At ‘Enchanted Castle’ site, VCU students dig up Virginia history

Summer field school provides hands-on archaeology experience

Featured photoVCU anthropology students Ben Snyder and Marianne Tokarz sift through dirt, searching for artifacts at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site near Fredericksburg.

Virginia Commonwealth University history major Jesse Adkins is slowly and steadily pushing a ground-penetrating radar device across a field near Fredericksburg, searching for underground anomalies that could help pinpoint the location of a long-lost 18th-century fort built by Alexander Spotswood, the colonial governor of Virginia from 1710 to 1722.

“She’s really looking for Pokémon,” joked Bernard Means, Ph.D., instructor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“I don’t know,” replied archaeologist Eric Larsen, Ph.D., who was demonstrating how to use the ground-penetrating radar. “Are Pokémon buried underground?”

Jokes aside, Adkins, along with seven other VCU students and recent graduates, as well one University of Mary Washington student, are enrolled in VCU’s archaeology field school, a five-week dig that aims to provide hands-on archaeology experience along with uncovering a piece of early Virginia history.

Jesse Adkins, a senior VCU history major, pushes a ground-penetrating radar device to search for buried anomolies at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site.
Jesse Adkins, a senior VCU history major, pushes a ground-penetrating radar device to search for buried anomolies at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site.

Early German colonists in Virginia

The site, located amid a real estate development across from Germanna Community College, was once the location of Fort Germanna, at which Spotswood settled an initial colony of nine German families — 42 men, women and children — who came from the German iron-mining region of Siegen in North Rhine, Westphalia.

“Spotswood persuaded the House of Burgesses to approve the funds to equip the fort, and the Germans were commissioned as rangers,” said Steven Hein, chief operating officer of the Germanna Foundation, which owns the property and is dedicated to preserving the heritage of the early German settlers in Virginia. “He provided [the fort] with two cannon, but we don’t think it ever saw any defensive action because, by that time, it was a few years after the Tuscarora War [fought between British, Dutch, and German settlers and the Tuscarora Native Americans] in North Carolina. We think it was probably part of that line of defense.”

By 1717, the Siegerlanders were coming to the end of their contract, and a second group of German colonists had arrived at the fort. The first group permanently relocated to what is now Fauquier County, while the second colony eventually settled in Madison County, and formed the Hebron Lutheran Church, the oldest continuously operating Lutheran Church in the United States.

Marissa Kulis, an intern with the Germanna Foundation, excavates a section of the property's field.
Marissa Kulis, an intern with the Germanna Foundation, excavates a section of the property’s field.

The wooden palisaded Fort Germanna was pentagon shaped, and at the center stood a pentagon-shaped block house, which also doubled as a church for the Germans, making it the first Reformed German Protestant church in America.

The Germanna Foundation, which is made up of descendants of the original German colonies in Virginia, is hoping the archaeological dig will find a corner of one of the fort’s 300-foot walls, which could then reveal the footprint of the fort, as well as the approximate location of the church at the center.

“Finding the block house would be exciting, particularly for a lot of the Germanna Foundation supporters and members, because most of them are descendants of the original two groups of Germanna colonists,” Hein said. “In a way, this site is where they became Americans. So they’re excited about trying to find where that actually was.”

In the 1720s, the fort was dismantled and Spotswood built a mansion on the site, which a visitor dubbed “the Enchanted Castle,” given its size and location — essentially in “the middle of nowhere,” Hein said.

“The house was big,” he said. “It was a grand house, which we know because its foundation still exists. It was sort of like the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, which Spotswood had a hand in rebuilding and designing when he was governor.”


Learning by doing

VCU anthropology students Ben Snyder and Marianne Tokarz check out a piece of a pipe stem they discovered while excavating a section of the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site.
VCU anthropology students Ben Snyder and Marianne Tokarz check out a piece of a pipe stem they discovered while excavating a section of the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site.

VCU’s archaeology field school is the first to excavate the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site since the early 1990s. Means, director of the program, said it marks an incredible opportunity to help discover Virginia history.

“The VCU students know that whatever they find, they are making a major contribution to understanding the archaeology at Germanna that builds on earlier work, but also forges new directions,” he said. “This is the very first real attempt to understand the 1714 fort that was built at Germanna.”

A primary goal of the field school is to give real-world, hands-on experience to VCU students interested in pursuing careers in archaeology.

“I want the students to basically learn by doing,” Means said. “While VCU students can take a wide range of courses related to archaeology, even a class I teach on archaeological methods, it is the real-world application that really hones in a practical way what they learned in the classroom. VCU students are not simply learning how to do archaeology in a real world, they are working on an actual archaeological site.”

The only way to truly learn field archaeological techniques, he said, is by digging and getting your hands dirty.

