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10
2018

Girl Scout Science Fun Day: ‘They can do anything they set their mind to’

Young girls take a closer look at different organs in formaldehyde as part of Women in Science's Girl Scout Science Fun Day.

Young girls take a closer look at different organs in formaldehyde as part of Women in Science’s Girl Scout Science Fun Day. The event aims to expose participants to the world of science and possible careers in the field.

Girls of all ages embraced their scientific potential as graduate student organization Women in Science hosted its 12th annual Girl Scout Science Fun Day in April. Approximately 115 girls in the Girl Scouts of the Commonwealth region came to the MCV Campus to participate in a day filled with live demonstrations and hands-on experiments.

“This event allows girls to get a chance to see what’s out there in the world of science and what careers are available,” says Tanya Puccio, WIS president who is pursuing her Ph.D. in Oral Health Research. “WIS wants them to know that they can do anything they set their mind to.”

The Girl Scouts, ages 8 to 14, broke into small groups and rotated through 10 different stations, exposing them to knowledge in pathology and neurosciences, clinical lab, biomedical engineering, dentistry, nursing and forensic sciences.

Girls could be heard talking to each other as they walked between the different events, loudly proclaiming, “I want to be a gynecologist” or “I can’t decide between engineering or chemistry.”

WIS’s mission is to support and promote women students and trainee development in their career fields and to build a community where women can develop their leadership skills, visibility and academic success.

Female volunteers from the Department of Pathology and NeuroNerds, a student organization for scientists interested in neurology, led three of the day’s stations: Intro to Pathology, How the Brain Works and Becoming a Neurologist — A Medical SuperSleuth. Girls built brain caps and pipe cleaner dendrite models, and saw different organs kept in formaldehyde to learn about tumors and diseases, and how pathology works to find their cures.

“It’s so important for young girls to gain a stronger foundation in the sciences because science is so intrinsic to our lives,” says Megan Sayyad, NeuroNerds president and a student in the School of Medicine’s neuroscience doctoral program.

After the station rotations and lunch, the Girl Scouts watched WIS skits detailing the lives of historical women scientists, titled “Women in Science: Portraits of Courage” and performed by Chantal Ing and Stephanie Gianturco, current doctoral students in the Department of Pharmacy.

With the continuing growth of the program, several of the volunteers hope to take part in the event next year and show the next generation the benefits of STEM studies and encourage them to follow science-related careers.

“It’s empowering to talk to the girls and give them information we didn’t have as kids. It’s fun to share these stories,” says Sarah Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Pathology and program volunteer. “I hope that we can spark any interest they have in science and they can see us as women in these roles and know they can do it, too.”

By Catalina Currier

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

Darrell Griffith appointed to national leadership role

Darrell Griffith, M.P.H., CMPE

Darrell Griffith, M.P.H., CMPE

Darrell Griffith, M.P.H., CMPE, has been appointed by the Association of American Medical Colleges to the steering committee of the Group on Business Affairs. He will serve as principal business officer-at-large on the committee that advances administrative and fiscal management in academic medical institutions to support medical education, research and health care. His term began at the GBA’s annual spring meeting, April 17-20, 2018, in Portland, Oregon, and he attended the GBA’s inaugural steering committee meeting in Washington, D.C., June 21-22, 2018.

Griffith is the VCU School of Medicine’s senior associate dean of finance and administration as well as executive director of MCV Physicians, serving on several health system and university committees and initiatives. He joined the MCV Campus in July 2016 having previously served at University of Louisville Health Sciences as associate vice president for administration and finance, the University of Kentucky (UK Healthcare and College of Medicine) and at University of Tennessee College of Medicine at Erlanger Health System Chattanooga.

“We are proud to see Darrell take this leadership role,” says Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. I know he’ll be a tremendous asset to the GBA as they navigate the complex issues facing academic medicine today.”

