VCU Researchers Receive Three NIJ grants

The National Institute of Justice Grants recently awarded three grants totaling $833,036 to VCU.  VCU was the only institution to get three grants. The faculty members and abstracts are below.

The solicitation was Research and Development in Forensic Science for Criminal Justice Purposes through the National Institute of Justice.  The number of total awards for this solicitation was 46 for a total of $19,850,000 (rounded up).

1.  “Methods for obtaining STR quality Touch DNA from Archived Printed” $255,047

Tracey Dawson Cruz (PI), Marilyn Miller (FRSC Faculty Collaborator)

Latent fingerprints are common sources of touch DNA found at crime scenes. Customary collection methods involve dusting, tape-lifting, and attaching the fingerprint to a paper backing card for storage, which sandwiches the DNA between adhesive and paper surfaces. Many older case files contain fingerprints acquired by the tape-lifting and backing method mentioned above, most of which have never been tested for DNA. For these types of samples, there is limited reported success as well as minimal available research on best methods for DNA processing of archived fingerprints. It is well accepted that detection of the source of the fingerprint may depend on shedder status of the individual leaving the print. Further, in many cases, it is uncommon to even collect fingerprints from paper substrates after on-scene enhancement and photography. Lastly, it is well known that outdated methods for collecting latent prints often did not include the use of gloves or other personal protective equipment and that fingerprint brushes are/were often used for multiple collections without cleaning. In this proposal we seek to determine if it is possible to obtain sufficient high-quality DNA for successful STR amplification from archived tape-lifted, paper-backed latent fingerprints. Additionally, we seek to determine the best practices for both collecting fingerprints in this manner, on scene, as well as downstream laboratory practices. Specifically, we plan to examine the effect of prints from several non-porous and porous substrates using standard enhancement powders. This will be followed by an evaluation of DNA extraction methods and lysis approaches (cuttings versus swabbing with a variety of diluents). Further, we will examine the effects of archival time on STR success, and the effects of brush reuse for collection of latent fingerprints. Lastly, source attribution will be investigated to determine if a link can definitely be established between the DNA profile obtained and the source of the fingerprint; mixtures will be documented and percentage of minor contributor alleles will be noted. Once best practices have been clearly delineated, additional studies using low-template DNA testing techniques will be explored in an effort to improve analysis results.

2.  “Three-dimensional Craniofacial Variation of Modern Americans – A Visual Reference to Supplement Facial Approximation Methods”  $238,863

Terrie Simmons-Ehrhardt (PI), Christopher Ehrhardt (PI), Catyana Falsetto (Maricopa County Arizona Attorney’s Office)

For many cases of skeletonized remains, all efforts of identification have been unsuccessful, and facial approximation offers a chance that someone may recognize the decedent. A significant problem with facial approximation is the lack of scientific guidelines and standardized protocols. More importantly, there is a lack of comprehensive, large-scale studies of craniofacial variation of modern Americans. Most studies have been limited by small sample sizes, analyses of one facial feature, or samples from outside of the U.S. Therefore, we propose a comprehensive investigation of craniofacial variation in modern Americans by examining a large collection of head CT scans. The primary goal of this project is to find bone measurements and features that more reliably predict soft tissue features. Subjects: Head CT scans from The Cancer Imaging Archive will be used for this study. The database consists of about 280 anonymous male and female subjects of known age and sex. Although ancestry is not available, our study proposes a morphologically-driven approach that will focus on feature variation and preclude the need for ancestry information. Partnerships: For this project, we have enlisted a forensic artist to evaluate non-metric traits of the bone and skin. This collaboration will help guide the collection of metric data and ensure that measurements are practical for forensic artists. Research Design and Methods: Phase 1 (1st month) will involve preparation of the CT scans by editing, evaluating scan quality, and generating 3D bone and skin models. Phase 2 will consist of data collection using Mimics software through placement of anthropometric landmarks on 3D bone and skin models, and collection of interlandmark distances (ILDs) and associated angles. Standard and novel landmarks will be used to evaluate bone ILDs commonly used to predict skin ILDs and explore new relationships. We will also include non-metric evaluations of facial variation to be carried out primarily by the forensic artist. Analysis: Analyses will consist of descriptive statistics, correlation analysis, and multiple linear regressions. We will use multiple linear regression to find sets of bone ILDs that are the best predictors of skin ILDs of interest.

