Displaying more than 1,000 piñatas, VCU and community groups break Guinness World Record

More than 1,000 piñatas were hung along Richmond’s Canal Walk on Saturday at the annual ¿Qué Pasa? Festival.

More than 1,000 piñatas were hung along Richmond’s Canal Walk on Saturday at the annual ¿Qué Pasa? Festival, breaking the Guinness World Record for “Largest Display of Piñatas.”

The new record is the result of five months of work by the da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Hispanic Foundation to create and collect as many piñatas as possible to surpass the previous record of 504 piñatas displayed, set in 2008 at an event in Mexico.

“This is building on an effort that the Virginia Hispanic Chamber already had. They have grade schools and high schools make piñatas for the festival, so we just went big. We got all the piñatas,” said Allison Schumacher, director of academic alchemy at the da Vinci Center, a collaboration of VCU’s Schools of the Arts, Business, Engineering and College of Humanities and Sciences to advance innovation and entrepreneurship.

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As he prepares to speak at commencement, Boris Kodjoe recalls his road from VCU to Hollywood

Boris Kodjoe will deliver VCU’s spring commencement address on May 12.

In 27 years as head tennis coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, Paul Kostin has just about seen and heard it all. He’s coached hundreds of players of varying abilities and personalities, and they have challenged him in seemingly infinite ways. Still, he has only encountered one Boris Kodjoe (B.S.’96/B), and he has never faced a conundrum quite like the one Kodjoe brought to him one spring day in 1996.

Kodjoe appeared depressed when he entered Kostin’s office that day. A superb competitor in both singles and doubles, Kodjoe was nearing the end of a Rams’ career that would place him among the most successful VCU players ever. So Kostin was stunned when Kodjoe sheepishly asked if he could miss the team’s upcoming match with Clemson University.

Kodjoe wanted to be on the court with his teammates, he said, but he also wanted to attend a music video awards show in New York. Kodjoe wasn’t just looking for some random fun night out. While acing the rigors of a student-athlete’s life at VCU, Kodjoe had also carved out a promising modeling career that already saw him traveling in rarefied circles. He had been a breakout star in the recent video for TLC’s song, “Red Light Special,” a top awards contender, and the upcoming show would offer him an invaluable moment in the spotlight.

Few Division I athletic coaches likely would have even considered the request, but Kostin knew the event was a unique opportunity for a student whose star was rising fast outside of tennis. Also, he said, it was hard to say no to this particular player. So he reluctantly agreed to excuse him.

“I could never get mad at Boris because he was such an exceptional person and so unselfish as a player and a teammate,” Kostin said. “He deserved to go. It also was clear he was going places and I didn’t want to get in the way of that.”

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VCU recognized as a top producer of Gilman scholars

Marwa Eltaib, one of 14 VCU students who received Gilman scholarships during the 2016-17 academic year, at Chamonix Mont Blanc, at the border between France and Switzerland. Eltaib studied abroad as a Gilman scholar in fall 2016.

Virginia Commonwealth University has been recognized among education institutions that sent the most students overseas through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program in academic year 2016-17. VCU ranked No. 41 among nearly 150 universities nationwide that enroll more than 15,000 undergraduates, according to a report issued last month.

In addition to its ranking among large institutions, VCU was listed in all of Gilman’s priority achievement categories, which included scholarships for minority students, first-generation college students, students with disabilities, STEM students, and variety in the total number of destinations.

VCU was Virginia’s top-ranked institution on all lists.

The Gilman scholarship plays a significant role in making study abroad accessible for VCU students, said Stephanie Tignor (B.M.’04/A; M.A.’12/H&S), director of the VCU Education Abroad office.

“We are immensely proud of our students’ accomplishments and of VCU being recognized among other institutions that produce Gilman scholars,” she said. “When students study abroad, they not only build skills that will benefit them academically, professionally and personally, they also bring their broadened global perspectives back to campus, and that enriches the entire VCU community.”

The Gilman scholarship program provides awards for U.S. undergraduate students who are receiving federal Pell Grant funding at two-year or four-year colleges or universities to participate in study abroad programs worldwide. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Institute of International Education.

