The river of no return: VCU students get firsthand experience with ecology, wilderness policy and adventure.

Students rafting down the Lowe Salmon River.

The expedition to the Lowe Salmon River was part of a new course series of the VCU Outdoor Adventure Program, Center for Environmental Studies and the Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

In the wilderness of Idaho’s Lower Salmon River this summer, Virginia Commonwealth University student Abby Wright pushed herself to do things she’d never done before.

Along with her classmates in a new experiential course series at VCU, Wright — a sophomore biology major in the College of Humanities and Sciences — camped in backcountry with no contact to the outside world for a week, learned how to paddle down a river in an inflatable raft, and cooked for all 22 students, faculty and guides on the expedition.

Read more.

Forensic science professor joins steering committee of Science and Human Rights Coalition


Researchers identifying human remains at a grave site.

Tal Simmons, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Forensic Science, has helped to lead projects documenting and identifying human remains in the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Tal Simmons, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has been appointed to the steering committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science and Human Rights Coalition, a network of scientific and engineering membership organizations that recognize a role for scientists and engineers in human rights.

Read more.

Two VCU students share insights gained at Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

M.D.-Ph.D student Chelsea Cockburn, left, and Ph.D. candidate Katie Schwienteck, right, with Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert, Ph.D., at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

M.D.-Ph.D student Chelsea Cockburn, left, and Ph.D. candidate Katie Schwienteck, right, with Nobel Laureate Walter Gilbert, Ph.D., at the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings.

Katie Schwienteck (Pharm.D.’15/P) set a goal several years ago to one day attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Lindau, Germany.

“I had heard how wonderful it was,” she said. “I thought it would be an awesome experience. As it turns out, it most definitely was.”

A Ph.D. candidate in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology who’s already earned an advanced degree from the School of Pharmacy, Schwienteck, Pharm.D., was one of two students from the School of Medicine selected to attend this year’s event. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings focus on physiology, medicine, physics and chemistry.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Chelsea Cockburn, an M.D.-Ph.D. student who also was selected to attend. “Just to meet all the laureates and hear their stories was incredible.”

Schwienteck and Cockburn were among 600 students from 84 countries. Only 30 were from the U.S.

Read more.

Four specialties at VCU Medical Center recognized in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals rankings

An aerial view of the VCU medical campus.

VCU Medical Center ranks among the top 50 in the country for urology, nephrology, orthopedics, and diabetes and endocrinology.

U.S. News & World Report has recognized VCU Medical Center as the No. 1 hospital in the Richmond metro area for the eighth consecutive year, and as the No. 2 hospital in Virginia for 2018-19. VCU Medical Center also ranks among the top 50 in the country for urology, nephrology, orthopedics, and diabetes and endocrinology, increasing the number of nationally recognized specialties at the academic medical center from two to four compared to last year.

Read more.

Massey first in the region to use a new device that marks breast tumors for removal

Breast Cancer - Female Anatomy - isolated on white

VCU Massey Cancer Center is the first in the region to use a new FDA-approved device that guides surgeons in locating and removing breast tumors.

VCU Massey Cancer Center is the first in the region to use a new FDA-approved device that guides surgeons in locating and removing breast tumors. Named Magseed, the device is a simpler, more effective alternative to traditional methods.

Nearly 50 percent of breast tumors are not felt by touch at the time of diagnosis. In these cases, a technique called wire localization traditionally has been used to mark the tumor for surgeons to remove during a lumpectomy. Wire localization involves a thin wire being inserted into the tumor by a radiologist, who uses a mammogram, ultrasound or MRI as a guide.

Read more.

Mr. Klean Kut dresses for success: How a football coach with no interest in fashion transformed into a bow tie craftsman and entrepreneur

By Erica Naone

Keylon Mayo (B.S.’06/MC) says most people don’t guess that he has a passion for sewing when they first meet him.

An alumnus of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in broadcast journalism, his aspirations initially included sportscasting. After his relationship with his now-wife, Jentae Scott-Mayo (B.S.’07/H&S; M.Ed.’09/E), who he met at VCU, became serious, Mayo decided to settle in Richmond rather than traveling around the country working his way up at TV stations. The couple now have two daughters, ages 7 and 2.

