Physician, pilot, average Joe?: How one VCU alumnus made his dreams come true despite struggling in school

Juk Ting stands in a victory pose near the turbine engine of an aircraft.

Juk Ting, D.O. (B.S.’90/H&S), enjoys a moment of fun near the turbine engine of an aircraft. Photo courtesy of Juk Ting.

By Erica Naone

Juk “J” Ting, D.O. (B.S.’90/H&S), 49, insists he’s an “average Joe.” Coming from a Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus who’s both a practicing physician and an airline pilot, the claim is a bit hard to swallow.

Ting worked as a stadium doctor at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for 11 years. His passion for flying became a career in 2016. He flew the Boeing 777 for Southern Air, which offers air freighter services, and is now flying the Boeing 747 for Kalitta Air, an American cargo airline. He didn’t trade medicine in for flying, though. Ting is Board certified in emergency medicine and is licensed to practice medicine in 22 states, which he does between flights through the telemedicine company Teledoc.

Behind the adventure and accomplishment, however, is a story of a person who struggled in school. An immigrant from Taiwan, Ting came to the U.S. in 1983 at age 14, speaking hardly any English. He applied to go to undergrad at VCU but didn’t get in. Instead, he attended Germanna Community College for two years, where his grades paved his way for VCU acceptance on his second try. After graduating with a B.S. in Chemistry, Ting was again disappointed when he wasn’t accepted into VCU’s School of Medicine. He carried on, attending the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“It’s OK if you’re not the brightest guy in your class,” Ting says. “If it takes you two years to do what people can do in one year, just try.”

To hear Ting tell it, he owes all his success to luck and the people around him. He has high praise for Audrey Jordan, Ph.D. (M.S.W.’90/SW; Ph.D.’99/SW), a counselor when Ting attended Germanna Community College, whose advice Ting continues to cherish. He credits his graduation from VCU to housemate Maulik Shah, M.D., Ph.D. (B.S.’91/H&S; Ph.D.’97/M), who he says “carried me along.” He either “got lucky” or opportunities “dropped in his lap” when he describes his medical career with the Los Angeles Dodgers or flying a Boeing 777 and 747 or the way telemedicine allows him to travel all over the country while practicing both his careers.

Listen to him long enough, and a suspicion grows that Ting’s story isn’t just about luck. “You will not believe the rejection letters I got,” he says, describing how he applied to more than 20 medical schools. Ting’s ability to speak fluent Chinese opened the door to his job with the Dodgers because, at the time, four Taiwanese players played on the team. Where Ting sees luck, others might see a key skill.

Juk Ting is in the pilot seat, surrounded by glowing consoles.

Juk Ting, D.O. (B.S.’90/H&S) looks back from the pilot’s seat of an aircraft. Photo courtesy of Juk Ting.


Ting began flying planes as a hobby but that interest blossomed into a career as a flight instructor and then as a professional airline transport pilot, and what Ting calls luck might be another man’s reward for experience and persistence.

Listen to his friends tell the story, and an even clearer picture emerges. Shah recalls making bets about academic achievements with his friend Nick Vahanian, M.D. (B.S.’91/H&S), in an attempt to motivate each other to do well at VCU. For example, whoever got the lowest score on the next test would have to buy Chinese food for the group. He says they invited others to join but “very few people would take us up on this other than J Ting.” Shah recalls Ting as shy, reserved, not confident in his English, but very much able to hold his own.

He also remembers unexpected generosity from Ting. Before they were close friends, Shah, who is color blind, was struggling in his histology class because some of the readings he needed to take required him to distinguish between red and green. Ting spent long hours helping Shah.

Soon, Ting became an integral part of the friend group. The group found keys to the roof of the biology building and dragged lawn chairs up to an old greenhouse there, which they turned into a clubhouse of sorts.

In the course of the friendship, Shah says, Ting began to influence him. “J Ting might be the only one of us who had an inkling of possibly going into medicine,” Shah says. “I think he helped us see medicine as a potential career.” Today, Shah, Vahanian and Ting are all licensed physiciansM.D..

Shah recalls another key influence from Ting: Though he hasn’t kept it valid, Shah also got his pilot’s license. “I’m sure that the birth of this started at a bar with the three of us talking about the joys of flying,” he says.

As Ting travels the world on the Boeing 777 and 747 planes that he flies for work, he is looking to reconnect with the people he credits with bringing him to where he is today. Shah hopes they can meet up in California, where Ting lives. Jordan, who has moved to Ting’s area, says they’ve talked about him taking her for a plane ride.

