VCU launches apprenticeship program, providing opportunities and valuable skills to future tradespeople

Melissa Yancey, one of five apprentices in VCU Facilities Management’s new apprenticeship program, is learning to become a steamfitter and working in the MCV Campus Steam Plant.

Only 1.6 percent of the nation’s steamfitters are women, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Labor statistics. As part of a new apprenticeship program at Virginia Commonwealth University, Melissa Yancey is on her way to joining their ranks.

“I like working with my hands and I’m learning a new skill,” said Yancey, who began working in the MCV Campus Steam Plant in January. “I wanted to learn a trade, and to have a job that’s more physical than stationary. I guess I just saw a lot of potential to working at VCU.”

Yancey, who is the only woman working in the steam plant, has been learning how to weld, use a variety of tools, install and repair pipes, and troubleshoot the system that provides steam for the MCV campus, the VCU Medical Center and several nearby state government buildings.

“It’s been great,” she said. “They all treat me like one of the guys.”

Yancey is one of five apprentices hired this year as part of a new initiative of VCU Facilities Management to bolster the university’s workforce of skilled tradespeople. The apprentices are training to become a certified heating, ventilation and air conditioning technician, electrician, locksmith and plumber.

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Extraordinary nurses are first to graduate from VCU’s new doctoral program in nursing

Angelica Smith, right, performs a medical assessment. Smith is one of 11 students graduating Friday from VCU’s new Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, which focuses on quality and safety.

Angelica Smith (B.S.’10/ EN; B.S.’13/N; M.S.’15/N) grew up in a “humble home” in the small, rural town of Corozal, Puerto Rico, “where everybody knows each other,” she said. Now, the soon-to-be-graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University Doctor of Nursing Practice program applies her clinical and public health skills to assist disadvantaged populations in Petersburg, Virginia, where she lives. Petersburg is one of the most impoverished localities in Virginia with the worst health outcomes in the state, according to recent County Health Rankings & Roadmaps reports by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and U.S. Census data.

“Growing up, I saw the struggle that it takes every day to take care of things financially,” Smith said. “Since I was in that environment as a child, I want to make a difference now that I am in a position to impact people’s quality of life.”

The 40-year-old nursing student earned an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering as well as undergraduate and master’s degrees in nursing from VCU after a 10-year career in the U.S. Marines. On Friday, she and 10 classmates will be the first graduates from the School of Nursing’s DNP program.

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These eight VCU students are the first in their family to graduate from college. Here’s how they did it.

From left: First-generation graduates Sophia Booker, Jaren Butts, Ricardo Rodriguez, Brandon Watts and Tammie Goode

They each have a story: Jeff Petraco (B.S.’14/N) earned his first degree 42 years ago and now finds himself in cap and gown again, at the beginning of a new career. Brandon Watts was raised in a home without internet and now aspires to start a data science company. Candace Moore had to put her education on hold twice and cashed out her 401(k) to pay for school. On Saturday, she will graduate with two degrees.

They come from different places and have different dreams. But they also share something in common: They are the first in their family to graduate from college. VCU News sat down with eight students in the weeks leading to commencement to discuss the moments that mattered on the way to their degrees.

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Displaying more than 1,000 piñatas, VCU and community groups break Guinness World Record

More than 1,000 piñatas were hung along Richmond’s Canal Walk on Saturday at the annual ¿Qué Pasa? Festival.

More than 1,000 piñatas were hung along Richmond’s Canal Walk on Saturday at the annual ¿Qué Pasa? Festival, breaking the Guinness World Record for “Largest Display of Piñatas.”

The new record is the result of five months of work by the da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Hispanic Foundation to create and collect as many piñatas as possible to surpass the previous record of 504 piñatas displayed, set in 2008 at an event in Mexico.

“This is building on an effort that the Virginia Hispanic Chamber already had. They have grade schools and high schools make piñatas for the festival, so we just went big. We got all the piñatas,” said Allison Schumacher, director of academic alchemy at the da Vinci Center, a collaboration of VCU’s Schools of the Arts, Business, Engineering and College of Humanities and Sciences to advance innovation and entrepreneurship.

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Life-changing learning experiences await the first 12 student recipients of VCU’s new Baldacci fund

VCU student Lisa Day, one of 12 inaugural recipients of awards from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund, will travel to South Africa this summer to study paleoanthropology and human evolution.

Thanks to a new fund in the College of Humanities and Sciences that supports Virginia Commonwealth University students interested in pursuing internships, research and study abroad experiences, Lisa Day, an anthropology and history double major, will travel to South Africa this summer to study paleoanthropology and human evolution.

“We will be visiting museums and fossil sites in South Africa to learn about the history of the present-day country as well as its distant past,” said Day, a senior and president of VCU’s Anthropology Club. “We will also be going on [a] safari to think about the environments in which our early ancestors evolved.”

