Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU fall exhibitions will explore race and identity

“Provocations” by artist Rashid Johnson.

This fall, the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University will present two exhibitions featuring leading international contemporary artists, including two new site-specific commissions.

Opening simultaneously on Oct. 17, “Provocations: Rashid Johnson” and “Hedges, Edges, Dirt” explore socially and culturally specific issues that relate to race, identity and the environment in nuanced, conceptual and poetic ways. Through these, the ICA will continue presenting exhibitions that engage audiences with dynamic programming on themes of social relevance and local resonance.

“Building from our inaugural exhibition, ‘Declaration,’ we have continued to ask what the ICA can contribute to our place and time,” said Stephanie Smith, ICA chief curator. “These new projects by an extraordinary group of artists will activate the Markel Center in fresh and beautiful ways and catalyze conversations that reach beyond our walls.”

Read more.

Template to create superatoms, created by VCU researchers, could make for better batteries

A rendering of protons, neutrons and electrons in an atom.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have discovered a novel strategy for creating superatoms — combinations of atoms that can mimic the properties of more than one group of elements of the periodic table. These superatoms could be used to create new materials, including more efficient batteries and better semiconductors; a core component of microchips, transistors and most computerized devices.

Batteries and semiconductors rely on the movement of charges from one group of atoms to another. During this process, electrons are transferred from donor atoms to acceptor atoms. Forming superatoms that can supply or accept multiple electrons while maintaining structural stability is a key requirement for creating better batteries or semiconductors, said Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., Commonwealth Professor and chair of the Department of Physics in the College of Humanities and Sciences. The ability of superatoms to effectively move charges while staying intact is attributed to how they mimic the properties of multiple groups of elements.

“We have devised a new approach in which one can synthesize such metal-based superatoms,” Khanna said.

Read more.

After graduating from VCU program, young people with intellectual disabilities find employment and fulfilling, independent lives

Troy Carter, who graduated this spring from ACE-IT in College, is working at Richmond Region Tourism.

Troy Carter, a 20-year-old from Henrico County with an intellectual disability, was told in high school that attending college was likely out of the question, and that his future career options would be limited.

But Carter knew he wanted more out of life. He applied to Virginia Commonwealth University’s ACE-IT in College program for students with intellectual disabilities. In ACE-IT, Carter and his classmates took VCU classes, worked on campus in part-time jobs and participated in internships — all with the goal of securing employment in each of their individual areas of interest.

“I always keep my eyes on the prize,” he said.

In the spring, Carter was one of five students to graduate from ACE-IT. Shortly after graduation, he landed a job with Richmond Region Tourism.

“Troy is great and we are connecting very well,” said Michelle G. Lovatt, vice president of administration for Richmond Region Tourism. “He is working for all departments of our organization and will help with all kinds of projects. He made packets … for our I Am Tourism ambassador program and he started an inventory project in our visitor center.”

Including Carter, all five students in this year’s ACE-IT graduating class have landed competitive post-graduation jobs that will allow them to live more independent and fulfilling lives.

“It’s so important to be independent because you can’t rely on your family all the time,” Carter said. “It’s sad but true, but your family is not always going to be there for you in life. So you have to learn to do things yourself.”

Read more.

50 years after Virginia’s first heart transplant, $1M gift breathes new life into historic lab

The former laboratory of Richard Lower, M.D., the pioneering surgeon who performed the first heart transplant in Virginia in 1968, will be transformed into a $5 million suite of research facilities.

How in the world do you thank anyone for saving your life three times?” It’s a poignant question for David Cottrell.

When Cottrell arrived at VCU Medical Center, he thought he had the flu. He had no idea just how ill he was — or how much time he would spend in the hospital. His actual diagnosis: a staph infection, which led first to bacterial spinal meningitis, then spread to his heart valves. He experienced multiple strokes and began to experience multisystem organ failure.