Griffith is a certified medical practice executive and a member of several professional organizations, including the Healthcare Financial Management Association, MGMA and the Academic Practice Plan Directors Association and AAMC Group on Faculty Practice.

08
2018

Recognizing graduate student achievement

At the medical school’s graduate student recognition ceremony earlier this spring, more than five dozen SOM-level awards and 18 departmental-level awards were presented.

At the medical school’s graduate student recognition ceremony earlier this spring, more than five dozen SOM-level awards and 18 departmental-level awards were presented.

On May 11, the Sanger Hall theater was full of graduating students, awardees, mentors, family and friends celebrating the scientific achievements of more than 50 graduate students.

“We’re proud of our students and always enjoy highlighting their accomplishments,” says Michael Grotewiel, Ph.D., the medical school’s interim associate dean for graduate education. “But this year was exceptional because we got to announce that seven students were nominated for the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting – and two have been selected to attend!”

The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting is an annual gathering of Nobel Laureates and outstanding young scientists. This summer, M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn and Katie Schwienteck, a Ph.D. candidate in Pharmacology and Toxicology, will attend along with 600 other students, doctoral candidates and post-docs from 84 countries. They will have the chance to interact with 43 Nobel Laureates – more than ever before.

At the medical school’s graduate student recognition ceremony, more than five dozen SOM-level awards and 18 departmental-level awards were presented.

More than two dozen graduate programs in the School of Medicine enrolled about 450 trainees in the 2017-18 academic year. Following the recognition ceremony, 166 students concluded their training with 38 earning doctoral degrees, 54 earning master’s and 74 earning a pre-med graduate health sciences certificate.

The honorees include:

Charles C. Clayton Award established in 1978 to reward outstanding rising second-year graduate students in the biomedical sciences in honor of Dr. Charles Clayton, who served as Professor of Biochemistry and Assistant Dean of the School of Basic Sciences and Graduate Studies. With his own research focused on the area of lipid biochemistry, Dr. Clayton was instrumental in developing the first doctoral programs at MCV. During World War II, the graduate programs had been suspended to devote the entire effort of the faculty to training health profession practitioners in a variety of accelerated programs. After the war he carried extensive teaching responsibilities in all of MCV’s health professions programs.
• Javeria Aijaz, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Rose Bono, Master of Public Health program
• Nicholas Clayton, Physiology and Biophysics master’s program
• Sarah Dempsey, Pharmacology and Toxicology Ph.D. program
• Ellyn Dunbar, Human and Molecular Genetics master’s program
• Emily Godbout, Master of Public Health program
• Briana James, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program
• Ajinkya Kawale, Molecular Biology and Genetics Ph.D. program
• Eric Kwong, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Pavel Lizhnyak, Neuroscience Ph.D. program
• Elizabeth Lowery, Epidemiology Ph.D. program
• Jean Moon, Pharmacology and Toxicology master’s program
• Christine Orndahl, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Rebecca Procopio, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Sonja Volker, Biostatistics master’s program
• Lauryn Walker, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program
• Jodi Winship, Social and Behavioral Science Ph.D. program

Dissertation Assistantship Award Nomination
• Brian Di Pace, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Steven Masiano, Social and Behavioral Science Ph.D. program
• Sylvia Rozario, Master of Public Health program

Forbes Day memorializes the pioneering effort of biochemist Dr. John Forbes, who was a pioneer of the Ph.D. training program. Along with Charles Clayton, Ph.D., and Daniel Watts, Ph.D., Forbes founded and grew advanced degree education at MCV, which at one time was among the top 10 producers of Ph.D. graduates in medical centers nationally.
• Outstanding Presentation, Dana Lapato, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Outstanding Presentation, Kristen Lee, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Outstanding Presentation, Julie Meade, Pharmacology and Toxicology Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Javeria Aijaz, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Ashley Bennett, Physiology and Biophysics Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Ria Fyffe-Freil, Molecular Biology and Genetics Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Mazen Gouda, Anatomy and Neurobiology master’s program
• Presenter, Rebecca Schmitt, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Presenter, Lauryn Walker, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program

