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

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

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

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

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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