Day is one of the inaugural 12 recipients of awards from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund, which provides grants of $1,000 to $5,000 to academically promising VCU students from diverse areas of study and backgrounds to allow them to pursue internships, conferences, research, domestic or international study abroad, and social entrepreneurship opportunities.

“I am just extremely excited to be awarded funds from the Baldacci Student Experiential Learning Fund,” Day said. “I probably would not have been able to participate without it, and I am looking forward to this summer as well as my future.”

The fund was made possible because of a gift to VCU from bestselling novelist and political science alumnus David Baldacci (B.A.’83/H&S; H.L.D.’01/) and his wife, Michelle, last fall.

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‘I can get a degree in that?’ A look at some of the unique programs you can study at VCU.

VCU offers a myriad of academic programs, many of which are unique in Virginia.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s diverse, urban environment and focus on multiple disciplines — 217 degree and certificate programs in all — lead to a wide variety of career paths. Students can learn to do anything from delivering babies to designing imaginary robot armies for the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Read more about the innovative and out-of-the-box academic programs VCU offers.

VCU da Vinci Center to host new summit for aspiring social entrepreneurs

The IMAGINE Social Good summit will take place March 23-25 at VCU.

The Virginia Commonwealth University da Vinci Center is launching a social good summit focused on students and their work in social justice and social entrepreneurship.

IMAGINE Social Good” takes place March 23-25 at the Academic Learning Commons, 1000 Floyd Ave. Students from more than 20 campuses worldwide who are pursuing diverse social good projects are attending.

The weekend consists of main-stage events with keynote speakers, inspiring workshops and multiple moments to meet, listen to and learn from experts and one another. Student teams will present their work on creating change in social good, social justice or social entrepreneurship to panels of experts during breakout sessions. The projects range from products to ideas. For instance, one student will present her interactive financial-literacy game, while another will initiate a discussion on challenging the portrayal of Native Americans in young adult literature.

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VCU launches public history certificate program, providing skills and hands-on experience at historic sites in Richmond and beyond

Emily Jones, a master’s degree student in the Department of History, is interning with the St. John’s Church Foundation, conducting independent research into their cemetery. Internships like Jones’ will be a key component of VCU’s public history certificate program.

Between the 1740s and 1820s, an estimated 1,300 people were buried at Richmond’s historic St. John’s Church, but only a small percentage have been identified. Those who have, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s first editor, Thomas W. White, are typically buried at the highest level and have grave markers. The rest have no headstones, and many are buried around the foundation of the church.

Emily Jones, a graduate student in the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University, is interning this semester with the St. John’s Church Foundation to identify as many of the people buried at the church as possible, learn what she can about their lives and build a publicly accessible database of the findings.

“We hope to find exciting stories of past Virginians that can be included in St. John’s tours or literature, and to be able to share these records with the public,” Jones said.

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At the Richmond Symphony, VCU students will offer tonight’s audience an inside look

Amy Comstock, a junior print and online journalism major, will be part of a team of VCU students operating video cameras during tonight’s Richmond Symphony performance.

At Friday night’s performance of the Richmond Symphony, a team of Virginia Commonwealth University student volunteers will be manning an array of cameras stationed on stage that will feed live video to an LED wall, providing the audience with a rare glimpse of what it’s like to be amid an orchestra as it performs.

“It will be almost like you’re sitting on stage,” said Laura Bordner Adams, director of orchestral operations for the Richmond Symphony. “You’ll be able to see the trumpet player as he’s playing two feet away as he’s playing the most famous passage of the piece. You might be able to see the conductor from the front and see his facial expressions as he’s conducting, which you never get to see as you’re sitting in the audience. The idea is that this will really give you an insider look.”

The Richmond Symphony’s experiment with live videography is the result of a partnership between the symphony and the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Honors College revamps curriculum to emphasize collaboration and experiences, and to solve real problems facing Richmond

Instructor Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead (left) is teaching Humans of RVA and VCU this semester, a new course that will play a key role in the Honors College’s revamped curriculum in the fall.

As part of a new course in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Honors College, students are working in small, diverse groups to interview Richmond residents and post their stories and photos to social media, with an eye toward gaining a better understanding of the many facets of the community.

Inspired by Humans of New York, the new course, Humans of RVA and VCU, provides students with the opportunity to study the nature of community, as well as community engagement and their role in it, said instructor Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead (M.F.A.’03/A).

“My students are learning about RVA and its history. They’re learning about community, humanity and social justice, and also about themselves and each other,” Gardinier Halstead said. “They’re looking forward to interviewing RVA residents after spring break. I can’t say enough about our students. They’re bright and inquisitive and thoughtful and creative, and they’re change-makers, too.”

Humans of RVA and VCU, which is being piloted this semester, will be a key part of a newly revamped curriculum for the Honors College that will go into effect this fall.

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