Marion Waller Scholar Nomination
• Jun He, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Carrie Miller, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program
• Esraa Mohamed, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D. program
• Heather Saunders, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program
• Lindsey Sawyer, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Theresa Wiziarde, Master of Public Health program

Daniel T. Watts Research Day is dedicated to the memory of Daniel T. Watts, a trailblazer in the world of basic health sciences and a nationally recognized pharmacologist who served as the dean of the VCU School of Basic Health Sciences and Graduate Studies and is credited with establishing the foundation of the research enterprise in basic health sciences at VCU.
• Outstanding Presentation, Sylvia Rozario, Master of Public Health program

Lindau Nobel Symposium
• Attendee, Chelsea Cockburn, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Attendee, Kathryn Schwienteck, Pharmacology and Toxicology Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Ria Fyffe-Freil, Molecular Biology and Genetics Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Erin Garcia, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Eric Kwong, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Luke Legakis, Pharmacology and Toxicology Ph.D. program
• Nominee, Rebecca Mahon, Medical Physics Ph.D. program

Phi Kappa Phi Academic Achievement Award
• Javeria Aijaz, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Shannon Baker, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Aaron Barbour, Neuroscience Ph.D. program
• Courtney Blondino, Epidemiology Ph.D. program
• Brian Di Pace, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Allison DeLaney, Master of Public Health program
• Natalie Dykzeul, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Om Evani, Physiology and Biophysics master’s program
• Erin Garcia, Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. program
• Camille Hochheimer, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Hannah Ming, Master of Public Health program
• Kaitlyn Riley, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Viviana Rodriguez, Biostatistics master’s program
• Vishaka Santhosh, Physiology and Biophysics Ph.D. program
• Lindsey Sawyer, Genetic Counseling master’s program
• Amelia Thomas, Master of Public Health program
• Lauryn Walker, Health Care Policy and Research Ph.D. program
• Siqiu Wang, Medical Physics master’s program
• Tierah West, Master of Public Health program
• Jodi Winship, Social and Behavioral Science Ph.D. program

Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society Nomination
• Varsha Ananthapadmanabhan, Human and Molecular Genetics Ph.D. program
• Erin Donahue, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• John Stansfield, Biostatistics Ph.D. program
• Kate Stromberg, Biostatistics Ph.D. program

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Herbert John Evans Jr. Award
• Melissa Maczis, Ph.D. program

Human and Molecular Genetics’ Lang Kucera Award
• Kaitlyn Riley, Genetic Counseling master’s program

Human and Molecular Genetics’ Roscoe D. Hughes Award
• Navaneetha Bharathan, Ph.D. program

Human and Molecular Genetics’ Roscoe D. Hughes Fellowship
• Dana Lapato, Ph.D. program

Microbiology and Immunology’s Mary P. Coleman Award given in memory of the mother of Dr. Philip Coleman, a professor emeritus in the department, to a graduate student who has demonstrated extraordinary achievement in graduate studies and in research.
• Naren Kumar, Ph.D. program

Physiology and Biophysics’ Certificate of Recognition awarded to select students who display good character and a strong work ethic.
• Brian Ruiz, Physiology and Biophysics master’s program
• Justin Saunders, Physiology and Biophysics M.D.-Ph.D. program
• Jong Shin, Physiology and Biophysics master’s program

Physiology and Biophysics’ James Poland Award given in honor of Dr. James Poland who desired to establish a mechanism to recognize the accomplishments of master’s students.
• Om Evani, master’s program

Physiology and Biophysics’ Robert W. Ramsey Award given in honor and memory of Dr. Robert W. Ramsey, a distinguished muscle physiologist and the department’s first chair, presented to the most outstanding doctoral student in physiology.
• Ashley Bennett, Ph.D. program
• Teja Devarokonda, Ph.D. program

