Virginia Capital Semester: Hands-on legislative learning

Julia Carney said her internship with Del. Vivian E. Watts was an eye-opening learning experience.

Julia Carney said her internship with Del. Vivian E. Watts was an eye-opening learning experience.

During this year’s General Assembly session, Virginia Commonwealth University seniors Brian Bailey and Julia Carney spent their days tracking bills, monitoring legislative meetings and researching policy issues for senior lawmakers.

Bailey and Carney, interns through the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs’ Virginia Capital Semester program, describe working on the front lines of the state legislature as an extraordinary opportunity.

“I would recommend this program hands-down,” said Carney, a political science major in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “You’re never just making copies. It’s always substantive. And being in this environment during session, I’m learning so much about procedure and the legislative process.”

Bailey and Carney are among 21 VCU students this semester enrolled in the Capital Semester program, receiving a hands-on education about the inner workings of government.

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Beyond basketball: VCU stars Melvin Johnson and Mo Alie-Cox intern at the General Assembly


Mo Alie-Cox and Melvin Johnson

When they aren’t at practice, class or study hall or leading the Virginia Commonwealth University men’s basketball team to yet another win, Melvin Johnson and Mo Alie-Cox can be found this semester interning at the General Assembly, getting a firsthand look at Virginia’s legislative process.

Johnson and Alie-Cox, both criminal justice majors in the L. Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, are standout starters for a Rams team that has soared to a 17-5 record and sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10. The internships appealed to them because they wanted to gain experience and a better understanding of criminal justice policy.

“At the time, I didn’t know too much about it, but I thought it’d be a good experience, given that I’m a criminal justice major and I want to get to know people in the field,” Alie-Cox said. “The other day Coach [Will] Wade came up to us and was like, ‘Do you realize [interning at the General Assembly] is a big-time thing?’ I hadn’t really realized that until now, sitting here in the meetings and seeing all the work being done.”

Wade praised Johnson and Alie-Cox for being excellent student-athletes.

“We’re thrilled Mo and Melvin have the opportunity to volunteer at the General Assembly this semester,” he said. “They’ve been terrific examples for the other guys in our program in terms of maximizing the educational resources available to them. They’ve embraced the student-athlete ideal, and they’re two of the hardest-working guys in our program on and off the court. They may be terrific basketball players, but they’re each going to be incredibly successful in something other than basketball.”

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After 48 years, legendary educator Grace Harris retires

Grace E. Harris, Ph.D.

Grace E. Harris, Ph.D.

Grace E. Harris, Ph.D. (M.S.W.’60/SW), one of the most highly regarded women in higher education, has retired as a distinguished professor of public policy at the leadership institute that bears her name. Since the formation of the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, Harris has served as a mentor to countless alumni and colleagues.

“Dr. Harris leaves an impressive legacy that reflects her commitment to education and to serving the community,” said Niraj Verma, Ph.D., dean of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, which houses the institute at Virginia Commonwealth University. “It has been an honor to work with such a dedicated educator whose remarkable career is a source of inspiration.”

Harris’ retirement was effective Dec. 25, bringing to an end a noteworthy career at VCU that spanned 48 years and included service as the dean of the VCU School of Social Work, as provost and as acting president. Her tenure was punctuated by a series of historic firsts — most notably a 1993 promotion to the position of provost and vice president of academic affairs, an appointment that made Harris the first African-American woman to serve as the chief academic officer of a four-year public university in Virginia.

In 1999, the VCU Board of Visitors established the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute in recognition of Harris’ extraordinary dedication to affecting positive change within the university and beyond. The institute promotes the development of emerging leaders in academic institutions, other public, private and nonprofit organizations, and communities. Until recently, Harris had served as a consultant and contributing lecturer to the institute.

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Wilder: class notes


  • Monique Johnson (Ph.D.’14/GPA), vice president and senior loan officer at Virginia Community Capital, has been selected for a prestigious Marshall Memorial Fellowship by the German Marshall Memorial Fund. The program educates emerging American and European leaders on the importance of transatlantic relations and encourages them to collaborate on a wide range of international and domestic policy challenges. Fellows engage in six months of preparation designed to enhance their understanding of transatlantic relations before embarking on 24 days of policy immersion across the Atlantic. Johnson, who completed her dissertation on the impact of low-income tax credits on concentrations of poverty last spring, will examine the role of social finance in supporting housing and community and economic development in Western Europe.
  • Seven alumni — Alex Beatty (M.U.R.P.’14/GPA; Cert.’14/GPA), Kaila McClead (M.U.R.P.’14/GPA), Ken Shannon (M.U.R.P.’14/GPA; Cert.’14/GPA), Naomi Siodmok (M.U.R.P.’14/GPA; Cert.’14/GPA), Josh Son (M.U.R.P.’14/GPA), Geoff Urda (B.S.’12/GPA; M.U.R.P.’14/GPA) and Shawn Winter (M.U.R.P.’14/GPA; Cert.’14/GPA) — each 2014 graduates of the Wilder School’s master in urban and regional planning program presented at the 2014 Governor’s Transportation Conference held in Roanoke, Virginia, on Nov. 14. The recent grads each presented a condensed version of a professional plan designed to solve a real-world planning, public policy or management problem. The plans were developed as part of a capstone project course led by planning instructor Jim Smither, PLA, ASLA. The presentations covered a range of solutions for communities located primarily within Central Virginia — from rapid transit to mixed-use design and historic redevelopment — and were viewed by more than 800 transportation leaders from around the commonwealth and the U.S.

