity in intellectual interests and provide new opportunities for collaboration. For example, faculty members from both departments serve on a statewide taskforce on trauma-informed care, an issue that both counselors and special educators face on a regular basis, but in different capacities. Collaboration in research will provide greater understanding of the impact of trauma on students with and without disabilities, and will help develop strategies designed to minimize that impact.

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