Master of Public Health’s Christopher “Kim” Buttery Award given in honor of the many contributions made by the Division of Epidemiology clinical professor who has been a tireless servant and promoter of public health to a graduating public health graduate student demonstrating excellence in chronic disease epidemiology and bridging research and public health practice.
• Joshua Montgomery, M.P.H. program

Biostatistics’ Student Research Symposium Presentation Award
• 1st Place, Kingston Kang, Ph.D. program
• 2nd Place, Camille Hochheimer, Ph.D. program
• 3rd Place, Brian Di Pace, Ph.D. program

Biopharmaceutical Applied Statistics Scholarship
• Alicia Johns, Biostatistics Ph.D. program

Phi Kappa Phi Love of Learning Award
• Brian Di Pace, Biostatistics Ph.D. program

Mid-Atlantic Chapter American Association of Physicists in Medicine
• Medical Physics Slam Competition – 1st Place Mark Ostyn, Medical Physics Ph.D. program
• Young Investigator’s Symposium – 2nd Place, Mark Ostyn, Medical Physics Ph.D. program

By Erin Lucero

08
2018

Advocating for children: alumnus Wil J. Blechman honored at Alpha Omega Alpha honor society induction

Wil Blechman, M’57, H’58

Wil Blechman, M’57, H’58

Wil Blechman, M’57, H’58, wants to talk about babies.

In fact, advocating for the world’s youngest citizens — those under the age of 5 — has been his consuming focus since retiring from his medical practice in 1994. And on April 27, he was honored for this work as the 2018 alumni inductee — and keynote speaker — at the School of Medicine’s Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society annual banquet and induction ceremony.

During his more-than-30-year career as a rheumatologist mostly focused on older adults, Blechman acknowledges, the developmental needs of young children were far from his professional concern.

In 1990, however, he assumed the role of president for Kiwanis International and in that position helped the organization select the focus for a new charitable initiative. Consultation with a wide range of experts led Blechman and the Kiwanis to understand the vital importance of the early-childhood years for brain development and lifelong health, well-being and success — and thus was born what would become Kiwanis International’s now-longstanding worldwide service program: Young Children Priority One. It was also the start of Blechman’s “second career,” as he sometimes refers to it, as an advocate on behalf of young children. Since that time, he has played an active role in a number of charitable and public organizations concerned with the well-being of young children.

At the AOA banquet, Blechman, sporting his signature bow tie, spoke to the gathering about the essential role that environment plays in early childhood. During this period, he explained, the brain undergoes tremendous growth, building neural connections at an astonishing rate. But in this time the brain is also uniquely affected — for good or for ill — by environment and experience. “There is tremendous input from the environment in the first few years of life,” he says.

Significantly, chronic stress caused by adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, family instability and exposure to violence or substance-use disorders can cause lasting harm to developing brains. That carries consequences for learning and behavior as well as mental and physical health that can reach across the lifespan. Children living in poverty are particularly vulnerable to being exposed to such adverse childhood experiences.

“There are communities in which you go 20 blocks and there is 10 years’ difference in life expectancy because of the difference of income in those 20 blocks,” Blechman says.

However, early intervention can make a difference — and the earlier, the better. “‘Zero to three’ is where it starts,” says Blechman, referencing the national nonprofit organization that operates under that name.

During this period of rapid brain development, providing resources — such as high-quality early childhood education or parenting support programs — that foster healthy development can help offset the negative consequences of adverse childhood experiences. Yet, pointing out that “in too many cases, we wait too long,” he called upon his audience to make this cause their own. “Let the legacy of this group be of activism for early childhood,” he concluded, “and we will all be better off for it.”

Blechman’s call to action was appropriately in the spirit of the occasion of the Alpha Omega Alpha induction ceremony. Founded in 1902, AOA is the only medical school honor society worldwide and seeks to recognize and perpetuate excellence in the medical profession. Membership in the society “confers recognition for a physician’s dedication to the profession and art of healing” that Blechman’s work has personified.

