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02
2018

Make It Real Campaign for VCU surpasses $600 million … and School of Medicine leads the way

Virginia Commonwealth University has raised $613.5 million toward its $750 million goal in the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, the university announced June 1.

Fiscal year 2018 marks the best fundraising year of the campaign so far, with $105.6 million raised to date. The university’s fiscal year ended June 30.

“I could not be more grateful for the generous support of our alumni and friends who helped us reach this milestone,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “They are leading the way in defining the future of medicine on the MCV Campus. Gifts to the School of Medicine are vital to sustaining our core values of cultivating a life-changing learning experience for students and trainees, exceptional care for the sick, and a curiosity for medical research and discovery.”

The campaign, which began with a quiet phase in July 2012 and launched publicly in September 2016, is the largest fundraising effort in the university’s history. It counts all funds raised through June 30, 2020.

“The School of Medicine has hit our fundraising goal for this fiscal year — putting us at nearly 75 percent of the school’s $300 million campaign goal and paving the way for a strong finish in 2020,” says Thomas Maness, M.P.A., associate dean for development and alumni affairs in the medical school. “It simply wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated alumni and friends who are committed to advancing the school they hold dear.”

The 1838 Campaign is the cornerstone of the medical school’s fundraising efforts that aims to build the school’s scholarship endowment into a resource on par with its peer schools. An expanded endowment will provide a competitive edge for recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt that is too often an inescapable part of choosing a career in medicine.

Thanks to the support of alumni and friends, 21 new medical student scholarships already have been established during the 1838 Campaign. An additional nine will be awarded this fall, and 16 more are currently in the works. Another 46 existing scholarship funds have increased in size with the addition of new gifts.

“My scholarship alleviates some of the financial burden, but most importantly, it allows me to continue to follow my dream, choosing my career specialty based on the relationships I can create and the difference I can make, rather than based off the student debt I will accrue,” says the Class of 2019’s Jessica Mace, 1838 Fund scholarship recipient.

Of the $105.6 million the university raised this fiscal year, $38.9 million came from alumni — including 1,789 first-time alumni donors — an increase of 80.4 percent in the committed revenue raised during the same time last year.

“The legacy of these alumni extends beyond their careers and patients,” Maness says, “and empowers the next generation of physicians who will embody the values and traditions of the MCV Campus.”

02
2018

Biostatistics alumna turns award into chance to honor mentor

Stacey S. Cofield, PhD'03 (BIOS), used her own teaching award to establish a scholarship to honor her mentor

Stacey S. Cofield, PhD’03 (BIOS), used her own teaching award to establish a scholarship to honor her mentor, associate professor Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS).

“Stop. Think. Tell the story.”

Stacey S. Cofield, PhD’03 (BIOS), proudly displays these words in her office at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. An associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics, she draws inspiration every day from the advice given her by her mentor, Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS), more than 15 years ago.

“He was very clear in his approach in the classroom,” Cofield says. “He always believed in telling the story – in showing students why the data matters in the real world.”

Her students approve. Cofield was awarded the 2018 UAB President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for the School of Public Health at UAB in April. The award recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in teaching.

“One of the reasons that I have this honor is because of Dr. Best,” Cofield says. “He taught me so much. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

To honor the influence he had on her life, Cofield is using her teaching award as an opportunity to establish a scholarship in Best’s name. The Dr. Al M. Best Biostatistics Teaching Award will support a biostatistics student interested in teaching. The annual award will provide about $1,500 toward books, tuition and travel for conferences. Some of those funds were raised when Cofield auctioned off the parking spot she won as part of the President’s award.

“On the face of it, it’s astonishing that a biostatistics professor would receive a teaching award because of the reputation biostatistics has as dry and boring,” says Best, VCU’s director of Faculty Research Development in the School of Dentistry and affiliate professor in the medical school’s Department of Biostatistics. “That Stacey would pull this off, however, is not. She connects with students in real ways.”

Cofield, who grew up in Minnesota, graduated from Washington and Lee in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences and mathematics. She enrolled in VCU’s certificate program in statistics, then moved into the master’s program. Before she completed it, she went all in by transferring into the doctorate program in biostatistics.

Associate professor Al M. Best, PhD'84 (BIOS)

Associate professor Al M. Best, PhD’84 (BIOS)

“I liked him immediately,” she says. “Instead of just teaching statistics, which can be very unexciting, he applied it to everyday life. We were in the classroom solving problems.”

She served as Best’s teaching assistant for three years and watched in amazement as he helped shape students.

“I remember watching these students go from resenting the fact that they had to be there to engaging in the problem at hand,” Cofield says. “It changed my trajectory.”