The outlook seemed bleak, but a large, diverse team at VCU Medical Center oversaw Cottrell’s care, navigating each challenge and complication that arose. Through the most harrowing times of his illness, he and his wife, Christy, never gave up. “We never lost faith in the quality of the care or team that surrounded us,” Christy Cottrell said. And the couple took advantage of the academic health center’s collaborative approach, listening to the team and knowing that the team was listening to them. After 10 months and four surgeries ­­— including three open-heart procedures — David Cottrell was truly on the road to recovery.

“I have been able to retire, spend more time with my family, travel and focus on the things I love,” Cotrell said of his life today. “I was able to walk my daughter Leah down the aisle. I owe the teams at VCU my life.”

Read more.

VCU Alumni and MCVAA welcome new leaders: Alumnae Dale Kalkofen and Ellen Byrne bring deep ties to VCU, decades of experience in education

Dale Kalkofen, Ed.D. (M.A.E.’76/A) (left), and Ellen Byrne, D.D.S., Ph.D. (B.S.’77/P; D.D.S.’83/D; Cert.’91/D; Ph.D.’91/M), are the new presidents of VCU Alumni and MCV Alumni Association of VCU, respectively. Photo by Jud Froelich.

By Erica Naone

New presidents took office this month for both VCU Alumni and the MCV Alumni Association of VCU. They’re the first new leaders since both organizations approved an inclusive model for all graduates in November 2017.

Dale Kalkofen, Ed.D. (M.A.E.’76/A), leads VCU Alumni’s Board of Governors, and Ellen Byrne, D.D.S., Ph.D. (B.S.’77/P; D.D.S.’83/D; Cert.’91/D; Ph.D.’91/M), sits at the helm of MCVAA’s Board of Trustees. Both alumnae bring decades of experience in education and administration, deep connections to VCU and a lifelong love of learning from people and the world around them.

Continue reading

Help welcome VCU’s newest students this summer

New student send-offs are sponsored by VCU Alumni and New Student and Family Programs.

Join VCU Alumni and VCU New Student and Family Programs for our summer send-offs. Come enjoy conversation with members of VCU’s Class of 2022 before they start their college careers. We will have hearty hors d’oeuvres and beverages to savor while welcoming VCU’s newest students and their families.

The summer send-offs are a great opportunity for incoming students to learn from alumni in a networking-type setting about VCU, post-grad life and what it means to be a Ram. They also give alumni a chance to connect with the newest members of the community.

Send-offs have been planned for:

Philadelphia
When: 4-6 p.m. Sunday, July 22
Where: Trail’s End Cafe at Cynwyd Station, 375 Conshohocken State Road, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

Richmond, Virginia
When: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, July 25
Where: District 5, 1911 W. Main St., Richmond, VA 23220

Charlotte, North Carolina
When: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, July 25
Where: Freedom Park Shelter #3, 1900 East Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28203

Virginia Beach/Hampton Roads
When: 5:30-7 p.m. Monday, July 30
Where: Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library, 4100 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach, VA 23452

Washington, D.C.
When: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1
Where: Crystal City Sports Pub, 529 23rd St. South, Arlington, VA 22202

Roanoke, Virginia
When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2
Where: Blue 5 Restaurant, Red Room, 312 Second St. SW, Roanoke, VA 24011

Alumni are invited to register here.

Scientist, artist, inventor, dean: The many sides of Shawn Brixey

After two semesters at VCU, Shawn Brixey sees the School of the Arts in the position of upholding a large legacy, while at the same time projecting into the future.

At first glance, Shawn Brixey’s lab looks like any other in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering.

For starters, there are optical isolation tables, lasers, video microscopes, circuit board printers, oscilloscopes, and computer numeric control machine tools. It looks and feels a lot like a hybrid physics/engineering lab.

Brixey, dean of the VCU School of the Arts since July, is perhaps the first art school dean to have a laboratory rather than a studio. To be sure, Brixey is a rarity — equal parts artist and scientist.

With strong arts, design, science and engineering knowledge — and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology education — Brixey is equally comfortable among scientists as he is with artists. He recognizes that scientists share the same sense of awe and wonder, derived from the same place, as artists.

