Author of ‘Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States,” to speak at VCU

Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, Ph.D., author of “Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States” (NYU Press 2016), will deliver the Powell-Edwards Lecture for Religion and the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Khabeer, a scholar-artist-activist and an associate professor of American Culture and Arab and Muslim American Studies at the University of Michigan, will speak Tuesday, March 27, at 4 p.m. in the James Branch Cabell Library third-floor lecture hall. Her lecture will be free and open to the public.

“Dr. Khabeer’s work on the interconnections between religion, racial identity and artistic expression highlights the value of interdisciplinary research and conversation, demonstrating how valuable the humanities are in helping us to understand our contemporary world,” said Richard Godbeer, Ph.D., director of the Humanities Research Center in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

The Humanities Research Center is hosting the Powell-Edwards Lecture Series for Religion and the Arts in partnership with the Religious Studies Program in the School of World Studies.

“The programming at VCU of events like this that encourage informed and constructive conversation about the world of Islam is particularly important at the moment as misinformation and misunderstanding about Muslim beliefs and culture are widespread,” Godbeer said. “The Humanities Research Center is happy to partner with the Religious Studies Program in this endeavor.”

Khabeer’s lecture is part of the Humanities Research Center’s spring speaker series that has featured a variety of topics, including the rise of podcasting and literary and cinematic depictions of the 2007 financial crisis.

VCU anthropology professor hunts for fossils of humans’ earliest origins

Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., and Omar Abdullah show off hominin teeth fossils that they found in the Afar region of Ethiopia.

Virginia Commonwealth University anthropology professor Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., just returned from a research trip to Ethiopia where she served as part of the Ledi-Geraru Research Project that in 2013 discovered a fossil of the earliest member of the genus Homo, pushing back the origin of humans’ genus to 2.8 million years ago.

Rector Verrelli, an assistant professor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was one of a team of researchers from Arizona State University, Pennsylvania State University, George Washington University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas hunting for fossils in the Afar region of Ethiopia, between the Ledi and Geraru rivers.

“It has deposits that are between about 1 million and 3 million years ago, so the goal is to look for fossils of our ancestors from that time period,” Rector Verrelli said. “In that area, that usually means Australopithecus afarensis (famous for the Lucy skeleton), but in 2013 project scientists discovered the earliest member of our genus, the genus Homo.”

Researchers in 2013 found a partial hominin mandible with teeth from the Ledi-Geraru research area, thereby establishing the presence of Homo between 2.8 million and 2.75 million years ago. The find extended the record of recognizable Homo by at least a half-million years, shedding new light on human evolution.

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VCU volunteers help critically ill children from developing countries feel welcome in Richmond

Betty Balanos (left) and VCU Spanish professor Anita Nadal read a picture book to Ana Sophia Balanos, 2, who has been undergoing craniofacial surgeries at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and who was brought to Richmond by the World Pediatric Project. (Brian McNeill)

Ana Sophia Balanos, a 2-year-old from Belize, has undergone three major craniofacial surgeries at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU since she was brought to Richmond earlier this summer by the World Pediatric Project. She has one more surgery to go, but she is giggling and excited as she receives a visit from Spanish professor Anita Nadal (B.A.’05/H&S; Cert.’07/H&S) and her Virginia Commonwealth University students.

“¡Hola, princesa!” Nadal says, as she gives Ana Sophia a picture book as a present. “We’re here to spoil la princesa. Es muy importante.”

Nadal, a professor in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and students taking her class on understanding language and Latin American cultures this summer have been volunteering with the World Pediatric Project, which brings critically ill children from developing countries to the United States for medical care.

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National Constitution Center displays artifact replicas that were 3-D printed at VCU

Celeste Fuentes, a freshman anthropology major and lab manager at the Virtual Curation Laboratory, shows off a plate fragment associated with a free African-American, contemporaneous with the signing of the Constitution.

A new display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia features artifact replicas 3-D printed and painted by Virginia Commonwealth University students.

