Back in black and gold

Summer GriffinBy 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.

Alumna lifts her way to success

Melicia Limbo (B.S.’09/GPA) takes the reins of VCU Alumni’s Instagram account next week. Follow the marketing director and athlete as she works with her training team to prepare for upcoming powerlifting competitions.

Why did you choose to attend VCU?

I needed a change of scenery but didn’t want to move too far from home, and VCU also has a forensic science program, which helped me finalize the decision.

Also my brother, Mark (B.S.’09/H&S), is a Ram and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

What are some of your favorite memories from your time on campus?

My entire 4 ½ years at VCU were so fun, but I would say my second and third years were the most exciting. I was that student who was at almost every basketball game yelling and being a die-hard fan, and I still am! This was the same year that Eric Maynor (B.I.S.’09/H&S), Mike Anderson(B.S.’08/H&S), Jesse Pellot-Rosa, B.A. Walker (B.S.’07/E) and Big Sam [Faulk] played [basketball] so they were really making a name for VCU across the country, and that was exciting to be a part of.

My second year, I figured out how to manage good grades and still be involved in student organizations and have a social life. In my third year, I tutored some athletes and was more involved with organizations, which influenced the way I work and connect with people today.

What did you do after earning your degree?

Well, in 2010 I started ROXYGREY+. It started out as a handmade accessory line, but within a short period of time, I shifted its focus into something I’ve been passionate about since I was as kid: writing. It became a platform for underground/local hip-hop artists to showcase their stories and music. I wanted quality music from artists who showed genuine passion for their art and not just fame, so I was very picky about the artists I featured, interviewed and reviewed.

Because of that, ROXYGREY+ earned a lot of respect over the years, and I was picked up by a handful of small networks as a featured interviewer and media personality. I’ve interviewed several notable names and brands like Pharrell, Pusha-T, No Malice, Greg Selkoe, Commonwealth (FTGG) and more.

Now, I mentor and advise a handful of creative artists, musicians, designers and business owners, working with them to generate ideas and create events to help them reach the next level in their career paths.

I think the purpose of ROXYGREY+ is still the same today as it was seven years ago: to serve as a platform for dreamers and doers to showcase their work and be a stepping-stone to their success.

In what ways has VCU tied into your career path?

I started working in the fitness industry at the Siegel Center, and three years later I was working the front desk at a fitness club where I was able to move up in the company to the position I am today as marketing director.

VCU helped me hone a lot of the skills that I use every day. In my line of work, I deal with budgets, events, advertising, networking and negotiating, so the writing and presentation skills I learned [at VCU] are vital. I also learned debate and discussion skills, attention to detail and my passion for people at VCU. Additionally, the connections I made while in school have been very helpful in networking and closing deals.

How did you get into powerlifting?

To give you some background, I’ve been an athlete since I was about 7 or 8 years old. I did tennis, swimming, running, martial arts and I started weightlifting for fun when I was 12. I was really just trying to compete with the guys in PE class.

I swam all four years in high school and while I was working at the Siegel Center, before it was the basketball team’s gym,  my co-workers egged me on to compete in the Bench Press Competition. You compete to see who can bench the highest weight. I ended up placing first in my weight class, and by the time I graduated, I was known as “Mighty Mouse” and “that girl who works out a lot.”

Fast-forward to last spring, a friend asked me if I’d be interested in powerlifting and told me that it would be a great sport for me. She had already been competing for a few years and told me to talk to her coach. So, I went out to one of her meets, met her coach and I’ve been going ever since. My first competition was in Pennsylvania last fall where I placed second in my weight class and qualified for nationals. I just competed again this past March at the SixKiller Open in Norfolk, Virginia, where I placed first in my weight class, was the second-best overall lifter in my division and qualified for both nationals and worlds.

Needless to say, there’s no turning back now!

John Accordino named dean of VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

John Accordino, Ph.D.

After a rigorous national search, Virginia Commonwealth University has named John Accordino, Ph.D., as dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, effective March 1. Accordino has served as interim dean of the Wilder School since last July.

“John Accordino has a well-earned reputation for excellence in research, teaching and community engagement,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “His leadership, vision and enthusiasm will advance the Wilder School’s commitment to preparing the next generation of leaders to solve complex societal problems, advance research to inform public policy and decision-making, and collaborate with communities to enhance the quality of life.”

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Alumna takes the reigns as secretary of education for Virginia

By Anthony Langley

“I never thought I’d work in politics,” says Dietra Trent, Ph.D. (M.P.A.’95/GPA; Ph.D.’07/GPA), who was appointed Virginia’s secretary of education in July 2016. “When I was in high school, I wanted to go into law, maybe even get a job at the FBI.”

