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:

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.

Engineering students, recent grads spent senior year tackling augmented reality

Recent Computer Science graduate Nathaniel Ingram discusses the augmented reality app that his team developed at the 2018 Capstone Design Expo.

Cory Gray (B.S.’18/En) spent his senior year at Virginia Commonwealth University working with classmates from the College of Engineering and School of Business developing an augmented reality app for Newport News Shipbuilding.

“The biggest thing I got out of this was project management,” said Gray, a recent computer science graduate. “I had to learn how to work with my teammates and, at times, manage them. Through this whole process, I learned about what kind of leader I am. Now that we [have come] to the end, I can reflect on that and think about how I can improve as a leader and a coworker.”

The project introduced, exhibited and explored recent advances made in augmented reality technology, while identifying a marketable product for which the students developed a business plan.

“Our project was effectively researching augmented reality, which is simply adding virtual elements to real life using either a screen or a lens of some sort,” said Tal Reznikov, Gray’s teammate and a computer science student who graduates in December.

Their team was one of more than 90 participating in a yearlong Capstone Design course that prepares students for the everyday practice of engineering. The endeavors culminate in VCU’s annual Capstone Design Expo in April, which features projects developed by student teams and engineering faculty members in cooperation with industry experts, nonprofit organizations and the VCU School of Medicine.

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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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