What’s your legacy?

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Students share the importance of being involved while on campus and staying involved after graduation

The legacies we leave tell the stories of the lives we touch. Through their thoughtful commitment to their alma mater and VCU Alumni, thousands of alumni members are creating a meaningful legacy, making a lasting impression on students’ lives.

VCU Alumni spoke to several students whose VCU experience has been enhanced by alumni involvement. Their stories show how members set an example for future alumni involvement and enable our students to pursue their dreams.


Kalyann Kauv

Fourth-year pharmacy student / Bachelor of Science 2013, VCU / National Public Relations Liaison, Student National Pharmaceutical Association / President, VCU Chapter, Student National Pharmaceutical Association / Alumni liaison, VCU Chapter, Phi Delta Chi Inc. / Volunteer, medical outreach trip, Dominican Republic / Volunteer, Healing Eagle Clinic, Mattaponi Native American Reservation / Fellow, Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement 

What inspires you to volunteer on campus and in the community?
It centers me. Volunteering unites people from a variety of backgrounds to accomplish one common goal of lending a helping hand, no matter how big or small. By assisting my fellow neighbors, I also benefit by increasing the exposure I have with the good Samaritans of our society.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your education at VCU?
VCU provides unique programs that allow me to feel like a person in a vast sea of students. As a first-generation college student, VCU’s undergraduate pipeline program through the Division for Health Sciences Diversity helped me acclimate to higher education while providing a support system throughout my journey. Just as VCU invested so much in me and my cohort, I hope I can continue this as a health care professional by sowing the seeds of the next generation so they, too, can understand the ability they have to make a difference.

Will you maintain your connection to VCU after graduation?
I would hope to continue involvement with my alma mater. No matter how big or small, you never know what impact you can make. For me, it is so exciting when fellow Rams share their success stories and continue to embody the VCU spirit within their respective careers!

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Yeri Park

Fourth-year medical student / President, School of Medicine Class of 2017 / Co-president, Student Family Medicine Association / Member, leadership board, Women in Medicine Student Organization / 2015 Service by a Medical Student Award, Medical Society of Virginia Foundation / Pharmacy chair, 2014 Honduras Outreach Medical Brigade Relief Effort / Co-founder, Farmworker Health Outreach project / Volunteer, Mattaponi Healing Eagle Clinic / Volunteer, Crossover Healthcare Ministry / Volunteer, Center for High Blood Pressure

What led you to co-found the Farmworker Health Outreach project on Virginia’s Eastern Shore?
My co-founder and I were thinking of different ways to give back to the community. He originally had a vision of working with farm workers during his time in undergrad and had read a lot about them. They are truly at a vulnerable position to receiving inadequate medical care due to the migratory nature of their jobs. We started the organization to create opportunities for medical students to learn about the population, at least to gain awareness in working with farm workers.

What inspires you to volunteer your time with the community?
Definitely our city and the population that we serve! Especially thinking about student burnout, I believe that volunteering and giving back to the community is one of the best ways to reflect and to build resiliency. I know that during times when I felt stressed, going to student-run free clinics kept me happy and focused toward my goals. It is through volunteering that I learned more about our wonderful city. I have had some of the most memorable and beautiful interactions with my patients through volunteering. Volunteering keeps me humble and thankful for the opportunities that I have received, especially with my patients who share their stories with me when I am simply a medical student.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
Yes, of course! VCU has given me variety of opportunities to pursue current and new passions, ample amount of support from other students, faculty and staff and, most importantly, a chance to grow. I am thankful for the people and the memories I have made during my time at VCU, and it will always play a big role in my future endeavors. I think it’s important for alumni to stay involved with VCU because we wouldn’t be where we are today without the support we received from our previous alumni, and we should continue to support new physicians in training.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Tommy Tran

Senior, mass communications major with a double concentration in creative and strategic advertising / Co-chair, Student Government Association External Affairs Committee / Member, VCU LEAD / Co-founder and president, Dominion Place Partnership / Participant, 2016 VCU Qatar Leadership Exchange / Volunteer, Global Brigades at VCU

Why are you involved on campus?
I was a part of the Emerging Leaders Program as a freshman, and the students who were involved in ELP really wanted to make a difference and make an impact on campus. Being surrounded by them and becoming friends with them inspired me to use the time I have at VCU to reach my full potential. I am involved on campus because I want to become someone who matters, someone who makes a difference, someone who has made an impact.

