A covert operation: How alumna Eva Dillon learned a Cold War secret

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

As a child, Eva Dillon (B.M.’82/A) moved all around the world. She and her six siblings would fall in love with a country, and a few years later, her father’s job would take the family somewhere new.

“I was born in Berlin, Germany, four years before the [Berlin] Wall went up,” she says. “I remember being frightened by the guards, the barbed wire and German shepherds, but our parents felt it was important that we see it.”

The family also lived in Mexico City and Rome before returning to the States shortly after the conclusion of the Cuban missile crisis. When Dillon was 17, the family moved to New Delhi. It was 1975, the year a bombshell, tell-all book called “Inside the Company: CIA Diary” was published. The book listed the names of 250 CIA officers, and her father, Paul Dillon, was on that list.

“We always thought he worked for the State Department, but when we saw a news article identifying him, we learned the truth,” Dillon says.

The book was written by former CIA officer Philip Agee who worked for her father when the family lived in Mexico City seven years earlier. In it, Agee revealed that Dillon’s father was an operations officer in the Agency’s Soviet division.  Eventually Dillon learned that he handled the CIA’s highest-ranking double agent, Gen. Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov.

Going her own way

A year later, Dillon returned to the U.S. to attend the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, graduating with a music degree focused on composition and theory. Though music was her passion (she still sings to this day), Dillon realized that she wanted to go in a different direction.

“Five of my siblings attended VCU. We all lived in the Fan,” she says. “Just about all of us worked at Strawberry Street Café. It was how we worked our way through college. We had an amazing experience!”

After graduation, Dillon worked as a roving assistant at National Geographic, where she eventually landed in the advertising department. She loved the publishing industry and decided to pursue a career in business operations. She moved to New York City and got a job at a trade magazine in advertising sales, marketing and circulation. From there, she worked at TV Guide, Glamour, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other publications, later becoming president of Reader’s Digest.

Putting pen to paper

With 25 years of experience in the publishing world, Dillon was ready to write her own book, one that told the story of her father and Polyakov. After learning that the general’s son, Alexander Polyakov, had emigrated to the U.S., she sought him out, and he was willing to share his stories with her.

She began to collect material written about Polyakov from newspapers, magazines and various books, and with his son’s help, she also gained access to information from Russia that she had translated. Combining that information with interviews she had from her father’s former colleagues and friends, she filled in the details of the story.

The resulting book, “Spies in the Family: An American Spymaster, His Russian Crown Jewel, and the Friendship That Helped End the Cold War,” paints a broad picture of the Cold War, the issues and the political environment and tells various stories about government operatives and assets. The book also delves into further detail about what life was like for both the Dillon and Polyakov families unknowingly growing up in the family of spies.

“With [Alexander’s] help, I was now able to tell the story from two sides,” Dillon says. “General Polyakov worked on behalf of our country for 18 years. I felt it was important people know what he did for us.”

Dillon returns to VCU on Dec. 6 for a talk at James Branch Cabell Library to discuss the book and reveal additional insights into Cold War politics. The talk will be followed by a Q&A, book-signing and a reception.

VCU researchers receive $4.2M NIH grant to study treatment for chemical attacks

With the backing of a five-year award of approximately $4.2 million in total costs from the National Institutes of Health, Robert DeLorenzo and a team of Virginia Commonwealth University researchers are studying and developing ways to treat and prevent human fatalities and morbidity that could result from chemical attacks on U.S. soil.

DeLorenzo, M.D., Ph.D., the George Bliley Professor of Neurology in the VCU School of Medicine, is the principal investigator on the team that received the grant from the NIH Countermeasures Against Chemical Threats program. CounterACT supports basic and translational research aimed at identifying medical countermeasures against chemical threats.

DeLorenzo said public safety is the key goal behind the research. He is working with Robert Blair, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’98/M), and Laxmikant Deshpande, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’06/M), assistant professors in the VCU School of Medicine Department of Neurology, as well as Rakesh Kukreja, Ph.D., the Eric Lipman Professor of Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, and Matthew Halquist, Ph.D., assistant professor and laboratory director in the Department of Pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy.

Back in black and gold

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’15/MC)

You might recognize Summer Griffin (B.A.’16/GPA) from the numerous Rowdy Rams photos of her wearing a flower crown at basketball games. When she’s not at work, as a logistics coordinator for K Line, she can be found on the soccer field coaching a rec league with the Richmond Kickers. She’ll be back on campus and taking over the VCU Alumni Instagram starting Monday as Homecoming 2017 kicks off.

