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

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


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.

Read more.

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

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.

Read more.

VCU professors receive $1.2 million grant to train counselors to support students with disabilities

Donna Gibson, Ph.D., at left, and LaRon Scott, Ed.D., at right.

Donna Gibson, Ph.D., at left, and LaRon Scott, Ed.D., at right.

Two faculty members in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education have received a $1.2 million federal grant to boost the number and quality of school counselors who serve as related service providers for students with disabilities.

The five-year grant, “A Collaborative Model of Preparing School Counseling Students as Related Service Providers to Students with Disabilities,” from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs will integrate research on self-determination and social cognitive career theories to prepare school counselors-in-training to address the academic, behavioral and social needs of pre-K-12 students, with a specific focus on transition planning for secondary students with disabilities.

“Transition services are a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability,” said project co-director LaRon Scott, Ed.D., assistant professor of special education in the Department of Counseling and Special Education. “The goal is to improve both the academic and functional success for a child with a disability. The transition planning process includes the development and execution of plans that would improve education, employment, school to post-school activities and other necessary experiences of a child with a disability.”

According to 2015 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 13 percent of all public school students ages 3–21 receive special education services.

Meanwhile, only about 24 percent of all accredited school counseling graduate programs require any special education courses in their degree requirements. Yet research shows that school counselors are actively involved in transition planning for 61 percent of students with disabilities.

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Two VCU programs ranked No. 1, Arts rises to No. 2 in updated U.S. News & World Report national rankings

overheadSeveral graduate programs at Virginia Commonwealth University are ranked among the top 50 of the nation’s best in the 2017 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” released on March 16.

Among the graduate schools with updated rankings for the 2017 edition, the School of the Arts is tied for the No. 2 overall fine arts ranking in the nation. Also, the School of Pharmacy is tied for No. 17, the School of Social Work is tied for No. 22, the School of Education is ranked No. 33 and the School of Medicine is tied for No. 40 for best primary care.

Within the School of the Arts, a number of fine arts graduate programs are ranked: Sculpture is ranked No. 1, ceramics is tied at No. 9, glass is No. 3, graphic design is No. 3, painting and drawing is No. 7 and printmaking is tied at No. 10.

Several graduate programs in the School of Allied Health Professions also fared particularly well in the report. In their categories, nurse anesthesia is ranked No. 1 in the nation, health care management tied for No. 3, rehabilitation counseling tied for No. 4, occupational therapy tied for No. 17 and physical therapy tied for No. 20.

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In South Africa, VCU-led delegation sparks social change through soccer


A delegation led by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Sport Leadership is in South Africa this week and next as part of a U.S. Department of State-backed effort to boost cultural understanding and spark social change through the country’s passion for soccer.

“It’s sport diplomacy,” said Carrie LeCrom, Ph.D., executive director of the center, which is part of the VCU School of Education. “The goal is to basically increase cultural understanding between the U.S. and people of South Africa through sport. Our other goal is positive social change.”

The two-week trip is part of Project PUSH — or “Play Until Something Happens” — a partnership between the VCU Center for Sport Leadership and the Richmond Strikers Soccer Club, as well as the Boys & Girls Clubs of South AfricaRagball International and Grassroots Soccer. It is funded by a $200,000 grant from the U. S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ International Sports Programming Initiative.

Last June, 14 youth soccer coaches from South Africa visited Richmond to work with the Center for Sport Leadership and the Richmond Strikers to learn how sport can be used as a teaching tool in the areas of leadership, teamwork, education, responsibility and lifelong learning.

Also as part of their training in Richmond, the South African coaches developed action plans to use soccer to address specific social challenges facing their communities back home, such as teen pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, and HIV/AIDS education.

Now, the eight-person delegation from the United States is visiting Johannesburg and Cape Town to meet with the organizations and clubs of the coaches who visited the U.S. last year and to observe and assess implementation of their social change action plans.

Read more.

Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D.

Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education is partnering with the state’s Region 1 school divisions to establish the Region 1 Autism Education Consortium.

Approximately 2,200 students who are identified with, or exhibit characteristics of, autism spectrum disorders receive services in Region 1 schools. ASD are a range of developmental disorders characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive or severely limited activities or interests. The consortium, facilitated by the VCU Autism Center for Excellence in the School of Education, will allow participating school divisions to build upon shared resources and expertise among the schools and VCU to respond to the increasing demand for effectively trained educators to serve students with ASD.

“The consortium that will be developed between the superintendent’s Region 1 and the VCU School of Education Autism Center for Excellence will be an outstanding opportunity to help improve the quality of services for students with autism spectrum disorders in Central Virginia,” said Paul Wehman, Ph.D., director of VCU-ACE. “This agreement will expand the opportunity for more technical assistance services to schools in Central Virginia who currently have more than one-third of all students with autism in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Education.”

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VCU’s Richmond Teacher Residency program partners with national teaching center

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education will partner with the National Center for Teacher Residencies to accelerate the impact of effective teacher residency programs and broaden the adoption of research-based preparation practices.

The NCTR has received $6.8 million to become a Teacher Preparation Transformation Center as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiative. Partnering initially with 17 residency programs — including the VCU School of Education’s Richmond Teacher Residency program — NCTR’s Transformation Center will expand the residency model to 30 providers nationwide and will prepare more than 2,500 new teachers for high-need schools.

The Richmond Teacher Residency program, a partnership between Richmond Public Schools and the VCU School of Education, is an intensive, school-based teacher-preparation training program. RTR addresses the unique challenges of preparing teachers for urban education – both at the secondary level and at all levels for those preparing to teach special education (K-12). To date, 60 teachers have completed the program, and 16 are part of the current class.

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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.

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