Why is it important for alumni to stay involved with VCU?
It is important to keep in touch with where you came from. Of course, none of us are born into VCU, but I like to think that VCU has shaped us as people and leaders. We were developed at VCU, and it is important to stay connected to ensure that the university continues to foster the success of students who follow in our footsteps.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Emily Tull

Sophomore, health, physical education and exercise science major / Director of awards and recognition, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow board of directors / CASE ASAP chair, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow Leadership Council / Presenter, Regional CASE ASAP Conference and National CASE ASAP Conference / Volunteer, VCU Health

How did you become involved with VCU Alumni’s Students Today Alumni Tomorrow organization?
I became a general body member of STAT at my VCU freshman orientation. I remember it being the most lively student organization there! When the school year started, I attended STAT’s first general body meeting where I met Belicia DeBose, STAT’s vice president at the time. Belicia was an excellent representation of STAT: She took me to coffee and told me how I could progress as a student leader in STAT. Receiving this kind of encouragement prompted me to apply to help plan a state conference hosted at VCU by STAT, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education – Affiliated Student Advancement Programs (CASE ASAP) Virginia. I never could have guessed how this conference would impact my future as a STAT student leader. While still in the midst of helping plan the conference, I applied for a position on STAT’s Leadership Council. I remember being told to wear whatever showed my school spirit for my interview; I ended up wearing a morph suit so, to say the least, I will never forget it. I was selected to serve on the Leadership Council where I was appointed CASE ASAP chair. At CASE ASAP, student leaders in alumni or ambassador groups come together from different colleges to network and help further each other’s organizations. These conferences occur on a state, regional and national level. Being in STAT has given me the opportunity to help plan a state conference and present at two regional and one national conference. I recently became STAT’s director of awards and recognition and am excited to see STAT continue to grow.

Why is it important for students to be involved with an alumni organization?
It’s an excellent opportunity that I think many students don’t realize they have. I know coming into college as a freshman, I was very focused on just simply all the new changes coming and how to deal with them. Once I learned about STAT, I realized the organization is a great way to meet people who have already been in our shoes and prospered through it; those are our alumni. Networking with alumni has not only given me opportunities I couldn’t be more thankful for, but also has given me lifelong mentors.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
Go Rams! Of course I will always continue my connection with VCU. This university and everything it has to offer has shaped me into the young adult I am! The atmosphere of Richmond, the spirit of VCU and the people of my alma mater make this place home for me. I think as an alumni it’s important to give back to those following in our footsteps and allowing them to know they can do this, too.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Travis Weimer

Fourth-year dental student / Founder, General Dentistry Club at VCU / Board member,
student membership, Virginia Academy of General Dentistry / Volunteer, Magic Wheelchair

Why are you involved on campus?
Dental school is hard enough. If I can make it easier for others, then they can get as much as they can out of their education. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines and be a problem-finder and not a problem-solver. I started the General Dentistry Club to provide a resource for students like me who are focused on the practice of general dentistry versus a specialty. The club also gives other students an opportunity to be involved and helps prepare them for being a leader within their own practice or company. The experience showed me that with the help of others you can identify a need and fill it.

Why is it important for alumni to stay involved with VCU?
We all want to leave some kind of legacy when we go through our lives, and staying connected to your alma mater is one way. I’d like to remain involved with VCU, especially with the General Dentistry Club, whether it’s providing financial support or advice to the classes coming up after me.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Fred Williams Jr.

