VCU opens academic year with recognition of distinguished faculty

Winners of 2018 distinguished faculty awards stand together for a photo.

VCU honored distinguished faculty with annual awards for excellence, service, teaching and scholarship Wednesday at faculty convocation.

Blue Wooldridge once lived in a section of Lexington, Virginia, called “Mudtown,” so named for its lack of adequate street paving. Every time it rained, Wooldridge said, the neighborhood would be covered in mud.

The experience sparked in Wooldridge an early interest in government, one he still holds as a professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

“My work is in public administration,” he said. “And the first question is: ‘Is a program effective?’ The second question, and equally important, is: ‘Effective for who?’”

Wooldridge, D.P.A., an expert in public and nonprofit finance and social equity, has spent his career asking these questions. On Wednesday, he was one of six faculty recognized for teaching, scholarship and service achievement at the university’s Opening Faculty Address and Convocation.

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In ‘Gay, Inc.,’ VCU professor shows how nonprofit sphere’s expansion has helped — and hindered — the LGBTQIA+ cause

Myrl Beam next to the cover for Gay, Inc.

In “Gay, Inc.: The Nonprofitization of Queer Politics,” Myrl Beam relies on oral histories, archival research and his own activist work to explore how LGBT nonprofits are grappling with the contradictions between radical queer social movements and their institutionalized iterations.

The conservative turn in queer movement politics is due mostly to the movement’s embrace of the nonprofit structure, argues a new book by Myrl Beam, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

In “Gay, Inc.: The Nonprofitization of Queer Politics,” Beam relies on oral histories, archival research and his own activist work to explore how LGBT nonprofits in Minneapolis and Chicago are grappling with the contradictions between radical queer social movements and their institutionalized iterations.

Beam discussed his new book, which was published by the University of Minnesota Press, with VCU News.

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‘Hey Google, tell me something good.’ Google Creative Lab taps a VCU journalism professor’s research to share good news stories

White background with the words "Hey Google, tell me something good"

Thanks in part to the research of a VCU journalism professor, the Google Assistant is able to tell users about good news stories happening in the world.

With the Google Assistant, users can search the internet, schedule meetings, set alarms, send texts, play music, dim lights and a long list of other tasks.

And now — thanks in part to the research of a Virginia Commonwealth University journalism professor — the Google Assistant is able to tell users about good news stories happening in the world.

After a recent update, users can say, “Hey Google, tell me something good,” and the Google Assistant will read a two- or three-sentence news summary from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization that aims to expose people to news stories that help them understand problems and challenges, and show them potential ways to respond.

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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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Forensic science professor joins steering committee of Science and Human Rights Coalition


Researchers identifying human remains at a grave site.

Tal Simmons, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Forensic Science, has helped to lead projects documenting and identifying human remains in the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Tal Simmons, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences, has been appointed to the steering committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science and Human Rights Coalition, a network of scientific and engineering membership organizations that recognize a role for scientists and engineers in human rights.

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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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Four specialties at VCU Medical Center recognized in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals rankings

An aerial view of the VCU medical campus.

VCU Medical Center ranks among the top 50 in the country for urology, nephrology, orthopedics, and diabetes and endocrinology.

U.S. News & World Report has recognized VCU Medical Center as the No. 1 hospital in the Richmond metro area for the eighth consecutive year, and as the No. 2 hospital in Virginia for 2018-19. VCU Medical Center also ranks among the top 50 in the country for urology, nephrology, orthopedics, and diabetes and endocrinology, increasing the number of nationally recognized specialties at the academic medical center from two to four compared to last year.

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Massey first in the region to use a new device that marks breast tumors for removal

Breast Cancer - Female Anatomy - isolated on white

VCU Massey Cancer Center is the first in the region to use a new FDA-approved device that guides surgeons in locating and removing breast tumors.

VCU Massey Cancer Center is the first in the region to use a new FDA-approved device that guides surgeons in locating and removing breast tumors. Named Magseed, the device is a simpler, more effective alternative to traditional methods.

Nearly 50 percent of breast tumors are not felt by touch at the time of diagnosis. In these cases, a technique called wire localization traditionally has been used to mark the tumor for surgeons to remove during a lumpectomy. Wire localization involves a thin wire being inserted into the tumor by a radiologist, who uses a mammogram, ultrasound or MRI as a guide.

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Mr. Klean Kut dresses for success: How a football coach with no interest in fashion transformed into a bow tie craftsman and entrepreneur

By Erica Naone

Keylon Mayo (B.S.’06/MC) says most people don’t guess that he has a passion for sewing when they first meet him.

An alumnus of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in broadcast journalism, his aspirations initially included sportscasting. After his relationship with his now-wife, Jentae Scott-Mayo (B.S.’07/H&S; M.Ed.’09/E), who he met at VCU, became serious, Mayo decided to settle in Richmond rather than traveling around the country working his way up at TV stations. The couple now have two daughters, ages 7 and 2.