The display, “Philadelphia 1787,” opened earlier this month as part of the center’s main exhibit, which pieces together life in Philadelphia at the time of the birth of a new nation. The exhibit features more than 80 archeological artifacts dating to the 18th century that were excavated in Philadelphia before construction of the National Constitution Center.

As part of the exhibit, visitors are invited to “touch the past” by interacting with 3-D-printed artifact replicas created in the Virtual Curation Laboratory, part of VCU’s School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences. The lab focuses on the 3-D scanning and 3-D printing of historic and archaeological objects, including many notable artifacts from museums across Virginia and around the world.

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Experimental new VCU course takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the phenomenon of migration

Mayda Topoushian, Ph.D., gives a lecture drawing parallels between the Armenian genocide and the conflict and Syria to an experimental new School of World Studies course on modern migration.  Photo by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

Mayda Topoushian, Ph.D., gives a lecture drawing parallels between the Armenian genocide and the conflict and Syria to an experimental new School of World Studies course on modern migration.
Photo by Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs

Mayda Topoushian, Ph.D., an instructor of international studies, is giving a lecture drawing parallels between the Armenian genocide that occurred 100 years ago and the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in Syria, which is leading to a massive wave of migration across Europe and around the globe.

“Why is it important today?” Topoushian asked the classroom filled with VCU students. “We are sitting here in the luxury and security of our campus. Why should we care about events that are occurring far away?”

Many of the students expressed frustration that the atrocities being committed are failing to provoke significant outrage or action in the U.S.

“People in general don’t care, but really they should,” said Chalen Aleong, a political science major in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Because what does that say about us? And what will it say about us 20 or 30 years from now, when we did nothing?”

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At ‘Enchanted Castle’ site, VCU students dig up Virginia history

VCU anthropology students Ben Snyder and Marianne Tokarz sift through dirt, searching for artifacts at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site near Fredericksburg.

VCU anthropology students Ben Snyder and Marianne Tokarz sift through dirt, searching for artifacts at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site near Fredericksburg.

Virginia Commonwealth University history major Jesse Adkins is slowly and steadily pushing a ground-penetrating radar device across a field near Fredericksburg, searching for underground anomalies that could help pinpoint the location of a long-lost 18th-century fort built by Alexander Spotswood, the colonial governor of Virginia from 1710 to 1722.

“She’s really looking for Pokémon,” joked Bernard Means, Ph.D., instructor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“I don’t know,” replied archaeologist Eric Larsen, Ph.D., who was demonstrating how to use the ground-penetrating radar. “Are Pokémon buried underground?”

Jokes aside, Adkins, along with seven other VCU students and recent graduates, as well one University of Mary Washington student, are enrolled in VCU’s archaeology field school, a five-week dig that aims to provide hands-on archaeology experience along with uncovering a piece of early Virginia history.

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Jack Spiro to deliver his final Brown-Lyons Lecture at VCU

Jack D. Spiro, D.H.L., Ed.D.

Jack D. Spiro, D.H.L., Ed.D.

Jack D. Spiro, D.H.L., Ed.D., the Harry Lyons Distinguished Chair in Judaic Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University and director of the VCU Center for Judaic Studies, will deliver his final Brown-Lyons Lecture.

For more than three decades, Spiro has either planned or delivered the annual thought-provoking lecture on topics in the Jewish culture and faith. The 2016 lecture will be held on March 15, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at James Branch Cabell Library, Lecture Hall (room 303). A public Q&A and reception will follow.

Spiro’s final Brown-Lyons talk, “And the Prophetic Message Lives On…” will be devoted to exploring the world of Judaism — and the world itself — through the lens of the Hebrew prophets, examining the enduring values they espoused and highlighting the commitment of their lives, in word and deed, to the inseparable bond between justice and compassion.

“I have saved ‘the best for last’ (not that I necessarily planned 31 lectures that way!)” Spiro said. “What I mean is that nothing has molded my work as a rabbi, social activist, educator [and] professor more than the prophets. Their message is the quintessence of what it means to be human; to live in a civil, caring, responsible society. I hope to convey that message in my final lecture. What’s ‘at the end’ is also ‘what’s at the beginning.’”