“This is the real hands-on education,” he said. “This is where you learn how to use the tools. This is where you learn what it’s like to do archaeology all day long. And it’s critical because it lets you see, ‘Do I really want to be a field archaeologist?’”

Ben Snyder and Marianne Tokarz, both senior anthropology majors, are taking part in the dig. They are focusing on a farm field, which was owned by the Gordon family — the namesake of the town of Gordonsville in Orange County — for many years after the Enchanted Castle burned down in the 1740s. So far, Snyder and Tokarz have discovered a ceramic pipe stem, wrought (hand-forged) nails, charcoal, and black-glazed red earthenware ceramics.

It’s a really physical process of discovering history. There’s an element of discovery.

“It’s been interesting so far,” Snyder said. “It’s a really physical process of discovering history. There’s an element of discovery.”

“That’s what I like about it too,” Tokarz added. “We’re some of the first people to dig in this part of the site, so it’s really cool.”

Adkins, who was learning how to use ground-penetrating radar near the Enchanted Castle foundation, said she was excited to take part in the field school, having previously participated in an archaeological dig in Africa as part of a study abroad program led by Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology.

“[Field school] is awesome,” she said. “This is the second time I’ve gotten the opportunity to dig. It’s a lot of hard work, but you learn a lot and sometimes it’s peaceful and sometimes it hurts your hands. But either way, you learn a lot.”

Zoe Rahsman, an anthropology major who graduated in December and is an intern with Germanna Archaeology, agreed, noting that she has so far found glass, different kinds of ceramic and a few different nails in the Gordon family’s field.

“It’s definitely tough sometimes, but you learn a lot,” she said. “And I learn by doing instead of sitting in the classroom, so it’s helpful for me to be outside doing the work. Also, I like to see the artifacts as they come up out of the ground.”

Zoe Rahsman, a VCU anthropology major who graduated in December, sifts through dirt at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site, searching for artifacts.
Zoe Rahsman, a VCU anthropology major who graduated in December, sifts through dirt at the Fort Germanna/Enchanted Castle site, searching for artifacts.

Student research

While this is the first summer that VCU students have taken part in the excavation of Fort Germanna/the Enchanted Castle, Means said the students’ work of discovering the site’s past will continue into the future.

“This partnership with the Germanna Foundation is one that will continue after the last shovel of dirt is removed this summer,” he said. “Students will have an opportunity to help analyze the field results and artifacts recovered this year, as well as present papers on their work at future archaeological conferences as well as their directed student research.”

Zoe Rahsman, a VCU anthropology major who graduated in December, excavates a section of the property's field.
Zoe Rahsman, a VCU anthropology major who graduated in December, excavates a section of the property’s field.


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2016 VAS Fall Undergraduate Research Grant Applications and Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting

VAS logo color

2016 Fall Undergraduate Research Grant Applications and Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting

The Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting is a research grant proposal competition, which has been held annually since the Fall of 2001. Students, with their faculty mentors, must submit Research Grant Applications and develop posters following the criteria of the Fall Meeting Poster Guidelines. This year’s meeting will be held on Saturday, October 29, 2016 at Virginia Union University in Richmond.

Undergraduate students (along with their faculty mentors) interested in participating in this meeting are required to:

(1) Submit Undergraduate Research Grant Applications by the October 1 deadline.

(2) Attend the Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting on October 29 and present a poster outlining the proposed research.

Five Undergraduate Research Grant Awards of $500 each will be awarded to selected participants at the end of this meeting. Both the Research Grant Applications and the Poster Presentations at the meeting will be evaluated to determine the recipients of these research grants. The grant award recipients will also be awarded student membership in the Virginia Academy of Science for 2017 and will be expected to present the results of their completed research at the 2017 VAS Annual Meeting in May at Virginia Commonwealth University.

VAS President-Elect Robert Atkinson at Christopher Newport University ( serves as the coordinator and Program Chair for the 2016 Fall Undergraduate Research Meeting. Specific details about the Undergraduate Research Grant Applications, along with the submission procedure, and information about Fall Meeting Registration will be made available on the VAS website in late summer and early fall. (


 Students who submit Undergraduate Research Grant Applications (and subsequently present posters at this meeting) must be undergraduates currently enrolled in 2- or 4-year colleges or universities in Virginia. Student grant applicants/poster presenters are NOT required to be members of the Virginia Academy of Science.

 Faculty mentors of the grant applicants/poster presenters must be faculty members affiliated with 2- or 4-year colleges or universities in Virginia. Faculty mentors must be VAS members in good standing (i.e., paid dues for 2016) as of the October 1st grant application deadline. Current VAS Membership status can be confirmed by contacting the VAS Associate Executive Officer at


Students present research projects that merge academic and personal interests during annual symposiums

Featured photoThe 19th Annual Graduate Student Research Symposium and Exhibit and the 10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity were held on back-to-back days in the University Student Commons. Photos by Pat Kane, University Public Affairs.