Senior, chemical engineering major / President, Activities Programming Board / Squad leader, VCU Ram Camp / Member, VCU Globe / Member, Students Today Alumni Tomorrow / Member, American Institute of Chemical Engineers / PCI chair, National Society of Black Engineers / Participant, 2014 VCU Qatar Leadership Exchange / Member, VCU Rowdy Rams / Resident assistant, VCU Residential Life and Housing

What led you to join VCU’s Activities Programming Board?
After my freshman year, I was looking to get more involved at VCU and stay connected with VCU as I transitioned to my sophomore year. I was looking for something that would enable me to get involved with event planning at VCU but also provide me with an opportunity to learn and grow my network. Fast-forward three years, and I was selected to serve as APB’s first president. I wanted to be president because I was looking for a final opportunity to give back to the VCU community, my peers and my friends.

What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had working with the APB?
Some of my most memorable experiences include being able to meet celebrities such as Iyanla Vanzant, Giancarlo Esposito, Tyler Oakley and Party Next Door. Another memory I will cherish is from the monthly bingo nights. I spent so much time interacting with different people, trying to find a new way to make bingo nights fun and engaging, whether it was entertaining for them by playing pranks, Milly rocking and even saying a few bingo jokes. On a much more serious note, one last thing that I will cherish are my memories of the people I have been able to work with, whether it was blasting Missy Elliott in the office or getting a milkshake from Chick-fil-A on Mondays. Together, we have been able to transform APB into the organization that it is today.

In addition to your involvement with APB, you devote time to other organizations and activities, including the National Society of Black Engineers, Ram Camp and VCU Globe. What motivates you to be so involved on campus?
During my freshman year, I was a participant in the inaugural class of Ram Camp students. Ram Camp jump-started my experience here at VCU by enabling me to see everything that VCU has to offer. When I came to VCU, I was amazed to see so many avenues to get involved, and I took advantage of each opportunity along the way. Getting involved is a part of the college experience; however, I got involved with things that I was interested in and wanted to learn more about. I am really interested in getting to know people of different backgrounds, and getting involved was the best way of aiding me in doing that.

Will you continue your connection to VCU after graduation?
I definitely plan to stay well connected with VCU after graduation. I spent a lot of time here on campus between the Commons, School of Engineering West Hall and Club Cabell, each time interacting with different people. I think it’s important for alumni to stay involved with their alma mater because it signifies the importance of a college experience. Personally, I have had so many opportunities afforded to me because I chose to attend VCU. Alumni have the ability to help shape the experience of new students and supporting the university by giving back. I can definitely say that I would not be the person that I am today if a few special alumni didn’t support me along my college journey.

>> Set an example for future alumni. Join VCU Alumni today.


Leave your legacy. Join VCU Alumni.

Membership in VCU Alumni creates opportunities for alumni to have a positive influence on VCU and to ensure a powerful legacy for the benefit of future generations. Leave your legacy. Join VCU Alumni today.

Plus, if you join VCU Alumni or renew your membership by May 15, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a three-day car rental from Avis/Budget. Memberships must be purchased by midnight May 15 to be eligible to win. Winners will be announced June 15. Rental car voucher good through June 30, 2018. Join or renew your membership now.

Playing for keeps: D.C. United player Andrew Dykstra keeps his eye on the goal

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Feb 17, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra (50) during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended in a 1-1 tie. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra plays during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Al Lang Stadium. Philadelphia Union and D.C. United ended the Feb. 17, 2016, match in a 1-1 tie. Photo: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By Anthony Langley

Andrew Dykstra (B.S.’08/H&S; M.S.’10/E) found his passion for sports early on as a 4-year-old constantly running outside to play.

“I started soccer very early, wrestled in middle and high school, swam and even played football,” he says.­­

As Dykstra entered his senior year of high school at Osbourn Park High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, he contemplated playing college football but instead returned to the sport he loved the most, soccer. He strategically weighed his college options based on which school was most in need of his position, goalkeeper, and could provide the most financial support. In the end, his decision to attend Virginia Commonwealth University came down to the opportunities he would have off the field.

