VCU receives $21.5M National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Science Award

Virginia Commonwealth University has been awarded $21.5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to promote and expand research and improve access for Virginians to cutting-edge treatments for diseases, including cardiac disease, pulmonary disease and addiction. This is the largest NIH grant ever awarded to VCU.

The five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) through NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) was awarded to VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, allowing the center to support clinical research, integrate research and clinical practice and provide training to develop the clinical research workforce.

“As a governor and physician, nothing is more important to me than the heath of Virginians — the Wright Center’s historic grant is a huge boost to the commonwealth’s ability to bring innovations in clinical research that will result in better treatments and new cures,” Northam said. “This funding will support collaboration across the state and speed translation of research to patient care, and I look forward watching VCU solidify Virginia’s place as a research leader.”

Members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, which played an essential role in supporting the grant, celebrated the award Monday.

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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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VCU’s School of Allied Health Professions becomes the VCU College of Health Professions

Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Allied Health Professions is now the VCU College of Health Professions. The new name reflects the expanding breadth and level of academic programming, as well as the college’s increase in research, faculty and student enrollment.

“We are updating ourselves to current ways of identifying health profession colleges,” said Cecil B. Drain, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Professions. “The name change is going to pull us together within one college administration.”

The new name echoes another significant change on the horizon — construction of the new College of Health Professions building, which is scheduled to open for classes in fall 2019. The 154,000-square-foot building will provide a unified space for the college’s nine academic units, the doctoral program in health-related sciences, the dean’s office and the Virginia Center on Aging. The college’s top-ranked programs have occupied 13 buildings in the past 49 years and are currently scattered among five buildings on two campuses.

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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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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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VCU recognized as a top producer of Gilman scholars

Marwa Eltaib, one of 14 VCU students who received Gilman scholarships during the 2016-17 academic year, at Chamonix Mont Blanc, at the border between France and Switzerland. Eltaib studied abroad as a Gilman scholar in fall 2016.

Virginia Commonwealth University has been recognized among education institutions that sent the most students overseas through the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program in academic year 2016-17. VCU ranked No. 41 among nearly 150 universities nationwide that enroll more than 15,000 undergraduates, according to a report issued last month.

In addition to its ranking among large institutions, VCU was listed in all of Gilman’s priority achievement categories, which included scholarships for minority students, first-generation college students, students with disabilities, STEM students, and variety in the total number of destinations.

VCU was Virginia’s top-ranked institution on all lists.

The Gilman scholarship plays a significant role in making study abroad accessible for VCU students, said Stephanie Tignor (B.M.’04/A; M.A.’12/H&S), director of the VCU Education Abroad office.

“We are immensely proud of our students’ accomplishments and of VCU being recognized among other institutions that produce Gilman scholars,” she said. “When students study abroad, they not only build skills that will benefit them academically, professionally and personally, they also bring their broadened global perspectives back to campus, and that enriches the entire VCU community.”

The Gilman scholarship program provides awards for U.S. undergraduate students who are receiving federal Pell Grant funding at two-year or four-year colleges or universities to participate in study abroad programs worldwide. The program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Institute of International Education.

Over the past five years, 59 VCU students have received Gilman scholarships. Fourteen were awarded in 2016-17 to students from 10 different academic majors who studied in 13 countries between fall 2016 and summer 2017.

Gilman scholars receive up to $5,000 to apply toward their study abroad or internship program costs. The VCU Education Abroad office and National Scholarship Office work with students to develop competitive applications.

VCU’s engineering school becomes the VCU College of Engineering

VCU’s engineering college offers six undergraduate degrees. It also has six master’s programs and five doctoral programs.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Engineering is now the VCU College of Engineering. This change reflects the college’s increase in programs, research, faculty and student census, and supports its mission to advance a collaborative, creative and entrepreneurial engineering culture.

College leaders said the growing scope of VCU’s academic programs in engineering — and its robust sponsored research program with collaborations across the Monroe Park and VCU Health campuses, and the Virginia Bio+Tech Park — are in keeping with its designation as a college. Continue reading

The new Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU opens to critical and public acclaim

The VCU entrance to the Markel Center.

The Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond’s first major arts institution dedicated to contemporary art, opened to the public on April 21 with a celebratory block party welcoming more than 7,000 members of the VCU and Greater Richmond communities. Located at the intersection of Richmond’s Belvidere and Broad streets, the ICA anchors one of the city’s busiest gateways in a building designed by Steven Holl Architects with dual entrances to the city and campus. The ICA is a significant new cultural resource for Richmond, in addition to offering a vital dimension to the research university. Admission to the ICA is free.

“Our opening weekend exceeded our expectations in so many ways. More than just numbers, the people who walked through our doors hailed from a diverse set of backgrounds, locales, and perspectives. The cross-section of community present inside and outside of our walls this weekend was beautiful to witness,” said Joseph H. Seipel, interim director of the ICA. “Beginning with our inaugural exhibition ‘Declaration,’ our programming demonstrates the significant role the ICA will play in our vibrant community. Given our location on a major research university campus and our commitment to free admission, the ICA is a forum for open dialogue, collaboration and the exchange of perspectives.”

“This weekend we opened an incredible new resource for our community in an iconic building that will become a new landmark for Richmond,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “We are proud to welcome the ICA to the VCU community and know that the ICA will significantly extend VCU’s reach, creating a new destination for art lovers from around the world and a space where art can help facilitate engagement with important issues of our time.”

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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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