Virginia Patterson believes exercise saved her life. With that in mind, she often finds herself considering how it can help save the lives of others. Patterson, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, searches for ways to help people find the kind of reward in physical fitness that has enriched her own life.

Before she embraced serious exercise, Patterson said, she was unmotivated and directionless. As she became more devoted to a regular exercise regimen, she found her mood improved substantially, particularly when she was pushing herself.

Virginia Patterson, a Kinesiology and Health Sciences student, presents her poster Tuesday, April 19 during the 19th Annual Graduate Research Symposium and Exhibit at the University Student Commons.
Virginia Patterson, a Kinesiology and Health Sciences student, presents her poster Tuesday, April 19 during the 19th Annual Graduate Research Symposium and Exhibit at the University Student Commons.

“Exercise really helped me sink my teeth into that move forward,” she said. “I could see that I could keep getting better.”

Patterson is studying the cognitive effects of intense periods of exercise, particularly on those who are generally sedentary and inactive. She wants to know if people benefit mentally and emotionally in the immediate aftermath of serious exercise, even if they feel preoccupied with their physical pain.

Patterson said her research so far has indicated that intense exercise amounts to “good stress,” whether the subjects are feeling physically ill from it or not. “It doesn’t care how you feel,” she said. “You’re getting benefits from it whether you like it or not.”

Patterson was one of hundreds of students who showcased their ongoing and completed research projects during the 19th Annual Graduate Student Research Symposium and Exhibit and the 10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, held on back-to-back days in the University Student Commons last week. Students from both campuses and a diverse range of disciplines presented their research, mingling with each other among poster boards to explain their work to visitors and to learn about the efforts of their peers. Some of the students conducted solo research projects, while others were parts of teams that included other students and faculty members.

Engineering student Arzan Dotivala chats with others about his poster at the 10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, held Wednesday, April 20 at the University Student Commons.
Click to view slideshow.Engineering student Arzan Dotivala chats with others about his poster at the 10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, held Wednesday, April 20 at the University Student Commons.

The symposiums, which are central components of the annual Research Weeks at VCU, provide students at all levels of their education — from freshmen to Ph.D. candidates — with the opportunity to present and explain their research to a captive audience.

In line with Patterson’s experience, students frequently had both personal and academic foundations for their research projects. Diana Naidoo, an undergraduate student in the School of Nursing, was born prematurely and has always been interested in the topic of preterm labor. She was part of a team examining the effects of guided imagery stress management on pregnant African-American women. Guided imagery uses words and music to create positive mental images for subjects.

Stress is considered a major factor in negative birth outcomes, including premature births, and black women are particularly susceptible. Naidoo, an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program scholar, said her research indicated that guided imagery did reduce stress in the women involved, suggesting that it is a possible low-cost option that deserves more study.

Naidoo said she hopes to continue to conduct research during her nursing career. As a nurse, she said, you interact closely with patients and “can tease out how their lives relate to their medical situation.” Naidoo would like to be able to take what she learns from her patients and pursue research that relates to the issues they are facing.

Candace Moore discusses her research on the impact of student employment during the 10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, held Wednesday, April 20 at the University Student Commons.
Candace Moore discusses her research on the impact of student employment during the 10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, held Wednesday, April 20 at the University Student Commons.

Candace Moore hopes to use her research experiences as a springboard in her academic career. Moore is one of the researchers on the project “Balancing Work and School: Evaluating the Experiences of Students Who Work While Enrolled.” The study examines the effects of part-time work on job and academic performance.

Moore, who said 76 percent of college students work at least one part-time job, volunteers as a caregiver for a disabled veteran, serving approximately 25 hours per week, and knows how outside responsibilities can threaten to hinder school performance. The study incorporated a survey of students’ supervisors at work, and it revealed, among other findings, that a supportive supervisor proves critical to a student’s academic performance.

Moore said research projects are rewarding experiences that require teamwork, creativity, curiosity and attention to detail. She is majoring in psychology and science, with a concentration in health preparation/professional science, and minoring in biology and chemistry. Although not scheduled to graduate until 2018, Moore has already participated in multiple research studies. She hopes to attend medical school one day and will be transitioning to working on biomedical research at VCU with her remaining undergraduate experience.

Jessica Greenlee’s research, “Relations Between Social Skills and Bullying Behaviors Among Students with Disabilities: The Role of Effective Nonviolent Behaviors,” examines the experiences of students with disabilities in an urban public middle school. Greenlee is pursuing a Ph.D. in developmental psychology.

“I’m really interested in kids with disabilities and how they handle social challenges,” she said.

