Congratulations to our Prizes and Surprises winners!

VCU Alumni rewarded its members in August with seven days of prizes and surprises. Members entered to win one of seven prizes from our affinity partners, and the winners were announced daily on Facebook from Aug. 14-20.

Thank you to our partners and congratulations to these winners:

Robert P. Siegel (B.F.A.’90/A)
A Nook and $100 Tiffany’s gift card from Windsor Senior Living

Deborah Krajacich (B.F.A.’96/A)
Two $250 travel certificates from Go Next

Franklin Wallace (B.F.A.’87/A; M.P.A.’08/GPA)
A one-year gym membership from VCU Recreational Sports

Kumara Sekar, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’93/H&S)
A VCU collegiate watch from M.LaHart

Anya Liddiard (B.S.’08/H&S; M.S.’11/MC)
A three-piece luggage set from Faithful Fanatics

Will Gilbert (B.S.’15/MC)
A class ring from Balfour

Holly Debernard (B.S.’16/N)
A Bluetooth speaker and prize package from Nationwide

VCU Engineering boosts percentage of women in computer science and electrical and computer engineering

A VINE workshop at the VCU School of Engineering.

“Stereotype threat” is a self-fulfilling phenomenon in which people — usually women and minorities — think they are at risk of being negatively stereotyped and end up conforming to those very stereotypes. For instance, studies have shown that even mentioning gender caused girls to perform worse than boys on math tests, said Lorraine Parker, Ph.D., the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering director of diversity and student programs.

Parker cites one study in which both boys and girls took a math test and performed the same. Later, they were given another test but were asked to indicate their gender at the top of the paper. The girls tested much lower this time.

“It was just a very subtle reminder that, ‘Hey, you’re a girl,’ and suddenly the women did far worse,” Parker said. “[Society] says that women aren’t as good at math as boys. And if you remind them of that, even indirectly,” it can have detrimental effects.

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VCU School of Nursing dean to receive one of nursing’s highest honors

VCU School of Nursing Dean Jean Giddens will receive the NLN Mary Adelaide Nutting Award for Outstanding Teaching or Leadership in Nursing Education.

Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing Dean Jean Giddens, Ph.D., will receive one of the National League for Nursing’s highest honors on Sept. 16.

Giddens, who was selected from a competitive field of nominees, will receive the NLN Mary Adelaide Nutting Award for Outstanding Teaching or Leadership in Nursing Education during the NLN Education Summit in San Diego. Named after a noted educator, administrator and author considered the world’s first professor of nursing, the award is presented to an NLN member who leads through scholarly activities, contributes as a leader in nursing education, encourages creative interactions with students from diverse backgrounds, mentors and serves as a role model for junior faculty, and publishes scholarly works that advance nursing education knowledge.

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Seeds of War and Peace: At Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden, a VCU history class explores the roots of rationing, Victory Gardens and wartime food policy.

Emilie Raymond, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History, (center) and students tend their garden bed.

The students were talking about tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant, but they weren’t filling plates in a dining hall — they were in a special topics class, exploring Victory Gardens and the role of food during World War II.

Victory Gardens — planted outside private homes and in public parks — sprouted across America during World Wars I and II, providing locally grown produce during a time when food was rationed.

“World War II had a big impact on food policy, nutrition and the American diet long after the war,” said Emilie Raymond, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

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VCU School of Business launches online MBA

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business launched an online offering of its MBA program this fall. The first cohort of students begin their program today. The VCU Online MBA program offers the same world-class faculty and the same rigorous core curriculum as the ranked conventional evening MBA program, but with the added benefit of a convenient online format.

“The online MBA format is an exciting and epic opportunity for both students and VCU. Individuals who previously could not enroll in VCU’s highly regarded MBA due to time and location constraints can now do so,” said Ken Kahn, Ph.D., interim dean of the VCU School of Business, who will also be teaching a course on creativity and innovation as part of the program.

Each semester, students will take two three-credit courses and a one-credit contemporary issues course such as cybersecurity, globalization, risk management or entrepreneurship. Additionally, the two-year program requires three weekend on-campus residencies, which will expose students to professional development and networking resources, as well as allow time to collaborate with fellow students and faculty. The format is both synchronous and asynchronous — offering a synchronous video conference one night a week, in addition to online content.

“The online MBA program is a high-quality offering, incorporating global best practices in online pedagogy and offering students all the resources available at VCU to traditional students, but in a unique online format,” said Jayaraman Vijayakumar, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate programs at the School of Business.

All VCU MBA programs are accredited by AACSB International, the premier accrediting agency. Being AACSB-accredited means a business school is able to continuously pass a strict set of standards that ensure quality. Fewer than 5 percent of the more than 13,000 business schools in the world have earned AACSB accreditation.