3.  “Characterization and Abuse of Electronic Cigarettes: The Efficacy of a Personal Vaporizer as an Illicit Drug Delivery System” $339,126

Michelle Peace (PI), Joseph Turner (Chemistry, Co-PI), Alphonse Poklis (SOM VCU Health System, Co-PI), Justin Poklis (SOM Pharmacology/Toxicology, Collaborator)

Electronic cigarettes have been identified as a significant hazard to public health as a delivery device for nicotine. The use of electronic cigarettes as an illicit drug delivery system is promoted on websites and presents a clear criminal justice concern in the United States. Since web forums explain methods to improve illicit drug dosing in the e-cigarette aerosol by increasing power or making DIY formulations, the purpose of this research will be to characterize electronic cigarettes and describe the efficacy with which they can deliver drugs, such as nicotine, THC, methamphetamine, and heroin. This research will be conducted through a collaborative effort between the Departments of Forensic Science, Chemistry, Pharmacology-Toxicology, and the VCU Health System Toxicology Laboratory in order to bring wide experience and analytical strength to the project. Electronic cigarettes and supplies will be disassembled and components will be defined and characterized. The concentration of drug in the e-cig vapor will be characterized as a function of wattage/temperature of the heating element in the e-cigarette. Pyrolysis products and potential bio-markers will also be assessed. Aerosol from the electronic cigarettes will be generated mechanically and drugs will be cold-trapped and collected on SPME fibers. Residue on the e-cigarette components will be analyzed. Analyses will be conducted on the Direct Analysis in Real Time Accu-TOF MS, LC-MS/MS, and dynamic headspace GC-MS.



Scholarship Recognition “Mini Lectures”

The schedule of mini lectures preceding our Faculty Scholarship Recognition reception has been announced. All lectures are on Tuesday, October 21st in the Commons Room of the Common Ground, on the lower level of the Student Commons.

1:30 pm — Jason Merrick, Professor of Statistics and Operations Research. “Managing Risk in US Ports and Waterways

2:00 pm — Zewe Serpell, Associate Professor of Psychology. “Cognitive Training: Possibilities and Challenges

2:30 pm — John Ryan, Professor of Biology. “New Jobs for Old Drugs: Using Statins for More than Lowering Your Cholesterol

3:00 pm — Nick Frankel, Professor of English.”History & Aesthetics: The Life and Works of Oscar Wilde

3:30 pm — Karen Rader, Associate Professor of History and Director of the Science, Technology and Society Program. “Life on Display: The Twentieth Century Exhibits Revolution in American Museums of Science and Natural History


December Diploma Ceremony Schedule

Below is the departmental ceremony schedule for December 2014.

FRIDAY, December 12
Media & Culture GRCC-Exhibit Hall B w/holding room 2:00 PM
Psychology GRCC – Exhibit Hall B 6:30 PM
Kinesiology & Health Sciences GRCC – B15abc 7:00 PM
SATURDAY, December 13
History HARRIS HALL 1:30 PM
World Studies GRCC – E10abcd 1:30 PM
1:30 PM
Statistical Sciences
Forensic Science COMMONS THEATER 2:00 PM
Biology GRCC – Exhibit Hall B 2:00 PM
African American Studies
3:30 PM
Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies
Sociology HARRIS HALL 3:30 PM

Faculty Authors 2013-14

Below is the list of faculty authors for 2013-14. If you were the author or editor of a book that was published between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014 and your name is not on the list, please contact Shirley McDaniel at