Instead of pursuing a career as a research biostatistician in sports medicine as she had planned, she joined the UAB faculty. She also has been involved in numerous research projects, focusing on combination therapies for multiple sclerosis and clinical trials for rheumatoid arthritis. She is currently involved in a study examining whether people taking certain medications are more prone to developing shingles after receiving the shingles vaccine.

“I absolutely love what I do,” Cofield says. “Whether it’s working in research or with my students, I enjoy helping people define what it is they need to know and using biostatistics to help them reach their goals.”

By Janet Showalter

21
2018

From flakka to opioids: PharmTox alumna’s front-row seat to nation’s drug epidemic

When Teri Stockham, PhD’87 (PHTX), left the MCV Campus, she worked as a forensic toxicologist for Richmond and New York City before becoming one of the nation’s youngest chief toxicologists in Broward County, Florida, in 1991.

Teri Stockham, PhD'87 (PHTX)

Teri Stockham, PhD’87 (PHTX), returned to VCU to speak with students about the ever-changing landscape of novel psychoactive substances and the challenges they present to law enforcement, the medical community and forensic toxicologists.

The move put her at the heart of the nation’s drug epidemic. “Broward County was the epicenter of the Flakka epidemic and was the pill mill capital of the country when the opioid epidemic first started,” says Stockham, who for the last 20 years has owned a forensic toxicology consulting business now based in Parkland, Florida.

During her tenure in Broward County, Stockham has seen the rise of synthetic drugs like flakka, a potent street drug whose high starts as fleeting euphoria but rapidly evolves into paranoia, rage and delirium. This recent round of synthetic drugs — chemical compounds illegally made to mimic the effect of known drugs but with a different chemical profile that evades detection and regulation — got their start in the early 2000s with synthetic cannabinoids, commonly known as spice.

“Everything I learned about cannabinoids, I learned from Dr. Billy Martin on the MCV Campus,” says Stockham, referring to the former chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology who had an international reputation in the field.

Synthetic production and its resulting variations changed the game. “It becomes quite the nightmare in the laboratory,” Stockham says. “Standard tests don’t pick up the chemicals. Once we do figure it out, regulate it and create tests to identify it, drug dealers just switch up the chemicals.”

Then it’s back to the lab to create another battery of tests and the cycle begins again. In a spring lecture to forensic toxicology students in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences, Stockham spoke of “the shell game of addictive drugs.”

The popularity of synthetic drugs also took off in part because of the Internet, where online dealers could sell drugs from foreign countries where chemicals weren’t as tightly regulated as the U.S.

Yet the good news is that legislation does work. Stockham credits physician-monitoring programs in part with cracking down on illegal pill mills. In addition, the Chinese government banned 140 chemicals after meeting with Broward County officials in 2015.

But it’s a race between the drugs on the streets and what’s known to law enforcement, the medical community and forensic toxicologists. “We’re always a couple of years behind,” Stockham says.

The reasons vary, she continues. The new drugs aren’t yet in institutional databases; no analytical standards are available; and development and validation of the drug tests are time-consuming. “There’s no standard way of testing for synthetics at this point and no field tests.”

That’s why Stockham encouraged the students to enter the forensic toxicology field, spark new ideas and make a difference. She is doing her part to ensure the best and brightest students stay on the forensic toxicology path. In 2017, she endowed a scholarship to support graduate students in the Department of Forensic Science.

“I made it through 10 years of education through scholarships and working – no loans or family assistance,” Stockham says. “I feel blessed to be in this position at this time in my life and wanted to give back.”

Stockham carries fond memories of her time on the MCV Campus, where she says she immediately felt at home. In the 1980s, forensic science programs were still housed in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.

Downtown Richmond’s charm, from the historic buildings to the museums, along with friendly faculty, made Stockham’s decision an easy one. She accepted her admissions offer the same day as her first campus visit — and canceled a scheduled interview with another university.

“I knew when I walked on campus that this was it.”

By Polly Roberts

02
2018

From ion channels to Twitter: Medical Student Research Day

The Class of 2020’s Hameeda A. Naimi

The Class of 2020’s Hameeda A. Naimi – Photo by Joseph V. Morris

With 54 medical students participating, the 2018 Medical Student Research Day showcased more posters than ever before.

“We saw everything from ion channels to Twitter,” says Michael Donnenberg, M.D., senior associate dean for research and research training.

View the 2018 Student Research Day Poster Titles >>

With topics covering both basic and clinical sciences, the students’ posters were reviewed by a panel of judges for originality, understanding, clarity and discussion. Three presentations emerged as the winners.

Top prize went to the Class of 2020’s Hameeda A. Naimi for her presentation, “Characterization of bladder sensation event descriptions during non-invasive oral hydration in healthy adults.” Her first place finish comes with an award of $1,000, made possible by the G. Watson James III, M.D. Scholarship Endowment.