She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice from Hampton University, before landing a job as office director for Virginia Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott’s first congressional campaign. While working at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, so near Virginia Commonwealth University, she decided to continue her education and earned master’s and doctoral degrees in public administration and policy at the university.

“Before coming to VCU I thought being a part of Bobby Scott’s campaign had prepared me for anything,” Trent says. “When I got here, I realized that was definitely not the case. I had so much to learn, and my time [at VCU] was one of the most formative times in my life.”

While pursuing her doctorate, Trent worked as director of federal relations in the VCU President’s Office under then-President Eugene P. Trani, Ph.D. During that time, she met Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who asked her to serve as his deputy campaign manager. Trent eventually became director of constituent services and director of the Council on Human Rights under Warner. She later directed Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine’s campaign during his successful run for Virginia’s governor and, in 2014, he appointed her deputy secretary of education.

In the past three years, under Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Trent has worked to analyze the effectiveness of Virginia’s SOL tests, to restore confidence in and respect for the state’s teachers and to incentivize college students to complete their degree within four years.

“One of my major priorities has been to create a pathway for student success from preschool to the workforce,” Trent says. “We found an achievement gap between minority students, disabled students and certain locations in the state, and we need to remove as many barriers as possible to get these students to prosper.”

In support of that goal, McAuliffe created the Virginia Children’s Cabinet in August 2014, which aims to align policies and programs to best serve the state’s youngest citizens. The cabinet, co-chaired by Trent and Secretary of Health and Human Resources William A. Hazel Jr., identified three challenge areas around the state that had the highest number of unaccredited schools: Richmond, Petersburg and Norfolk.

The cabinet’s attention first focused on Petersburg and, partnering with a number of local businesses and nonprofits, the group helped to combat some of the region’s education issues. First lady Dorothy McAuliffe has spent years working on state nutrition and, as such, the cabinet was able to establish a program that provided students with breakfast and lunch on school days as well as a meal on weekends.

Hazel worked alongside Todd Haymore (M.B.A.’04/B), secretary of commerce and trade, to combat the large number of homeless students in the community by finding stable housing situations and adding three new social workers to the school system.

On the heels of the cabinet’s success in Petersburg, Trent’s team is optimistic as they plan their move to the next challenge area, Richmond.

“We’re working to solidify our initiatives and provide greater access for students to attend and be successful in college,” Trent says. “In my case, being on [VCU’s] campus and knowing that I’m amongst some of the greatest minds in the state was not only in energizing, but it also made me appreciate knowledge. I want every student to have that opportunity.”

Wilder School’s M.P.A. Program Receives Award

The Wilder School’s Master of Public Administration Program will receive the Social Equity Award from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration at its annual conference in October.

The award recognizes a public policy, affairs or administration program that exemplifies the highest standards in diversity through outstanding contributions in research, teaching and service.

“This gives us one more reason to be proud of our outstanding Master of Public Administration Program,” said John Accordino, Ph.D., interim dean of the Wilder School. “I commend all of the faculty who contribute to this program through their teaching, scholarship and service, and we are honored to receive this recognition.”

Richard Huff, Ph.D., chair of the Wilder School’s M.P.A. program, said, “I am really proud of what these talented faculty bring to our program at VCU. Social equity is a cornerstone of public administration and of the Wilder School. The faculty has worked long and hard to integrate social equity values into the curriculum, research and service. It is an honor to know and work with them.”

NASPAA’s Diversity and Social Equity Committee members specifically commended M.P.A. faculty members on their research focus on social justice, inequality and equity, saying the Wilder School’s program “provides an exemplary model to emulate” for others:

“Social equity permeates every aspect of the VCU MPA program. The faculty publishes scholarly research in the area of social equity and conducts applied funded social equity research. M.P.A. faculty members are also leaders of national organizations and initiatives that focus on social equity.

“There is hardly a single national social equity initiative where a VCU MPA faculty member is not central to. The VCU MPA curriculum provides a compelling example of how social equity principles can be taught across the curriculum.”

NASPAA is the membership organization of graduate education programs in public policy, public affairs, public administration, and public and nonprofit management. The national conference will take place in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 19–21.

Criminal justice majors gain law enforcement experience at Student Basic Jailor Academy

Taylor Lisco, a junior criminal justice major from Fredericksburg, trains in the Student Basic Jailor Academy.

Taylor Lisco, a junior criminal justice major from Fredericksburg, trains in the Student Basic Jailor Academy.

Agustin Hussain hopes to follow in the footsteps of his late uncle, Robert Ellis, a former Navy SEAL and narcotics detective for the Newport News Police Department.

“I’ve always been interested in law enforcement,” said Hussain, a rising senior and criminal justice major at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “But it was my uncle and mentor who pushed me to pursue my dream of becoming a special agent for the FBI’s counterterrorism division.”

