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27
2017

Woodworking unlocks creativity, teaches patience for health behavior and policy student Tyler Braun

The Department of Health Behavior and Policy’s third-year Ph.D. candidate Tyler Braun’s research on Spillover Theory analyzes how Medicare policy indirectly influences private insurance markets and effects private insurance enrollees.

He makes a point of finding time away from his research to spend in his woodshop creating one-of-a-kind pieces of art. In his own words:

Tyler Braun, Department of Health Behavior and Policy Ph.D. candidate, uses his woodworking skills to create a dining room table.

Tyler Braun, Department of Health Behavior and Policy Ph.D. candidate, uses his woodworking skills to create a dining room table from the reclaimed wood of an old storage unit dating back to Church Hill’s 1800s.
Photo by Kevin Schindler

Woodworking is something that I grew up with. My grandfather is a world-renowned decoy carver and my dad is very handy with tools. So at an early age, due to my grandfather’s and dad’s love for woodworking, I was exposed to chisels, power tools and a knack for understanding woodworking and artistry.

As I progressed through my doctorate, I needed a stress reliever and decided that I would attempt to take up woodworking as a hobby much like my grandfather and dad had. One day I blew off the old sawdust on the woodworking tools my grandfather and dad gave me and I began carving. I started off making college sports logos and state flags as gifts for friends and family, and through word-of-mouth,my wood art has been in high demand ever since.

Finding leisure time while working on a Ph.D. can be difficult, especially with multiple deadlines, but I make an attempt every day to keep Ph.D. work in regular business hours so I can go home to my woodshop to relieve the stresses of school, reflect on life and let my imagination run wild to create pieces of one-of-a-kind wood art.

Woodworking is a hobby that has grown my imagination and taught me patience and to pay attention to detail — luckily these characteristics have also carried over into my dissertation and doctoral work, which are very important to succeed in a Ph.D. program.

My suggestion to graduate students is to find a hobby that makes you happy, grows your imagination, relieves stress and helps you to continuously grow as an individual and a scholar.

By Tyler Braun

05
2017

Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson selected for Hall of Heroes

An admissions office routinely recruits and processes applications with an eye toward building a strong class. But a pair in VCU’s School of Medicine have been lauded for going above and beyond, supporting students before, during and after medical school.

The Student National Medical Association has honored Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, and Donna Jackson, Ed.D.,

The Student National Medical Association has honored Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, and Donna Jackson, Ed.D., for their work to increase the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent and socially conscious physicians.

Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, senior associate dean of admissions, and Donna Jackson, Ed.D., assistant dean of admissions and director of Student Outreach Programs, were tapped for induction into the Hall of Heroes of the Student National Medical Association.

The Hall of Heroes distinction is SNMA’s most prestigious recognition, honoring administrators, physicians and others who champion the cause for a diverse physician workforce. SNMA says its mission is to support current and future underrepresented minority medical students, address the needs of underserved communities and increase the number of clinically excellent, culturally competent and socially conscious physicians.

Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson, nominated by current and former students, were unanimously elected about a year ago, but won’t be formally inducted until this year’s SNMA conference, April 12-16, in Atlanta. Both said they were surprised to find they’d been selected – and it took some time before they realized that the other also had been. That the nomination came from students was especially meaningful. “You never know how you touch someone,” Jackson says.

The two have worked together for more than a decade, and share a common philosophy and priorities.

“Our goal is always to have a diverse class,” says Whitehurst-Cook, who also serves as associate professor of family medicine and population health. “It’s not just about minority status, but bringing together a new class each year of individuals who’ve done awesome things in their lives. They will be sharing their upbringing, their culture and their varied experiences.”

Ultimately, she says, that leads to a richer experience for students and better medical care for patients, as physicians-to-be learn to relate to diverse populations.

But diversity alone doesn’t ensure success, so inclusion is equally important. With so many different backgrounds converging in a high-stress environment, it’s important to offer support and encouragement, Whitehurst-Cook says. “We’ve worked hard to enhance our diversity here and to support students once they get here. You can recruit a medical student, but you want all of them to be happy and to thrive. “

On the MCV Campus, offerings for minority students include the SNMA and the Latino Medical Student Association. The two student organizations team up to present the “Second-Look” program that gives accepted students and potential recruits opportunities to interact with faculty and students in a more relaxed atmosphere than the usual formal tours and interviews. At VCU, underrepresented minority students are defined as African-American, Latino, Native Americans, Alaskans and Pacific Islanders.

What’s needed to enroll more diverse students, though, is an increase in scholarship money, and Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson are hoping that in the near future, they’ll be able to offer assistance to more students.

