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.

Angell named dean of the School of Social Work at VCU

Beth Angell, Ph.D.

Beth Angell, Ph.D., has been named dean of the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University, effective July 16.

Angell comes to VCU with nearly two decades of experience in the field of social work. She currently serves as associate professor and chair of the faculty for the School of Social Work at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

“We are delighted to have Dr. Angell join the VCU leadership team,” said Gail Hackett, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at VCU. “Her prolific and widely recognized work within her field of research, as well as her leadership in faculty development, will add to the momentum of VCU’s School of Social Work in reaching its next level of success.”

Angell previously served as assistant and associate professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, Center for Mental Health & Aging Research.

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VCU da Vinci Center to host new summit for aspiring social entrepreneurs

The IMAGINE Social Good summit will take place March 23-25 at VCU.

The Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center is launching a social good summit focused on students and their work in social justice and social entrepreneurship.

IMAGINE Social Good” takes place March 23-25 at the Academic Learning Commons, 1000 Floyd Ave. Students from more than 20 campuses worldwide who are pursuing diverse social good projects are attending.

The weekend consists of main-stage events with keynote speakers, inspiring workshops and multiple moments to meet, listen to and learn from experts and one another. Student teams will present their work on creating change in social good, social justice or social entrepreneurship to panels of experts during breakout sessions. The projects range from products to ideas. For instance, one student will present her interactive financial-literacy game, while another will initiate a discussion on challenging the portrayal of Native Americans in young adult literature.

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VCU launches public history certificate program, providing skills and hands-on experience at historic sites in Richmond and beyond

Emily Jones, a master’s degree student in the Department of History, is interning with the St. John’s Church Foundation, conducting independent research into their cemetery. Internships like Jones’ will be a key component of VCU’s public history certificate program.

Between the 1740s and 1820s, an estimated 1,300 people were buried at Richmond’s historic St. John’s Church, but only a small percentage have been identified. Those who have, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s first editor, Thomas W. White, are typically buried at the highest level and have grave markers. The rest have no headstones, and many are buried around the foundation of the church.

Emily Jones, a graduate student in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, is interning this semester with the St. John’s Church Foundation to identify as many of the people buried at the church as possible, learn what she can about their lives and build a publicly accessible database of the findings.

“We hope to find exciting stories of past Virginians that can be included in St. John’s tours or literature, and to be able to share these records with the public,” Jones said.

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‘Fall Line’ bench in Cabell Library lobby evokes Richmond’s stretch of James River

“Fall Line,” a wood sculpture and functional bench, echoing the 7-mile stretch of the James River, was installed in James Branch Cabell Library over spring break.

A wood sculpture — and functional bench — that evokes the 7-mile section of the James River that runs through Richmond has been installed in the entranceway of Virginia Commonwealth University’s recently expanded James Branch Cabell Library.

The sculpture, titled “Fall Line,” was created by Heath Matysek-Snyder (B.F.A.’00/A), an assistant professor in the Department of Craft/Material Studies and lead professor of the wood area in the School of the Arts, who has been working on the piece in his Scott’s Addition studio for more than two years.

“My hope is that when people walk into Cabell Library, they’ll recognize it as the James River, which I find to be an amazing element of Richmond, a really amazing feature of the city,” Matysek-Snyder said. “This will be an object that greets you. It will be a place to meet. And it will be a feature that says goodbye as you walk back out.”

The 27-foot-long white oak bench mimics the contours of the James River from Pony Pasture to the 14th Street Bridge, with aluminum on top of the bench representing the outline of the river, including Belle Isle. The bench is broken into four sections, with each of the three negative spaces representing a different iconic Richmond bridge, also rendered in aluminum, and allowing pedestrians to walk through.

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Aashir Nasim named new VP for inclusive excellence at VCU

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D.

Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., a respected scholar and academic administrator, has been named the vice president for inclusive excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University, effective April 2.

Nasim currently serves as interim senior vice provost for faculty affairs and director of the Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry & Innovation (iCubed) at VCU. In his new position, Nasim will lead the Division for Inclusive Excellence and implement a newly adopted Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Action Plan designed to fulfill VCU’s vision of becoming a model university for inclusivity.

“Aashir is a respected scholar who is admired around the nation and who brings an important lens of diversity and inclusion to his work and to our university community,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “He is a thoughtful and passionate leader who embodies VCU’s mission of tackling difficult problems to serve the public good. I have valued his leadership over the past decade and look forward to working closely with him as he advances our commitments to diversity and inclusion everywhere and ensures that VCU will always be a place where all people can succeed.”

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At the Richmond Symphony, VCU students will offer tonight’s audience an inside look

Amy Comstock, a junior print and online journalism major, will be part of a team of VCU students operating video cameras during tonight’s Richmond Symphony performance.

At Friday night’s performance of the Richmond Symphony, a team of Virginia Commonwealth University student volunteers will be manning an array of cameras stationed on stage that will feed live video to an LED wall, providing the audience with a rare glimpse of what it’s like to be amid an orchestra as it performs.

“It will be almost like you’re sitting on stage,” said Laura Bordner Adams, director of orchestral operations for the Richmond Symphony. “You’ll be able to see the trumpet player as he’s playing two feet away as he’s playing the most famous passage of the piece. You might be able to see the conductor from the front and see his facial expressions as he’s conducting, which you never get to see as you’re sitting in the audience. The idea is that this will really give you an insider look.”

The Richmond Symphony’s experiment with live videography is the result of a partnership between the symphony and the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Three new genetic markers associated with risk for depression

After becoming the first to definitively discover genetic markers for major depression, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and collaborators have found more genetic clues to the disease.

study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry details the discovery of three additional genetic risk markers for depression, which builds on the groundbreaking discovery of two genetic risk factors in 2015. Lead authors include Roseann Peterson, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’12/M), an assistant professor of psychiatry at the VCU Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, and Na Cai of the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom.

Both sets of findings were the result of an international collaboration among researchers from the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, the University of Oxford and throughout China to shed light on genetic causes of the disease. Principal investigators Kenneth Kendler at VCU and Jonathan Flint at the University of California, Los Angeles led this large-scale collaborative effort, which resulted in a study of more than 10,000 Han Chinese women from 50 hospitals across China.

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VCU anthropology professor hunts for fossils of humans’ earliest origins

Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., and Omar Abdullah show off hominin teeth fossils that they found in the Afar region of Ethiopia.

Virginia Commonwealth University anthropology professor Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., just returned from a research trip to Ethiopia where she served as part of the Ledi-Geraru Research Project that in 2013 discovered a fossil of the earliest member of the genus Homo, pushing back the origin of humans’ genus to 2.8 million years ago.

Rector Verrelli, an assistant professor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was one of a team of researchers from Arizona State University, Pennsylvania State University, George Washington University and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas hunting for fossils in the Afar region of Ethiopia, between the Ledi and Geraru rivers.

“It has deposits that are between about 1 million and 3 million years ago, so the goal is to look for fossils of our ancestors from that time period,” Rector Verrelli said. “In that area, that usually means Australopithecus afarensis (famous for the Lucy skeleton), but in 2013 project scientists discovered the earliest member of our genus, the genus Homo.”

Researchers in 2013 found a partial hominin mandible with teeth from the Ledi-Geraru research area, thereby establishing the presence of Homo between 2.8 million and 2.75 million years ago. The find extended the record of recognizable Homo by at least a half-million years, shedding new light on human evolution.

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