At 22, Hussain is three years shy of meeting the bureau’s work history requirement, so he’s doing the next best thing: He’s become a recruit for Henrico County’s Student Basic Jailor Academy.

“For many of us, corrections is a doorway into another branch of law enforcement,” said Hussain. “This program is a no-brainer in that it will allow me to gain sworn law enforcement experience before graduation. It’s an edge that I know very few of my peers will have.”

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County native tapped Virginia Secretary of Education

Halifax County native Dr. Dietra Trent (M.P.A.’95/H&S; Ph.D.’07/H&S) has been appointed Virginia Secretary of Education, effective immediately, following the resignation of Anne Holton from her state government role effective Monday.

Holton resigned from the post to take on her new role following the selection of her husband, U. S. Sen. Tim Kaine, as Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate.

Trent had previously served as deputy secretary of education since 2014.

Read more from the Gazette-Virginian.

VCU basketball stars visit Richmond jail to shoot hoops, and inspire inmates and their sons

Torey Burston and Mo Alie-Cox greet fathers and sons during a break on the basketball court.

Torey Burston and Mo Alie-Cox greet fathers and sons during a break on the basketball court.

VCU basketball stars Mo Alie-Cox (B.S.’15/GPA) and Torey Burston embraced the smiling fathers and sons as they entered the classroom Wednesday at the Richmond City Justice Center.

The men — inmates at the Richmond and Chesterfield jails — and their sons, ranging from pre-schoolers to eighth graders, sat in rapt silence as the student athletes relayed their motivational message of hope, hard work and perseverance and then shared some dribbling and twirling techniques.

“This means a lot to me,” said Jerrylee Wright, holding the hand of his 4-year-old son, Jerrylee Jr., before heading to the gym with the group to play ball. “Being able to spend time with him on the basketball court is a blessing. Words can’t describe it. And just hearing the insights from Mo and Torey means a lot.”

Alie-Cox, who’s pursuing his master’s in Criminal Justice from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, and Burston, a homeland security and emergency preparedness major at the Wilder School, came to the jail as part of Hoops for Hope, a program sponsored by the Richmond City and Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Offices to help male inmates build relationships with their sons.

Hoops for Hope is part of the REAL — Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles — program at the Richmond jail, started by Wilder School alumna Sarah Scarbrough, director of internal programs. In the voluntary program, inmates to take classes in areas including parenting skills, anger management and remedial math. The men had to apply to participate in Hoops for Hope and were excited about meeting the players.

“I can’t say enough about the athletes coming here. They are role models and great examples,” said Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. “They’re helping the fathers in the program by being here. You can be a good father inside the jail, but you can be a better father outside the jail.”

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Afghanistan native hopes to pursue justice in legal career

Axana Soltan.

Axana Soltan.

Axana Soltan wants to give a voice to the voiceless and advocate for those who have no champion.

“I am so fortunate to be here,” said the native of Afghanistan, who came to the United States eight years ago with her family. “I am blessed to be a citizen. This country has given me so many opportunities, and I want to help those who aren’t as fortunate.”

Soltan, a criminal justice major in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, aspires to a career in law. “I’m interested in working with juveniles or international law. I’m inspired by prosecutors who stand up for justice and help people.”

The Honors College student, who describes herself as focused and motivated, has a 3.9 GPA and typically carries 17 to 19 credits a semester. She hopes to graduate in under four years this December. She’s the president of the Pre-Law Society. When she is not studying or working as a teaching assistant in the Department of Statistics, she is preparing for her LSAT exam.

She credits the Wilder School’s professors and their passion for learning as a key factor in her academic success. “My professors inspire me. They’re also so friendly, kind and willing to help.”

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Student receives NOAA fellowship to work on rising sea levels

Alex Kuttesch, a graduating student in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, has been named a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Management Fellow.

The Coastal Management Fellowship was established in 1996 to provide on-the-job education and training opportunities in coastal resource management and policy for postgraduate students and to provide project assistance to state coastal zone management programs.

The program matches postgraduate students with state coastal zone programs to work on projects proposed by the state and selected by the fellowship sponsor, the NOAA Office for Coastal Management. This two-year opportunity offers a competitive salary, medical benefits, and travel and relocation expense reimbursement.

Kuttesch will be connected with the New York State Coastal Management Program within the Department of Planning Development.

“This is a highly selective and prestigious fellowship, and we are so proud of Alex’s dedication, tenacity and success in this national competition,” said Meghan Gough, Ph.D., chair of the Urban and Regional Planning/Studies program. “This is a tremendous honor for Alex, as well as for the Wilder School and VCU.”

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