Why did you choose to attend VCU?

I loved the campus after getting a tour in high school! I had never seen a school that was set up throughout the city the way VCU is, and I knew it would be a nice change for me to go from living in Suffolk, Virginia to living in a “big” city like Richmond. Also, the amount of diversity that I saw on my tour was something that I hadn’t quite seen at any other school. Lastly, we have an incredible homeland security and emergency preparedness program that isn’t available at every school; it was the program I was interested in studying, and I had read great things online about it.

What was your time like at the university?

VCU has provided me with some of the best years of my life. I was very active on campus. I was the leader of the Rowdy Rams, I was on STAT’s Leadership Council, and I worked for VCU for three years as a Gold Line caller. I was also in a College Panhallenic Council sorority for two years.

All of these different outlets that I was involved with provided me with leadership skills, long-lasting friendships and amazing memories. One of my favorite memories was walking in the Homecoming parade my senior year, waving VCU flags throughout the city. I went to the tailgate that year and enjoyed one of my last basketball games as a student. Homecoming is such a magical time at any university, but I’m super excited to celebrate Homecoming as an alumna for the first time!

What sparked your interest in homeland security?

My interest in homeland security sparked from the events of 9/11 and the way the country was affected by it. I was very young when it happened, but it stuck with me and made me realize I wanted to help prevent something like that from happening again.

After being in the homeland security program, I realized I had an interest in policy and its effect on the country as well through the courses I had to take for my degree. In the end, I took more political science courses and got a minor in the field.

How has VCU tied into your career path?

VCU showed me how important it is to not only be a good leader, but also a good leader within your community. VCU and Richmond are all about community involvement, and I’ve learned to really appreciate and truly care about that. Getting to where you want to be in your career takes a lot of patience and hard work, and I’ve been working toward being in a position where I’m becoming a leader and servant to the Richmond community.

School of Business graduate’s foundation helps communities realize their full potential

Sean Powell, a 2011 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business, founded Engage, the Foundation the same year.

Sean Powell (B.S.’11/B) sees family beyond family.

Powell’s mother began fostering children when he was 10 years old. Interacting with his foster siblings — who battled disabilities and misfortune — awakened in Powell a sense of social responsibility. He didn’t know it then, but this led him to find his passion in life: helping others discover their passions.

Powell champions the concepts of community, fellowship, brotherhood and mentorship — the idea of sticking together and experiencing life’s hardships and celebrations, and passing down new information and values along the way.

“If people around me need something to develop or grow, I always make it my effort to provide them access to the resources they need,” he said. “If I can’t provide that personally, then I’ll look into my network to see who I can connect them with so they can reach their goals.”

Powell, a graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business, founded Engage, the Foundation in 2011. The community-based organization connects college students to their communities, and encourages them to work with families and kids on campus and in the neighborhood. Two of its main goals are developing successive generations who understand their purpose and identity, and reducing the costs of government assistance needed by unstable families. Engage has spurred growth in communities by holding fundraisers, development programs, workforce programs and other special events.

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Startup launched by VCU Engineering alumni transforms industries through the internet of things

VCU School of Engineering alumni Skylar Roebuck, left, and Luke Libraro, right.

Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering alumni Luke Libraro (B.S.’10/En) and Skylar Roebuck (B.S.’10/En) are co-founders of Rocket Wagon, a rapidly growing consultancy firm based in Chicago with a focus on the internet of things, also known as IoT.

Through the addition of sensors to objects, “We create new data, opportunities and experiences that allow us to completely re-imagine businesses and unlock opportunities for our clients,” said Roebuck, the company’s chief digital officer. “At Rocket Wagon, we do this every day — we’re makers who create products that transform entire industries.”

Libraro, the company’s chief technology officer, said, “By making everyday objects ‘smart’ and connecting them to the internet, IoT is making people’s lives easier and their businesses more agile in very significant ways.”

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Medical school alumna is a voice for all children

Colleen Kraft, M.D.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then Colleen Kraft, M.D. (M.D.’86/M; H.S.’89/M), might say it takes a pediatrician who knows that village to heal one.

Kraft, who earned her medical degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine in 1986, believes spending time in the community is what opened her eyes to the daily issues and concerns facing the children and families she cared for in the office. Nothing, Kraft says, can replace the education you receive when you observe a child’s everyday environment. Some of her greatest insights came during conversations at the park, visits to the local library, school nurse’s office, daycare centers and church nurseries.

