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

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

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

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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School of Education alumna earns RPS Teacher of the Year honor

Clary Carleton.

Clary Carleton.

Clary Carleton (Cert.’98/E; M.A.’98/H&S), a 1998 alumna from the School of Education’s post-baccalaureate certificate in teaching program, has been named Richmond Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year for 2016.

Carleton, who also received a master’s degree in English literature from VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences, has taught at Open High School since 1999.

“It’s great to be recognized by my colleagues and my district,” Carleton said. “I’m proud to work for the city: I love working in my little school and love working with the students.”

Though she originally came to VCU with no intention of becoming a teacher, it was a Foundation of Education course — an elective she took purely on a whim — that ended up changing Carleton’s career path.

“I really engaged with the material in that class, learning about the history of education and its role in democracy,” she said. “I found that exciting, and realized that, as a teacher, I could make a difference.”

Carleton also discovered Open High School while at VCU, teaching a short fiction class in the building’s basement. Located in Oregon Hill, the alternative high school takes a more informal approach to schooling, emphasizing student independence and service learning for its 180 students.

“It’s a wonderful place, very friendly and informal,” Carleton said. “Because of its size, we can do things that probably wouldn’t work at other schools. There are pros and cons to any environment, though, so it’s all about finding the right fit. And I’ve found the right fit for me here.”

Carleton fully embraces the idea of lifelong learning — “I’m always a student; I think the best teachers are,” she said. She credits the School of Education with setting her up for success in her future career.

“I felt very well prepared after I graduated from VCU,” she said. “The faculty there are very invested in their students. Dr. Leila Christenbury, in particular, was very influential for me. She has been a mentor to me, and I just revere her and the work she has done.”

To read the full press release on Carleton’s award, please visit the RPS website.

Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering opens Innovation Laboratory

At the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, students are designing the future — and printing it in 3-D — in the new Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Innovation Laboratory

VCU’s Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering worked with 3-D printing industry leader MakerBot to establish the commonwealth’s first Innovation Laboratory featuring a MakerBot Innovation Center. The MNE Innovation Laboratory facilitates rapid prototyping of devices with a manufacturing suite that features 30 MakerBot Fifth Generation Replicator Desktop 3-D Printers and three MakerBot Replicator Z18s for producing extra-large objects. It will also house 3-D scanners and digitizers to allow for reverse engineering capabilities.

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Engineering alumna receives patent for a second energy-saving invention

Melissa Peskin.Melissa Peskin’s (B.S.’07/En) inventions help utility companies keep prices and environmental impact low.

Peskin earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007 and is a consulting engineer with Dominion Voltage Inc., a subsidiary of Dominion Resources. She has worked on two patented technologies that help utilities conserve energy safely without compromising power quality for customers.

“Both of these patents use the new smart meters as sensors to ensure power quality for customers,” said Peskin. Smart meters record energy consumption in short intervals and communicate that information back to the utility.

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VCU researchers receive $1 million grant to test a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has awarded a $1 million grant to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Schools of Medicine and Engineering to test a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease that was developed by university researchers.

The noninvasive eye-tracking device uses infrared light to follow a patient’s eye movement as the patient attempts to fix his or her gaze on a screen-displayed object. While normal eye movements are highly regulated and follow well-defined patterns, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease alter eye movements.

“One aim of the grant is to validate that we can use eye tracking to diagnose Parkinson’s disease with high accuracy,” said principal investigator Mark Baron, M.D., professor of neurology at the VCU School of Medicine and interim director of the VCU Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center. “Another aim is to validate that we can diagnose Parkinson’s disease well before a patient displays outward symptoms.”

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Engineering students design thermoregulated gloves that help people with Raynaud’s disease, including one of their own

Every time Jessica L. Bishop (B.S.’16/En) suffered an attack of Raynaud’s disease during her senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University, it motivated her to work even harder on her School of Engineering Capstone Design project, a pair of “magic gloves.”

The gloves help regulate the fingers’ temperature, which is relevant because Raynaud’s disease affects extremities in such a way that people with the condition are unable to tell when their hands get cold, among other symptoms.

“It’s something I’m very passionate about. It’s something that definitely affects me,” Bishop said. “There’s a slew of medications that they can put you on, like blood pressure medication, [but] there’s nothing specific to the Raynaud’s. It’s really just remedying the symptoms [by] wearing gloves, avoiding cold, avoiding stressors. Not drinking a lot of coffee.”

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New da Vinci Center director sees university as a living lab

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, in the former vault housing the center's 3-D printers and other high-tech tools. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center, in the former vault housing the center’s 3-D printers and other high-tech tools. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

As associate dean of student entrepreneurship in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Arizona State University, Garret Westlake oversaw the university’s status as the country’s No. 1 most innovative university — beating out Stanford and MIT, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Westlake, who became the executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center July 1, sums up the cause of ASU’s success with an anecdote about the school’s swim coach.

“We had a student robotics team that wanted to test an underwater robot,” Westlake said. “They came to me and said, ‘The deepest body of water in all of Arizona is the ASU swim team and dive pool. Is there any way we can test our robot in the swim team pool?’ I called the swim coach [but] thought this was never going to happen. And his feedback to me was, ‘I understand that entrepreneurship is one of our values at this institution. So anything this team needs to do in the pool outside of hours we can absolutely make it available to them.’

“And I thought a culture where your swim coach recognizes the value of entrepreneurship and innovation and opens the doors to facilities that might not otherwise be thought of as, you know, test beds for new technology, really speaks to an innovative culture across an institution.”

Westlake believes one way to create such a culture is to allow students the opportunity to fail, which means allowing them to put into practice what they’re studying, rather than just sitting in a classroom or reading. Whether that means experimenting with an underwater robot in the pool or a creating a new resin for gloves used by the tennis or golf team, the goal is to turn the whole university into a living lab.

In a Q&A with VCU News, Westlake explained how he has hit the ground running in creating that environment.

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Tiny Tech: A startup bringing big changes to protective clothing

As cell phones and other wireless technologies proliferate, there is growing concern about the health effects of the electromagnetic radiation these devices emit. Tiny Tech, a startup that began in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering, is addressing those concerns by weaving effective EM radiation shielding into clothing.

The Tiny Tech team brings together talent from the School of Engineering and the VCU Brandcenter, which is part of the School of Business. Umar Hasni (B.S.’16/En.), a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering, and Margaret Karles (B.S.’14/H&S), a student in the Brandcenter’s Experience Design Program, have joined Erdem Topsakal, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to develop the product and form the company. They are united in their enthusiasm for technology, and in their commitment to make it safer.

“In the age of connectivity, everything is at the touch of our fingertips,” Hasni said. “In order to make that happen, radio frequencies and microwave frequencies are connecting everybody’s devices. You can’t stop technology from progressing — you want it to do better. So we’re focusing on how we can still progress in technology but keep ourselves safe as well.”

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