Presenting it here is a real highlight for me.

Greenlee’s study will help illuminate how well certain strategies work for children who are at risk of bullying. She said she found strong mentorship and collaborative instincts within her department to support her research pursuits, and she plans to use the study she presented at the graduate symposium as the starting point for her dissertation. However, it was also its own reward.

“Presenting it here is a real highlight for me,” she said.

Anson Blanks, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in kinesiology and health, conducted his research in the same lab as Patterson. He examined the use of the exercise recovery index as an assessment of cardiovascular disease risk. Blanks said the study was not a direct match for the lines of research he hopes to pursue in the future, but navigating the process of designing and implementing the study and managing its results and presentation were invaluable.

Mounica Bevara presented a poster on music and aromatherapy for stroke patients at the 10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, held Wednesday, April 20 at the University Student Commons.
Mounica Bevara presented a poster on music and aromatherapy for stroke patients at the 10th Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, held Wednesday, April 20 at the University Student Commons.

“Even if the topic isn’t exactly what I plan to do, the experience of going through it was very helpful to me,” he said.

Mounica Bevara, a biology major, played violin for eight years and that background informed her study, “Combination of Music and Aromatherapy to Improve the Efficiency of Motor Functions and Speech in Patients Paralyzed From Stroke.” Bevara said physiotherapy treatments for patients who were paralyzed following a stroke are long and rigorous — and expensive. Bevara explored whether music therapy and aromatherapy could aid the process.

Bevara, who is just a freshman, conducted the research for a class. She did not expect to enjoy the process as much as she did.

“I definitely think it has been a great opportunity for me to expand my knowledge,” she said. “Before this, I wouldn’t have considered doing research.”


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Congratulations to our 2016 VCU Undergraduate Research Summer Fellows!

The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program with the Virginia Commonwealth University Office of Research and Innovation is happy to announce the 2016 VCU Undergraduate Research Summer Fellows.

The fellowship provides the opportunity for faculty and students to partner on a funded research project of their choice. The fellowship is designed to provide outstanding undergraduates the chance to make significant progress on a formal, structured research endeavor during the summer in collaboration with a faculty mentor.

In addition to the awards supported by UROP, fellowships were funded by the Global Education Office, Division for Inclusive Excellence, Division of Community Engagement and the Center for Clinical and Translational Research. These projects are focused on global learning and research, issues of diversity, community-engaged research and clinical research into advancing human health.

The 2016 VCU Undergraduate Research Summer Fellows include:


Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Summer Fellowship – Awardees

Sarah Algino, Department of Biomedical Engineering, VCU Honors College, with Dr. Raj Rao, Department of Chemical and Life Science EngineeringDefined scaffolds for propagation of human pluripotent stem cells

Bethany Allen, Department of Sculpture, with Mr. Matthew Warren, Photography and Film: Can Augmented Reality Technology can be Artfully used to Challenge Conventional Modes of Perception?

Niraja Bohidar, Department of Biomedical Engineering, VCU Honors College, with Dr. Rebecca Heise, Department of Biomedical Engineering: Using Vitamin C to Attenuate Stretch Induced ER Stress in Aged Murine ATII Cells

Abigail Burns, Departments of Economics (CHS) and Political Science, VCU Honors College, with Dr. Carol Scotese, Department of Economics: Modeling Demographic Transitions: The Role of Technology Gaps

Quy-Hien Dang, Clinical Lab Sciences, with Dr. Jenica Harrison, Clinical Lab Sciences: Development of a Mixing Study Protocol and a Factor Assay Protocol for the Assessment of Factor VIII Activity in Human Plasma Using the STart®4 Analyzer 

Nicholas Donnelly, Department of Psychology, with Dr. Marcia Winter, Department of Psychology: Young Children’s Sensory Sensitivity & Cognitive Flexibility: Research & Education in the Children’s Museum

Arzan Dotivala, Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, with Dr. Christina Tang, Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering: Synthesis and Characterization of Superhydrophobic Fibrous Membranes

Nicole Duggan, Department Biomedical Engineering, with Dr. Daniel Conway, Department of Biomedical Engineering: Measurement of Mechanical Force on Cardiomyocyte Desmosomes

Marwa Eltaib, Departments of Biology and Sociology, VCU Honors College, with Dr. Susan Bodnar-Deren, Department of Sociology: Depression and Health of Refugees in Central Virginia

Andrew Harris, BA, School of Nursing, with Dr. Patricia Kinser, School of Nursing:  Exploring Barriers and Facilitators to Sustaining Mindfulness Practice in Healthcare Professionals

Lohitha Kethu, Scientific and Preparatory Medical Illustration, with Dr. Carmen Rodriguez, Department of Biology: The Graphic Novel as an Aid to Type 1 Diabetes Diagnoses