For more information, visit business.vcu.edu/onlinemba.

VCU honors six at faculty convocation

VCU honored distinguished faculty with annual awards for excellence, service, teaching and scholarship Wednesday at faculty convocation.

Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao, Ph.D., marked the beginning of the academic year Wednesday by recognizing distinguished faculty. First, he delivered an unwavering message about the university’s values.

“As a research university we have to continue to be mindful of the fact that we are leading in a very challenging time,” Rao said at VCU’s Opening Faculty Address and Convocation. “In light of a lot of things that have gone on in the last week or two, I want you to know that I absolutely abhor racism. I abhor anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism, genderism, ageism and religious intolerance. I will not accept these anywhere at VCU, and violence or discrimination toward others simply because of who they are is unacceptable at our institution.”

Rao’s remarks, typically congratulatory and light at the annual gathering to recognize notable faculty, were still lofty but also resolute Wednesday following the Aug. 11-12 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

“As a faculty I call on every one of us to come together to address the most challenging issue we face as human beings, and to do it together,” Rao said. “We have a vision of what the human experience needs to be, and we need to share that vision and continue to live in ways that enable us to be very strong in our commitment to realize this vision.”

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VCU Engineering’s Medicines for All awarded $25 million to increase access to lifesaving medications

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D. Photo by Dan Wagner, courtesy VCU School of Engineering

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering has been awarded a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to establish the Medicines for All Institute and to fund the institute’s work on a wide range of essential global health treatments. With this grant, the institute can help increase access to lifesaving medications for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases around the world.

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., the Floyd D. Gottwald Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering in the VCU School of Engineering, will continue to lead and serve as principal investigator for Medicines for All. Over the past four years, the Gates Foundation has awarded nearly $15 million to Medicines for All. During this time and with this support, Medicines for All has developed an innovative model that reduces the cost of manufacturing AIDS treatments such as nevirapine by accelerating the creation of more efficient ways of synthesizing the active ingredients in the medications. The institute has also worked closely with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and other implementation partners to transfer the new processes to manufacturers so that more medications can reach communities in need.

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Gold compounds could lead to new approaches in HIV drug development

An artist’s rendering of a gold compound interacting with a zinc protein on the cover of the scientific journal Chemical Communications by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the United Kingdom. Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D. has found that gold compounds impede a specific zinc protein’s role in HIV infectivity.

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have discovered that gold compounds can be effective at reducing the infectivity of HIV in laboratory experiments.

The experiments have shown gold compounds may inhibit HIV by binding to an essential zinc-based protein and changing the shape of the protein, which prevents its attachment to DNA and RNA. The zinc-based proteins occur widely in nature and have roles in the progression of many diseases.

“This finding could eventually lead to HIV-fighting therapeutics and open up a new direction in the field of medicinal inorganic chemistry,” said Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D., principle investigator on the experiments and a professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Previous studies from other researchers have shown some anti-HIV activity for gold compounds, which have a long history in medicine and also have been used to specifically to treat rheumatoid arthritis. But Farrell’s work elucidating the mechanisms of gold compound and zinc protein interactions suggests new pathways for this action. His research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Gold fingers

Before the zinc protein was exposed to the gold compound, zinc was bound in looped, finger-like structures to sulfur and nitrogen atoms in the protein’s cysteine — an amino acid that contains sulfur. The gold compound, which also takes on the finger-like quality of zinc, binds to cysteines because it has a high affinity for sulfur. The protein then changes from a tetrahedral shape (a pyramidal form) to a linear form. As a result, the protein is no longer able to bind to DNA and RNA, which impedes viral infectivity, Farrell said.

The researchers also used the diagnostic technique of mass spectrometry to identify the exact way gold replaces zinc in the protein. Mass spectrometry identifies and quantifies a specified molecule based on the molecule’s composition. A novel use of ion mobility mass spectrometry allowed the VCU researchers to separate the possible types of protein formed after interaction with the gold compound and to examine protein structure.

Top honors

Farrell’s findings were detailed in two papers — one featured in Chemical Communications at the beginning of 2017 and one featured in Angewandte Chemie this spring. The paper published in Angewandte Chemie was named a “Hot Paper,” which means it was chosen by editors for its importance in a rapidly evolving field of high interest.

Co-investigators on the initial paper include: Sarah R. Spell, Ph.D., and Erica J. Peterson, lab manager in the VCU Department of Chemistry; John B. Mangrum, Ph.D., and Daniele Fabris, Ph.D., in the Department of Chemistry at the University at Albany; and Roger Ptak, Ph.D., senior program leader of In Vitro Antiviral Drug Development at the Southern Research Institute.

