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Education

Grad students put medical school on hold to bring their startup to life

“As soon as I heard it, I saw the potential it has,” said Kashyap Venuthurupalli, who graduated in May. “It could change premature babies’ lives.”

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By Leila Ugincius

It had been on her mind for decades.

As a pediatric nurse practitioner, Debra Hearington had seen her share of infants in isolettes — a special incubator for preemies that measures and regulates certain vitals, such as oxygen, temperature, and humidity. And she had seen the frustratingly anachronistic covers used on these modern incubators.

Nurses cover the machines with cloth, such as blankets, to reduce light and stimulation inside. There’s no uniformity to the fabric as far as material or size. Some families even make their own. In addition to being a poor light regulator, they present infection risks.

With the isolette covered, babies can’t see out, but nurses also can’t see in.

“A baby in a [neonatal intensive care unit] can become unstable at any time,” said Hearington, who specializes in neurology at VCU Health. “And I used to hate it when I was working there … when an alarm would go off and you’d have to go and move the cover [to see what was happening]. The whole thing is, you can’t visualize the baby if there’s a cover on the isolette.”

So when Hearington received an email last year from the VCU College of Engineering requesting clinical problems or ideas that its students could use as their yearlong Capstone Design projects, she immediately knew what to submit: the problem of the poorly devised isolette covers.

Four biomedical engineering students chose her project.

“As soon as I heard it, I saw the potential it has,” said Kashyap Venuthurupalli, who graduated in May. “It could change premature babies’ lives.”

Venuthurupalli has wanted to work in the medical field since middle school when he spent more than 400 hours volunteering at a New Hampshire hospital.

“I would mainly transfer patients back and forth from the ICU, stuff like that,” he said. “But I knew that the environment was something I definitely wanted to be part of. … My end goal is to make people’s lives better. And I thought I could help people by doing medicine.”

While an undergraduate student, Venuthurupalli always planned to attend medical school. However, after spending his senior year working on the capstone project — ultimately named the Brise-solette — he changed his mind, as did his teammates Aniket Kulkarni, Chandana Muktipaty and Joshnamaithili Seelam.

The Brise-solette uses special film to limit light stimuli efficiently from opaque to transparent and is easily programmable to serve a vast array of functions. The name is derived from the words brise-soleil — the architectural term for a device that provides shade — and isolette.

The four classmates agreed to continue the project after graduating in May. They currently are enrolled in the Master of Product Innovation program at the VCU da Vinci Center, a collaboration of the Schools of the Arts and Business, and Colleges of Engineering and Humanities and Sciences that advances innovation and entrepreneurship.

“At the beginning of the capstone project, I didn’t think we would be taking this any further than trying to get an A in the class,” Muktipaty said. “To me, it wasn’t even an option at the time.”

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Education

Nuckols Farm Elementary School named a national ‘Blue Ribbon School’ for the second time

“Being named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School is a tremendous honor,” said Crystal Metzger, Nuckols Farm principal. “Nuckols Farm is a family of educators, students and community members who work tirelessly each day to support our school and one another. I am exceptionally proud to serve as the school principal.”

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Nuckols Farm Elementary School has been named a 2022 Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, an honor the Henrico County school also earned in 2012, making it the only school in the division to be honored twice. The designation was announced this morning by U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The recognition is based on a school’s overall academic performance or progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Nuckols Farm is one of 297 schools across the nation to receive the designation this year.

“Being named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School is a tremendous honor,” said Crystal Metzger, Nuckols Farm principal. “Nuckols Farm is a family of educators, students, and community members who work tirelessly each day to support our school and one another. I am exceptionally proud to serve as the school principal.”

“This recognition reflects the intentional work of our teachers and staff to meet every student where they are in their learning and provide them with the support and resources they need to be successful,” said Amy Cashwell, Henrico County Public Schools superintendent. “It also acknowledges the staff’s innovation, creativity, and grit in serving students and ensuring meaningful engagement and growth amid the global pandemic.”

“The school board is thrilled to join the Nuckols Farm community in celebrating this incredible honor,” said Micky Ogburn, Three Chopt District representative on the Henrico School Board. “Our schools, teachers, and students are truly the Heart of Henrico.”

Nuckols Farm and other recipient schools will be honored in November at a ceremony in Washington. The program is in its 39th year.

Henrico County schools that have earned the honor are:

  • Nuckols Farm Elementary School, 2022
  • Deep Run High School: 2018
  • Twin Hickory Elementary School: 2014
  • Nuckols Farm Elementary School: 2012
  • Shady Grove Elementary School: 2007
  • Pocahontas Middle School: 2006
  • Short Pump Elementary School: 2003*
  • Quioccasin (formerly Harry F. Byrd) Middle School: 1999-2000
  • Jacob Adams Elementary School: 1998-99
  • George Baker Elementary School: 1996-97
  • Tuckahoe Middle School: 1994-96
  • Douglas S. Freeman High School: 1992-93
  • Mills E. Godwin High School: 1988-89
  • R.C. Longan Elementary School: 1985-86
  • Brookland Middle School: 1984-85
  • Hermitage High School: 1983-84

*In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education began awarding the designation for calendar years instead of school years.