SungHo Kim, School of Nursing, with Dr. Alison Montpetit, Adult Health and Nursing Systems: Exploring Relationships Between Airway Acidity and Sepsis in Mechanically Ventilated Adults

Elisabeth McConnell, VCU School of Nursing, with Dr. Clarence Biddle, Departments of Anesthesiology & Nurse Anesthesia: Translation of Hypoxic Pulmonary Vasoconstriction Research Into Educational Publication for Anesthesia Practitioners

Jaime McGinthy, School of Nursing, with Dr. Leigh Small, Family and Community Health Nursing: Visceral Indicators of Risk or Growth: VIGoR

Sameen Meshkin, Department of Biology, VCU Honors College, with Dr. Susan Bodnar-Deren, Department of Sociology: Preserving a Sense of Honor, Conscience, and Dignity during Medical School for the Physician-Patient Relationship

Inyoung Park, Departments of Political Science and Economics, VCU Honors College, with Dr. Laura Razzolini, Department of Economics: Warm Glow versus Cold prickle: The Effect of Feeling of Ownership on Cooperation and Altruism

Heather Parker, School of World Studies (Anthropology), with Dr. Bernard Means, School of World Studies: Connecting Cultures: Mining India’s Rich Cultural Heritage through Virtual Technology

Huy Phan, Environmental Studies, with Dr. Lesley Bulluck, Department of Biology and Center for Environmental Studies: Does aquatic insect emergence correlate with the breeding time and nestling condition of the Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea)?

Danarubini Ramanan, Department of Chemistry, with Dr. Matthew Hartman, Department of Chemistry: Using FRET and GST Fusion Proteins to Assess Protein Binding Activity with Peptide Inhibitors

Hanqiu Tan, Department of Mathematics, with Dr. Marco Aldi, Department of Mathematics: A Prime Hypergraph Theorem

Nilan Vaghjiani, Department of Biomedical Engineering, VCU Honors College, with Dr. Indika Arachchige, Department of Chemistry: Metal Aerogels as High Efficiency Surface Enhance Raman Scattering Substrates for Detection of Chronic Biomolecules

Morgan Van Driest, Department of Bioinformatics, with Dr. Amanda Dickinson, Department of Biology: Desmosomal Gene Expression During Embryological Development In Xenopus laevis

Anna Webster, Department of English, with Mr. Brian McTague, VCU Writing Center: Digital Tales of Shining Sea and Rising Sun:   an examination of cultural storytelling in the genre of horror via the medium of video games

Auburn Wilborn, Department of Psychology, with Dr. Heather Jones, Department of Psychology: Parenting and Cognitions in African American Families of Children with ADHD

Elaine Williams, School of Social Work, with Dr. Alex Wagaman, School of Social Work: Exploring the Experiences and Services Needs of Non-Traditional Homeless Youth in Richmond

Ruxandra Zait, Department of Information Systems, with Dr. Manoj Thomas, Department of Information Systems: Assistive Technologies for Continuing Medical Education (CME) in Nepal



Global Education Undergraduate Research Fellowship – Awardees

Elyse Duani, Department of Sociology, with Dr. Joann Richardson, Kinesiology and Health Sciences: Impacting knowledge, attitudes and behaviors for the prevention and control of hypertension and diabetes among rural, medically underserved Jamaican women of childbearing age

Caitlin Lange, School of Social Work, with Dr. Hyojin Im, School of Social Work: Multifaceted Health Analysis of Effects of Acculturation on Bhutanese Refugees

Hannah Foster, School of World Studies (French and International Studies), with Dr. Lionel Mathieu, School of World Studies: World Language French Curation Project

bm_CommEngag_st_4cUndergraduate Fellowships for Community Engaged and Translational Research – Awardees

Anthony Kormos, Departments of Information Systems and Economics, with Dr. Elena Olson, Department of Information Systems: Early Computing Education Competition

Colleen Parker, School of Social Work, with Dr. Shelby McDonald, School of Social Work: A mixed-methods study to inform a coordinated community response to the intersection of interpersonal and animal-directed violence

Katharine Pyle, Public Relations, with Dr. Rowena Briones, Robertson School of Media and Culture: Striving Toward Evidence-Based Social Media Communication: An Exploration of Enhancing the Red Flag Campaign



Undergraduate Fellowship for Clinical and Translational Research – Awardees

 Daniel Mohammadi, Department of Forensic Science, VCU Honors College, with Dr. Robert Tombes, Departments of Biology and Biochemistry: The Role of CaMK-II in Zebrafish Acute Myeloid Leukemia Development


Undergraduate Research Fellowship for Inclusive Excellence – Awardees

Ksenia Dombo, School of Social Work, with Dr. Shelby McDonald, School of Social Work: Race, Ethnicity, and Trauma Symptomology among Children Exposed to Family Violence

Sasha Spruill, Departments of Political Science and African American Studies, with Dr. Mignonne Guy, Department of African American Studies: Exploring the discipline experiences of black females in inner city public schools by examining the inequitable practices of exclusionary discipline

Congratulations to our Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awardees for 2016!