Richard Bargdill
Faye Belgrave
Edward L. Boone
Christopher Brooks
Hong Cheng
Susann Cokal
Marcel Cornis-Pope
Aimee Ellington
M. Samy El-Shall
Nicholas Frankel
Mar Martinez Gongora
William Haver
Duanel Diaz Infante
David Latane’
Bryce McLeod
Marilyn T. Miller
Eugenia Munoz
Katherine S. Nash
Karen Rader
W. Scott Street
Timothy Thurber
Everett Worthington


Opportunity for Entrepreneurs

VCU Innovation Gateway is announcing RVA’s first Startup Next pre-accelerator program. Startup Next is designed for entrepreneurs who are focused on taking their idea or business to the next level. It’s an intense mentorship program consisting of 3 hour weekly (once a week) sessions for five weeks. Teams are expected to hustle outside the sessions and complete a small set of reporting deliverables each week in preparation for the mentorship.

Program Benefits:

  • An opportunity for you to test your startup idea and prove the strength of your team
  • Weekly hands-on mentorship & pitch coaching from local mentors, advisors and investors
  • Be held accountable and held to focus on important growth metrics
  • Grow your network of startup experts and other founders
  • Pre-selection for consideration in future Lighthouse Labs acceleration program

Dates and Deadlines:

The program will begin on October 8th and end on November 13th. One night a week, over a five week period, those accepted into the program will attend a 3 hour session.

The deadline for the application is Sunday SEPTEMBER 28th at midnight.

Selection Process:

For this program, 10 teams will be selected that are well rounded, have a big and unique idea, and can prove that they have made progress through some version of a minimum viable product. If your team is chosen, there is a $200 fee for the program – however, if you are a VCU faculty, staff or student, VCU Innovation Gateway will cover that cost.

Apply Here:


Dean Coleman Welcomes Janet Cousins

Janet CousinsDear Colleagues,

Please join me in welcoming my new executive administrative assistant, Ms. Janet Cousins. Our friends in Psychology know her well from her most recent position as their receptionist, administrative assistant, event planner, and, as I understand, and chief motivational officer!  Janet began her career at VCU as secretary for the Department of Dance for five years and remembers when “you didn’t have to pay to park and Sunny Day was the place to shop.” Realizing she had a knack for leadership, Janet went on to serve as operations supervisor at the Department of Social Services until 1989 when she was wrested away from the state by Philip Morris. She retired from Philip Morris in 2011 after 23 years. Not one to sit and relax, Janet has spent her time in retirement working variously as a secretary in the General Assembly, intake coordinator in a local emergency room, community volunteer, and as receptionist for Psychology. Ms. Cousins runs a tight ship and the College has already reaped the benefits of her strong communication skills and spirit of mentorship. I feel very lucky to have someone of her caliber and professionalism in our office. Next time you’re close by, be sure to drop in and introduce yourself to Janet so she may get to know you all better!

In the future, please contact Janet for scheduling meetings with myself and/or Dr. Baski or for other matters requiring our attention. Her direct line is 804-827-0857 and her email address is For more general information, please continue to call the main CHS line, 804-828-1674, so that we may direct you appropriately.

Please enjoy a ridiculously pleasant beginning of the fall semester!

Jim Coleman






Jim Coleman
Dean, VCU College of Humanities and Sciences


Humanities Research Center Events – Fall 2014

Meet our Authors

Members of faculty in the Humanities at VCU have an impressive record of scholarly productivity and are recognized, both nationally and internationally, for their significant contributions to our understanding of the human condition across cultures, throughout the past, and in the present. Our new “Meet VCU’s Authors” series invites members of the Richmond community as well as colleagues and students from VCU and other local universities to come and meet VCU’s authors as they talk about their recently published books and answer questions about their work.  All are welcome! Co-sponsored by VCU Libraries.