Ting isn’t sure of what to hope for next. He describes his story as “just a little immigrant guy from Taiwan, not very good in school, but before 50 years of age achieved all his dreams.” When pressed on what dreams the future may hold, Ting laughs and says, “I’m dreaming of flying just the L.A.-Honolulu route.”

Wilder alumnus hopes to make big change by starting small

Upper body photo of Javon Davis wearing a suit, while standing in front of a wall covered in street art.By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

Javon Davis (B.A.’14/GPA; Cert.’15/GPA; M.P.A.’16/GPA), policy and government affairs manager for the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department takes over the VCU Alumni Instagram tomorrow, Sept. 18.

Why did you choose VCU?

After growing up in a small town in southern Virginia, I was really looking for an urban environment for college. My uncle, a fellow VCU alumnus, lived in the Richmond, Virginia, area and I always loved coming to the city to see him and explore. While VCU had always been No. 1 in the back of my mind, it was a campus tour that really sold me. I instantly felt at home on campus and the welcoming, diverse community was everything I dreamed of. VCU is one of few schools in the country that offers a homeland security program, and with incredible opportunities in and out of the classroom, it was an easy choice for me.

What sparked your interest in public administration?

My father, uncle and grandfather all had public service experience in some capacity so it has always interested me. When I originally came to VCU, I studied homeland security and emergency preparedness in hopes of working in federal law enforcement with an agency like the FBI. However, through different experiences I had while interning around Richmond, I learned that instead of putting more people in prison, I wanted to be on the other side and help build strong communities that give people opportunities outside of crime.

After that realization, I worked to get a Master of Public Administration after I finished my undergraduate studies in 2014. Now I’m applying my degree by working in local government.

What was your VCU experience like over the years?

Nothing short of amazing. When I finished undergrad, I knew I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet, so I was extremely happy when I was awarded the Eva S. Hardy Scholarship in Public Administration and the L. Douglas Wilder Graduate Scholars Fellowship which allowed me to gain real-world experience working with the Virginia Department of Corrections while pursuing my M.P.A.

I think my experience at VCU definitely played a role in encouraging my call to work in government. From the moment I stepped on campus, I was floored by the diversity. I learned so much about language, religion, gender, sexuality and race from my peers. VCU opened my eyes to the fact that 32,000 people, all of whom come from different backgrounds, can still connect in a meaningful way. In many ways, I see VCU as a microcosm of what America could be.

How did you land in Kansas City after graduation?

I knew I wanted to be a part of creating strong, prosperous communities, and I knew that local government is where one can have the most impact in the shortest amount of time. However, I didn’t know which department or which position would be the best for me within a large city government.

After being chosen for the Cookingham-Noll Management Fellowship by the city of Kansas City, Missouri, I started working in the city manager’s office here. It allowed me the opportunity to rotate through six departments over a two-year period, helping me grow in ways I could not have imagined. From this experience, I learned the intricacies of city administration, researched issues that are being faced in cities throughout the country and have met connections that will last a lifetime. While I do miss Richmond, Kansas City has been exactly what I needed right out of graduate school.

Fun with forensics: Researcher, mentor, leader and colorful person Michelle Peace, Ph.D., stirs the pot

Michelle Peace, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’05/M), stands with VCU forensic science students, dressed in her signature bright colors.

Michelle Peace, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’05/M), stands with VCU forensic science students, dressed in her signature bright colors. Photo by Shane Woolf (M.S.’16/H&S).


By Erica Naone

Michelle Peace, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’05/M), wears many hats.

A well-known forensic toxicologist, Peace has traveled the world presenting research on groundbreaking subjects such as uses and misuses of electronic cigarettes. As an associate professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, she is helping to train and nurture the next generation in her field. A sought-after leader, she served 2015-18 as president of the MCV Alumni Association of VCU and is currently the president of her professional organization, the Society of Forensic Toxicologists. Not only that, Peace also has garnered a reputation as a vivid personality with a colorful wardrobe, the life of the party and the owner of a free-spirited laugh that makes her stand out in any crowd.

Researcher
Peace entered forensic science after searching for a way to marry two seemingly unrelated interests. She loved chemistry but knew she wanted to study it in a way that would have more immediate impact when applied. She also loved her time serving on the Student Hearing Board at her undergraduate institution, Wittenberg University, and was considering going into law after getting her bachelor’s degree.

