VCU prepares for weeklong celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week takes place Monday, Jan. 15, to Sunday, Jan. 21. The week’s events, which serve as a kickoff to the spring semester, offer an opportunity to honor and raise awareness of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. VCU and community-wide educational programs commemorate his distinguished contributions, leadership, spirit of service and dedication to nonviolence and justice.

This year’s events are sponsored by the Division for Inclusive Excellence and supported by a number of campus units. The week includes opportunities for arts, education, service and reflection on King’s life and legacy, and even a keynote address on Wednesday, Jan. 17, by Martin Luther King III, a human rights advocate, community activist, political leader and the oldest son of King.

Beverly Walker, program manager for career development in the HR Redesign Project Office, is the co-founder and fundraising chair of MLK Celebration Week. “What better way for our campus and community to learn more about Dr. King then from his own son, Martin Luther King III,” Walker said. “I’m excited that our students will have a chance to really engage with Mr. King and connect to our past, and be inspired for the future.”

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Now We’re Cookin’: Rabia’s Sweet Potato Cheesecake

Check out the first entry in our new video series, Now We’re Cookin’, where we learn to make sweet potato cheesecake from chef Rabia Kamara (B.S.’10/B), owner of Ruby Scoops Ice Cream and Sweets! You can learn more about her time at VCU and experience owning her own business here.

If you’re a chef and would like to be featured in a future episode of Now We’re Cookin’ email us at alumni@vcu.edu.

Sweet Potato Cheesecake
Crumbled gingersnap cookies
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 1/2 cups softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
Dash of vanilla extract
1 cup sweet potato puree
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Equipment
Hand mixer
Spatula
8-inch form spring pan
Square pan

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Add melted butter to crumbled cookies and combine until the mixture holds when pressed together in the palm of your hand. Press an even layer into the bottom of an eight inch formspring pan.
3. Place crust into oven for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and place into square pan. Turn oven down to 325F.
4. In a bowl combine cream cheese, sour cream and sugar. Using an electric mixer on low/medium speed, combine all three until smooth in texture.
5. Add eggs & vanilla.
6. Scrape the bowl well and add puree, spices, and salt.
7. Mix on low speed until just combined and smooth.
8. Pour cheesecake mixture oven crust and place into oven. Pour two inches warm water into square pan to help the cheesecake cook evenly and help keep it from cracking.
9. Cool, top with cinnamon whipped cream & enjoy!

Dancing into the sunset: Alumna Sheena Jeffers takes a lifelong passion everywhere she goes

Alumna Sheena JeffersBy Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Dance has been at the heart of everything Sheena Jeffers (B.S.’08/MC; B.A.’08/H&S) has done since she took her first ballet class when she was 5.

“It’s the one thing I’ve never moved on from, and I absolutely love it more than anything,” says the Richmond, Virginia, native. “No matter what city or state I’m in, and even when I travel, I find a drop-in dance class to join.”

From those first lessons, Jeffers danced competitively for seven years and was accepted to the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, Virginia, where she graduated in 2004. When it came time to apply for college, Jeffers wanted a school surrounded by art.

Citing the Richmond Ballet, visits from Broadway shows and a budding modern dance scene, Jeffers applied to and was accepted into Virginia Commonwealth University. Though dance was her first love, she chose to pursue a different path in college. Growing up, her grandfather, a Baptist preacher, would frequently encourage her to write by giving her writing journals, and she would often sit in his library and watch him write his weekly sermons.

“I still have journals from when I was younger that recount all the things I’ve gone through,” Jeffers says. “When I got to [VCU], I knew I wanted to explore writing as much as I had [already explored] dance.”

While double majoring in English and mass communications, with a focus in journalism, she made it a point to take as many dance classes as possible and spent three years as a member of VCU’s dance team, Gold Rush. In addition, Jeffers worked as news editor for the student newspaper, The Commonwealth Times, and interned at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“[Sheena] was thoughtful, dedicated and relentlessly upbeat while she was working at the VCU Capital News Service,” says Jeff South, associate professor of journalism and director of undergraduate studies in the VCU Robertson School of Media and Culture. “Reporters often get the door slammed in their face, but she had a keen eye for stories and never let anything discourage her.”

VCU English professor Catherine Ingrassia, Ph.D., echoes South’s praise of Jeffers.

“She was always an enthusiastic and engaged presence in the classroom,” Ingrassia says, “Her infectious good nature and ability to connect with everyone always made her a dynamic part of every class.”

