VCU da Vinci Center to host new summit for aspiring social entrepreneurs

The IMAGINE Social Good summit will take place March 23-25 at VCU.

The Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center is launching a social good summit focused on students and their work in social justice and social entrepreneurship.

IMAGINE Social Good” takes place March 23-25 at the Academic Learning Commons, 1000 Floyd Ave. Students from more than 20 campuses worldwide who are pursuing diverse social good projects are attending.

The weekend consists of main-stage events with keynote speakers, inspiring workshops and multiple moments to meet, listen to and learn from experts and one another. Student teams will present their work on creating change in social good, social justice or social entrepreneurship to panels of experts during breakout sessions. The projects range from products to ideas. For instance, one student will present her interactive financial-literacy game, while another will initiate a discussion on challenging the portrayal of Native Americans in young adult literature.

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VCU launches public history certificate program, providing skills and hands-on experience at historic sites in Richmond and beyond

Emily Jones, a master’s degree student in the Department of History, is interning with the St. John’s Church Foundation, conducting independent research into their cemetery. Internships like Jones’ will be a key component of VCU’s public history certificate program.

Between the 1740s and 1820s, an estimated 1,300 people were buried at Richmond’s historic St. John’s Church, but only a small percentage have been identified. Those who have, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s first editor, Thomas W. White, are typically buried at the highest level and have grave markers. The rest have no headstones, and many are buried around the foundation of the church.

Emily Jones, a graduate student in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, is interning this semester with the St. John’s Church Foundation to identify as many of the people buried at the church as possible, learn what she can about their lives and build a publicly accessible database of the findings.

“We hope to find exciting stories of past Virginians that can be included in St. John’s tours or literature, and to be able to share these records with the public,” Jones said.

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At the Richmond Symphony, VCU students will offer tonight’s audience an inside look

Amy Comstock, a junior print and online journalism major, will be part of a team of VCU students operating video cameras during tonight’s Richmond Symphony performance.

At Friday night’s performance of the Richmond Symphony, a team of Virginia Commonwealth University student volunteers will be manning an array of cameras stationed on stage that will feed live video to an LED wall, providing the audience with a rare glimpse of what it’s like to be amid an orchestra as it performs.

“It will be almost like you’re sitting on stage,” said Laura Bordner Adams, director of orchestral operations for the Richmond Symphony. “You’ll be able to see the trumpet player as he’s playing two feet away as he’s playing the most famous passage of the piece. You might be able to see the conductor from the front and see his facial expressions as he’s conducting, which you never get to see as you’re sitting in the audience. The idea is that this will really give you an insider look.”

The Richmond Symphony’s experiment with live videography is the result of a partnership between the symphony and the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Honors College revamps curriculum to emphasize collaboration and experiences, and to solve real problems facing Richmond

Instructor Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead (left) is teaching Humans of RVA and VCU this semester, a new course that will play a key role in the Honors College’s revamped curriculum in the fall.

As part of a new course in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Honors College, students are working in small, diverse groups to interview Richmond residents and post their stories and photos to social media, with an eye toward gaining a better understanding of the many facets of the community.

Inspired by Humans of New York, the new course, Humans of RVA and VCU, provides students with the opportunity to study the nature of community, as well as community engagement and their role in it, said instructor Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead (M.F.A.’03/A).

“My students are learning about RVA and its history. They’re learning about community, humanity and social justice, and also about themselves and each other,” Gardinier Halstead said. “They’re looking forward to interviewing RVA residents after spring break. I can’t say enough about our students. They’re bright and inquisitive and thoughtful and creative, and they’re change-makers, too.”

Humans of RVA and VCU, which is being piloted this semester, will be a key part of a newly revamped curriculum for the Honors College that will go into effect this fall.

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VCU student Tatenda Ndambakuwa selected as a potential leader in the future of food security

Tatenda Ndambakuwa, a senior in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has a long list of projects at the intersection of food security and technology.

A Virginia Commonwealth University student is one of only 27 students from around the world selected as part of the Next Generation Delegation that will attend the Global Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C.

Tatenda Ndambakuwa, a senior in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is part of a select group of students studying agricultural development, social entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship, and other food security related disciplines. She was selected to attend the symposium from an applicant pool of more than 800 students attending 364 universities in nearly 90 countries. As a member of the delegation, she will attend the conference, participate in symposium discussions and interact with business and policy leaders, civil society, and social entrepreneurs working on agriculture, food and nutrition issues.

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Full of ideas: An ax-throwing league? An air pump that’s twice as fast? For students in VCU’s Pre-X program, no idea is too big or too small

Shane McNamara’s startup business idea? An ax-throwing league for Richmond.

Shane McNamara, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University, was at the Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games at the Richmond Raceway a few years back when he found himself drawn to an ax-throwing booth.

“I was standing there and watching these guys throwing axes and I was like, ‘Hell yeah,’” he said. “So I went home, bought some axes from [The] Home Depot, learned how to throw them and thought, ‘Hmm. This could work.’”

Fast forward, and now McNamara is one of more than 100 VCU students working this semester to get their roughly 70 startup ideas off the ground with the help of the university’s pre-accelerator program, VCU Pre-X.

McNamara’s idea? An ax-throwing league for Richmond.

“My idea is we could have a league for people who are really dedicated to it and love throwing axes. We could host competitions, events, corporate team building and that kind of thing,” he said. “The term I’m using for marketing purposes is experiential entertainment. Like bowling … [but] I want to replace it with something cool, like ax throwing.”

Joining McNamara’s ax-throwing league in the VCU Pre-X program are ideas such as an online marketplace for used guitars, a ride-sharing app aimed at college students traveling home for the weekend, a new and affordable device that kills mosquitos, a software framework that would allow escape room companies to provide a more “magical” experience, and a dating platform for people with chronic or terminal illnesses.

“I think the mosaic of ideas is exciting,” said Aaron Forrester, a faculty member with VCU’s da Vinci Center who is co-leading the Pre-X program. “To be in a room with over 100 students, each passionate about the idea they are working on, creates a contagious vibe. The room is full of people who want to be there, and you can tell.”

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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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