The endowment carries the name of James, a 1943 graduate of the medical school who went on to become chairman of the Division of Hematology in the Department of Internal Medicine, explains retired professor Gordon Archer, M.D., who oversaw Medical Student Research Day during his tenure as senior associate dean for research and research training.

“Dr. James established the first Laboratory of Clinical Investigation at MCV,” says Archer, who personally knew James. “An outstanding scientist and the quintessential physician, clinician, scholar and teacher, he was also a fisherman, sailor and student of the piano. At his death in 2001, Dr. James’ friends and family established the scholarship that goes to the medical student who wins the research competition, a fitting legacy for the outstanding physician-scientist.”

Naimi conducted her research as part of the Dean’s Summer Research Fellowship Program. The student-initiated eight-week projects take place between students’ first and second years of medical school. The number of fellowships is limited, and the application process is, therefore, very competitive. Selected projects like Naimi’s are supported with a $2,500 research stipend.

Adam P. Klausner, M.D., professor of surgery in the Division of Urology, served as Naimi’s research mentor.

“Hameeda has been a superstar and a fantastic addition to my research team,” says Klausner, who holds the Warren Koontz Professorship of Urologic Research and also serves as the Department of Surgery’s associate chair for clinical and translational research.

“Her research project also won first prize in the clinical essay competition at our national meeting, the Society of Urodynamics, Female Pelvic Medicine and Urogenital Reconstruction, beating out many established clinicians and scientists.”

The second place prize went to the Class of 2020’s Dong Jin Suh, who holds an Aesculapian Scholarship made possible by the School of Medicine’s Annual Fund. His presentation was titled “The Effects of Curcumin/Melatonin Hybrid on Synaptic Plasticity following Traumatic Brain Injury.”

The third place finisher was the Class of 2020’s Alvin J. Chang and his presentation, “Effects of Ruthenium Red on ligand-activated TRPV2 Channel Gating.”

In addition to the top prize of $1,000, the second and third place posters are awarded prizes of $500 and $250, respectively. The students were also recognized at the medical school’s Kinloch Nelson, M.D. Student Honors Day on April 20.

By Erin Lucero

17
2017

Timely scholarship gives nontraditional student the help he needs to return to the classroom

Kenneth Guinn first experienced the fast-paced, high-stakes environment of the emergency room as a volunteer at a hospital near his undergraduate university.

This story first appeared in Impact, VCU’s award-winning publication that shows how philanthropy changes the lives of students and faculty on campus.This story first appeared in Impact, VCU’s award-winning publication that shows how philanthropy changes the lives of students and faculty on campus.

“I loved the energy,” he says, “and the sense of urgency knowing that patients needed immediate help.”

After those experiences, Guinn knew he wanted to go to medical school. What he didn’t know yet was that his journey to the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine would involve a few unexpected diversions.

“I just always assumed I would go right into medical school after earning my bachelor’s degree,” he says. “I never even considered another path to that goal.”

But as Guinn neared the end of his undergraduate education, something else occurred to him: a feeling that it was his duty to serve his country. Instead of applying to medical school, he joined the Navy.

“When you’re enlisted, you’re pretty low on the totem pole, so respect and humility go a long way,” says Guinn, who completed a four-year enlistment before being discharged honorably. “I learned a lot about character during my time in the military, which I believe will be useful in my future medical career.”

Guinn was finally ready to take everything he’d learned and get back to work pursuing his original dream of a medical degree. He was accepted into the VCU School of Medicine in 2015. But after years away from the classroom, he faced the challenges of not only returning to school as a nontraditional student but also affording an expensive medical degree.

Relief came via the Stephen C. and Marie F. Cenedella Endowed Scholarship, a renewable award that Guinn has received both of his years at VCU.

“When you think about the costs – tuition, books, even living expenses – it all adds up,” Guinn says. He also receives help through military benefits and says every bit helps. “The financial benefit of the scholarship has been great, but it’s also a confidence-booster. It means a lot when someone shows that they support you and believe in your success.”

Awarded annually to students in the VCU School of Medicine based on both merit and need, the Cenedella Scholarship was established with a gift of $125,000 from Stephen C. Cenedella, M’68, and his late wife, Marie, and 1967 alumna of the School of Allied Health, in December 2005.

Stephen Cenedella and his late wife, Marie, pictured in 2006.Stephen Cenedella and his late wife, Marie, pictured in 2006.

Cenedella still talks with gratitude about the scholarship he received during his time on the MCV Campus. By the end of his third year in medical school, he had accumulated 14 student loans. The scholarship he received covered the full tuition cost for his final year.

“I’ll never forget how relieved I felt to have that last year paid for,” Cenedella says. “I always knew I wanted to pay it forward.”

Cenedella hopes his support will help medical students pursue their passion without being discouraged by the financial burden.