Plenty of potential students are on the admissions radar while they’re still in high school or undergraduate programs. Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson help those students – and often their parents – find a path to success in medical school, whether that’s at VCU or elsewhere.

When they’re building a class for the medical school, Whitehurst-Cook and Jackson agree that students should show a commitment to nonclinical community service by helping people. “In addition to a passion for medicine, we want them to show compassion,” Whitehurst-Cook says. “In other words, we want them to be smart – and nice.”

The admissions office has an open-door policy, so students, potential students and graduates who need a place to unwind can find a friendly ear, advice and occasionally some free pizza.

“I think it’s important that we try to make all of our students feel like they’re part of a family. We really do care about what they’re going through,” Jackson says. The feeling is mutual, she said, as a large contingent of SNMA members attended her son’s Eagle Scout ceremony.

“I think they feel like we are more than student and administrator.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

05
2017

Microbiology alumna seeks Zika answers

The Zika virus topped the list of Google’s trending health-related questions in the U.S. in 2016, according to CNN. People wanted to know “What are the symptoms of Zika?” and “How long does Zika last?”

Research microbiologist Jean Kim, PhD’10, studies if Zika can be transmitted through air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

As warm weather nears, questions remain about the Zika virus. Research microbiologist Jean Kim, PhD’10, takes on the epidemic the best way she knows how — in the research lab, where she’s studying if Zika can be transmitted through air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Jean Kim, PhD’10 (MICR), had questions about Zika, too. She went to the research lab for answers.

Now the principal investigator on a Zika project for RTI International, where she works as a research microbiologist, Kim is asking “Can Zika be transmitted through the air via coughing or sneezing?”

The Zika virus is known to be transmitted via an Aedes aegypti mosquito that bites an infected person and then transfers the virus to another person via its salivary glands. A pregnant woman also can pass the virus to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly, a severe birth defect where babies are born with abnormally small heads due to underlying brain damage. Sexual intercourse also has been identified as a route for transmitting the virus.

“Yet little research has been done on the possibility that the Zika virus could be spread through other secondary routes including aerosol transmission,” says Kim, whose research typically centers on indoor air quality, including the impact of black mold on human health. “We wanted to be proactive about providing solutions to the Zika situation. How could we address this public health issue?”

After presenting a concept to the company CEO in spring 2016, Kim and her colleagues immediately began their research: studying if Zika can survive in human respiratory, oral and salivary environments, whether the cells from the oral and respiratory tract allow for propagation and how long the virus can persist in saliva.

Research microbiologist Jean Kim, PhD’10

Research microbiologist Jean Kim, PhD’10

By January 2017, Kim finished her initial research and submitted results to a research journal. While she can’t disclose outcomes until after publication, she emphasized the importance of wanting to complete the research in a quick timeframe.

“Zika isn’t going away,” Kim says. “We’ve just been in a lull because of the winter season and not seeing any mosquitoes. Even babies who might not display microcephaly are still experiencing other effects. We still have a lot to learn about the pathology of the virus and the impact it has on infants.”

Research teams in labs all over the country are investigating different aspects of the Zika virus. Kim and her colleagues also are interested in investigating if a heel prick can detect Zika in infants at birth to determine whether they may have been exposed in utero.

Her natural curiosity for what causes disease is what ultimately led her to study microbiology and immunology. “I’m extremely interested in how something so small can be so successful at survival. How can it cause disease and withstand all of the challenges that it faces when inside a host?”

A multiple degree alumna from VCU, Kim also received her master’s in biology from the College of Humanities & Sciences. She points to a bacterial pathogenesis course team-taught by Cynthia Cornelissen, Ph.D., and Richard Marconi, Ph.D., both professors in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, that led her to pursue her doctorate.

“There is no more gratifying feeling than to know you may have played a part in stimulating a student to pursue an occupation that I consider to be among the most rewarding,” Marconi says. “The ability to pursue your own ideas and do something new every single day is remarkable.”

Kim now enjoys motivating today’s students, recently welcoming a group of VCU basic science students to Research Triangle Park to discuss non-academic career opportunities for Ph.D. candidates.

“In academics, you ask very deep and probing questions, and become an expert in one area,” she says. “Here at RTI, I take a much broader view. Research is not as probing, but it’s far-reaching. One of the things I enjoy is taking basic science research and seeing how it can be applied and used elsewhere … thinking outside the box.”

Or in the case of Zika research, thinking outside the Google search box.