“I knew I wanted to study a subject that lead to athletic training, and the sheer amount of health-related programs the university has is amazing,” says Dykstra, who majored in health, PE and exercise science as an undergraduate student. “The academics were a perfect fit. I knew I made the right decision.”

D.C. United graphic

VCU alumni, Ram fans, parents and families are invited to enjoy an evening of soccer at RFK Stadium with VCU Alumni’s DMV GOLD Chapter! Cost is $25 and includes entrance to the game and pregame tailgate spot when 25 attendees have registered. RSVP online by Sept. 30.

Dykstra was a standout goalkeeper on the VCU men’s soccer team, where he logged 73 matches and spent more than 6,500 minutes between goalposts, earning him All-CAA honors twice between 2005 and 2008.  During the summers, he played for the Richmond Kickers development team and continued to take classes at VCU.

Despite on-field talent, the VCU men’s soccer team didn’t post a strong season in 2007-08, Dykstra’s senior year, resulting in less attention from scouts looking for new recruits for the majors. As graduation grew closer, Dykstra didn’t think he was ready to play on a professional level. He had a redshirt year, which allowed him to attend classes and practice with the team, and with some convincing from his coach, Dykstra remained on the team and began his master’s in sports leadership.

Though he wasn’t scouted, Dykstra was not ready to admit defeat. He hired a friend as his agent, who arranged for Dykstra to travel to Florida to attend a training and conditioning camp led by United Soccer League coaches.

At the end of the combine, Dykstra traveled to Germany, hoping to try out for one of the European soccer clubs, when he got a call from the Chicago Fire inviting him to that team’s training camp. Impressed by his performance, the team kept him on as the third goalkeeper. Dykstra moved to Chicago and completed the master’s degree he started at VCU online in 2010.

Dykstra played for the Fire for two seasons followed by a single season in 2011 for the Charleston Battery where he earned MVP for leading the USL Pro League in lowest goals against average and fewest goals allowed during the regular season, which helped the team win the USL Pro title.

After leaving the Battery, Dykstra’s agent arranged for him to practice with D.C. United, a move that brought him closer to home. The team signed him for the next season.

“His reliability and locker room presence are irreplaceable,” says Dave Kasper, the team’s general manager. “The coaching staff and players are very confident when Andrew’s number is called [to the field].”

Playing in the nation’s capital allows Dykstra to maintain his Richmond roots. In addition to playing for D.C. United, he remains on loan to the Richmond Kickers, the team’s USL PRO affiliate. He was a key player in helping the Kickers advance to the USL PRO semifinals in 2013 and ending the season with the league’s fewest goals against average and 10 shutouts.

In 2014, Dykstra ruptured his left Achilles tendon in a friendly international match with Fulham F.C., ending his season abruptly. During his recovery, he picked up a hobby that’s near and dear to Richmond: He began to homebrew beer.

“I figured it would be a cool way to meet new people and make great friends along the way,” he says.

Now in his fifth season with D.C. United, Dykstra is back on the field and ready to take on the NYC Football Club on Oct. 16 at RFK Stadium during VCU Alumni Night with D.C. United.

Sharing a common wealth: The AAAC Mentoring Circle connects students to mentors

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Students and alumni mingle during the Mentoring Circle's Mocktail event.

Students and alumni mingle during the Mentoring Circle’s Mocktail event.

By Anthony Langley

A few years ago, Jeffrey Roberts (B.S.’87/E) and Gail Coles-Johnson (B.S.’86/B), members of VCU Alumni’s African-American Alumni Council, were looking for ways to create an intergenerational conversation between alumni and current students. But they weren’t sure of the best way they could go about it.

“When we were in undergrad, we didn’t have the opportunity to seek out mentors,” Roberts says. “So we wanted to create a way we could give back and students could pay it forward as well.”