Over the past five years, 59 VCU students have received Gilman scholarships. Fourteen were awarded in 2016-17 to students from 10 different academic majors who studied in 13 countries between fall 2016 and summer 2017.

Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad or internship program costs. The VCU Education Abroad office and National Scholarship Office work with students to develop competitive applications.

VCU’s engineering school becomes the VCU College of Engineering

VCU’s engineering college offers six undergraduate degrees. It also has six master’s programs and five doctoral programs.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Engineering is now the VCU College of Engineering. This change reflects the college’s increase in programs, research, faculty and student census, and supports its mission to advance a collaborative, creative and entrepreneurial engineering culture.

College leaders said the growing scope of VCU’s academic programs in engineering — and its robust sponsored research program with collaborations across the Monroe Park and VCU Health campuses, and the Virginia Bio+Tech Park — are in keeping with its designation as a college.

“Since 2013, our faculty numbers have doubled, and our extramural research funding has quadrupled,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Chair and dean of the VCU College of Engineering. “Becoming the VCU College of Engineering recognizes the rapid growth during the last five years and positions us to continue our forward trajectory.”

VCU defines a college as a large academic unit with a broad scope of degree-granting programs covering multiple disciplines. The university’s 22-year-old engineering college now offers six undergraduate degrees. It also has six master’s programs, as well as a Master of Product Innovation degree affiliated with the VCU da Vinci Center. The college offers five doctoral programs in engineering.

The college houses four interdisciplinary centers and institutes: the VCU Institute for Engineering and Medicine, the VCU Nanomaterials Core Characterization Facility, the C. Kenneth and Dianne Harris Wright Virginia Microelectronics Center and the Medicines for All Institute.

The advancement in status from school to college also underscores VCU’s broadening platforms to connect engineering research, student engagement `and degree programs with economic development and community partnerships. Recent examples of these intersections include a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Medicines for All Instituteand a major gift from Altria to promote active, hands-on, collaborative learning. A new 133,000 square-foot Engineering Research Building is set to break ground this summer and open in 2020. The facility will support advanced research, student innovation and economic development initiatives.

John D. Leonard II, Ph.D., executive associate dean of the School of Engineering, said the change sets the stage for continued increases in engineering enrollment, faculty and facilities.

“The title change to college recognizes the breadth and scope of our activities and more clearly communicates the expansive role that we play in the region and the commonwealth,” he said.

The new Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU opens to critical and public acclaim

The VCU entrance to the Markel Center.

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond’s first major arts institution dedicated to contemporary art, opened to the public on April 21 with a celebratory block party welcoming more than 7,000 members of the VCU and Greater Richmond communities. Located at the intersection of Richmond’s Belvidere and Broad streets, the ICA anchors one of the city’s busiest gateways in a building designed by Steven Holl Architects with dual entrances to the city and campus. The ICA is a significant new cultural resource for Richmond, in addition to offering a vital dimension to the research university. Admission to the ICA is free.

“Our opening weekend exceeded our expectations in so many ways. More than just numbers, the people who walked through our doors hailed from a diverse set of backgrounds, locales, and perspectives. The cross-section of community present inside and outside of our walls this weekend was beautiful to witness,” said Joseph H. Seipel, interim director of the ICA. “Beginning with our inaugural exhibition ‘Declaration,’ our programming demonstrates the significant role the ICA will play in our vibrant community. Given our location on a major research university campus and our commitment to free admission, the ICA is a forum for open dialogue, collaboration and the exchange of perspectives.”

“This weekend we opened an incredible new resource for our community in an iconic building that will become a new landmark for Richmond,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “We are proud to welcome the ICA to the VCU community and know that the ICA will significantly extend VCU’s reach, creating a new destination for art lovers from around the world and a space where art can help facilitate engagement with important issues of our time.”

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Life-changing learning experiences await the first 12 student recipients of VCU’s new Baldacci fund

VCU student Lisa Day, one of 12 inaugural recipients of awards from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund, will travel to South Africa this summer to study paleoanthropology and human evolution.

Thanks to a new fund in the College of Humanities and Sciences that supports Virginia Commonwealth University students interested in pursuing internships, research and study abroad experiences, Lisa Day, an anthropology and history double major, will travel to South Africa this summer to study paleoanthropology and human evolution.