“We use different methodology and we approach creative problem solving differently,” he said. “But one of our fundamental goals is as we experience the structure and behavior of the world around us through observation, experiment, intervention and expression, we both want to discover what it means to be human and then document that in ways that no one’s ever really imagined.”

Read more.

 

With a $1M gift, alumna Iris Harrell and wife Ann Benson create a new scholarship for gender, sexuality and women’s studies at VCU

Ann Benson and Iris Harrell have made a $1 million planned gift to the College of Humanities and Sciences to support students studying in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

When Iris Harrell’s (M.E.’75/E) parents got divorced during her junior year at what is now the University of Mary Washington, her college education was left in jeopardy. She didn’t have enough money to supplement the scholarships that had allowed her to be the first member of her North Carolina farming family to attend college.

“But [Mary Washington administrators] went into a back room and found some scholarships that they hadn’t awarded,” Harrell said. “They just gave it to me and I was able to finish school. And my life has been way different — and better — because I got a college degree.”

Harrell, who went on to earn a master’s degree from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education in 1975, taught for several years, was a touring folk musician and ultimately founded a successful construction and remodeling company in California with her wife, Ann Benson, is now giving back to help students like her obtain an education.

Harrell and Benson have made a $1 million planned gift to the College of Humanities and Sciences to create the Harrell-Benson Scholarship for students in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies.

“Scholarships are about your legacy,” Harrell said. “I got mine. I want to make sure that the next generation of people get theirs.”

Read more.

VCU forensic science professor’s breakthrough in cell imaging could have major impact in crime labs

Unlike traditional forensic testing methods, Christopher Ehrhardt’s procedure can be used to identify different cell types in a sample without damaging the sample.

A Virginia Commonwealth University researcher has developed a procedure for identifying the source of cells present in a forensic biological sample that could change how cell types are identified in samples across numerous industries.

Many traditional techniques for distinguishing between saliva, blood, skin or vaginal tissue in an evidence sample are based on microchemical reactions that can be prone to false-positive or false-negative results, according to the researcher, Christopher Ehrhardt, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences. Additionally, they may be difficult to use on aged or heavily degraded samples.

“The information is often limited,” Ehrhardt said. “And when using conventional methods, you have to be prepared to consume part of the sample in most cases, which decreases the value of it.”

VCU receives funding for oyster restoration work

 

The partnership with Toadfish Outfitters will allow VCU to plant more than 2 million oysters in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program has partnered with Toadfish Outfitters of Charleston, South Carolina, to advance its efforts to replenish oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Toadfish Outfitters, a manufacturer of coastal lifestyle products, has designated the VOSRP as the sole recipient of proceeds from the sale of Toadfish products in Virginia. VOSRP will use the funding initially to acquire 20 million oyster larvae that will be planted on recycled oyster shell placed in Chesapeake Bay waterways. This will allow VCU to plant more than 2 million oysters in the watershed, and coincides with Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week.

“Oysters are the ultimate friend of the coast as they help to keep our waters clean,” said Casey Davidson, founder of Toadfish Outfitters. “Since day one, we’ve promised to give back a portion of every product sold toward oyster habitat restoration, so working with VCU was a natural fit.”

VOSRP, part of VCU’s Rice Rivers Center, is a collaborative, community-based oyster restoration program that works closely with the Virginia seafood industry. The VOSRP currently collects recycled oyster shells from more than 50 restaurants and 30 public drop-off locations statewide to use in the creation of sanctuary oyster reefs. The shells are seeded with juvenile oysters before they are planted. These efforts are direly needed because the Virginia oyster population is currently estimated to be at two percent of peak numbers.

“We are excited about the new partnership between Toadfish Outfitters and the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program to help bring the Virginia oyster back to Chesapeake Bay,” said Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of VCU Rice Rivers Center. “The work of Toadfish has supported oyster restoration in other states and this contribution will advance our waterway conservation efforts.”

Read more.