During the AAAC’s inaugural Conversations and Cocktails events, Michelle Jones (B.S.’87/H&S) brought in a group of students to get their perspective on what the alumni group could do to help them as they neared graduation.

“I think that in order to create a pipeline of future AAAC members, relationship building and finding out what is valuable to students is the best way to go about it,” Jones says. “I mentor college students at my church; I know how valuable it is for them to have these experiences.”

The dialogue created during that meeting inspired Roberts and Coles-Johnson to found the AAAC’s Mentoring Circle. The program aims to connect students and alumni in a professional environment, which helps them gain the skills needed to enter today’s workplace environment and provide them an opportunity to learn from an alumnus as a mentee.

“This is the ultimate give-back,” Rodney Harry (B.S.’90/H&S), president of the AAAC, says. “It strengthens the bonds between alumni and students showing how prosperous we can be.”

The Mentoring Circle’s premier event is the alumni-student Mocktail party, a simulated networking event where students learn everything from how to approach a potential employer to whether they should eat or drink at catered events.

Kevin M. Smith (B.S.’86/B) generously donated the funds needed to sponsor the event,” Roberts says. “He realized the worth of mentoring during his 25 years in the corporate world and wanted to help.”

The event begins with a presentation on the art and importance of networking, followed by an abbreviated version of the Myers-Briggs personality test, which helps to determine the best ways for introverts and extroverts to handle a networking situation.

“After the presentation, we put the students to the test,” Coles-Johnson says. “As soon as they enter the next room, they are in a networking event.”

After 15 minutes, time is called and the observers, who are trained prior to the event, are asked to give general observations about how the students conducted themselves. The floor is then opened for students to ask questions of alumni about areas in which they can improve. After that, they go back and start the event over.

At the end of the Mocktail event, the student mentees are matched with an alumnus who had a similar major or is in the career field the student would like to be in. He or she becomes their mentor for an entire year.

“I went in thinking that they’d just be conducting mock interviews; I had no idea I would leave with a mentor,” says Riqia Taylor, a rising junior majoring in African-American studies and the first recipient of the Coles-Johnson Mentoring Circle Scholarship. “I was able to connect with a phenomenal African-American woman who was an excellent role model.”

Taylor was matched with Nina Sims (B.S.’93/MC), who provided her with both educational and personal insights, from giving her the resources and advice she needed to decide on her major to supplying Taylor with volunteer and internship opportunities in the Richmond community and even inviting her to several family functions.

“She’s squeezing every drop of experience she can out of VCU, and it’s transforming her into an incredible communicator,” Sims says of Taylor. “She’s taught me so much, and I’m thrilled to learn that I have nurtured a new mentor who will continue the cycle.”

In their time together, Taylor mentored an after-school group at John Marshall High School that hoped to lead teen girls to identify issues in their community and tackle them through social change. Sims provided Taylor with community resources that could help expand and grow the program.

“During our year together she supported me through many life changes and made me feel loved,” Taylor says. “It would be an honor to be a mentor just like Mrs. Sims.”

Although the program is only in its second year, the Mentoring Circle has expanded immensely. The initial 10 students in the first cohort nearly quadrupled to 37 students in the second. Clif (B.S.’89/AHP) and Deborah (B.S.’87/H&S) Porter agreed to serve as the program’s co-managers moving forward and will provide leadership as the Mentoring Circle progresses to its third cohort.

“It grew much quicker than we anticipated, but we do this to help the students, not for ourselves,” Deborah says.

The husband-and-wife team coordinate the Mocktail party event and engage other alumni, match students to their mentors and plan all of the other Mentoring Circle events. They’re looking to create an event during the fall semester, which would give the mentors and mentees an opportunity to come together in between the Mocktail party and their end-of-the-program send-off event. The Roberts also plan to create an internship program with AAAC members that aligns with students’ career goals to give them professional training before they enter the world of work.