“My advice for them is to follow their heart and never forget why they wanted to become doctors: to help others,” says Cenedella, who has seen more than 200,000 patients since his career in family medicine began in 1972.

In November 2016, Cenedella made arrangements to give an additional $100,000 to the scholarship fund through his individual retirement account. With this additional gift Cenedella is contributing to the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign, which aims to recruit and reward top students and to reduce student debt.

Planned giving via an IRA charitable rollover

The federal government made permanent a tax law that makes it more appealing for some donors to use IRA funds to support VCU.

IRA owners older than 70 1/2 are required to begin taking annual minimum distributions. Recent legislation allows these individuals to make a distribution of up to $100,000 from their IRA directly to an eligible charitable organization, tax-free. This can satisy the required minimum distribution amount from their income, resulting in lower taxable income regardless of whether they itemize deductions.

Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine, says the campaign is a way to level the playing field for all students. When the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting body for medical schools in the U.S., visited VCU last year, they gave the School of Medicine high marks and a full eight-year re-accreditation. In their review, they paid special attention to the level of educational debt students carry, which is an issue nationwide.

“The accreditors were glad to see that we’ve launched the 1838 Scholarship Campaign to build an endowment that’s on par with our peer schools,” Buckley says. “Combined with tightly limiting tuition increases, it’s our approach to helping talented and compassionate students fulfill their dream of becoming physicians – regardless of their families’ financial resources. We’re enormously grateful to Dr. Cenedella for his partnership in that goal.”

Guinn is on track to graduate from the School of Medicine in 2019. He has maintained his passion for emergency care and still experiences the same rush of adrenaline that inspired him to pursue it as a career.

In a letter of thanks to Cenedella, Guinn explained that although his path to medicine was not as direct as he’d imagined, he believed his experience would help make him a better doctor.

“While I have not taken the traditional path to medicine, I have learned and grown so much more through my alternative route,” he wrote. “I plan to remain a creative, outside-the-box thinker who is not afraid to take the road less traveled.”

By Brelyn Powell

26
2017

Grandchildren ensure alumnus’ legacy lives on through scholarship

Joe Smith (middle) meets the Class of 2017’s John Weeks (left), the recipient of the scholarship that bears the name of his grandfather, the Class of 1911’s Henry Clay Smith (right).

Joe Smith (middle) meets the Class of 2017’s John Weeks (left), the recipient of the scholarship that bears the name of his grandfather, the Class of 1911’s Henry Clay Smith (right).

As a young boy, Joe Smith visited his beloved Grandad every year in Burkeville, Virginia. Growing up in a military family, at times living as far west as California, he and his siblings shared fond memories of those annual trips to rural Virginia.

Their grandfather Henry Clay Smith from the Class of 1911 practiced family medicine out of his home and Smith recalls watching patients come over for appointments as the grandchildren played nearby.

“Grandad would see patients at the house and we would watch them come and go,” Smith says.

His grandfather practiced family medicine in rural Virginia for 61 years and was known to be loved and respected by his patients, many of whom he counted as friends. In 1976, two years after the physician’s passing, his children established the Henry Clay Smith M.D. Memorial Scholarship to honor his life and devotion to medicine.

Each year, the scholarship is given to a graduating fourth-year student interested in providing health care to rural Virginians. Joe Smith recently had the opportunity to visit the MCV Campus and meet this year’s scholarship recipient, John Weeks, M’17.

During medical school, Weeks participated in the International/Inner City/Rural Preceptorship program, a four-year program for students who declare an interest in and commitment to working with medically underserved populations in urban, rural or international settings.

Prior to medical school, Weeks spent three years as an outreach worker on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He returned to the community during his third-year family medicine clerkship and fourth-year community immersion elective. “People think that to truly find the underserved, you have to go international,” Weeks said of his time on the Shore. “But that’s just not the case. All you have to do is open your eyes and look around you. The biggest similarity of all underserved populations, regardless of location, is access.”

In June, Weeks began his residency at the University of Colorado, Denver, to train in family medicine.

“It’s really rewarding for me to see someone like John receive this scholarship,” says Smith, who has faithfully supported the Henry Clay Smith M.D. Memorial Scholarship for many years. Earlier this year, the fund also received a substantial gift from the estate of Smith’s sister Elizabeth, who passed away in 2016.

Their gifts ensure that their grandfather’s name will appear on the donor wall in the McGlothlin Medical Education Center at the conclusion of the medical school’s 1838 Campaign. Donors who make leadership gifts to the 1838 Fund or to a new or existing scholarship endowment, like the Henry Clay Smith M.D. Memorial Scholarship, will appear on the donor will.

For the Smith family, it marks a fitting tribute to a cherished grandfather whose legacy now lives on in educating future generations of physicians committed to serving those most in need.

By Polly Roberts

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Updated: 04/29/2016