Engineering student immerses herself in the creation of a promising grocery-shopping app

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Sierra Semel.

Sierra Semel, a second-year mechanical engineering student in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, is constantly coming up with creative ideas for new products. Last fall, what started as an ordinary class assignment grew into an unexpected opportunity to see what it takes to bring an entrepreneurial idea to life.

The assignment required Semel and her classmates to submit an idea to OpenIDEO, a global community of innovative thinkers exploring solutions to problems through online challenges. Each challenge runs for several months at a time and focuses on a specific issue. This time, it was reducing food waste.

Drawing inspiration from personal experience, Semel laid out the initial plans for a mobile app called Expire.

“As a busy college student, I often lose track of exactly when I buy my groceries,” Semel said. “I wondered what would happen if, somehow, I could be alerted when the groceries I bought were about to go bad.”

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Inspired by her adopted Chinese siblings, VCU student earns Critical Language Scholarship to study in China

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Abigail Byram.

Abigail Byram, a computer science student at Virginia Commonwealth University, has four great reasons to study Chinese.

“I did independent study because my family has adopted four children from China. They were adopted as older children, and I needed to speak Chinese to be able to help integrate them into the family,” Byram said. “That’s what sparked my interest in Chinese, and it’s continued from there into more of an academic interest.”

This summer, she will take a major step by studying in China with support from a Critical Language Scholarship. Byram is presently taking a 200-level Chinese course at VCU. She plans to add a minor in Asian and Chinese Studies.

Byram will spend eight weeks in Dalian, China, studying Mandarin with a heavy dose of local culture. The program condenses a year of academic study.

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A SHOT OF COLOR

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Jon-Phillip Sheridan, assistant professor of photography and film, lectures during a class at the Depot.

Commuters and pedestrians at the intersection of Broad and Belvidere streets often gaze up at the gravity-bending Institute for Contemporary Art. Now, those stuck in traffic have something new to admire thanks to the VCU Green Walls Class.

The low-key building shared by VCU RamBikes and the Office of Sustainability has been transformed with vertical planters — commercial, stick built and even made of recycled and adapted materials — in the culmination of a class meshing students from the School of the Arts, School of Engineering and College of Humanities and SciencesDepartment of Biology.

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New capstone collaboration: Engineering and business students join forces to build startups

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From left, Wesley Bosman, Majid Al Ashari, Jon Dyke, Marcus Massok, Ashraf Al Gumaei, James Walters and Justin Artis (not pictured) are one of 11 interdisciplinary teams of engineering and entrepreneurship students collaborating on capstone projects this year. They are designing — and commercializing — a wearable cardiac arrest detection device. (Courtesy photo)

Students in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering’s Capstone Design course are building entrepreneurship skills alongside students in the VCU School of Business thanks to a new program that teaches engineering and business students how to create a startup.

VCU Engineering’s yearlong Capstone Design course immerses all senior engineering students in the hands-on process of solving real-world problems. This year, 11 VCU Engineering Capstone Design teams have also joined the business school’s two-semester entrepreneurship capstone course, New Venture Strategy and Initiation, to learn the process of launching a new company. The goal is a cross-disciplinary learning experience that results in innovative products — and viable platforms for getting them to consumers. The engineering and business students will team up to present their innovations at the School of Engineering Capstone Expo on April 28 at VCU’s Stuart C. Siegel Center.

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School of Engineering and Newport News Shipbuilding launch distance master’s program

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The School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering is partnering with Newport News Shipbuilding to offer the company’s engineers a commute-free path toward a master’s degree in VCU’s signature hybrid mechanical and nuclear engineering program.

Newport News Shipbuilding is the only designer, builder and refueler of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and one of two providers of U.S. Navy submarines. VCU is providing instruction to a 55-member cohort of NNS employees. Content is delivered synchronously, allowing the students to take master’s level classes remotely, but in real-time with the VCU professors.

“Newport News Shipbuilding has been a valued partner in the growth of our School of Engineering,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Engineering. “We are pleased that we can thank them for their confidence in us by providing their engineers with the opportunity to earn an M.S. degree through this innovative use of distance learning.”