Farrell was joined on the second publication by postdoctoral fellow Zhifeng Du, Ph.D., visiting graduate student Raphael E.F. De Paiva, Ph.D., in the Department of Chemistry and Kristina Nelson, Ph.D, director of the Proteomic Mass Spectrometry Core Facility and research assistant.

The pursuit of ‘hoppiness’: Couple drafts a plan for success, opens Twisted Ales Craft Brewing

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

A need for adventure brought Debbi (B.A.’12/H&S; B.A.’12/H&S; Cert.’15/B; M.B.A.’17/B) and Jason (B.S.’17/B) Price to Richmond, Virginia. The couple had lived in California for more than 20 years, but when life started to feel the same, they pulled out a map of the East Coast and threw caution to the wind.

“We put our hands together and made a pointer, closed our eyes and said wherever our fingers landed was where we were going to move,” Debbi says. “When we opened our eyes, we had landed on Richmond. Everything else is history.”

In four months’ time, the Prices sold their home, picked up their two children and moved across the country, sight unseen, arriving in Virginia in 2004, just before Hurricane Gaston hit Shockoe Bottom.

“We turned on the news and saw cars floating down the streets,” Debbi says. “It was quite the first day, but we couldn’t turn back.”

Several years later, Jason started working at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Survey and Evaluation Research Laboratory as a Web developer, and he fell in love with the university and the diversity it offered. Having completed a two-year degree program at Riverside City College before leaving California, he wanted to obtain his bachelor’s in business. VCU was the perfect fit.
“I started in 2006 and had to learn to balance a full-time job, being a parent and going to school one class a semester,” Jason says. “I had more than 20 years of development experience behind me, but it was great to see the educational side of things, and I’m grateful I was able to impart some of my knowledge to my fellow students as well.”

Debbi, who had been studying at the University of Virginia, transferred to VCU where she took classes full time and immersed herself in the college experience. As an undergraduate, she double majored in history and international studies, founded the student organization History Now and served as a senator in the Monroe Park Campus Student Government Association.

She has worked as an academic adviser and administrative specialist in the VCU Department of History since 2013 and has earned both a Certificate in Business Administration and a Master of Business Administration from the VCU School of Business.

“VCU is a microcosm of the world,” Debbi says. “I love the fact that at every turn you can experience something new and culturally diverse. We’re very lucky to have that [on campus].”

Nearly a decade had passed since the family had arrived in Richmond, and the couple had developed a love for craft beer. After some convincing from his wife, Jason eventually decided he should learn to make his own.

“The closest thing we had to [craft beer] growing up in California was Corona and lime, so this was an incredibly new experience for me,” Jason says. “We entered some of our first batch into a competition and got second place. I just couldn’t stop after that.”

The Prices developed more recipes and entered more competitions, and as their success grew so did their ambition. Thinking it would be great if they could run a family business, they drafted a plan and set out to open their own brewery.

“Our oldest son has autism and suffers from a seizure disorder,” Debbi says. “Being able to provide him stable and safe employment was a huge factor in deciding to open a business on our own.”

This past June, nearly two years after that initial conversation about starting a business, their dream became reality when Twisted Ales Craft Brewing opened to the public in the trendy Manchester area of South Richmond. Named for Jason’s want to push the creative limits that craft beers are judged by in competitions, the community has welcomed them with open arms.

The couple is planning an autism awareness fundraiser and is working with a group of VCU School of Pharmacy students who approached them to raise money for The Daily Planet,. The Prices are also partnering with Richmond’s Pink Ink Fund, which provides aid to those needing assistance with post-mastectomy tattoos.

“[Opening a business] hasn’t been easy, and we’ve had our ups and downs,” Jason says. “Regardless of what people tell you, you’re never really ready until it happens.”

With a successful business launch under their belts, the Prices are considering bottling and canning their brews and distributing them within the state, but they remain focused on doing what they can in Manchester.

“You know, there’s no grocery store in Manchester, so we’ve been talking about bringing in a farmer’s market,” Debbi says. “For us it’s more than beer, it’s a place where community can come together.”

VCU awarded $1.2 million grant to study transition to employment for military dependents with autism spectrum disorder

Paul H. Wehman, Ph.D.

Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University have received a $1.2 million grant to investigate the impact of an evidence-based program that supports military dependents with autism spectrum disorder who are seeking employment after graduating high school.

The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program grant is funding a study measuring the impact of “Project SEARCH plus ASD Supports” on employment outcomes for military dependents with autism between the ages of 18 and 22.

This is the first known intervention study that specifically targets transition aged military dependents with autism, a group frequently described as doubly disadvantaged by their disability and their family member’s service.

The principal investigator is Paul Wehman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the VCU School of Medicine and in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the VCU School of Education.

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