In addition to Blechman, 14 members of the medical school’s Class of 2018 and 19 members of the Class of 2019 were inducted into the School of Medicine’s Brown Sequard chapter of AOA, along with faculty members Gautham Kalahasty, M.D., and Vikram Brar, M’03, H’07, as well as housestaff Chris Young, M’16, Avinash Pillutla, M’15, and Hiba Alam, M.D.

By Caroline Kettlewell

24
2018

Supporting the next generation of physicians

Eric Freeman, M’02, returned to campus as the speaker at the medical school’s Second Look program.

Eric Freeman, M’02, returned to campus as the speaker at the medical school’s Second Look program.

For Eric Freeman, M’02, life is all about giving back.

“So many people gave their time, talent and treasure to mentor me and allow me to be successful. I believe that much of my success was because of my upbringing and I am around an outstanding family, my church and my community,” he says. “Now, my practice has become a ministry for me, and what better way to pay back those who helped me than to give back to my local community.”

In addition to running a busy private practice, Old Dominion Pediatrics in Richmond, Freeman volunteers with the Richmond Academy of Medicine and with the health ministry at his church, Providence Park Baptist.

He’s also committed to supporting the next generation of physicians.

That’s why he returned to the MCV Campus recently to share his experiences, learnings and advice with prospective medical students. The medical school’s Second Look program gives applicants who are members of underrepresented minorities a chance to explore the school’s programs in more depth. Each year, a weekend of activities is organized by the School of Medicine’s Office of Student Outreach, along with VCU’s chapters of the Student National Medical Association and Latino Medical Student Association. The weekend offers opportunities to interact with faculty and current students in a more relaxed atmosphere than the usual formal tours and interviews.

Freeman credits his family – his mother was a teacher, father a masonry contractor, and two aunts were physicians – for inspiring and encouraging him. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from the College of William & Mary, he found support in medical school from a variety of faculty members. He credits family medicine physician Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, now the senior associate dean for admissions, with keeping him grounded and treating him like family. Cheryl Al-Mateen, M.D., associate professor and child psychiatrist, taught him about the importance of mental health in children, something he spends a great deal of time addressing in his practice today. Linda Costanzo, Ph.D., professor emerita of physiology and biophysics, he said, was an amazing mentor and teacher. And the late Thomas Tucker, M.Ed., director of the Health Careers Opportunity Program at VCU, opened doors to the profession.

Freeman is proud of the education he received in the School of Medicine and is determined to continue the tradition of supporting others. “I think alumni have a responsibility to give back. The reason I am who I am is that there were so many people who took time with me to provide me knowledge and to give me a chance. I think that has made me a better person, a better pediatrician and a better physician.”

Donna Jackson, Ed D., assistant dean for admissions in the School of Medicine, has noticed Freeman’s commitment to others ever since he was a student on the MCV Campus.

“At VCU’s School of Medicine, service is important, and Dr. Freeman is one who got that idea,” Jackson says. “As a student, he always expressed a desire to serve in communities of need in Richmond and continued that when he returned to Richmond after residency to fulfill his life-long aspiration to practice in his hometown. Our current students can be inspired by Dr. Freeman’s journey to set goals that continually include service to others. Whether at home or in a new city or state, we want our students to give back. There is no better example of one giving back than Dr. Freeman.”

Freeman stresses that he’s just paying it forward. “It’s important to reach back and bring people along on the journey. That means a great deal to me.”

As part of that pledge, he assured Second Look participants that he would be available for students and residents alike looking for a mentor.

He also gave them some advice. “First of all, stay humble and stay hungry. People will want to help you and add to your life and to your worth. Also, when you’re humble, doors will open to you to guide you on your journey.”

The other thing, Freeman notes, is to be committed and to be consistent. He’s fond of a Denzel Washington quote: “Without commitment, you’ll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, you’ll never finish.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine
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Updated: 04/29/2016