They created a computer station — and changed a quadriplegic patient’s life

Students Dustin Mays and Evan Amabile with Derrick Bayard at his home in Richmond.

Before dawn on Aug. 8, 2017, Derrick Bayard began having severe pain in his abdomen, followed by body spasms. Soon after, it became hard to breathe. He was home alone, a detail made exponentially more important — and dangerous — by the fact that he’s a quadriplegic, unable to use his hands and feet. Bedridden.

“I thought I could wait it out, but the pain was getting progressively worse and no one else would get here until 9 a.m.,” Bayard said.

So, using his head tracking mouse to press keys on the laptop monitor mounted above his bed, Bayard got on Facebook to see if any of his friends were online at such an early hour. He found three: one in West Virginia, one in New York and one in Richmond. They sent emergency help to Bayard’s Richmond home, but he couldn’t let first responders inside. One of them saw Bayard through a back window, but couldn’t gain access. A rescue team eventually broke through Bayard’s front window and transported him to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. He was treated for a urinary tract infection, a common and potentially life-threatening ailment for quadriplegic patients.

Bayard is familiar with VCU for several reasons. It is the health system from which he has received primary care for more than 20 years. It is also where Dustin Mays, Lars Hofland and Evan Amabile attend graduate school in the School of Allied Health Professions’ Department of Occupational Therapy. This past spring, the three students built a customized computer table for Bayard’s laptop monitor. If the monitor had been anywhere else, and not tilted perfectly above him, Bayard would have lost precious time summoning assistance.

“It took me less than a minute to send for help,” he said. “If I just had [the computer] sitting somewhere else, it would have taken [longer] depending on what position I was in.”

Lack of dexterity has been a longtime nemesis for 56-year-old Bayard. Forty years ago he was felled by a bullet to the neck that was intended for someone else. He was paralyzed instantly. Like most people, he uses his computer for everyday tasks such as accessing the internet and social media. A few years ago, however, he began developing pressure ulcers on his elbows and chest, because he used them to prop himself up while laying on his stomach to face his computer screen. At the time, there was no way his laptop could be tilted above him. Bayard’s home attendant at the time, Latoya Harvey, wasn’t able to configure a way to keep the laptop steady enough for Bayard to use while on his side. It occasionally toppled onto him in bed.

Enter a team of VCU students with a $10 budget and an idea.

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Seeds of War and Peace: At Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden, a VCU history class explores the roots of rationing, Victory Gardens and wartime food policy.

Emilie Raymond, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History, (center) and students tend their garden bed.

The students were talking about tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant, but they weren’t filling plates in a dining hall — they were in a special topics class, exploring Victory Gardens and the role of food during World War II.

Victory Gardens — planted outside private homes and in public parks — sprouted across America during World Wars I and II, providing locally grown produce during a time when food was rationed.

“World War II had a big impact on food policy, nutrition and the American diet long after the war,” said Emilie Raymond, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Organization co-founded by VCU student teaching chess, patience to Richmond youth

Legacy Chess Academy serves youth in Richmond and is aiming to serve more schools and organizations in the surrounding region.

In a Henderson Middle School classroom, dozens of Richmond children between the ages of 12 and 14 are paired off, each huddled over chess boards and playing intensely.

“Chess helps me think,” says Avery White, 12, a student at Falling Creek Middle School. “It’s a very patient game. It helps you think a few steps forward because if you make a wrong move, your opponent can get an advantage on you.”

The students were participating in a chess program run by Legacy Chess Academy — an organization co-founded by Virginia Commonwealth University senior Corey Hancock — and offered as part of the Richmond Police Athletic League’s summer program for Richmond youth.

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Brandcenter students win prestigious Cannes festival competition for second year

Charged with connecting audiences to an idea from a global brand in a way not possible three years ago, a team of students from the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter has won the prestigious AKQA Future Lions competition for the second year in a row.

Limah Taeb, Stanley Hines and Xia Du, all students in the Experience Design track, won the Future Lions award for “BoseNeuro 35,” an idea that uses neuro-technology to send mental commands to Bose headphones, allowing users to interact with music via brain wave technology sensors. Their idea was born from the insight that many people listen to music to help them focus and be productive. The brain wave sensors assess music preferences, allowing for personalized playlists to achieve peak mental performance and productivity.

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Two VCU Honors College students awarded Boren scholarships

Sarah Sweeney, left, and Theresa Dinh.

Two Virginia Commonwealth University students will study language in Asia with support from the Boren Scholarship. Theresa Dinh will study in Ho Chi Minh City and Danang, Vietnam, while Sarah Sweeney will study at Chiang Mai University in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The Boren Scholarship, part of the National Security Education Program, supports undergraduate students who wish to study less commonly taught languages. Dinh and Sweeney will spend an academic year abroad. Participants commit to a year of federal government service upon graduation.

Dinh, an international studies major in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is also a member of the Honors College and VCU Globe. She will study human trafficking and other topics at Hoa Sen University and in the State University of New York-Brockport’s Da Nang program.

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

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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VCU students travel to Peru to provide medical assistance, build a much-needed staircase

The MEDLIFE team, including 23 students from VCU, celebrate the completion of a staircase they built in Peru, alongside community members and MEDLIFE staff.

Twenty-three Virginia Commonwealth University students traveled to Lima, Peru, earlier this month as part of a volunteer trip to provide medical services and education, and to build a staircase that will allow local residents to better navigate their very hilly neighborhood.

The trip was organized by the VCU chapter of Medicine, Education and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere, or MEDLIFE, which aims to improve the health and welfare of families and communities in Ecuador, Peru and Tanzania by providing medical services and education, as well as community development projects.

The chapter was co-founded last summer by Megh Kumar, a junior majoring in biochemistry and psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and Shwetha Kochi, a junior biochemistry and bioinformatics major. They both wanted to give VCU students a new opportunity to help provide medical care in low-income countries.

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Keeping up with the Fulbrights

A record 11 Virginia Commonwealth University scholars received Fulbright awards last year — making VCU a top producer of Fulbright student scholars for 2016-17, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. VCU News caught up with six Fulbrights as they conducted research in Brazil, Canada, Greece, Mexico, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

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

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

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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