Spiro, who himself has delivered the lecture every year since 1999, said he has sought to make the Brown-Lyons series relevant to both the Richmond and VCU communities.

“Given all the cooperation I have received from a very generous library staff under the remarkable leadership of [VCU Librarian] John Ulmschneider, I hope the lectures have made a mark on the town-gown relationship,” he said. “The audience has been primarily members of the Richmond community and beyond — the lectures consistently geared to such a wider audience. But I have also tried to make the lectures attractive for students.”

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3-D-printed artifacts — and George Washington’s signature — give the blind and visually impaired a chance to feel history at Richmond museum


At the Virginia Historical Society, Kimmy Drudge, a 14-year-old from Chesterfield County who is visually impaired and a massive Star Wars fan, is about to “see” — but with her hands — George Washington’s signature from a letter written in 1775.

“This is it! This is it!” she says, bouncing with excitement.

Andrew Talkov (M.A.’13/H&S), vice president for programs at the Richmond museum, hands Drudge a 3-D-printed version of Washington’s signature, produced a week earlier in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Virtual Curation Laboratory.

“Here, I’ll show you where the ‘G’ is,” Talkov says, guiding her hands. “What does it feel like?”

“Like stuff that I can’t even read,” she says. “I can’t read cursive. I wish George would have wrote it in print for Jedi who are blind and don’t read cursive!” 

A few weeks back, Talkov contacted Bernard Means, Ph.D., director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory — which 3-D scans and prints historic artifacts — with a question: Could 3-D printing help the Virginia Historical Society make its collections more accessible to people with visual impairment?

“I’m trying to figure out how we can use 3-D printing to make the experience better for everybody — because who doesn’t want to be able to handle the [artifact] that’s behind the glass, even if it’s just a reproduction — but specifically for the visually impaired,” Talkov said.

Means said he was excited for the opportunity, and invited Talkov to his lab in the Franklin Street Gym.

“We’re interested in making history and the past as accessible as possible to people at all levels,” Means said. “Right now, if you’re visually impaired and you go to a museum exhibit, there’s usually very limited things there for you. You can’t touch the original [artifact] because the act of handling it will damage it and make it not available for other people in the future. But you could handle a 3-D-printed object.”

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VCU professor 3-D scans world’s oldest ham, peanut

Bernard Means, Ph.D., uses a handheld 3-D scanner to scan the world’s oldest cured ham at the Isle of Wight County Museum on Thursday. Photo courtesy Isle of Wight County Museum

Bernard Means, Ph.D, an anthropology professor in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of World Studies who specializes in 3-D scanning archaeological artifacts, visited the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia, this week to 3-D scan two unusual artifacts.

“How could one resist 3-D scanning the world’s oldest ham and world’s oldest peanut?” said Means, a faculty member in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “I decided that this would be a fun thing to do, especially as we go into the end of the semester.”

The ham and peanut are part of the museum’s collection, which also features prehistoric fossils, a snake oil medicine box, a turn-of-the-century country store and artifacts from the Smithfield Ham industry. The most notable piece in the collection, however, is the ham, which dates back to 1902 and has been featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” in 1929, 1932 and 2003.

“P.D. Gwaltney Jr.’s famous pet ham currently resides at the Isle of Wight County Museum. In 1902, a cured ham was overlooked, and for 20 years, the ham hung from a rafter in one of his packing houses,” the museum’s website states. “By 1924, the pet ham was kept in an iron safe which was opened daily for guests to view. Advertised as the world’s oldest Smithfield ham, Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expos to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method.”

The ham, which can be viewed 24/7 via the museum’s “Ham Cam,” looks as if it could have been cured this year, Means said.

“It did have a powerful scent that I cannot describe,” he added.

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Six VCU alumni selected for Fulbright grants

Six Virginia Commonwealth University alumni have been awarded Fulbright grants for the 2015-2016 academic year. The awards include four English Teaching Assistant grants and two research grants.

With this newest group of Fulbright student scholarship recipients, 34 VCU students and recent alumni have been offered Fulbright awards since VCU established the National Scholarship Office in 2005.

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