Following a suggestion from one of her undergraduate professors, she visited a crime lab. “This sounds hokey,” Peace says, “but it felt like the heavens parted and the angels sang.”

Since then, she’s explored elements of forensic science over a far-reaching spectrum — everything from what can be learned from insects at the scene of a crime to the toxicological effects of Chinese medicinal herbs on the human body.

“When you have a case, you’re looking for something that is going to point you in a direction that will tell you the story of what happened right there,” she says. “Oftentimes, you have to look toward unusual things.”

Haley Mulder (B.S.’16/H&S; M.S.’18/H&S), a pharmacology Ph.D. student at VCU who has studied, worked with and been mentored by Peace, says, “Oh my God, she’s creative.” Peace, she says, comes up with questions about hot-button issues and encourages her students to explore them by writing grants and proposals. “She likes to joke sometimes that we’re stirring the pot with different conversations,” Mulder says.

In many cases, that pays off spectacularly. The lab at VCU’s Department of Forensic Science has been funded by two grants from the National Institute of Justice for its work on e-cigarettes. That money has supported nearly 20 students, and the group has made more than 40 presentations on the work and written seven manuscripts, with another five in preparation. In the process, they’ve analyzed many elements of how e-cigarettes actually work, what happens to e-liquids when they’re heated in the devices, what e-liquids contain and release into the vapor the devices produce and how e-cigarettes can be used as delivery devices for drugs other than nicotine. “We’ve been really, really productive,” Peace says.

Mentor
Mulder says she was burned out when she met Peace as an undergrad. Though she loves chemistry, she says, she’s not a natural at the subject, and the hard work of learning it was grinding her down. She had come to accept that she might not be cut out for graduate school despite her dreams of pursuing a master’s degree.

Mulder planned to “get out and go work,” finding whatever job she could manage with her bachelor’s. Her encounter with Peace changed her plans for her life. Before long, she was talking with Peace about getting a master’s, then a Ph.D. This opens up more possibilities for Mulder to continue working as a researcher or to take leadership positions in her field with greater responsibilities.

“I’m a completely different person from before I started with this research group,” Mulder says. “It helped get me out of my shell.”

Sara Dempsey (M.S.’15/H&S), who studies pharmacology and toxicology in the VCU School of Medicine, also says she wouldn’t have dreamed of getting a Ph.D. without Peace’s encouragement. “She is a very intelligent woman and a great role model for women in science,” Dempsey says, “especially for those who want to be in the field of forensic science.” She credits Peace not only with teaching her about science but also about leadership.

Leader
Peace is no stranger to leadership — she helped build the undergraduate curriculum for VCU’s Department of Forensic Science, has served as the associate chair of the department as well as interim chair and has served as a volunteer in various positions on the board of her professional organization and the MCV Alumni Association of VCU.

The past few years, however, have brought intense and rewarding leadership challenges. Peace’s term as president of MCVAA was extended from two years to three because of changes affecting the organization during Peace’s tenure.

Peace says she’s proud of having led the group through hard conversations, facing difficult realities and, ultimately, changing for the better. While Peace was president, the MCVAA moved to an inclusive membership model that welcomes all alumni, eliminating the dues requirement. The organization also increased its transparency and added procedures to make nominating new board members and leaders run more smoothly.

“Michelle is going to be a hard act to follow,” says Ellen Byrne, D.D.S., Ph.D. (B.S.’77/P; D.D.S.’83/D; Cert.’91/D; Ph.D.’91/M), who is the current president of the MCVAA. “At the same time, she has created a path to follow. She worked hard to create a relevant culture of alumni across the medical campus and the entire university who are actively engaged by giving time, talent and treasure. She was always at the table for discussion and decisions. She was the first to bring back past presidents of the MCVAA for a meeting of minds to discuss our rich heritage and our bright future. I admire Michelle and appreciate all her volunteer work. She did some heavy lifting.”

Colorful person
Peace works in an office decorated with her skull collection, but the room is in no way gloomy. Instead, she keeps her space vibrant with the same bright colors that characterize her wardrobe.

Despite how busy she is, Peace is an easy person to find at a conference. Mulder recalls many occasions when she spotted Peace in a crowded room because of either her bright outfits or distinctive laugh.