By Polly Roberts

31
2017

The Class of 06’s Adrian Holloway: A Passion for Global Medicine

Adrian Holloway, M'06

As part of his work as program director of the University of Maryland’s first-of-its-kind Global Health Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship, Adrian J. Holloway, M’06, will assist in coordinating the efforts to develop the first pediatric intensive care unit in Malawi.
Photography: Skip Rowland

Adrian J. Holloway, M’06, has traveled the world – to some of the most dangerous countries, by State Department reckoning – as an educator and cardiac intensivist. He’s treated children fleeing ISIS in northern Iraq, malaria victims in Malawi and earthquake survivors in Haiti.

What’s he learned?

“No matter where you go, mothers are the same. They know when their child is sick, and they know when their child is healthy.”

Holloway, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, plans to make sure more of them stay healthy. It’s part of his work as program director of the Global Health Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship, the first of its kind, and it’s given him the chance to assist in coordinating the efforts to develop the first pediatric intensive care unit in Malawi.

Mothers often do know best, he says. In one memorable case in Iraq, a mother insisted that her child was not progressing properly after a surgery to fix a heart defect. Though physicians believed he was recovering, the mother persisted until a cardiac fluid pocket was discovered. When properly draining, the patient recovered quickly.

“There is such a sense of joy when a patient is healing,” Holloway says.

Though he didn’t participate in mission trips abroad as a VCU student, Holloway was pulled into global medicine by a friend soon after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. There, he discovered a calling, treating the world’s neediest patients in often-primitive facilities.

“I have fallen in love with the idea of high-tech advanced care in places that many feel aren’t ready for it,” he says. “I really think those are the places where we need technology and telemedicine the most.

“There is a prevailing thought that the only way to impact health care in emerging economies is to provide only basic, primary-care driven assistance. Because many countries are beginning to excel at initiatives aimed at reducing infant mortality, improving maternal-fetal health and improving access to vaccines, our new avenues have to be focused on what happens to these children once they survive infancy. This is not limited to just cardiac care, but to interventions and treatments involving cancer, trauma and burn as well as sepsis.”

Holloway shared his experiences with current and prospective medical students at a recent Second Look program on the MCV Campus. The program gives applicants who are members of underrepresented minorities a chance to explore the School of Medicine’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 the MCV Campus’ chapters of the Student National Medical Association and Latino Medical Student Association. The weekend offers opportunities to interact with faculty and students in a more relaxed atmosphere than the usual formal tours and interviews. Holloway was president of SNMA during his time at VCU.

During his talk, he encouraged students to remember the importance of giving back to communities – and to paying it forward for other physicians-to-be.

“I’m here because of the work of someone else,” he said, noting that he did his residency in a Florida hospital where his grandmother had been a nurse many years before. “Medicine is a legacy.”

Holloway is proud to be able to save children who only a few years ago might not have survived – and looks forward to helping them lead healthy lives. He’s had mothers comment that they’re surprised their child is “so pink” after cardiac treatments that make them better. “Color change in a child can bring so much hope,” he says. “This is a child that’s going to be able to go to school, or play soccer and have all the childhood experiences.”

Finding a passion, as he has for global health, will make today’s students better physicians. “They’re going to make someone’s life better. And they’ll do it over and over and over again.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

17
2017

Dean Buckley, wife present Gov. McAuliffe with traditional Irish crest

Every St. Patrick’s Day since 1952, an Irish ambassador or even the prime minister has traveled to the U.S. to hand-deliver to the American president a cluster of Irish shamrocks to celebrate the day.

Dean Peter F. Buckley, M.D., and his wife, Leonie, both Irish-born, present Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (center) with a traditional Irish crest.

School of Medicine Dean Peter F. Buckley, M.D., and his wife, Leonie, both Irish-born, present Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (center) with a traditional Irish crest on St. Patrick’s Day.

School of Medicine Dean Peter F. Buckley, M.D., and his wife, Leonie, both Irish-born, brought their own spin on the tradition to Richmond and to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“We thought it would be nice to give the governor something that’s Irish in the same kind of tradition,” says Leonie Buckley. “My sister and mother were coming to visit from Ireland so we asked them to bring a plaque with the McAuliffe name and crest. We also presented him with handmade Irish candy.”

The Buckleys were familiar with Gov. McAuliffe’s interest in his Irish heritage after they met at a VCU basketball game and discussed how he traces his ancestry to County Cork, the same county that Dean Buckley’s father hails from.

The Buckleys’ St. Patrick’s Day visit was arranged by Matt Conrad and Karah Gunther from the Office of Government Relations for VCU and the VCU Health System. “We really appreciate how Matt and Karah joined in with the spirit of the day and facilitated this celebratory opportunity,” Dean Buckley says.