“Kids spend 15 minutes in the [doctor’s] office but they live in the community,” she said. “Your investment in the community is what really makes a difference.”

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In new book, VCU alumnus reveals 190-year history of Richmond’s notorious, iconic Virginia State Penitentiary

Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas was incarcerated at the Virginia State Penitentiary for five years in 1954 on grand larceny charges.

A new book by Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus Dale Brumfield (B.F.A.’82/A; M.F.A.’15/H&S) reveals the history of the Virginia State Penitentiary, the Richmond prison that was built in 1800 and that the ACLU at one time called the “most shameful prison in America.”

Virginia State Penitentiary: A Notorious History” is the latest book by Brumfield, who earned a B.F.A. in painting from VCU’s School of the Arts in 1981 and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from VCU’s Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences in 2015.

Brumfield is the field director for Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, as well as a digital archaeologist and the author of eight books, including two histories of the underground press — “Richmond Independent Press” and “Independent Press in D.C. and Virginia: An Underground History.”

He will give a reading and sign copies of “Virginia State Penitentiary: A Notorious History” on Sunday, Oct. 29, from 4–6 p.m. at Babe’s of Carytown’s back room, 3166 W. Cary St. in Richmond.

Brumfield recently discussed his new book, and explained what made the Virginia State Penitentiary so notorious.

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VCU’s ‘changemaker in residence’ launches campaign urging people working to alleviate poverty to promise to be ‘sidekicks’

Master of Product Innovation students in VCU’s da Vinci Center take part in the Sidekick Manifesto social media campaign.

While visiting Honduras a few years ago as part of his work running a global development nonprofit, Shawn Humphrey, Ph.D., (M.A.’96/B) snapped a photo of a woman carrying water on her head, thinking the image would be perfect for his organization’s website.

The woman got angry. And, Humphrey realized, she had every right to be.

“It’s kind of a development trope. You see images like this on almost every nonprofit’s website. But I had taken her picture without permission, and she was understandably upset,” he said. “It made me ashamed that I did that. I didn’t use the photo, but essentially I stole her image. And, if she hadn’t said anything, I would have used it as part of [our organization’s] narrative or posted it on our website to try to raise awareness and funds for our work in Honduras.”

The humbling process of realizing he acted unethically prompted Humphrey to write what he calls the Sidekick Manifesto, a promise to support — and not attempt to lead — the efforts to alleviate poverty in communities around the world.

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Project shares ephemera from women’s suffrage, temperance, civil rights and other social movements

A postcard from a series published by The Cargill Company that was “Endorsed and Approved by the National American Woman Suffrage Association.” Source: Adèle Goodman Clark papers, 1849-1978, James Branch Cabell Library, VCU Libraries.

Sheet music for the suffragists’ rallying song “Votes for Women.” A Superboy comic PSA from the 1950s extolling the virtues of public education. A Victrola ad from 1920 suggesting that community singing would bring immigrants “into the fold of American citizenry.” A temperance movement handbill warning that alcohol is the “Fluid Extract of Hell” and “GUARANTEED TO KILL BOYS.”

These are just a few of the intriguing items to be found in a new project by VCU Libraries and seven partner institutions that showcases photographs, pamphlets, placards, advertisements, buttons and other ephemera from the history of social reform movements and social services.

“We’re making a door for researchers and others who are interested in the history of the social movements and our nation’s response to human need,” said project manager Alice Campbell, digital outreach and special projects librarian with VCU Libraries. “It’s difficult to know where to go and how to search across multiple institutions, so we’ve created a portal that lets you see choice materials from each of the institutions’ collections, and then travel through to their websites.”

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VCU School of Education alumna Greenlee Naughton named Virginia’s Region I Teacher of the Year

Greenlee (Lee) Naughton, Ph.D. (right), and Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs and graduate studies at the VCU School of Education, at the 2018 Virginia Teacher of the Year Ceremony at VMFA.

A career journey can be anything but linear. Myriad experiences affect the paths we

take before becoming what we were meant to be. Greenlee (Lee) Naughton (Ph.D.’16/E), who received her doctorate in educational leadership last year from the VCU School of Education, is no exception.

Both of Naughton’s parents were career educators. As a child, she remembers her mother coming home from school one day barefoot because a first-grader in her class had thrown up on her beloved alligator-skin pumps.

As Naughton grew up and considered different professions, she couldn’t get that image out of her head. If someone mentioned teaching, she would remember that day with her mother and say, “No way. I’m not going to do that.”

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