Today he’s a football coach and history teacher at Highland Springs High School in Highland Springs, Virginia. For most of his life Mayo, 36, had no particular interest in fashion or fabric arts. But when the spark hit, it hit hard. For the past two years, Mayo has sewn daily. He is a fixture at a local fabric shop, and he travels with his sewing machine. “Even if it’s for five minutes, I work on it,” he says.

His devotion to his hobby almost immediately grew into a business, Mr. Klean Kut, which keeps him at the sewing machine late into the night and drives him there early in the morning. The bow ties he creates have been featured on television in the Richmond, Virginia, area five times. He designed a special collection for the shop at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for Black History Month earlier this year. He sells his wares at craft fairs and through his website.

“It was something that I just felt was a calling,” Mayo says.

The calling came unexpectedly. Mayo had been teaching for 10 years, wearing neckties to work every day, and a co-worker talked him into trying out a bow tie for a change. “I was free,” he says. No more embarrassing incidents of getting his necktie caught in a desk drawer and half-choking himself in front of students. Mayo felt better moving around, and he found himself wanting to wear a bow tie every day and to express his personality with it.

Unfortunately, when he went shopping for more bow tie options, he discovered the expense of expanding his collection. Or perhaps this was fortunate because Mayo responded by learning, via YouTube, to make bow ties, and the rest is history.

This closeup of a sewing machine shows that it contains a bow tie custom-made by Keylon Mayo in honor of talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

This bow tie caught Jimmy Kimmel’s attention at a recent taping of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Photo courtesy of Keylon Mayo.

“The first 20 that I tried were horrible,” Mayo says, but he stuck with it. Soon, he added lapel flowers and pocket squares to his repertoire. He posted about his progress on social media, and special requests began coming in from family and friends.

When his players were graduating from high school, Mayo began making them custom bow ties. First, he simply used fabric in the colors of the colleges they planned to attend, then later, as his business grew and his design ability developed, the bow ties became more elaborate, including images and logos representing particular colleges.

A trend developed for local seniors at graduation: wearing a bow tie to reveal their college plans. “It’s a different way to show your pride for your new school that you’re headed off to,” says James Vithoulkas, an incoming freshman at VCU, who was coached by Mayo for two seasons at Glen Allen High School in Glen Allen, Virginia.

Mayo says he can’t take credit for starting the trend, but he’s worked hard to use it to grow his business. Mayo says he’s gotten orders for graduation bow ties from high schools throughout Virginia, as well as some from other states.

He sought official permission from VCU to use the university’s trademarks on his bow ties, choosing VCU first because of his Ram pride. He’s now working to expand his line of college bow ties, most recently with the official trademark of Virginia State University.

Vithoulkas really liked Mayo’s VCU tie and bought one for himself. After wearing it to graduation, he hung it from his car’s rear-view mirror. He expects it to be in heavy rotation as an accessory soon. “At pretty much every opportunity at VCU, I’ll be flexing it,” Vithoulkas says.

Keylon Mayo and Jentae Scott-Mayo show off Scott-Mayo's "queen of the crowd" crown outside "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

Keylon Mayo and his wife, Jentae Scott-Mayo (B.S.’07/H&S; M.Ed.’09/E), celebrate outside “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” after Scott-Mayo was crowned “queen of the crowd.” Photo courtesy of Keylon Mayo.

Mayo is always looking for people who might wear his bow ties with pride and get his name out into the world. Mayo prepared for a recent trip to Los Angeles with his wife by making bow ties for opportunities that might arise. He made one for the pilot of his commercial flight, one on the off chance he might meet basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was scheduled to speak at an event he planned to attend, and considered which bow tie might catch a cameraman’s eye as he and his wife sat in the audience of the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” TV show.

The bow tie for the pilot got snapped up by a flight attendant instead, who proceeded to keep the couple well supplied with juice for the rest of their journey.

“Jimmy Kimmel Live!” proved to be an even greater success. Before taping began, Mayo sent a custom-made bow tie to Kimmel through a producer. About 15 minutes into the show, going into a commercial break, Kimmel responded by spending several minutes on air talking to Mayo about his bow ties and business. During the next break, the host sent Mayo a bow tie of his own as a gift. Mayo’s wife was crowned queen of the crowd for maintaining a high level of excitement throughout the show.

Mayo has recently been seeking investments that could help expand his line of college-themed bow ties. A local businessman approached him with an opportunity to open a storefront, but Mayo was concerned about adding that level of regular monthly expense. Instead, he has identified people he might hire to help if business picks up. His bow ties have followed his players to college, and he’s already considered how they might one day follow his players to the NFL. He dreams of improving his sewing skills to the point that he can sell vests and, eventually, suits.