Each year, the VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program accepts nominations from students for our “Outstanding Faculty Mentor” Awards. Undergraduate researchers are asked to identify a professor or faculty mentor who regularly goes above and beyond to create and engage students in research opportunities.

Students provide a written statement that describes why the chosen nominee deserves an outstanding mentorship award, including specific examples that detail their nominee’s contribution to undergraduate research at VCU.  The main criteria for these nominations include; how the faculty member has enhanced the skills related to undergraduate research in their discipline, how the nominee has expanded the knowledge base of student researchers, the ways in which the mentor has assisted undergraduates in their engagement with research, the lasting impression the mentor has made on students’ future academic and professional plans.

Please join us in recognizing our 2016 Outstanding Faculty Mentors!
Mary Boyes

Professor Mary Boyes joined The Honors College in August of 2013 as an Assistant Professor for the Honors Writing Program and serves a co-coordinator of VCU Launch and an advisor to “Auctus: The Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creativity at VCU.”  Mary was nominated by student researchers Alexander Ip and Christian Ruiz, who shared these comments on her mentorship, “I had an interest in social and economic stagnation of the middle class in the People’s Republic of China. Prof. Boyes helped me organize my research by designing assignments, such as source analyses and research reviews, which provided a scaffold for building my final research paper. By the end of the course, I had presented my research at the 19th annual VCU School of World Studies research conference. I was also accepted to present at the 2014 National Conference for Undergraduate Research. Through Professor Boyes’s encouragement and recommendation, I successfully became managing editor for Auctus, the VCU journal of undergraduate research and creative scholarship. Later,  I found a research position in the stem cell engineering research lab of Dr. Raj Rao. Since taking Professor Boyes’s advice and joining Dr. Rao’s lab, I’ve received a UROP 2015 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

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Dr. Lesley Bulluck, PhD., is an Assistant professor with the Center for Environmental Studies and Department of Biology at VCU whose central research interests are population ecology and behavior of birds, and are most often motivated by the ability to influence conservation and management.  Dr. Bulluck has provided research mentorship to numerous undergraduate students at VCU, including recent Undergraduate Research Fellow, Denney Turner, “Working this past year with Dr. Bulluck has been nothing short of extraordinary. She opened my eyes to many different aspects of research. I have learned so much from Dr. Bulluck, the hands on experience alone was rewarding enough but working one on one with a professor that is so knowledgeable and passionate in their field was unbelievable.  Working with Dr. Bulluck, I have broadened my knowledge of everything that goes into research. One can learn a lot in classroom-based education but working out in the field or lab, immersed in the subject can alter your thinking and conception. Overall, Dr. Bulluck helped me find my true passion this past summer. It has been a life changing experience that I am so thankful to have had with such a wonderful professor.”

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Kristin Caskey is an artist, Associate Professor and Assistant Chair with the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising in the VCU School of Arts.  She has received multiple grants including the VCU Quest Innovation Fund and recently provided mentorship to VCU Global Education Undergraduate Research Fellow, Cassie Sun who expressed her gratitude with the following words “Kristin’s great connections and her experience working with creative communities was a key element in the Reviving Panxiu Project that I pursued for my summer research fellowship. Being a young student, new to the field and to community collaboration, I looked to her for leadership and experience. Kristin taught me all about her own experiences with art curation and how to promote events and shows.  Kristin is a wonderful mentor who has given me so much advice.  Her mentorship maximized my hands-on experience with the  project.”


Dr. Rebecca Martin, Ph.D., is currently an IRACDA Research Fellow with the VCU School of Medicine. Dr. Martin’s current research focuses on an innate-like subset of B cells called B1 cells. Follicular B cells, or B2 cells, are the major source of allergy inducing IgE antibody.  Dr. Martin served as a mentor to VCU Undergraduate Research Fellow, Matthew Zellner, who had this to say about his mentor’s guidance: “Dr. Martin has been my mentor since the fall of 2014 when she guided me through my independent study, which then led me to the UROP program. During my time researching under Dr. Martin, she has vastly expanded my knowledge in the field of research, specifically in the field of immunology. She has not only assisted me in my immediate needs as an undergraduate researcher, but has also advised me about my future in research which has inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology. Her incredible thirst for knowledge has inspired me to be the best researcher that I can be.”