“The biggest thing we do is help students come to an accelerated realization that who they are and what they become isn’t defined by the things they studied in school,” Roberts says. “When the rubber meets the road, mentoring is what helps guide young men and women to where they want to be in life.”

Learn more about the Mentoring Circle and how you can volunteer to become a mentor online.

Coffee bike helps Rams in Recovery stay on the road to wellness

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A cargo tricycle outfitted with a custom coffee station will create a moveable space for conversations about addiction and recovery at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We are building a bike to ride around campus and around Richmond to share our project and experiences in recovery over cups of coffee,” said John Freyer, assistant professor of cross-disciplinary media in the VCU School of the Arts Department of Photography and Film. “Students from the Rams in Recovery group will be riding this coffee bike around and making pour-over coffee for people.”

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Physical therapy program offers help for infants with delayed skills

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Shaaron Brown, DPT, a pediatric physical therapist, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles is part of the START-Play Study.

Shaaron Brown, DPT, a pediatric physical therapist, works with Miles Mrozinski at home with his parents, Whitney and Brent Mrozinski. Miles is part of the START-Play Study.

Soon after he was born, Miles Mrozinski’s parents knew he would be developmentally delayed. He was diagnosed with Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy, a brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation to the brain during birth. It is the leading cause of death or severe impairment in infants and can be permanent.

“The hardest part is not knowing what his life will be like and also thinking that, as his parents, are we doing everything we possibly can to positively impact his development?” said Whitney Mrozinski, Miles’ mother.

A toddler with HIE experiences severe cognitive delays and motor impairments such as difficulty sitting up and picking up small objects. Like Miles, now a 1-year-old, babies with HIE must undergo physical and occupational therapies. To provide as many opportunities as possible for Miles, Mrozinski and her husband enrolled him in the Virginia Commonwealth University START-Play Study in April.

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Family ties lead to VCU, and love, for alumni

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Carys_blog

Catherine and Edward Cary

By Anthony Langley

A huge snowstorm hit Richmond, Virginia, in November 1987, blanketing the city and causing nearly everything to shut down, including Virginia Commonwealth University. If it weren’t for that snowfall, Catherine (B.S.’89/P; Pharm.D.’95/P) and Edward (B.S.’88/P) Cary might have never met.

“There had to be 20 inches of snow, and everyone who lived in the dorms was outside playing in it,” Edward says. “That was the first time I met her, and here we are today.”

They can also credit their families for bringing them to VCU. Edward’s sister, Carol Boswell (B.S.’79/N), and her husband, Peter Boswell (B.S.’76/H&S; M.H.A.’87/AHP), both matriculated at the university. Carol, who worked as a registered nurse at MCV Hospitals, encouraged Edward to apply to VCU, and it was through her recommendation that he chose to study pharmacy.

“She interacted with pharmacists in her day-to-day,” says Edward, who started out as a biology major on a pre-dental track. “She thought it would be a cool career, but told me I should try it out before making a decision.”

During his freshman year at VCU Edward accepted an unpaid position as a pharmacy technician at Johnston-Willis Hospital in Richmond, which piqued his interest in the field. A subsequent aptitude test revealed that his personality was perfectly suited for pharmacy. It was the final sign. He changed his major and never looked back.

“Without Carol’s recommendation, I’d probably be doing something else,” says Edward, staff pharmacist for the Mechanicsville, Virginia, Martin’s location. “I really credit her for my career in pharmacy.”

This fall he’s stepping back from his 30-year career as a pharmacist to pursue another interest: cooking. He’ll be taking classes part time at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College to earn a degree in culinary arts with plans to eventually become a chef. “I’ve always loved being a pharmacist, but I’ve always had a passion for cooking,” he says.

Carys2_blog

Portrait of Daniel Herbert that hangs at Bremo Pharmacy

Like Edward, Catherine also has a sister, Michelle Thomas (B.S.’90/P), who attended VCU, and both women followed in the footsteps of their father, Daniel Herbert (B.S.’66/P). Daniel founded Richmond’s Bremo Pharmacy in 1976 and served as president of the American Pharmacists Association until his passing in 2004.

