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.

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.”

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Alumna’s novel, featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, follows a 16-year-old who fakes her way through gay conversion therapy and discovers a sense of self

Three-time VCU graduate Michele Young-Stone’s latest novel, “Lost in the Beehive” follows a young woman growing up in the 1960s as she navigates her sexuality.

Michele Young-Stone (B.A.’92/H&S; M.T.’95/E; M.F.A.’05/A)  could not have known it at the time, but the inspiration for her third novel came from a beach trip she took more than 30 years ago.

“I was 16. My best friend and I went on vacation to the Outer Banks and we met these boys from Minnesota who were graduating high school,” Young-Stone said. “And one of the boys confessed to us that he was gay and that none of his friends knew the truth. He didn’t feel like he could tell them because he thought they wouldn’t be his friend, or that they would be afraid of him.”

More than 20 years later, as Young-Stone attempted to write a love story about two young women, she found a character repeatedly showing up in her notes. That character became Sheffield Schoeffler, a young man who is gay and who is both friend and field guide for protagonist Gloria Ricci as she navigates her own sexuality and sense of self in “Lost in the Beehive” (Simon & Schuster 2018), Young-Stone’s novel about a young woman growing up in the 1960s who fakes her way through gay conversion therapy and charts a path to becoming her own person.

“I didn’t realize [the boy on the beach] was so much inspiration for the novel until I finished writing — it wasn’t until the book was getting ready to print that I understood where Sheffield Schoeffler came from,” Young-Stone said. “This happens in every one of my books — some character will show up and kind of shift the whole focus.”

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Fulbright scholar develops technology to bring independence to people with disabilities

VCU Engineering alumnus Shawn Joshi in front of Oxford University’s Radcliffe Camera.

When Shawn Joshi (B.S.’12/H&S; B.S.’12/En) was 14, his brother suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. Joshi was able to find technological solutions for the family’s day-to-day life, and has carried that idea with him to this day.

“While I never saw medical science perform any miracles for his condition, I would say there have been remarkable technologies that have made both his life and our family’s lives easier,” he said. “He has a standing wheelchair that can relieve tension and pressure as it stands and supports him. We have put Alexa in our house and have controlled lights and cameras. And while we can easily Google anything that comes to our mind, he too can ask Alexa for answers and play music any time he wants.”

Bringing independence to people with impairments has been important to Joshi ever since.

“I am always trying to use technology to make life easier for any population that may have a harder time than others,” said Joshi, who graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2012 with dual degrees in physics and biomedical engineering.

At VCU, Joshi worked with Paul Wetzel, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering in the VCU College of Engineering, to design glasses that could control a computer mouse via eye blinks and head movements. The device could bring independence to people with paraplegia or other disabilities.

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She said yes! With help from VCU Libraries’ screen, proposal became a really big ask

Osman Malik (B.S.’15/B) and Faria Ahmed (B.S.’15/H&S) celebrate their engagement on VCU’s Compass outside the James Branch Cabell Library. Photo by Jay Paul (B.G.S.’85/H&S; M.F.A.’93/A)

By Julie Young

His stomach was in knots, and he stumbled over the words he had so carefully rehearsed. But at 2:50 p.m. April 21, with an assist from James Branch Cabell Library’s 400-foot digital screen, Osman Malik (B.S.’15/B) pulled off a surprise proposal to his longtime girlfriend, Faria Ahmed (B.S.’15/H&S), on the Virginia Commonwealth University Compass.

The big ask incorporated more than 50 covertly invited friends and relatives, professional and amateur photographers, a shiny new ring — and the screen flashing their photo and the text, “Will you …”

She will, sometime in 2019.

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As he prepares to speak at commencement, Boris Kodjoe recalls his road from VCU to Hollywood

Boris Kodjoe will deliver VCU’s spring commencement address on May 12.