Jeffers blended her passion for dance with her passion for writing after college, first starting an internationally-recognized dance blog and then writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch as the paper’s dance critic. Then, in 2010, she went back to school to earn a master’s of science in arts integrated education from Old Dominion University, graduating in 2014.

Her dance card has been full ever since. She founded Well Women Inc., a corporation that helps women with personal and professional development, worked as an adjunct professor of dance at ODU and spent nearly three years as arts integration director for Young Audiences of Virginia Inc., where she helped develop school curriculums that integrate literacy with art and dance.

“I know firsthand that having early access to art helps you visualize a better world and become a stronger person,” Jeffers says. “Through art, we’re able to break down barriers and educate, empower and uplift the world around us.”

Now working as a freelance writer for clients such as the U.S. Department of Energy and Answers.com, Jeffers has continued to forge her own path.

Recently, she and her partner restored an aging 43-foot catamaran, and the two live full time on the vessel. They set sail in late November and are sailing down the East Coast to Central America, where Jeffers is writing and teaching yoga to traveling families at ports along the way. Jeffers recently took over the VCU Alumni Instagram account, offering a glimpse into what it’s like to live on the open ocean.

No matter where her travels take her, Jeffers is confident that her hard work has prepared her for this new journey.

“It’s empowering to know that the knowledge I gained at VCU has given me transferrable, global skills,” she says. “I say this often, but it was at [VCU] where I learned it’s OK to take the road less traveled, make bold choices and follow my dreams.”

VCU bids a fond farewell to a true ‘alumni star’

Diane Stout-Brown

Diane Stout-Brown counts the “Tableith” sculpture honoring RPI as a proud accomplishment of her tenure at the university.

By Julie Young

In 1988, Virginia Commonwealth University celebrated the 150th anniversary of its founding with an event known as Founders Day. The VCU Alumni Association subsequently started the Alumni Stars program to honor accomplished graduates during the annual celebration. Since 2008, the Alumni Stars ceremony has been a stand-alone biennial event, recognizing graduates from each VCU school who have a record of professional or humanitarian achievements.

Orchestrating the event throughout the years was an energetic VCU alumna, Diane Stout-Brown (B.S.W.’80/SW). To any colleague or graduate who worked alongside her, attended an event or met her in person, Stout-Brown was the real alumni star.

The senior director of VCU Alumni retires Dec. 20 after 30 years of university service. She began her VCU career as assistant director for student/alumni engagement, working her way up to her current position, even serving as interim executive director of the alumni organization.

Her responsibilities have included student programs, alumni engagement, membership and marketing, volunteer development and coordination, and special events development. Before joining VCU, she developed skills in fundraising, special events and programs with nonprofit organizations, including the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

Before retiring, Stout-Brown shared some favorite memories and her second-act plans, which include selling real estate.

How did your social work degree help prepare you for relating to alumni?

When I came to VCU, I was a suburbanite who grew up in conservative, homogenous Chesterfield County, Virginia. The School of Social Work and VCU taught me that the world is incredibly multicultural. It viewed others with an open and accepting mind, something I value highly. I felt like I was finally in an environment where I belonged.

Tell us how you transitioned from working at nonprofits into alumni engagement.

My field placement in the School of Social Work was with the Voluntary Action Center at the United Way, where I placed volunteers in a variety of service agencies. It led the way to other positions in nonprofits working with volunteers.

I worked with a good number of grass-roots volunteer boards for the American Cancer Society and other organizations. I enjoyed working with people who gave their time, talent and resources because of a passion or cause they believed in. I wanted to return to my alma mater because of the diversity and open-minded philosophy. When I started, the VCU Alumni Association was a nonprofit, run by a volunteer board with numerous committees. There were very few programs in place and so I had the opportunity to create some wonderful programs to engage alumni and students.

Tell us about your favorite event/moment and what made it memorable.

There are a lot of special memories. I think the most special ones are the ones where I’ve been absolutely frantic and nervous and then things came together at the end. Alumni Stars has been fantastic over the years. I especially enjoyed the years when we allowed alumni to speak from the heart because it put special meaning into the event. It showed how much of an impact higher education made on someone who went on to use their knowledge and gifts to make the world a better place. It was also fun to connect with our School of the Arts faculty and put together interesting entertainment.