Ryan K. Smith, Associate Professor of History and author of Robert Morris’s Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder (Yale University Press, 2014)

September 24, 2014
Humanities Research Center, 
Seminar Room 201
Valentine House, 920 W. Franklin Street

Gregory D. Smithers, Associate Professor of History and author of Slave Breeding: Sex, Violence, and Memory in African American History (University Press of Florida, 2013)

October 8, 2014
Humanities Research Center, 
Seminar Room 201
Valentine House, 920 W. Franklin Street

Katherine Saunders Nash, Associate Professor of English and author of Feminist Narrative Ethics: Tacit Persuasion in Modernist Form (Ohio State University Press, 2014)

November 5, 2014
Humanities Research Center, Seminar Room 201
Valentine House, 920 W. Franklin Street

Speaker Series

Natasha Trethewey, United States Poet Laureate (2012-2014), winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, will read from her poetry and engage in conversation with VCU’s Professor Claudia Emerson, acclaimed poet and winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. This event is co-sponsored by VCU Libraries and the Office of the President.

September 17, 2014
6:00 pm
Commonwealth Ballroom, Student Commons

James Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association and formerly Professor of History at the University of Chicago, will talk about the AHA’s Tuning Project, which has brought together faculty from across the country to develop a common language that communicates to employers and a general audience the significance and value of a degree in the humanities.

October 3, 2014
Richmond Salon I-II, Student Commons

E. Patrick Johnson, Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern University, will perform his play Sweet Tea, based on his book, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (University of North Carolina Press, 2008) on October 29. Professor Johnson will also give a lecture on October 30 about his current research project on queer sexuality and performance in the black church. These two events are co-sponsored by the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies.

October 29, 2014
8:00 pm
Grace Street Theater

October 30, 2014
Richmond Salon I-II, Student Commons

Anne Helmreich, Senior Program Officer at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles and formerly Associate Professor of Art History and Art at Case Western Reserve University, will be speaking about the future of Digital Art History along with the implications for Digital Humanities in general; earlier in the day Professor Helmreich will be leading faculty and graduate students in a more informal discussion about the future of digital resources and digital publication. Co-sponsored by the Department of Art History.

November 20, 2014
3.30 pm
Forum Room, Student Commons


Brigette Pfister, Director of Sponsored Programs in the Humanities and Sciences at VCU, and Richard Godbeer, Professor of History and Director of the Humanities Research Center, will lead a workshop on opportunities for research support within and beyond VCU.

September 26, 2014
2:00 – 4:00 pm
Humanities Research Center, Seminar Room 201
Valentine House, 920 W. Franklin Street

Dr. Robert Porter will lead a workshop on applying for grants in the humanities and social sciences, co-sponsored by the Office of Research and the College of Humanities and Sciences. Dr. Porter has presented grant writing workshops at leading universities and medical schools internationally, and is national leader in the growing field of research development. In 2013, the Office of Research invited Dr. Porter to offer grant writing training to new investigators at VCU entitled “Strategies for Success in Sponsored Research.” That event was an overwhelming success, with attendees stating that the session was “very focused,” “insightful,” and “fantastic!” Dr. Robert Porter will return to VCU on October 15 and 16, 2014 to present several grant writing workshops for graduate students, post-docs, faculty, and staff. The session devoted to the humanities and social sciences will include detailed discussion of funding opportunities offered by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Key elements of the NEH grant review process will be covered, and excerpts from successful proposals will be highlighted. Specific grant programs will be reviewed, together with eligibility requirements, funding levels, and lists of projects recently funded by each program. Additionally, participants will be guided to numerous opportunities posted by private foundations.


October 16, 2014
1:00 – 4:00 pm
VCU Globe
West Grace Street Student Housing North, 1030J

Christopher Rogers, Editorial Director at Yale University Press, will lead a workshop on strategies for preparing a book manuscript for successful submission to a university press.

October 23, 2014
Humanities Research Center, Seminar Room 201
Valentine House, 920 W. Franklin Street

Anne Helmreich, Senior Program Officer at the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles and formerly Associate Professor of Art History and Art at Case Western Reserve University, will lead an informal discussion about the future of digital resources and digital publication.