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Crime

New VCU study directly connects derelict properties to risk of violence in Richmond neighborhoods

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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By Brian McNeill, VCU News

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Negligent landlords contribute significantly to violence in Richmond neighborhoods via the environment,” said lead author Samuel West, Ph.D., an alum of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia State University. “This impact was above and beyond the impact of those who live in these neighborhoods in terms of the state of their respective properties.”

West and other researchers at VCU collected data on violence events, tax delinquency of company-owned properties (such as rental homes and apartments), tax delinquency of personal properties, population density, race, income, food stamps and alcohol outlets for each of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

Tax delinquency of company-owned properties was the only variable that predicted violence in all but four of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

The researchers replicated the analysis using violence data for a different time period and found the same result.

“The key finding here was that the company delinquency was a stronger or more important correlate of violence than personal delinquency,” said West, who initiated the project while serving as a postdoctoral researcher with the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health.

The study, “Comparing Forms of Neighborhood Instability as Predictors of Violence in Richmond, VA,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

In addition to West, the study was authored by Diane L. Bishop, an instructor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in the School of Medicine; Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health and an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health; and Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., director of research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center.

The findings are consistent with previous research that suggests “slumlord buyout programs” are tied to reduced violence in cities, West said. For example, a program in Philadelphia purchased neglected properties in the East Liberty neighborhood and provided them to community residents to renovate and rehabilitate. It led to a decline in violence over a sustained period of time, West said.

“Although we acknowledge this would be a massive effort, the data do support the use of such programs to curb violence among other social difficulties,” West said. “I believe that Richmond is a perfect place to attempt a program like this at a larger scale than was done in Philadelphia (i.e., a single neighborhood).”

There are no laws in Virginia protecting tenants from eviction if their landlord loses their rental property to state property auction, West said. In Richmond, along with most medium to large cities, delinquent properties are seized and auctioned off to recoup costs, he said.

“When this happens, the winners of the auction are typically given carte blanche to decide what to do with the tenants as they no longer have a valid contractual agreement,” he said. “This aspect greatly endangers the residential stability of our neighborhoods.”

West was inspired to explore this topic through his observation of dilapidated buildings next to new construction in Richmond.

“Given the preponderance of real estate development and the aggressive housing market in Richmond, it seemed important to better understand how these seemingly inane facets of our society may impact some of our deepest problems,” he said.

The researchers hope their findings will contribute to a growing perspective by scholars that research should break away from the traditional view that members of a community hold the majority of the blame for violence that occurs there.

“Our work, along with other recent research, emphasizes that we need to be examining and addressing the impacts of forces from outside high-violence communities that carry such major consequences,” West said.

He added, however, that individual autonomy might also be considered a key factor.

“Social psychologists place a major emphasis on autonomy as a psychological need. In the case of a negligent landlord, the tenant(s) may live in a constant state of highly salient violations of their own autonomy which may further undermine attempts to improve the conditions of their own communities,” he said. “As evinced by the East Liberty project from Philadelphia, when this autonomy is restored, it is used in a productive fashion such that it improves the quality of life and safety of all in their communities through restoring their collective efficacy.”

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Education

University of Richmond adds new course opportunities for 2022-2023 school year

These changes include launching the Africana Studies program and adding minors in sustainability and data science and statistics.   

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The University of Richmond has announced curriculum changes that will provide new academic opportunities for students and faculty in the 2022–23 academic year. These changes include launching the Africana Studies program and adding minors in sustainability and data science and statistics.

Africana Studies

The Africana Studies program will launch this fall with a variety of courses and programming in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. The program explores the complex socio-political landscapes, economic structures, and cultural traditions that shape, impact, and stem from the African diaspora.

“The push for this program was strong, and students will now be able to major, minor, and receive degrees in Africana Studies,” said Ernest McGowen, Africana Studies program coordinator. “It is a great opportunity to direct one’s studies towards their interests and fulfill our liberal arts mission.”

Africana Studies courses during the fall semester include “Introduction to Africana Studies” and a “Rumors of War” seminar, which will examine the history of slavery and colonization before and after 1492 and how they shape the African diaspora. The program is housed in the School of Arts & Sciences, but students may take elective courses across disciplines in A&S, the Robins School of Business, and the Jepson School of Leadership Studies.

Mathematics, Computer Science, Data Science, and Statistics

This summer, the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science became two separate departments — Department of Computer Science and Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The change is a result of growing interest in the fields of statistics, mathematical economics, and computer science. Students can now minor in data science and statistics, which focuses on collecting, understanding, and presenting data from a variety of different domains and contexts.

“Within this minor, students explore everything from data-oriented programming to the ability to identify and address the ethical and privacy concerns regarding data analysis,” said statistics professor Taylor Arnold, data science program coordinator.

Geography, Environment, and Sustainability

Starting this academic year, the Department of Geography and the Environment will become the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability. Sustainability will also be offered as a minor, allowing students to explore sustainability through the lens of acting for positive change.

“We have seen a surge of deep interest over the past few years with students interested in topics related to sustainability and the climate crisis,” said Todd Lookingbill, department chair. “So many of our students want to work toward improving conditions that foster the well-being of people and the environment, and this new minor will allow more of our students to explore this critical area.”

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