‘Without this scholarship, my life would be in a totally different place’

Three students hold a sign to thank donors at Thank a Donor Day

VCU students gathered on the Compass on Monday to sign posters, write letters and record video messages thanking donors for their support.

Giovanni Knight knows firsthand the importance of philanthropy. She has two younger siblings who have autism and their care is expensive. When Knight was looking to attend college, the financial burden on her family appeared too much to handle.

“When it came to funding and financing school, it wasn’t in the cards,” she said.

Undeterred, Knight applied for scholarships to offset the cost. She also started working part time after enrolling at Virginia Commonwealth University. Along the way, she started hearing stories about donors.

“I started hearing about all these people contributing to scholarships,” Knight said. “And I was like, ‘That’s pretty amazing.’ You don’t know me, you have nothing to do with me, but you decided to contribute to my education. I just really appreciate that.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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When a family doctor leaves a small town

A doctor checking blood pressure while making a house call for a senior man.   Part of a series depicting a doctor's home visit to an elderly couple.

What happens when small communities lose their doctors? VCU School of Medicine student Paulius Mui is speaking with residents throughout rural Virginia in search of the answer. “Some people are losing their best friend,” he said.

If you are from a small town, you may have a family doctor who has been present at the most important moments of your life: birth, serious illness, a child’s broken arm, a parent’s death. So, what happens to patients when that doctor retires or moves?

That’s what Paulius Mui is trying to uncover. Mui, who is entering his second year in the Family Medicine Scholars Training and Admission Trackin the VCU School of Medicine, has spent considerable time driving to small localities in southwestern and eastern Virginia that have lost their primary care physicians, interviewing residents about the personal impact of these losses. Earlier studies have examined the doctors’ side of this issue, but Mui said there has been little research into patients’ viewpoints.

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Kaveh Akbar wins 21st annual Levis Reading Prize for ‘Calling a Wolf a Wolf’

Headshot of Kaveh Akbar.

As the winner of the Levis Reading Prize, Kaveh Akbar joins a list of celebrated past recipients, including Solmaz Sharif for “Look” and Rickey Laurentiis for “Boy with Thorn.” (Courtesy photo)

Kaveh Akbar is the winner of the 2018 Levis Reading Prize for his poetry collection “Calling a Wolf a Wolf.”

The Levis Reading Prize is awarded annually for the best first or second book of poetry published in the previous calendar year and chosen by the Department of English and its MFA in Creative Writing program in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The prize honors the memory of poet Larry Levis, who served on the VCU faculty at the time of his death in 1996. Akbar will receive a $5,000 award and will read from “Calling a Wolf a Wolf” on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at the James Branch Cabell Library, followed by a reception in his honor.

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The sprint to SpaceX: Inside VCU’s dash to beat the clock — and the odds — at the Hyperloop finals

The frame and shell of the VCU Hyperloop team's pod.

An interdisciplinary team from VCU is attempting to design and build the best transport pod for Hyperloop, a high-speed ground transportation concept advanced by SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk.

At 6 p.m. on the most beautiful Saturday in June, five sleep-deprived students hunch silently around a table as a fluorescent light hums overhead. A wrench or drill occasionally cuts through the quiet. But there are few words. Like athletes or surgeons, they know the task — and each other’s rhythms — well enough to speak in the shorthand of nods, gestures and eye contact.

They have been here all day and will stay until coffee doesn’t work anymore. Would they rather be somewhere else? Not a chance. What’s a day at the beach compared with a shot at changing the world?

For the past 10 months, Hyperloop at Virginia Commonwealth University has been beating the odds and beating the clock in a dash to build the best high-speed pod vehicle to race at Elon Musk’s 2018 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition in Hawthorne, California. A Hyperloop is a sealed tube free of air resistance or friction through which a pod vehicle travels at ultra-high speeds.

As SpaceX develops this proposed alternative to high-speed rail, student teams from universities worldwide compete for a slot in its annual pod competition. Hyperloop at VCU battled past challenges that eliminated hundreds of other hopefuls from around the globe. Now they are among the elites eyeing the finish line.

Last fall and winter, Hyperloop at VCU advanced through two preliminary rounds to become one of only 11 teams in the United States, and one of just 20 internationally, to earn a spot in the final round of SpaceX’s Hyperloop Competition on July 22. They’re working day and night in pursuit of maximum speed.

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After graduating from VCU program, young people with intellectual disabilities find employment and fulfilling, independent lives

Troy Carter, who graduated this spring from ACE-IT in College, is working at Richmond Region Tourism.

Troy Carter, a 20-year-old from Henrico County with an intellectual disability, was told in high school that attending college was likely out of the question, and that his future career options would be limited.

But Carter knew he wanted more out of life. He applied to Virginia Commonwealth University’s ACE-IT in College program for students with intellectual disabilities. In ACE-IT, Carter and his classmates took VCU classes, worked on campus in part-time jobs and participated in internships — all with the goal of securing employment in each of their individual areas of interest.

“I always keep my eyes on the prize,” he said.

In the spring, Carter was one of five students to graduate from ACE-IT. Shortly after graduation, he landed a job with Richmond Region Tourism.

“Troy is great and we are connecting very well,” said Michelle G. Lovatt, vice president of administration for Richmond Region Tourism. “He is working for all departments of our organization and will help with all kinds of projects. He made packets … for our I Am Tourism ambassador program and he started an inventory project in our visitor center.”

Including Carter, all five students in this year’s ACE-IT graduating class have landed competitive post-graduation jobs that will allow them to live more independent and fulfilling lives.

“It’s so important to be independent because you can’t rely on your family all the time,” Carter said. “It’s sad but true, but your family is not always going to be there for you in life. So you have to learn to do things yourself.”

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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:

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.