An inside look at what it’s like to work on a Super Bowl ad

Brandcenter alumnus Michael Wilson has been art director on two Super Bowl spots, including a 2014 “The Matrix”-inspired Kia ad starring Laurence Fishburne.

All it takes is 30 seconds. Thirty seconds to make or break your brand. At least, that is, when those seconds take place during one of the most-watched television broadcasts of the year — the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl, which in 2017 had more than 110 million viewers, is one broadcast event that guarantees its audience will stay in the room and pay close attention during the commercials. As many people watch the Super Bowl for the ads as for the game itself.

But as glamorous and fun as those seconds are to watch, creating them is another story. And the stakes are high, with a price tag of more than $5 million for a 30-second spot.

“Coming up with the idea typically takes a mix of two stubborn people — a writer and an art director — a good creative brief, and days of coming up with horribly bad ideas until you find one you don’t hate,” said Michael Wilson, who has been art director on two Super Bowl spots since graduating from the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter in 2011.

Wilson worked on the 2014 “The Matrix”-inspired Kia ad starring Laurence Fishburne and PayPal’s 2016 “new money” spot. He is among the dozens of Brandcenter alumni who have helped create memorable Super Bowl commercials over the years.

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VCU to celebrate Black History Month with events recognizing the past and looking toward the future

Ibram X. Kendi will discuss his book “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” at the 16th annual Black History Month Lecture.

Virginia Commonwealth University will celebrate Black History Month with a series of thought-provoking, educational and entertaining events throughout February centered on the theme of “continuing the legacy.”

“The goal for Black History Month at VCU this year is to talk about the legacy of black history,” said Reginald Stroble, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. “We’ll start with events that give us an understanding of Carter G. Woodson [who founded the precursor to Black History Month] and then we’ll hear from African Americans today who are continuing that legacy of excellence.”

All events are free and open to the public.

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Rao: VCU is a public university committed to the public good

 

VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., highlighted university accomplishments from the past year and outlined details of VCU’s next strategic plan Thursday at his fifth annual State of the University Address.

Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., outlined key steps to shape the university’s future and provided details of VCU’s next strategic plan Thursday at his fifth annual State of the University Address. First, he took a moment to acknowledge VCU’s history.

“This is an institution that began 180 years ago with a commitment to the social good,” Rao said at James Branch Cabell Library. “And when we came together under the VCU name 50 years ago, our charter asked us ‘to confront on an intellectual and practical level the social environment which surrounds [us]. To relate [ourselves] to the community … and participate in the solution of existing problems.’”

That mission remains unchanged, Rao said in a speech in which he highlighted university accomplishments from the past year and emphasized VCU’s role as a public university committed to the public good.

“We have grown exponentially,” Rao said. “[But] we will never outgrow our mission. It is still, as it has ever been, simple in phrase but enormous in prospect: to improve lives, to save lives, and to give life meaning.”

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VCU School of Nursing celebrates 125th anniversary

The Old Dominion Hospital Training School class of 1899.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing will mark its 125th anniversary this year with a variety of activities to celebrate its tradition of being a leader in nursing education and research.

Founded in 1893 as the Virginia Hospital Training School, it has evolved from offering a diploma in nursing to currently offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. VCU School of Nursing has graduated more than 11,000 nurses and now enrolls approximately 800 students annually.

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$1.2M gift will create new VCU professorship focused on preparing teachers for the classroom

Anna Lou Schaberg (B.S.’66/H&S; M.Ed.’70/E)

A $1.2 million gift to the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education will be used to create the Anna Lou Schaberg Professorship of Practice in Education, a new faculty position that will concentrate on the theory and implementation of pedagogical practices that can transform a classroom, a school and a child’s education.

The gift from The Bob and Anna Lou Schaberg Fund at the Virginia Nonprofit Housing Coalition is the largest single donation in the history of the School of Education and will create the school’s first distinguished endowed professorship.

“We are humbled and thrilled to receive this generous gift from Bob and Anna Lou Schaberg,” said Andrew Daire, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Education. “This professor will take theory and put it into action, preparing our teacher candidates to meet the needs of today’s education systems. Our students will transform their classrooms, schools and children’s education.”

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Rare copy of precursor to the first American comic book added to VCU Libraries’ Comic Arts Collection

Cindy Jackson, library specialist for comic arts for Special Collections and Archives, displays VCU Libraries’ copy of “Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics.”

VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives has acquired a rare copy of “Famous Funnies: A Carnival of Comics,” which was printed in 1933 and was the precursor of what is considered to be the first American comic book.

“All modern comic books descend from ‘Famous Funnies’ and VCU is very fortunate to receive such a pristine copy of this historically significant comic,” said Yuki Hibben, assistant head and curator of books and art, Special Collections and Archives in James Branch Cabell Library. “This addition enhances the research value and comprehensiveness of VCU Libraries’ Comic Arts Collection.”

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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.