“We will be visiting museums and fossil sites in South Africa to learn about the history of the present-day country as well as its distant past,” said Day, a senior and president of VCU’s Anthropology Club. “We will also be going on [a] safari to think about the environments in which our early ancestors evolved.”

Day is one of the inaugural 12 recipients of awards from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund, which provides grants of $1,000 to $5,000 to academically promising VCU students from diverse areas of study and backgrounds to allow them to pursue internships, conferences, research, domestic or international study abroad, and social entrepreneurship opportunities.

“I am just extremely excited to be awarded funds from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund,” Day said. “I probably would not have been able to participate without it, and I am looking forward to this summer as well as my future.”

The fund was made possible because of a gift to VCU from bestselling novelist and political science alumnus David Baldacci (B.A.’83/H&S; H.L.D.’01/) and his wife, Michelle, last fall.

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NSF awards VCU a $1.2M grant to train math and science teachers for the Richmond region

Rosalyn Hobson Hargraves, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education and an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the School of Engineering, is part of the team working on the Noyce Phase III project.

The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.2 million to a Virginia Commonwealth University scholarship program that recruits science, technology, engineering and math students and trains them to serve as secondary school math and science teachers in the Richmond region.

The grant to the Noyce Scholarship program at the VCU School of Education is meant to help address a longstanding shortage of STEM teachers.

It will provide 25 scholarships, stipends and fellowships for students interested in pursuing teacher training in mathematics and science. The project will fund 12 STEM majors and 13 Masters of Teaching students over five years.

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VCU Alumni launches class giving campaign

A new initiative at Virginia Commonwealth University aims to get students thinking about giving back to their alma mater before they graduate.

The I ♥ VCU Challenge: Class Giving Campaign invites members of the Class of 2018 to commemorate their graduation year with a $20.18 gift to support a fund of their choice.

Kejdi Abazi, who will graduate this spring with a degree in health, physical education and exercise science, made a gift to the class giving campaign during its soft launch in December.

“Every student has been supported by a donation at one point or another during their years here, so I think it’s important for us to pay it forward and make sure that future students have the same opportunities that we’ve had,” she says.

The campaign is set to run throughout the spring semester but will receive a boost April 9-13, when members of Students Today Alumni Tomorrow sponsor Class Giving Week. As part of the initiative, VCU Alumni has unveiled a new website, vcualumni.org/classgive, to explain the different ways students can support the university and make a gift online. Members of STAT will table daily at convenient locations across campus, equipped with laptops and tablets for students to view the website, decide how to designate their support and then make their donation.

“I always knew I would become a donor to VCU one day, but I thought I would have to give thousands of dollars for it to really count,” says Abazi, who is a member of STAT. “This campaign helped me understand that even a gift of just $20.18 can have an impact. Once I realized that, I knew I didn’t have to wait until I graduated – I could start right now.”

The I ♥ VCU Challenge: Class Giving Campaign is organized by VCU Alumni and the Office of Annual Giving. Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations Joshua Hiscock explains that the class giving campaign is a great opportunity for students like Abazi, who want to give back to the university but wonder how much of a difference they can make with a gift within their budget.

“One student’s gift of $20.18 may seem small, but consider how powerful that amount becomes when many individuals join together to give,” he says. “Whether it is giving to scholarships or student organizations, every gift of every amount matters and can open doors for students, providing new opportunities that could transform someone’s life.”

To learn more about the 2018 class giving campaign, contact Michael P. Andrews (M.S.’05/E), executive director of annual giving, at (804) 828-0236 or andrewsmp@vcu.edu, or visit vcualumni.org/classgive.

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 programs recognized among the best in updated U.S. News & World Report rankings

Several academic programs at Virginia Commonwealth University received top 50 rankings in the newest edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” released March 20. VCU now has graduate programs ranked in the top 50 in 19 fields, according to the publication.

Those with updated top 50 rankings in this year’s edition include Nuclear Engineering (No. 24), the School of Education (No. 26), the School of Social Work (No. 30), the School of Nursing (Master’s, No. 41; Doctor of Nursing Practice, No. 48), and the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs (No. 44).

To learn more about the newest rankings, visit http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools. Not all program areas receive updated rankings each year.