“I always try to encourage people to find your niche, find your passion and go for it,” Mayo says. “You may not have a clue what you’re doing. I started off and just took that leap.”

Keylon Mayo sits at his sewing machine, which is adorned with VCU bow ties from his official line.

Keylon Mayo (B.S.’06/MC) displays his line of VCU bow ties on his sewing machine. Photo by Jud Froelich.

Gilman scholars share stories from their summer adventures

social work major Alexandra Habib in Alicante, Spain.

Social work major Alexandra Habib studied in Alicante, Spain.

Seven Virginia Commonwealth University students studied abroad this summer after receiving the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Gilman scholars received up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad or internship program costs.

With summer ending, we checked in with a few of these students who shared why they chose their locations, the lessons they learned through their experience, and how receiving the scholarship affected their ability to study abroad.

Read more.

After SpaceX debut, Hyperloop at VCU sets sights on the future

Members of the Hyperloop at VCU team standing in front of their pod.

Hyperloop at VCU, which formed less than a year ago, was one of only 20 teams worldwide to compete in the 2018 Hyperloop finals. (Photo by Kendra Gerlach, VCU College of Engineering)

SpaceX will host a fourth Hyperloop Pod Competition next year. Arthur Chadwick plans to be there.

“A lot of planning will happen very soon,” said Chadwick, president of Hyperloop at VCU and a rising junior in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering. “We all understand each other better [after competing in this year’s competition] and how each other works, and this time, we have a full year to really think about and prepare things instead of working twice as hard in half the time.”

Under Chadwick’s leadership, Hyperloop at VCU, which formed less than a year ago, was one of only 20 teams worldwide and one of only nine from the United States to compete in the 2018 Hyperloop finals. The international contest challenges university teams to design and build the best pod for Hyperloop, a high-speed ground transport concept by SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Twenty students from VCU made the trip to the finals in Hawthorne, California, and a dozen core members worked long hours to integrate the pod’s multiple complex systems of mechanical, propulsion, electrical, braking and software controls.

Now back in Richmond, VCU’s team of engineering, business, government and arts students is inspired and eager to return to SpaceX in 2019.

Read more.

A mission to protect vulnerable children: Alumna solidifies a legacy of helping those affected by abuse and neglect

Robin Foster, M.D., co-founder and direct of the Child Protection Team at Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU, stands flanked by Emily Horne, a nurse practitioner, on the left and Carly Barrows, a licensed clinical social worker, on the right.

Robin Foster, M.D. (M.D.’89/M; H.S.’92/M), co-founded the Child Protection Team at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU 26 years ago. The team focuses on helping children who have been neglected or physically or sexually abused. From left to right are Emily Horne, a nurse practitioner with the team, Foster and Carly Barrows (B.S.’11/H&S; M.S.W.’14/SW), a licensed clinical social worker who coordinates the team and helps provide mental health services. Photo by Jud Froelich.

By Erica Naone

Robin Foster, M.D. (M.D.’89/M; H.S.’92/M), has barely slept. She worked a night shift in VCU Health’s pediatric emergency department, she explains, as she navigates the hallways of the Children’s Pavilion at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. She excuses herself briefly to check on a family. She can’t stay with them long — she’s looking ahead to a full day of work with CHoR’s Child Protection Team, which she co-founded and leads as director.

Twenty-six years have passed since she started the team, whose sole focus is helping children who have been neglected or physically or sexually abused. As one of only three physicians in Virginia who is board-certified to treat child abuse and neglect, Foster often travels the state to handle these sorts of cases.

Though she specializes in pediatrics, Foster says, she never intended to focus on child abuse and neglect. “It picked me,” she says.

Aside from her responsibilities with the Child Protection Team, Foster teaches in the VCU School of Medicine as an associate professor in emergency medicine and pediatrics. In 2017, she stepped down as chair of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at CHoR. Without that day-to-day administrative responsibility, Foster threw herself into forming new partnerships to enhance the work of the Child Protection Team.

The team, which is largely composed of nurse practitioners trained to address issues of child abuse and neglect, recently began to provide mental health services as well. Licensed clinical social worker Carly Barrows (B.S.’11/H&S; M.S.W.’14/SW) came on board as coordinator and has spearheaded this effort.