Today he’s a football coach and history teacher at Highland Springs High School in Highland Springs, Virginia. For most of his life Mayo, 36, had no particular interest in fashion or fabric arts. But when the spark hit, it hit hard. For the past two years, Mayo has sewn daily. He is a fixture at a local fabric shop, and he travels with his sewing machine. “Even if it’s for five minutes, I work on it,” he says.

His devotion to his hobby almost immediately grew into a business, Mr. Klean Kut, which keeps him at the sewing machine late into the night and drives him there early in the morning. The bow ties he creates have been featured on television in the Richmond, Virginia, area five times. He designed a special collection for the shop at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for Black History Month earlier this year. He sells his wares at craft fairs and through his website.

“It was something that I just felt was a calling,” Mayo says.

The calling came unexpectedly. Mayo had been teaching for 10 years, wearing neckties to work every day, and a co-worker talked him into trying out a bow tie for a change. “I was free,” he says. No more embarrassing incidents of getting his necktie caught in a desk drawer and half-choking himself in front of students. Mayo felt better moving around, and he found himself wanting to wear a bow tie every day and to express his personality with it.

Unfortunately, when he went shopping for more bow tie options, he discovered the expense of expanding his collection. Or perhaps this was fortunate because Mayo responded by learning, via YouTube, to make bow ties, and the rest is history.

This closeup of a sewing machine shows that it contains a bow tie custom-made by Keylon Mayo in honor of talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

This bow tie caught Jimmy Kimmel’s attention at a recent taping of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Photo courtesy of Keylon Mayo.

“The first 20 that I tried were horrible,” Mayo says, but he stuck with it. Soon, he added lapel flowers and pocket squares to his repertoire. He posted about his progress on social media, and special requests began coming in from family and friends.

When his players were graduating from high school, Mayo began making them custom bow ties. First, he simply used fabric in the colors of the colleges they planned to attend, then later, as his business grew and his design ability developed, the bow ties became more elaborate, including images and logos representing particular colleges.

A trend developed for local seniors at graduation: wearing a bow tie to reveal their college plans. “It’s a different way to show your pride for your new school that you’re headed off to,” says James Vithoulkas, an incoming freshman at VCU, who was coached by Mayo for two seasons at Glen Allen High School in Glen Allen, Virginia.

Mayo says he can’t take credit for starting the trend, but he’s worked hard to use it to grow his business. Mayo says he’s gotten orders for graduation bow ties from high schools throughout Virginia, as well as some from other states.

He sought official permission from VCU to use the university’s trademarks on his bow ties, choosing VCU first because of his Ram pride. He’s now working to expand his line of college bow ties, most recently with the official trademark of Virginia State University.

Vithoulkas really liked Mayo’s VCU tie and bought one for himself. After wearing it to graduation, he hung it from his car’s rear-view mirror. He expects it to be in heavy rotation as an accessory soon. “At pretty much every opportunity at VCU, I’ll be flexing it,” Vithoulkas says.

Keylon Mayo and Jentae Scott-Mayo show off Scott-Mayo's "queen of the crowd" crown outside "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

Keylon Mayo and his wife, Jentae Scott-Mayo (B.S.’07/H&S; M.Ed.’09/E), celebrate outside “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” after Scott-Mayo was crowned “queen of the crowd.” Photo courtesy of Keylon Mayo.

Mayo is always looking for people who might wear his bow ties with pride and get his name out into the world. Mayo prepared for a recent trip to Los Angeles with his wife by making bow ties for opportunities that might arise. He made one for the pilot of his commercial flight, one on the off chance he might meet basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was scheduled to speak at an event he planned to attend, and considered which bow tie might catch a cameraman’s eye as he and his wife sat in the audience of the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” TV show.

The bow tie for the pilot got snapped up by a flight attendant instead, who proceeded to keep the couple well supplied with juice for the rest of their journey.

“Jimmy Kimmel Live!” proved to be an even greater success. Before taping began, Mayo sent a custom-made bow tie to Kimmel through a producer. About 15 minutes into the show, going into a commercial break, Kimmel responded by spending several minutes on air talking to Mayo about his bow ties and business. During the next break, the host sent Mayo a bow tie of his own as a gift. Mayo’s wife was crowned queen of the crowd for maintaining a high level of excitement throughout the show.

Mayo has recently been seeking investments that could help expand his line of college-themed bow ties. A local businessman approached him with an opportunity to open a storefront, but Mayo was concerned about adding that level of regular monthly expense. Instead, he has identified people he might hire to help if business picks up. His bow ties have followed his players to college, and he’s already considered how they might one day follow his players to the NFL. He dreams of improving his sewing skills to the point that he can sell vests and, eventually, suits.

“I always try to encourage people to find your niche, find your passion and go for it,” Mayo says. “You may not have a clue what you’re doing. I started off and just took that leap.”

Keylon Mayo sits at his sewing machine, which is adorned with VCU bow ties from his official line.

Keylon Mayo (B.S.’06/MC) displays his line of VCU bow ties on his sewing machine. Photo by Jud Froelich.

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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