The core of your success would seem to be how deeply you care about all alumni. How did you ensure that Richmond Professional Institute graduates were not overlooked through the years?

RPI graduates are extremely devoted and passionate. How can we not support this? This group of alumni has a high regard for their education and the experiences they had at RPI. They thirst for engagement and involvement. They cherish their history and want to be a proud part of VCU today. My role has been to help guide and facilitate projects with them so they can have a lasting legacy. I’ve developed some good friends from this group.

In all of the events you’ve overseen, there must have been a few bloopers or crazy tasks along the way.

Where do I begin? I guess the most memorable is when we were planning an alumni Life member reception at Robertson House. It was to be held before a Jay Leno performance in the Siegel Center. Everything was all set, and then a hurricane came through and there was no power in the city. I had to purchase lanterns and battery-operated lights for the bathrooms.  The caterer had to change the menu to cold items instead of hot. It actually turned out to be very nice and certainly gave everyone a conversation topic.

What are your plans and hopes for retirement?

I’m looking forward to giving my 88-year-old parents more of my time. They live independently in their home, and I want them to get the care and attention they gave me over the years.  Whenever I was stressed before some event, my mom would always ask if there was anything she could do to help out. She even volunteered to direct traffic when I was coordinating the state tournament of Odyssey of the Mind. Of course, I didn’t take her up on it, but she has given much to me over the years and allowed me to work a full-time job with peace of mind while my kids were little.

VCU has been a huge part of life and now I’m eager to explore other parts of the world. I want to travel, go to museums and concerts, drive to the beach in the middle of the week, read, do crafts, learn to play the violin, hike, organize my house and, of course, take lots of walks with my dog, Andy. Most importantly, I want to enjoy leisure time with friends and family and not have to always be in a rush or worried about not getting something done. I won’t be 100 percent retired because I have obtained my real estate license and will be working as a Realtor, helping people find their dream homes.

What is the one thing you would like to leave with the VCU Alumni staff as you start the second journey of your life?

Our staff is so amazing that I don’t know of anything they don’t have already. I would say to keep the alumni close, always stand behind them while they shine and always embrace VCU for the institution that it is. You are ones who have the benefit of having the most insight when it comes to VCU’s alumni. Don’t hesitate to stand up for them and to help others understand that even things that seem insignificant can blossom into much, much more.

What would you like your legacy to be? 

I think my legacy has been ensuring that the RPI alumni were able to get their sculpture and history wall installed on campus so they will be remembered in perpetuity. Bob Lindholm (B.S.’50/H&S) was the first RPI Alumni Council chairman. When Bob became ill and was dying, I asked his daughter to let him know I was thinking of him. His daughter sent me an email telling me what Bob had dictated to her on his death bed. He dictated the sweetest note and as I think about it, I can still hear his gentle voice. He was so appreciative of me, VCU and the support we had given RPI during his term as chairman. He was extremely grateful that we were able to get the sculpture “Tableith” (to honor RPI) installed. I know Bob would be so proud today if he could see the “RPI” on VCU’s seal.

My other legacy would be the Alumni Stars program, which grew from Founders Day in 1988 into a university tradition that has honored more than 250 alumni who are stars in their professions.

VCU has been a grand journey. I am forever grateful to my VCU family and all of the alumni I have met along this journey. Please stay in touch and feel free to reach out to me at dianesb@comcast.net.

Founders Day gala

Students, alumni, faculty and deans enjoy an early Founders Day gala, where the Alumni Stars were first honored.

 

Joshua Hiscock named VCU associate vice president for alumni relations

Joshua Hiscock

Joshua Hiscock will start at VCU on Jan. 4.

Virginia Commonwealth University announced today that following a national search Joshua Hiscock has been named associate vice president for alumni relations, effective Jan. 4. Hiscock currently serves as executive director of alumni benefits and services at the George Washington University.

In his new role, Hiscock will work closely with VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and senior leaders from across the institution, as well as volunteer alumni leaders to support VCU’s growing national reputation.

“We are thrilled that Josh will be joining the VCU team. Josh is an experienced alumni relations professional who impressed our search committee from our first meeting,” said Jay Davenport, vice president for development and alumni relations. “At a time when we are reorganizing our alumni relations effort, Josh has the vision, drive and passion to help connect all our alumni in a meaningful way. We look forward to welcoming Josh and his wife, Jennifer, to Richmond.”