Barrows is working toward a goal of providing therapy services for children the team treats and is working to make exam rooms and treatment areas at CHoR more trauma-informed, as these environments will be made more comfortable for children and families who have experienced trauma. This involves recognizing and acknowledging trauma triggers, Barrows explains, and setting up the room with an eye toward soothing the patient. This could involve warmer colors, softer lighting or systems that can help distract a patient from difficult examinations.

Foster and Barrows are particularly excited about a new grant, which started in July, from the Family and Children’s Trust Fund of Virginia. Funds from the grant will assist with allotting time for staff to screen all caregivers who accompany children into the team’s outpatient clinic at CHoR. In partnership with Project Empower, an initiative at VCU Health that provides services to people experiencing intimate partner violence, the team can identify caregivers with risk factors such as domestic violence or adverse childhood experiences they may have gone through as a child themselves. Then, the team can connect them to resources aimed at preventing the cycle of domestic violence and intergenerational trauma. This grant will also assist staff with implementing a support group for teens which will aim to prevent teen dating violence.

“I think that parenting is the hardest job that anybody ever has,” Foster says. “It’s much easier for me to work a night shift in our ER on a Saturday than to raise the three children in our household. There are unique challenges, and I think that there is a huge stigma to saying, ‘I don’t know how to do this, I need help.’”

Foster says reducing that stigma is key to reducing child abuse and neglect. For example, home visits, in which a social worker checks on a family, are often seen as a punishment or a sign of trouble. Foster is piloting a program to address this at the newborn nursery at CHoR in collaboration with its director, Tiffany Kimbrough, M.D., and the Virginia Department of Social Services. Every family gets a home visit seven days after the birth of a child, regardless of whether they show risk signs for child abuse and neglect. Providing support to all families, she says, rather than focusing only on particular demographics, is important because child abuse and neglect can occur in any home. At the same time, universal education could make families who need help more comfortable with receiving it.

These types of partnerships are one of the reasons Foster is excited to work for VCU. She praises the people, resources and potential for collaboration as well as the university’s commitment to her work.

“Child abuse prevention and treatment programs don’t make any money, and so lots of institutions do not have child abuse programs,” Foster says. In contrast, she says, VCU “has been supportive and protective of our program and allowed us to continue expanding.”

Barrows says that Foster, in turn, is supportive and protective of the team. “This is not an easy job,” Barrows says. “You are seeing a lot of really, really tough things. Her attitude helps everyone around her be able to keep pushing forward to help these children.”

Foster marvels at how long she has stayed in the same place doing the same work. She encounters classmates from the School of Medicine as she travels the state and when she hosts reunions at her home. Lots of them have reinvented themselves multiples times, she says. They often ask, “Are you still doing that full time?”

“Yes,” Foster says.

She doesn’t rule out the possibility of burnout, though, and she’s keenly aware that child abuse is an ongoing problem. “I used to say when I was younger that I would like to put myself out of business in terms of the treatment side,” Foster says. “I’m not sure I’m that naive now.”

In recent years, she’s been looking to ensure that the Child Protection Team remains sustainable after current team members move on. In particular, she’s looking to make sure the team has enough resources to do its work without relying on extreme devotion of individual members.

She talks often about the feeling of family she has at VCU Health. She praises the nurse practitioners on the team, who have worked with her for years and who take calls for cases of acute sexual assault 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. She praises the staff who invest themselves in the work.

She also maintains her commitment to her family, including her husband, Jeffrey Haynes, M.D. (M.D.’87/M; H.S.’94/M), and their three children. “I’m lucky because my three children turned out just fine and my husband is still very supportive,” she says.

Foster recently planned a trip with extended family to Ireland to explore family roots.

The idea of continuity through generations seems very much on her mind. What Foster hopes for now, she says, is “to have a legacy, to leave these programs that I hope will stay in place forever and will improve the outcomes for these kids.”

As the next shift starts, she makes a joke about her “vice” of drinking Diet Mountain Dew and gets back to work.

Working (successfully) in mixed media: Arts alumna isn’t defined by a single form of expression

Christine Stoddard working with children during a community art session.By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Multitalented artist and writer Christine Stoddard (B.A.’12/A; B.A.’12/H&S; Cert.’12/B) will be taking over our Instagram account this Monday.

We’ll be following along as she completes projects as artist-in-residence at New York’s Brooklyn Public Library and Lenox Hill Neighborhood House.



Continue reading