Gov. McAuliffe appreciated the gift, sharing with the Buckleys the meaning of the crest and what each color represented. “He talked with us about Ireland and his family,” Leonie says. “His family came over from Ireland many generations back.”

Dean Buckley grew up in Dublin, and Leonie in Limerick, Ireland. At 30, they came to the U.S. on green cards and became citizens five years later. “We’re very proud and happy to be Americans,” Leonie says. “We love this country and wouldn’t want to leave, but we’re also proud of our Irish heritage.”

And particularly on St. Patrick’s Day, they enjoy sharing it with others. “St. Patrick’s Day is thought of as a day to establish friendship,” Leonie says. “We would like to do something at the state Capitol every year, no matter who is the governor.”

By Polly Roberts

16
2017

For physiology alumnus Stephen Rapundalo, science and politics go hand-in-hand

Growing up in Canada, Stephen Rapundalo, PhD’83 (PHIS), says he was raised to give back to the community. It’s a value he brought with him to the MCV Campus, where he served as student government president, carried forward as a city council member in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and continues today as president and CEO of MichBio, an organization driving industry growth and advocacy for the biosciences.

Stephen Rapundalo, PhD’83 (PHIS), brought a scientist’s perspective to the Ann Arbor City Council, where he served from 2005-11.

Stephen Rapundalo, PhD’83 (PHIS), brought a scientist’s perspective to the Ann Arbor City Council, where he served from 2005-11. “I look at things that are problems seeking solutions. It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right.”

In politics, Rapundalo says, he likes bringing a scientist’s analytical viewpoint to the table. “I look at things that are problems seeking solutions. It doesn’t matter if you’re left or right. Your focus is just to get things done. Science certainly shaped my approach to bringing real analytical assessment and solution development.”

Case in point: while serving on Ann Arbor’s city council from 2005-11, he instituted a peer review system for citizens applying for grants through the human and social services committee, and required standardized materials from all applicants — techniques he learned from years of applying for National Institutes of Health grants and serving on study sections.

“The city benefitted from much better returns on grant success and people who utilized the programs, along with better accountability,” he says of the system, which is still in place today.

Rapundalo’s first foray into politics came as president of the MCV Campus Student Government Association. He worked closely with then-VCU President Edmund F. Ackell, M.D., D.M.D., and was instrumental in lobbying for a student representative on the board of visitors.

“That was my legacy,” Rapundalo says. “I still have the VCU newspaper article from it filed at home.”

At MichBio, he alternates much of his time between the Michigan Capitol in Lansing and Washington, D.C., lobbying legislators for support of Michigan’s bio-industry.

“Michigan is home to the first two pharmaceutical companies in the country and world-renowned research centers,” Rapundalo says. “We get more federal R&D funding than the Research Triangle in North Carolina. We need an industry like ours to offer career opportunities to keep STEM talent in our state and develop a sustainable biosciences workforce for the future.”

As president and CEO of MichBio, Rapundalo lobbies legislators.

As president and CEO of MichBio, Rapundalo lobbies legislators in Lansing and Washington, D.C., for support of Michigan’s bio-industry.

Prior to joining MichBio in April 2006, he spent almost 20 years as a senior research scientist, project manager and group leader with Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical Research and then Pfizer Inc., primarily in the area of cardiovascular drug discovery. He says he owes much of his success to his time on the MCV Campus.

“I was able to work with some true pioneers in the field whom I revered,” says Rapundalo, mentioning his co-advisors Joseph J. Feher, Ph.D., professor emeritus, and F. Norman Briggs, Ph.D., former chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

“Had it not been for the foundation that I got in learning at MCV, the rest of my career just wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have located where I did, worked with who I did and succeeded in the roles that I fulfilled. It all traces back to MCV.”

It’s also where he met his wife, Anne Stiles Rapundalo, an alumna of the School of Allied Health’s medical technology program. He fondly remembers their days living in Bear and Cabannis Halls, crab-picking mixers at friends’ homes, dates in Shockoe Slip and concerts at the Mosque. The couple has four adult daughters.

Rapundalo, who became a U.S. citizen in 2000, enjoys trips to Virginia to visit family, occasionally stopping in Richmond to speak to current graduate students and young department members.

“He embodies the active citizenship that Thomas Jefferson envisioned for our country,” says former advisor Feher. “He enjoys policy making and the role of government in setting science policy. Our university should be proud of him.”

By Polly Roberts