November 20, 2014
12:00 pm
Humanities Research Center, Seminar Room 201
Valentine House, 920 W. Franklin Street


Staff Spotlight: Dorothy Booker

dorothy bookerDorothy Booker has been with VCU for nearly 30 years and with the dean’s office since 2005. She says she learned years ago that a first impression is a lasting one so she makes an effort to meet and greet every person that walks through the door as the Office Services Coordinator for the College. Dorothy will celebrate her 30th anniversary working for VCU next July. She is also the vice president of the newly reformed CHS Staff Council.

“This is a passion for me; “we” are a passion for me. I tell Anne (Stratton) all the time, my dad always told me that my mouth would be the death of me, but I believe in standing up for what is right. I don’t mind being one of the voices for the staff.”

“Everyone’s mentality and morale should be essential to get the job done; to speak on behalf of the staff and work with the faculty will bring everybody in on one accord. When everybody’s on one accord, good things happen.”

Dorothy began working for VCU at the Cabell Library in 1984 filling in for people who were on vacation or out on sick leave. Shortly after she took on a full-time position in circulation. She has worked on both campuses, including at the Tompkins-McCaw Library in the learning resources center and Sanger Hall on the MCV campus. She worked in procurement and payment for 14 years. Over the years, Dorothy has seen VCU go through a lot of changes.

“It’s just amazing. Even since I’ve been in the Dean’s office, I’ve watched buildings go up and down all around me. I’ve seen so much in my thirty years of being here.”

One of her favorite parts about working at VCU is the connections she’s made with other staff members.

“When I worked in procurement and payment, we were like a family. We watched each other’s children grow and now we all have grandchildren. We’re still as close now as we were when we all worked together.”

“The most intense thing that I can remember is when I came to the Dean’s office and I started working with Michelle Wilde, India Urbach, and Anne Stratton. I have never in my life met such a wonderful group of people. When they took me under their wing, it has been like a home here. We cry together, we laugh together, it’s been wonderful. Since 2005, it has been awesome.”

Dorothy grew up in Powhatan in Moseley. She is the youngest in her family with one sister and three brothers.

“I tell everybody, I have two mothers, my mother and my sister because while my mom worked my sister raised us, (laughs) she’s still raising us.”

“Now I get a chance to give back. My mom turned 85 on Monday (July 7th). For the past 7 months she has been living with us. So my day doesn’t stop here, it’s only beginning. I go home and take care of my mom and my husband, but it’s good.”

Throughout the years, Dorothy has relied on her faith to persevere through obstacles and challenges.

“When I first came to work at VCU I was raising my three children by myself and somehow God made it work….God doesn’t put any more on us than we can bear. And everything that happens to us is tailor-made for us by God.”

She is currently a Deaconess at her church, Second Antioch Baptist Church in Powhatan. She is also president of the pastor’s aide and acting president of the Deaconess board and sings in the choir. In addition to being heavily involved in her church, Dorothy is a proud mother, grandmother and wife to a man she calls her best friend.

“My husband and I have been married for 17 years. He brought two daughters to our union and I brought three (2 daughters and a son). We have 14 grandbabies; 9 boys and 5 girls between 5 and 16 years of age. Christmas is crazy around our house.”

Throughout her years at VCU, Dorothy has taken administrative courses and workshops for her professional development. She recently completed the Personnel Administrative Certificate Program through VCU’s Office of Continuing and Professional Education. She also plans on taking courses at Grace Harris Institute in the future.

“So much has changed over the years, the way they do things has changed. And that’s why I continue to go to classes so I can keep the knowledge that I’ve gained and bring it up to date.”

One of Dorothy’s favorite parts about working at VCU is the youthful energy students bring to the university.

“Sometimes I go and sit outdoors just to watch the students walking. It’s so exciting to see every year new students. It’s almost like having a new baby in the house, they bring so much energy to VCU.”

During her time at VCU, Dorothy has seen the university spread out across the city.

“In one of my classes, we had to do a profile of VCU and one of the things I said was that VCU has become the sun of the city, it brightens up the whole city of Richmond.”


Written by Denise Johnson