Catherine grew up working in her dad’s pharmacy and ran cross-country in high school, so when it was time to choose a college, VCU was the perfect fit. It supported a cross-country team, and at the time, was the only pharmacy school in Virginia.

“It was a natural choice for me,” Catherine says. “VCU had everything I was looking for. I knew this is where I wanted to be.”

Today, as president of Bremo Pharmacies, she oversees all three Bremo Pharmacy locations, continuing to build on the work that her father started nearly 40 years before.

Edward and Catherine both credit VCU for giving them the opportunities they have and joined VCU Alumni as Life members to give back to the university that provided them so much.

“The two of us have a real legacy here,” Catherine says. “This is where Bremo started, and if Ed’s sister had never come to the university, we may have never met all those years later. We owe VCU for our careers, and for each other.”

Alumna leads at the bedside and beyond

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Henrisa Tosoc-Haskell stands in front of the UNOS National Donor Memorial, which honors all organ, eye and tissue donors. Photo by Andrew Swartz/UNOS

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

When the United Network for Organ Sharing merged two units into a newly created department of member quality, the organization set its sights on finding someone with the right set of skills to help the organization, and its employees, navigate the new course.

“Embarking on a journey from a compliance-focused organization to an organization focused on performance improvement, we were looking for someone who had experience with quality practices and performance improvement,” says Maureen McBride, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’95/M), UNOS’ chief contract operations officer.

They found their match in Henrisa Tosoc-Haskell (M.S.’88/N; M.S.H.A.’02/AHP), who joined the Richmond-based organization last July as director of member quality.

“I wasn’t really looking for a change,” says Tosoc-Haskell, who at the time was working as corporate director of quality and clinical improvement at Bon Secours Health System. “But when I sat down with the team here, I saw how mission-driven they were, and I decided to come aboard.”

Quality and performance improvement has always been one of Tosoc-Haskell’s passions. She serves on the National Board of Examiners for the Baldrige Award for Performance Excellence, the only presidential award given to organizations for performance excellence. She has also been an examiner for the board, at both state and national levels, for the past four years.

This article appears in the spring 2016 issues of the award-winning alumni magazines Shafer Court Connections and Scarab. VCU Alumni members receive a complimentary subscription to the magazines. Not a member? Join today to get your copy in the mail.

“Her clinical background, having worked in different hospital settings, and her work with the Baldrige Award were a huge advantage,” McBride says of Tosoc-Haskell’s credentials.

Tosoc-Haskell earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Old Dominion University and then joined the nursing extern program at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, where she continued work as a nurse for several years before changing her focus to gerontology. She enrolled in the master’s program at the VCU School of Nursing and, as part of her studies, worked on a home-care team under Peter Boling, M.D. (H.S.’84/M), professor and chair of the Division of Geriatric Medicine in the VCU School of Medicine.

“I was really fortunate to work under Dr. Boling, but I had a desire to broaden my focus to the other end of the health care continuum,” she says.

Tosoc-Haskell took several sports medicine classes toward the end of her studies and, after graduation, moved to Louisiana where she worked as an athletic trainer for the Louisiana State University football team. She returned to Richmond, and VCU, to earn her master’s in health administration and, because of her experience at LSU, landed a position as practice director with VCU Sports Medicine. There, she played a role in the construction of the Sports Medicine Center on West Broad Street near the Siegel Center.

“It broadened my skills in leadership and management,” Tosoc-Haskell says of her tenure at Sports Medicine. “It was a great opportunity to showcase everything I had learned up to that point.”

In 2003, she moved to Bon Secours Health System in Marriottsville, Maryland, where she spent the next 11 years.

Today, as UNOS’ director of member quality, Tosoc-Haskell monitors the performance of transplant hospitals, organ procurement organizations and laboratories that work with UNOS and their compliance with organ procurement and transport policies.