Hiscock joined the George Washington University in August 2012 and was responsible for oversight of alumni benefits and services and advised the 60-member George Washington Alumni Association Board of Directors. Hiscock previously served as graduate coordinator for the National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs at the University of Maryland from 2010-2012 and before that was graduate coordinator for the minor in leadership studies at Maryland. He has also held leadership roles in coordinating student activities and programs at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Roger Williams University and Boston University.

“VCU is a world-class institution with passionate alumni who are innovators changing Richmond, the commonwealth of Virginia, and the world in a wide array of professional industries,” Hiscock said. “I am excited to work collaboratively with offices across the institution to engage all our graduates through innovative new programming and volunteer opportunities that both reconnect alumni to their alma mater and fulfill critical university priorities that will enhance the experience for current students at VCU. There is no better time to be part of the VCU Alumni family and I am thrilled to join the team.”

Hiscock is currently a candidate for a Doctor of Philosophy in college student personnel administration at the University of Maryland. He received a Master of Arts in counseling and personnel services — college student personnel from the University of Maryland in 2005 and received a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, in American studies from the George Washington University in 2003.

Martin Luther King III will headline MLK Celebration Week at VCU

Martin Luther King III

Martin Luther King III will provide keynote remarks Jan. 17 as part of VCU’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week.

Human rights advocate, community activist and political leader Martin Luther King III will provide keynote remarks Jan. 17 as part of Virginia Commonwealth University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week.

King’s keynote, which will be held at 7 p.m. in the University Student Commons, Commonwealth Ballroom, will be moderated by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. The event is free and open to the public. Guests can RSVP at go.vcu.edu/mlk3keynote.

King serves as an ambassador of his parents’ legacy of nonviolent social change. A graduate of his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College, King has devoted his life to working in the nonprofit sector to promote civil rights and global human rights and to eradicate the “triple evils” of racism, militarism and poverty his father identified as the scourges of humankind.

As the elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization co-founded by his father, King reinvigorated SCLC by stabilizing its governance, program and development components. As founder and president of Realizing the Dream, Inc., he has taken his father’s message to a global audience, spearheading nonviolence training in Bosnia and Herzegovina, India, Israel and Palestine, Kenya, Sri Lanka and the United States.

VCU’s MLK Celebration Week was established in 2014 to honor and raise awareness of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. through VCU and Richmond community-wide educational programs that commemorate his distinguished contributions, leadership, spirit of service and dedication to nonviolence and justice. MLK Celebration Week is scheduled for Jan. 15 to Jan. 21 and is sponsored by VCU’s Division for Inclusive Excellence.

The week’s theme, “50 years later: Don’t sleep on the dream,” commemorates the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Program and event attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about King’s lasting legacy and engage in making their community a better place for all. Learn more at mlkday.vcu.edu.

It takes a village: Community partners help VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter give back to the city

VCU Alumni Charity Challenge

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Every September, during Hunger Action Month, Virginia Commonwealth University Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter hosts the Alumni Charity Challenge, sponsored in part by Nationwide and Virginia Credit Union. The event brings together alumni chapters from 30 universities in Virginia as well as several out-of-state institutions who compete to donate the most canned goods FeedMore, the Central Virginia Food Bank and get their school’s name on a challenge trophy.

“One in 7 of our neighbors is struggling to put food on the table, and 1 in 6 children in our region aren’t receiving necessary nutrition,” says Tim McDermott (M.P.A.’82/GPA), chief development officer at FeedMore. “Events like the charity challenge help raise awareness and validate VCU’s continued investment in the Richmond community.”

With the help of sponsors, the event provides food trucks, giveaways and more when the participating alumni groups gather at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Virginia, to see which school’s graduates donate the most canned goods by weight.

“[Nationwide is] proud to sponsor the Alumni Charity Challenge because it gives us the opportunity to support the Central Virginia community and many of our alumni affinity partners, but it’s also at the core of what we’re all about,” says Ann Ritterspach, associate vice president of affinity solutions at Nationwide. “Supporting this basic need that affects so many is why Nationwide is proud to lend its support.”

Angela Roisten, membership development director at Virginia Credit Union, echoes the sentiment.

“We’re proud of our great relationship with VCU students, faculty and staff, and we’re glad our relationship with many students continues post-graduation,” she says. “[VACU is] happy to participate in the Alumni Charity Challenge because it encourages alumni to give back, raises awareness and contributes significantly to the fight against hunger in Central Virginia in such a meaningful way.”