Dr. Christopher Ehrhardt, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Forensic Science.  Dr. Ehrhardt’s main interests are in the areas of forensic biology, microbiology, and trace evidence analysis. He currently maintains a microbial culturing facility that he uses to investigate the chemical and biological signatures associated with the production process of illicitly-grown bacteria (e.g., Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis). Dr. Ehrhardt’s lab also works on developing new methods for analyzing complex cell mixtures that are recovered as evidence from a crime scene and mentored VCU Undergraduate Research Fellow, Eva Childrey, “Dr. Ehrhardt has an excellent quality of allowing his students the freedom to troubleshoot and logically analyze experimental issues, while still providing direction towards the solution.  I have personally gained more technical and mechanical knowledge of equipment and instrumentation within his lab than within any of my teaching lab experiences, including Instrumental Analysis.  I have been able to list my experiences with specific instrumentation troubleshooting on my resume, and discuss them with employers with positive outcomes.  Dr. Ehrhardt’s persistence in his own research has influenced me to think very favorably of pursuing a career in research for myself.  Through his support, I was successful in my applications and am currently preparing for a summer internship in a local Richmond laboratory.”

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Dr. Wendy Kliewer, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair of the Psychology Department at VCU and manages the Kliewer Prevention Research Lab which is part of the Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development in the Department of Psychology at VCU.  She has mentored countless students on campus and most recently guided Jerry Mize, VCU Undergraduate Research Fellow on his summer project.  Jerry had this to say about his mentor, “Dr. Kliewer’s research lab is designed to give students a diverse variety of experiences. She has designed a research internship for course credit that takes undergraduates through the entire research process; many students have come out this experience with multiple publications and presentation credits.  Dr. Kliewer has also enhanced my skills in leadership by promoting me to serve as a supervisor in her research lab, she truly cares about my progress and how I am learning.  I do not think any mentor could have brought me anywhere near this far or better prepared me for my future in academia.”

Please join us in congratulating our outstanding faculty mentors, and all faculty who provide guidance to our students at VCU.  Undergraduate research at VCU would not happen without the commitment and contributions of our mentors!

Two VCU School of Engineering students awarded NSF student fellowships!

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Nicolas Miguel Andrade, left, and Patrick Link, at right.

Two Virginia Commonwealth University School of Engineering students have received prestigious fellowships from the National Science Foundation.

Nicolas Miguel Andrade and Patrick Link will receive three-year, $34,000 annual stipends and $12,000 education allowances, along with international research and professional development opportunities.

This program is the most prestigious award for graduate students that the NSF supports.

“This program is the most prestigious award for graduate students that the NSF supports,” said Gregory Triplett, Ph.D., associate dean of graduate studies at the School of Engineering. “We are hopeful that we will have many more success stories. Faculty, staff and administration share in the success of these students.”

The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, founded in 1951. It has supported more than 50,000 fellowships aimed at students pursuing research-based master’s and doctoral degrees in the sciences.

As a high school student drawn to research, Andrade connected with Ümit Özgür, Ph.D., associate professor of electrical engineering.

“I went to Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School, and we had a mentorship program. We were able to go out in the community and pick anyone we wanted to work with,” Andrade said. That early bond led to years of experiments in Özgür’s lab working with light-emitting diodes and vertical cavity lasers.

Andrade, a member of the Honors College, will graduate in May and continue his education in a joint master’s-Ph.D. program at the University of California, Berkeley, where he hopes to study high-efficiency transistors and light-switching technologies. He is also earning a degree in physics from the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Andrade is a 2014 recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship, applying for both opportunities with support from VCU’s National Scholarship Office, which is available to assist students from all schools and majors.

Nicolas Miguel Andrade, left, and Patrick Link, at right.
Nicolas Miguel Andrade, left, and Patrick Link, at right.

Link credits his wife, his son and his mentor, Rebecca Heise, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, for his success in the lab.

“I really had a strong connection with her when I first came up and visited, and that’s been absolutely the key to everything,” he said.

In VCU’s biomedical engineering doctoral program, Link is focused on nanoparticle research, breaking down and rebuilding proteins into forms that could carry future medications.

“I think biomedical engineering really takes key components from all other sorts of biology, and takes a different approach to it,” he said.

The grant will allow Link to focus on research in the coming years.

A native of Reno, Nevada, and a 2011 graduate of Western Carolina University, Link served six-and-a-half years in North Carolina and Okinawa, Japan, as an Army Special Forces medic.

Triplett said VCU’s focus on undergraduate research opportunities bolsters students applying for national awards and funding.

“This is a really good time for VCU. The two winners this year are an indication of greater things to come,” he said. “They are doing research that matters.”

Read the full article on the VCU News site!

VCU Undergraduates Talk Research! This is REAL!