“She’s been amazing,” McBride says. “She’s really unified the team. Taking two departments and making them one can be challenging from a management and operational perspective, and she really brought them together. She also spearheaded a number of projects to improve our internal operations and change our vision for how we want to see member quality operate in the future.”

For Tosoc-Haskell, the most rewarding part of the job is knowing how her work gives others a chance to live.

“We have people who’ve been on organ waitlists for a long time,” she says. “But because of the work we do, our monitoring and expertise, we can provide an organ to recipients in an efficient and safe way. It’s that sense of purpose that drives the work we do at UNOS.”

Game, set, match: Medical students celebrate residency selections

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VCU School of Medicine senior James Mendoza celebrates with his classmates on Match Day.

VCU School of Medicine senior James Mendoza celebrates with his classmates on Match Day.

Virginia Commonwealth University medical students wearing jerseys from their favorite sports teams clamored in the packed Hippodrome Theater a few minutes before noon on Friday, shouting excitedly to one another over pop ballads that blared from surround-sound speakers. The VCU basketball team was set to play the Oregon State Beavers in an hour and, while the scene at the Hippodrome Theater could have been mistaken for a pep rally, the students had more than basketball on their minds. In minutes, they would be receiving slim white envelopes that contained their fates for the next three to seven years.

Each year on the third Friday of March, graduating students at all of the medical schools in the country learn where they will complete residency training for their chosen specialties. The national event is an annual rite of passage for future physicians and always includes a costume theme to cut the inherent tension of the afternoon. This year’s theme was “Favorite Sports Team.”

“Match Day represents the culmination of many years of hard work from high school to college to medical school,” said Chris Woleben, M.D., associate dean of student affairs in the VCU School of Medicine. Standing on the stage of the theater addressing the room of students who were joined by their families and friends, Woleben first congratulated the crowd for the tenacity it took to arrive at that day, and then he began reading names.

“When I opened the envelope my heart stopped,” 26-year-old medical student David Goldberg said. “Then I saw ‘VCU’ and I couldn’t be happier.”

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VCU and VCU Health name inaugural recipient of endowed professorship in quality, safety and service

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Gene Peterson, M.D., Ph.D.

Gene Peterson, M.D., Ph.D.

Gene Peterson, M.D., Ph.D., has been appointed to the Professorship for Safety, Quality and Service in Resident Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. Peterson joined VCU in 2013 as an associate dean for patient safety and quality care in the School of Medicine and chief safety and quality officer for VCU Health.

Peterson is the first incumbent to receive this recognition, which honors his exemplary contributions to teaching, research and public service. Commitment to safety, quality and service is an integral part of the VCU vision to make a difference as a major research university, which Peterson has helped to shape and design.

“VCU Health is on a journey to become the nation’s safest health care system,” said Jerome Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and executive vice president of medical affairs for VCU Health. “Achieving that goal starts with establishing the fundamental knowledge and behaviors on which all our future practitioners can build upon. From the classroom, to the simulation lab, and to the bedside, Dr. Peterson is the leader who makes these fundamentals stick. There is no one better suited to receive this recognition.”

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VCU School of Medicine names new Department of Neurosurgery chair

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Alex Valadka, M.D.

Virginia Commonwealth University recently appointed Alex Valadka, M.D. (H.S.’93/M), as chair of the Department of Neurosurgery in the School of Medicine.

Valadka succeeds founding chair Harold F. Young, M.D., who joined VCU as a professor of neurosurgery in 1976.

“Alex Valadka is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of neurosurgery and traumatic brain injury,” said Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “He has led major clinical trials in brain injury and is a sought-after consultant. He will enrich an already exceptional community of traumatic brain injury researchers at VCU and VCU Health.”

After earning his medical degree at the University of Chicago in 1987, Valadka completed his residency training in neurosurgery at VCU. “I knew I wanted to study neurotrauma and critical care, and my adviser told me to go to VCU because it was the best place in the world to learn about nervous system trauma and critical care research,” Valadka said.

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