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VCU’s nuclear engineering program celebrates 10th anniversary

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Supathorn Phongikaroon, associate professor of nuclear engineering.

Ten years ago, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering added nuclear engineering to its program offerings, bringing comprehensive nuclear engineering education to Virginia. Today, VCU is the only university in Virginia with an accredited undergraduate nuclear engineering concentration, as well as M.S. and Ph.D. programs in mechanical and nuclear engineering.

These programs are making robust intellectual contributions to the discipline while also meeting significant industry needs. The idea to create them originated when industry and academia came together to solve a problem.

“Around 2007 or so, Dominion Resources’ nuclear business unit employed a lot of people who had come in with bachelor’s degrees in engineering, but they had to leave the state to go any further into their education in nuclear engineering,” said Kerry Basehore, who was director of nuclear analysis and fuel for Dominion from 1997 to 2016. “We looked at the situation, and at the fact that the VCU School of Engineering had opened 10 years earlier, and we said, ‘Why don’t we start a night program?’”

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Flagship scholarship program established at VCU’s School of Engineering by C. Kenneth Wright

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The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering has received a $5 million founding gift from longtime benefactor C. Kenneth Wright to establish a scholarship fund for undergraduate students.

The Wright Engineering Access Scholarship Program will become the school’s flagship scholarship program to provide need- and merit-based awards to a broad base of students, including community college transfers. Wright’s gift is the largest scholarship gift in the school’s 21-year history.

When fully implemented, the Wright Engineering Access Scholarship will reach hundreds of students every year and provide resources to help promote a broad range of high-value opportunities in the engineering profession. The new program provides expanded resources to attract and retain the best-qualified students, regardless of financial need, and will complement existing programs to help recipients reduce or even eliminate loan indebtedness.

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AMC Technology and the VCU School of Engineering create UX design center

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From left, VCU computer science majors Edwin Lobo, Benjamin Wunshel, Emily Klein, Robert Uvanni, Connor Waters and Shaun Graham.
By Rebecca Jones

A partnership between the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering and Midlothian-based AMC Technology has computer science students building user experience (better known as UX) enhancements — and their own creative problem-solving skills.

AMC Technology, which provides customer relationship management and contact center integrations, and VCU Engineering have created a center near campus where computer science students receive training in an industry-standard software development process to meet customer-driven, real-world needs. The idea is a variation of AMC’s popular summer internship program with VCU. The AMC UX Design Center is located near VCU School of Engineering West Hall so students can intern with AMC without having to commute to the company’s Midlothian headquarters.

“The summer internship program has been very successful — the students go through our boot camp and become productive quickly,” said Anthony Uliano, AMC founder and chief technology officer. “We wanted to make this concept more permanent and bring in more students. That was the idea behind leasing a space convenient to VCU.”

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Designing Cuba

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VCUarts alumnus Cody Huff (B.F.A.'16/A) examines a mosaic mural in Old Havana. The mural features prominent figures in Cuban history and the arts.

VCUarts alumnus Cody Huff (B.F.A.’16/A) examines a mosaic mural in Old Havana. The mural features prominent figures in Cuban history and the arts.

Sara Reed first noticed the posters last spring, scattered on walls throughout the Pollak Building. They promoted an engineering class on design in constrained environments. Reed, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of interior design at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, was curious.

“It sounded really intriguing,” she said. “What I was reminded of was research I had done for my dissertation on Cuban design and this idea of designing within material scarcity.”

The course was to be taught by Russell Jamison, Ph.D., dean emeritus and professor in the School of Engineering. Reed contacted Jamison, thinking she might be able to contribute to his class as a visiting speaker. The two met for coffee.

“I thought that it would be a guest lecture,” Reed said.

It turned into something much bigger than that.

VCU Engineering receives funding to improve access to AIDS drugs

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B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D.

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering’s Medicines for All project has received approximately $5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a more cost-effective way to manufacture Dolutegravir, a new HIV/AIDS therapy.

The grant is the third major investment in Medicines for All in three years from the Gates Foundation, which also funded the initiative’s work to bring down the cost of the first-line AIDS treatments nevirapine and tenofovir.

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