Since the first event in 2013, the Alumni Charity Challenge has collected more than 16 tons of food that has benefited 200,000 children, families and seniors in 34 cities and counties across Central Virginia. In addition, a portion of beer sales at the event are donated to the FRIENDS Association of Richmond, which provides child care, developmental skills and family support services to children and families in the area.

This year, the Alumni Charity Challenge raised a record 48,335 pounds of food for the Richmond community, more than double FeedMore’s goal of collecting 20,000 pounds.

“I think that every single [VCU alumnus] wants to make the world a better place,” says Joseph Stemmle (B.S.’13/B), director of volunteering for the RVA GOLD Chapter. “It doesn’t take an organization like the RVA GOLD Chapter to make that happen. Find a cause you love and go make that change happen.”

VCU’s new La Esperanza Lab to study health disparities, impact of immigration policy on Richmond’s Latinx population

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D.

Growing up in Arizona as the son of Mexican immigrants, Oswaldo Moreno, Ph.D., saw firsthand how the United States’ immigration policies could affect Latinx communities.

Now, as a new faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University, Moreno is gearing up to study how policies — including access to health care, immigration restrictions and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — are affecting Latinx students at VCU, as well as the growing Hispanic population of the Richmond region.

“The reason why I do this is because I feel heavily involved with these communities. I come from a Latin community myself. I was raised in Phoenix, the hub of immigration policies [that were characterized by] discrimination constructs, prejudice and institutional biases,” said Moreno, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “Now all that’s on a national platform, impacting communities like Richmond.”

Moreno’s La Esperanza Lab (“esperanza” is Spanish for “hope”) at VCU aims to understand and address health care disparities in the United States that affect individuals from low-income and racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.

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VCU Health celebrates ribbon-cutting of new children’s mental health facility

Virginia Treatment Center for Children

Renderings of the new Virginia Treatment Center for Children.

VCU Health and Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University on Fridaycelebrated the ribbon-cutting for their new Virginia Treatment Center for Children. The new VTCC is the result of $56 million in funding from the Virginia General Assembly and a dedicated community of donors and mental health advocates.

One in five children will experience a serious mental health issue, but 75 percent of them will not receive the care they need, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. VTCC is an acknowledgement that national issues surrounding children’s mental health need to be addressed and VCU’s Department of Psychiatry is leading the charge.

The facility is transformational for children’s mental health care, bringing VTCC’s services out of a 50-year-old institutional space and into a modern facility with an inspirational design that incorporates natural light, green space and unique safety features important to modern mental health care. Based on research and the unique profile of the pediatric psychiatric patient, the facility design features a soothing aesthetic, warm and bright color palette, and comforting, home-like furnishings.

“It eases the stigma surrounding mental illness and improves access to care,” said Marsha Rappley, M.D., CEO of VCU Health and vice president of health sciences at VCU. “We’re also doubling space to train future generations of children’s mental health providers and conduct innovative research initiatives that will enhance treatment and prevention efforts. Our work here in the commonwealth will have a ripple effect across the country.”

VTCC serves children from across Virginia, with nearly 50 percent coming from outside Richmond and surrounding counties. With new telemedicine programs, VTCC physicians will extend their reach across Virginia, particularly in rural areas.

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VCU launches newly expanded pre-accelerator program, called VCU Pre-X, to better support student innovators and entrepreneurs

Hilton Bennett

Hilton Bennett (B.S.’16/En; Cert.’16/B), then a senior engineering student and now a Master of Product Innovation student at VCU, pitches a business idea last fall to VCU’s pre-accelerator program. Bennett’s idea was centered around an invention he designed to allow mountain climbers to practice indoors.

The da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University is looking for entrepreneurial and innovative students, as well as mentors from the Richmond area’s business community, to take part in a newly expanded and revamped pre-accelerator program that helps VCU students turn their promising ideas into viable startup companies.

VCU’s pre-accelerator program launched in 2015 to identify, support and launch high-growth and high-potential startups and student founders. Over four cohorts, the program’s teams raised more than $2 million in investment and revenue, and three student-run companies went on to be accepted into Lighthouse Labs, the Richmond region’s startup accelerator program.

Now called VCU Pre-X, the pre-accelerator program has shifted to a new model in which all VCU students who meet the minimum requirements will be able to access the program’s curriculum, tools and mentorship. As they progress through the program, participants will have to meet benchmarks and compete with one another for funding.

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