L. Douglas Wilder, a ‘Son of Virginia,’ discusses his new book


L. Douglas Wilder

L. Douglas Wilder, the namesake of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs who made history when he became the nation’s first elected African-American governor, describes his remarkable life and rise in politics in his newly released book, “Son of Virginia.”

The grandson of slaves, Wilder grew up in segregated Richmond. After graduating from Virginia Union University in 1951 with a degree in chemistry, he served in the Korean War, seeing action and earning a Bronze Star. He then pursued his law degree at Howard University and returned to his hometown to open a law practice.

The Democrat started making political history with his election to the Virginia Senate in 1969, becoming the first African-American to serve in the chamber since Reconstruction. Landmark victories followed — lieutenant governor in 1985, governor in 1989 and, in 2004, the first mayor of Richmond elected citywide in more than 50 years.

The title of his book comes from the stirring conclusion of his 1990 gubernatorial inaugural address in which he declared, “I am a son of Virginia.” Wilder, a distinguished professor at the Wilder School, recently discussed his memoir and the lessons students can draw from his extraordinary personal journey.

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VCU hosts Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

The 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows at VCU received an official welcome during a reception at the VCU Scott House on June 22.

Virginia Commonwealth University is proud to announce that it has been selected as a host institution for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.

This flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative and President Barack Obama’s signature effort to invest in the next generation of global leaders is taking place on the VCU campus from Jun. 19 to Aug. 1. Twenty-five of Africa’s brightest emerging leaders in the area of public management will participate in an academic and leadership institute co-sponsored by the VCUGlobal Education Office and the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

“The Mandela Washington Fellowship exemplifies our nation’s commitment to help build capacity, overcome challenges and harness emerging opportunities on the continent of Africa,” said R. McKenna Brown, Ph.D., executive director of the Global Education Office. “We are honored to host such a group of prestigious young leaders who are at the forefront of change in their communities.”

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Wilder: Director of development named

Ashley Sheets has been named director of development for the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

In her new position, Sheets will be responsible for the school’s overall fundraising efforts and strategic development plan. She will oversee all aspects of the school’s fundraising operation, including annual giving, planned giving, major gifts and special events.

“We are excited to have Ashley on board, and I look forward to what she’ll accomplish,” said Niraj Verma, dean of the Wilder School. “Her experience in development and the passion she brings to the school and its mission are valuable assets.”

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VCU Research Weeks 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University provost Gail Hackett, Ph.D., knows that research isn’t just for faculty members and doctoral candidates.

Addressing students April 22 at the VCU Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, Hackett recalled how early forays into research helped determine her career path.

“I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate,” she said. “That independent research did have a huge impact on me. It enriched my academic program as a psychology major and influenced my career choice as a researcher and faculty member.”

Organized by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the symposium allowed undergraduates to share their investigations into everything from 3-D printing to how chemically profiling mixtures with pool chlorine and brake fluid can help authorities solve crimes of arson.

“What I see here is not just a room full of posters,” Hackett said. “What I see is the tangible evidence of what we mean when we talk about student success and academic rigor at VCU.”

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Business: Military benefit made possible by alumnus veteran and his wife

Ranked by Victory Media in the nation’s top 20 percent of military-friendly campuses among colleges, universities and trade schools in 2013, Virginia Commonwealth University now offers another military benefit.

The Ed and Pearcy Flippen Merit Scholarship, now known as the VCU Veterans Scholarship, is open to incoming freshmen veterans in any VCU school. Children and grandchildren of veterans are also eligible.

“My wife and I hope to open up more opportunities for veterans and their families with the expansion of the scholarship criteria,” said former VCU Rector Ed Flippen (B.S.’65/B). “I am a veteran, too, and I know veteran benefits are helpful but don’t provide everything, particularly to the children of veterans. VCU has probably created more opportunities for vets than any other school.”

The new Veterans Scholarship will be awarded for the first time this year and is renewable for three years.

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Wilder: Faculty news

Wilder School faculty bring recognized expertise to students in the classroom, to the research community in journals and publications and to the general public through applied research. Here are select highlights from the 2014-2015 academic year.

Jay Albanese, Ph.D., professor of criminal justice, was the keynote speaker at a charity dinner for Compassionate Humans Against Trafficking at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania on March 31. The event was hosted by Alpha Phi Sigma, SUP’s honors criminal justice fraternity. Albanese, who is the former president of the White Collar Crime Research Consortium and former executive director of the International Association for the Study of Organized Crime, is a leading expert on transnational crime.

Henry Brownstein, Ph.D., associate dean of research, and co-authors Tim Mulcahy and Johannes Huessy have published “The Methamphetamine Industry in America: Transnational Cartels and Local Entrepreneurs,” a multi-method study of the social networks involved in the distribution and manufacture of methamphetamines. The work was commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Justice. The book is available from Rutgers University Press.

Sarah J. Brubaker, Ph.D. (M.S.’92/H&S), associate professor of public policy, presented at the university’s 11th annual Women’s Health Research Day, on April 2. Brubaker shared her expertise on intimate partner violence on college campuses. This year’s symposium focused on the theme of “Health Issues for College Women,” and engaged faculty and students from across the university.

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