In 27 years as head tennis coach at Virginia Commonwealth University, Paul Kostin has just about seen and heard it all. He’s coached hundreds of players of varying abilities and personalities, and they have challenged him in seemingly infinite ways. Still, he has only encountered one Boris Kodjoe (B.S.’96/B), and he has never faced a conundrum quite like the one Kodjoe brought to him one spring day in 1996.

Kodjoe appeared depressed when he entered Kostin’s office that day. A superb competitor in both singles and doubles, Kodjoe was nearing the end of a Rams’ career that would place him among the most successful VCU players ever. So Kostin was stunned when Kodjoe sheepishly asked if he could miss the team’s upcoming match with Clemson University.

Kodjoe wanted to be on the court with his teammates, he said, but he also wanted to attend a music video awards show in New York. Kodjoe wasn’t just looking for some random fun night out. While acing the rigors of a student-athlete’s life at VCU, Kodjoe had also carved out a promising modeling career that already saw him traveling in rarefied circles. He had been a breakout star in the recent video for TLC’s song, “Red Light Special,” a top awards contender, and the upcoming show would offer him an invaluable moment in the spotlight.

Few Division I athletic coaches likely would have even considered the request, but Kostin knew the event was a unique opportunity for a student whose star was rising fast outside of tennis. Also, he said, it was hard to say no to this particular player. So he reluctantly agreed to excuse him.

“I could never get mad at Boris because he was such an exceptional person and so unselfish as a player and a teammate,” Kostin said. “He deserved to go. It also was clear he was going places and I didn’t want to get in the way of that.”

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Keyanna Conner earned her Ph.D. in chemistry from VCU. Now she oversees five Virginia government agencies.

Virginia Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner earned her doctorate in chemistry from VCU.

Keyanna Conner, Ph.D. (Ph.D.’15/H&S), was running late to work in a Virginia Commonwealth University chemistry lab in February 2007 when she caught Barack Obama’s presidential campaign kickoff speech in Illinois on CNN.

“I was sitting there and, like, tears are coming down,” Conner said. “There’s all of these emotions that I really didn’t know I had.”

Conner, who was pursuing her doctorate from the Department of Chemistry in the College of Humanities and Sciences, found herself inspired by Obama and his message of change and public service. “Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done,” Obama said in that speech. “Today we are called once more, and it is time for our generation to answer that call.”

“Obama called us to action,” Conner said. “It wasn’t just talking about change, but what can you do? So I started supporting his campaign in the evenings late at night, making phone calls and doing data entry. Then we started to win, right? And it’s like, well, while you’re winning you just can’t quit this thing. So I was pulling crazy hours in the lab and then late at night continuing to help out other states from here in Richmond.

“A passion just started to stir up inside of me and it hasn’t left,” she said.

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Giving artists’ voices a place to grow

Ashley Hawkins (B.F.A.’07/A; M.P.A.’13/GPA; Cert.’13/GPA) fell in love with printmaking as a student in the VCU School of the Arts. She wanted Richmond, Virginia, to be a place where an education in art was more accessible and where artists would develop and want to stay. She now runs Studio Two Three, a printmaking and private studio space where over 100 artists work and hundreds more visit and take classes.

VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter receives Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award

From left, RVA GOLD Chapter members Joseph Stemmle (B.S.’13/B), Timmy Nguyen (B.S.’11/B) and Khanh Burks (B.S.’13/B); Gov. Ralph Northam; and Allison Toney, associate director of outreach and engagement, Amy Beck, executive director of alumni outreach and engagement, and Josh Hiscock, associate vice president for alumni relations, from the VCU Office of Development and Alumni Relations (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

VCU Alumni’s RVA GOLD Chapter has been honored with the 2018 Governor’s Volunteerism and Community Service Award for Outstanding Education Organization.

VCU Alumni’s Richmond alumni chapter received the award April 10 from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for making volunteering a key priority in its initiatives, from leading the charge against hunger in Virginia and delivering hot meals to area veterans to taking Richmond students back-to-school shopping and writing cards for overseas military troops. The chapter represents more than 65,000 VCU alumni who live in the Richmond metro area. Continue reading