Each Christmas, the lab group takes the time to unwind with a visit to Escape Room RVA, an interactive puzzle in which participants work together to get out of a locked room within a time limit. Peace is a brilliant researcher, but Mulder says she doesn’t tend to focus on the deductive elements of the game. “She stands in the middle of the room watching everything going on, giggling,” Mulder says.

Peace says, “Yeah, I’m no good at those games, but I take them to that event to build teamwork and to observe individuals in the group. I have created opportunities based on what I’ve learned during that game.”

The loyalty Peace inspires comes through clearly even when she’s not explicitly in charge. Mulder says students call Peace “Mama Duck” because she’s often trailed by a line of grad students following like ducklings.

Dempsey describes the way Peace can find a few minutes for fun even in the midst of working long hours. “She is always on the dance floor at SOFT,” Dempsey says, referring to the annual conference put on by Peace’s professional organization. She says Peace will grab 30 minutes on the dance floor before going back to a meeting or work on a presentation.

Peace is planning Prince-themed fun at the next SOFT event, which will take place in the entertainer’s hometown of Minneapolis. “She’s telling all of us, get your purple dress or your purple attire,” Dempsey says. “I’m sure they’re going to play Prince songs. And I think she already has her purple outfit.”

Peace says “It’ll be a week of hard work, culminating in a really fun evening to remind us that we’re a family.”

That sense of fun is a key part of her approach to leadership, work and life in general. “We do this work because we want to support and build organizations and programs that are fundamentally good,” she says. “Most people stay with the work even when it’s hard because we’re having a good time while accomplishing something of value.”

Aside from purple clothes and dancing, Peace has been working hard to protect and secure a productive future for SOFT and the field of forensic science generally. As she did with MCVAA, Peace has led conversations about a strategic plan for SOFT’s future since becoming president. She has opened up discussions on diversity and heralded the value of research and the importance of mentoring young professionals. As with many things she’s undertaken in the course of her career, she seems likely to leave a memorable impression.

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.

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.

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

New Zealand officials tap VCU professor’s expertise to learn about potential vaping hazards

Michelle Peace, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Forensic Science (left), with Robyn Somerville, Ph.D., a senior forensic scientist in New Zealand’s Institute of Environmental Science and Research.

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor who studies illicit drug use and e-cigarettes traveled throughout New Zealand this summer as part of a fellowship to inform law enforcement and health officials about how e-cigs work and potential misuse of the devices.

Michelle Peace, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’05/M), an associate professor and a forensic toxicologist in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, visited New Zealand as this year’s International Vision Fellow of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research. She has received funding the past four years from the National Institute of Justice to evaluate e-cigarettes’ potential for abuse and the subsequent impact on the criminal justice system.

Read more.

PAINTING THE TOWN: Female-focused murals help VCU alumna build an enthusiastic following

Headshot of VCU alumna Emily Herr standing in front of a mural.When Emily Herr (B.F.A.’13/A) was a student at the Henrico High School Center for the Arts, she routinely submitted her drawings to class critiques. A common suggestion was to make what she’d drawn bigger — that her work seemed to be bursting at the form, begging for a larger canvas. Eventually, Herr decided that sounded like fun. So she took one of her drawings — one with a surrealist bent featuring a tiny city, a waterfall and a giant hand — and painted it across the wall of her room.

And thus a muralist was born.

Today, Herr’s murals can be found in spaces far beyond her bedroom. Her indelible public pieces in Richmond and across the country attract attention for their artistry and social messages while demonstrating respect and affection for the communities where they are located. In the process, she has forged her own distinctive career path to build a working life — one involving commercial and personal projects — that is uniquely her invention.

Read more.

Cardio-oncology expert appointed as first director of VCU Health Pauley Heart Center

Pauley Heart Center Consotorium, Dr. Greg Hundley

Greg Hundley, M.D., a graduate of the VCU School of Medicine, will serve as Pauley Heart Center’s inaugural director.

William Gregory Hundley, M.D. (M.D.’88/M), has joined VCU Health Pauley Heart Center as its inaugural director. A Richmond native and VCU School of Medicine alumnus, Hundley is recognized for studying the impact of chemotherapy and radiation therapy on heart health, advancing treatment options for patients in need of cardiovascular and oncology care. He also will serve as clinical director of noninvasive cardiology at VCU Medical Center and on the senior advisory committee at VCU Massey Cancer Center as a member of Massey’s Cancer Prevention and Control research program.

Read more.