Three pairs of VCU undergraduates chat about their research projects, which cover a range of topics from oral hygiene education to a disappearing Chinese embroidery technique. Despite their differing interests, one thing ties them all together: for these students, research is about more than cracking a book or turning in a final paper – it’s about making a difference and connecting with people.  Come see our undergraduates present their research at the annual VCU Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity on Wed. April 20th, second floor of the Student Commons!

The VCU Summer Research Fellows conduct student scholarship each summer with funding support from VCU Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the Center for Clinical and Translational Research, the Division of Community Engagement, the Office of Inclusive Excellence and the Global Education Office.

Sincere thanks to VCU News for profiling last summer’s Undergraduate Research Fellows.  Undergraduate Research transforms our students, our students transform the world!  Click the links below to read their stories!

You are invited!! VCU Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity!

We are very excited to invite you all to visit our undergraduates as they present their research and scholarly endeavors at our 8th(!) Annual Poster Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity taking place on Wed. April 20th from 11am-2pm in the Commonwealth Ballrooms and Richmond Salons of the Student Commons.  Our students have put together some fantastic posters profiling their work from the past academic year, and nothing would mean more to them than to be able to share it with our community!  We have nearly 300 students eager to answer your questions and tell you about their research.

At 12:30pm we will host remarks from Vice President for Research and Innovation, Dr. Frank Macrina, and will be awarding our outstanding faculty members for their mentorship of our undergraduates.  We will also announce our annual VCU Launch awards for first-year and second-year students who have produced research posters that exhibit remarkable rigor and vision.

We thank you for your continuing support of undergraduate research at VCU and hope that you will join us at this special event, part of VCU Student Research Weeks!

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Biology researchers connect elementary school students with climate change, wetlands

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You don’t expect to hear the crisp sounds of the wetlands in the basement of a school – even at Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, Virginia’s first and only charter elementary school, situated near Reedy Creek and the James River Park System. But one afternoon in March, students were crafting models of food webs and examining slides under microscopes as a video of marshland animals looped nearby.

A group of professors, post-docs and students from the Department of Biology, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, led a four-day workshop for elementary schoolers on the basics of how climate change is impacting wetlands.

“We’re funded by the National Science Foundation to look at how wetlands will respond to climate change,” said Rima Franklin, Ph.D., associate professor of biology. “Today we are working in different groups with the kids in the key aspects that go into that research.”

The school’s location, nestled next to Forest Hill Park on Richmond’s Southside, was conducive to breaking down the complexities of climate change.

“Patrick Henry is sitting right here on James River Park, and on Reedy Creek. We’ve taken them outside and taken them to the creek,” said Bonnie Brown, Ph.D., professor and associate chair of biology. Franklin, Brown and Scott Neubauer, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, are principal investigators on the grant, “Climate Change Effects on Coastal Wetlands – Linking Microbial Community Composition and Ecosystem Responses.”

The grant includes a community education component on environmental science. In each small group at Patrick Henry, VCU teams began with basic concepts that students already understood and tied them into the larger research goals.

“We started out with the idea of germs. All the kids know what germs are. But the world is also full of all these microbes that do good stuff for us,” Franklin said. “The first day they actually went on a microbe hunt. We gave them some petri dishes, and we sent them outside and in different areas of the school to get samples and grow them.”

Afterwards, students inspected their petri dishes and talked about the hypotheses they had about samples from different parts of the school.

We’re trying to break down the complicated phenomena into little parcels that they can then understand.

In another room, students watch a digital readout as different items are placed into a big plastic box. A device measures how much carbon dioxide is being produced, so students can visualize the difference between a cup full of worms and a cup full of dirt, for instance.

“We’re trying to break down the complicated phenomena into little parcels that they can then understand. They’ll be hopefully excited about measuring something, and drawing that thing that we’re measuring,” Brown said.

A group of students followed Brown through the school’s large garden and lawn, collecting flowers, buds, gumballs and other objects to draw. The students then took the items inside for an up-close look under a microscope.

“Every time we do one of these small activities, relate it to the fact that they are lucky to be here in the city, but have a park and a wetland and a creek and water,” Brown said, “and how then they can think about all this to take care of those resources.”

Assisting with the workshop were:
Joseph Battistelli, Ph.D. – instructor, Department of Biology
George Giannopoulos, Ph.D., Daniel (Dong) Lee, Ph.D. and Katherine Hartop, Ph.D. – postdoctoral researchers, Department of Biology
Gabriella Balasa and Olivia De Meo – technicians, Department of Biology

Joseph Morina, Chansotheary Dang, and Enjolie Levengood – graduate students, Department of Biology

Ben Stone, Diana Carey and Shira Lanyi – undergraduate students, Department of Biology
Biology graduate student Enjolie Levengood examines petri dishes with workshop participants.
Biology graduate student Enjolie Levengood examines petri dishes with workshop participants.