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.
It’s an exciting time to be a part of the alumni organization, they say. In May, the VCU Alumni board voted to endorse ELEVATE, the VCU Alumni strategic plan, which stands for “Expanding Leadership, Enrichment and Volunteerism for Alumni Through Engagement.” The five-year plan starts strong with a year of collaborative programming and engagement opportunities for all graduates, especially those who previously did not find a way to connect.
“The whole idea is to touch as many VCU alumni as possible in the course of a year and to create all kinds of opportunities,” Kalkofen says.
Byrne and Kalkofen will have strong support from the university as they guide their associations toward engaging VCU’s nearly 200,000 alumni.
“Dale and Ellen are dynamic and collaborative leaders with strong ties to many facets of VCU,” says Joshua Hiscock, associate vice president for alumni relations. “I look forward to partnering with each of them over the next two years to both strengthen their respective associations and grow new volunteer engagement opportunities for even more alumni to become involved.”
Strong connections to VCU
Kalkofen was recruited to study at VCU after nine years teaching visual arts to elementary, middle and high school students. After completing an interdisciplinary master’s degree (half in the School of the Arts and half in the School of Education, she says) and 24 years in Richmond Public Schools, she went on to administration and leadership roles in school systems including Boston Public Schools, Memphis (Tennessee) City Schools and Chesterfield County (Virginia) Public Schools, from which she retired in 2010.
What’s kept her connected to VCU all this time, she says, are the people and the opportunities to serve.
She’s excited to spread the word about ways alumni can get more involved. She points to examples such as VCU Libraries’ Friends of the Library and the Pollak Society, which supports the School of the Arts. Kalkofen notes that there are also many opportunities for alumni to connect to current students.
For her part, Byrne has spent most of her life studying and working at VCU. She began at the School of Pharmacy, completing a bachelor’s degree in 1977. She taught in the School of Pharmacy from 1977-79, but soon returned to her studies. She went on to graduate from the School of Dentistry in 1983, complete a general practice residency at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, earn a certificate in endodontics in 1991 and finish a Ph.D. in pharmacology in 1991.
She now serves as senior associate dean and professor at the School of Dentistry. “I guess after you get three degrees and two certificates, they have to give you a job,” she says with a laugh. “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Byrne’s times both as a student and as a faculty member tie her strongly to MCVAA. “It’s a reunion year for me every year,” she says. “Even if it’s not really one of my reunion years, I come back down [to campus] because I’m definitely going to know someone there. … I sign up for everything.”
At the most recent Reunion Weekend in April, she particularly enjoyed visiting the new Institute for Contemporary Art on the Monroe Park Campus. “We really are one university,” Byrne says. “I think as we move forward and the university itself grows in many areas, we have to remember and honor our legacy and our heritage and embrace the future of whatever VCU is going to look like.”
Kalkofen adds that helping alumni build relationships with people and places on both campuses can bear fruit. For a long time, VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., has had a vision of interdisciplinary connections within the university community. “If people don’t know each other, they’re not likely to develop interdisciplinary projects together,” Kalkofen says.
She can imagine effective community service projects, for example, led by alumni from the School of Social Work and the College of Health Professions, working together.
“I think it’s important for us to dream about improving the quality of life for children and for adults in the city of Richmond and the greater metropolitan area,” Kalkofen says.
When away from her volunteer and professional leadership roles, Kalkofen lives on a farm about 30 miles from Richmond, Virginia. Active farming only started for this “city girl” about five years ago, she says, when her son, Hans Kalkofen (B.A.’12/H&S), started caring for farm animals and got her involved. Since then, she’s enjoyed the pleasures of feeding baby goats and has even cut the umbilical cords of some of the farm’s newborn lambs.
“We have goats and sheep and a couple of donkeys.” She pauses, smiles, and, ever filled with VCU spirit, adds, “Rams.”
Byrne enjoys spending time outside of professional pursuits constructing elaborate gingerbread houses. She got into the hobby through her twin sister, Carol Bolling (B.S.’77/P), who attended pharmacy school with Byrne and graduated in the same year. By now, she says, “it’s almost taken on a life of its own.”
She begins making the dough a year in advance, which she freezes until the holiday season rolls around. A highlight of the annual preparation process is a trip to buy candy in Carytown at For the Love of Chocolate, where she always chats with owner James Kinard (B.S.’89/H&S).
She makes about 30 houses a year. Some go home with guests as party favors. Others go to “people who maybe had a bad year,” Byrne says. “It’s random, never the same person. I just show up and say, ‘Hope this helps you decorate your house at Christmas.’”
She brings a similar generous spirit to her philosophy of helping alumni engage with VCU. Byrne stresses the importance of meeting people “where they are.” Because students often get out of school in debt, she notes, they may not be able to give financially right away. They will, however, come to a reunion or give of their time and talents.
“You have to find out what they want to engage with,” Byrne says and then laughs. “It always helps to have a successful basketball team.”