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State approves nation’s first Ph.D. program in pharmaceutical engineering at VCU

The doctoral program, a collaboration between VCU’s School of Pharmacy and College of Engineering, will focus on research and training students in areas of drug product development such as continuous manufacturing and drug-containing nanomaterials.

RVAHub Staff

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By Kendra Gerlach & Greg Weatherford

Virginia Commonwealth University will be home to the nation’s first Ph.D. program in pharmaceutical engineering.

The doctoral program, a collaboration between VCU’s School of Pharmacy and College of Engineering, will focus on research and training students in areas of drug product development such as continuous manufacturing and drug-containing nanomaterials.

VCU received formal notice last week of the program’s approval by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

“As a nationally prominent research institution, VCU is proud to lead the next wave of pharmaceutical innovation,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “I am grateful to SCHEV for its support of this program and for recognizing how it can benefit the commonwealth and the world.”

The doctoral program will start its first class in the fall of 2020. Its multidisciplinary curriculum will offer students unique professional development opportunities and will cover advanced topics in the field, experimental techniques and scientific integrity, along with extensive directed and independent cross-disciplinary research.

“Our mission is to provide a student-centric, collaborative and team-based experience for our students. We will prepare the future generation of science and engineering leaders who can act in the pharmaceutical industry as well as in regulatory areas and academic settings,” said Sandro da Rocha, Ph.D., director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences in the School of Pharmacy and professor of pharmaceutics.

“By training scientists in better delivery systems and new medicines and therapies, we intend to find ways to treat complex diseases, even ones that have been considered untreatable.”

Pharmaceutical engineering and sciences make up key components of the $1.2 trillion pharmaceutical industry. It is a convergent branch of science and engineering that uses a cross-disciplinary approach to design, develop and manufacture pharmaceutical products. Some examples include:

  • Applying materials science and engineering to the development of drug delivery carriers and devices.
  • Applying nanoscience and nanotechnology to medicine.
  • Developing new technologies for the manufacture of chemicals and biologically active ingredients.
  • Using computer science and engineering to model processes, harvest and analyze data for the design, discovery and manufacture of active ingredients.
  • Using engineering and physiology for the development of new devices and formulations.
  • Designing and manufacturing novel formulations for specific delivery profiles.

“The doctoral program in pharmaceutical engineering continues VCU’s advance to a nationally recognized hub for entrepreneurial research and drug delivery, development and manufacturing,” said Thomas D. Roper, Ph.D., director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Sciences in the College of Engineering and a professor of chemical and life science engineering.

Historically, investment in the development of new medicines has focused on research more than on product delivery and manufacturing. In recent years, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has encouraged innovations in delivery systems such as nanomedicine and improvements in manufacturing processes to help ensure that patients get the medicines they need safely and effectively.

“The VCU School of Pharmacy has always prepared professionals for the health care needs of the future,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., dean of the pharmacy school and the Archie O. McCalley Chair. “This new Ph.D. program supports that mission, and cements VCU’s status as a groundbreaker in health-related education in ways that have visible and powerful effects on our communities.”

Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the College of Engineering, said, “With the creation of the pharmaceutical engineering Ph.D. program, VCU is seeking to become a national leader in the education of the pharmaceutical workforce of today and innovators leading future developments. The program will address the growing need for a new generation of researchers trained in cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary science who recognize the need for a team-based approach to solving challenges related to the design and manufacturing of pharmaceutical products.”

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Henrico Schools release five possible options under consideration for fall return

Henrico County Public Schools will provide all students with customizable learning pathways for the summer and is considering five options for a return to school for the 2020-21 school year. Here’s what they could look like.

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Henrico County Public Schools will provide all students with customizable learning pathways for the summer and is considering five options for a return to school for the 2020-21 school year.

In an attempt to buttress summer learning and mitigate the effects of instructional time lost to the closure for coronavirus, all of the school division’s students will have access to prescribed learning pathways for the summer months. In some cases, students’ plans will be optional, and in others, will be required. The avenues will include both asynchronous learning (online learning that happens on students’ schedules) and synchronous learning (online education that happens in real-time, delivered by a teacher at a specific time).

The five options for the 2020-21 school year include a full return to school campuses for all students, an all-online option, and three options that would combine the two. All options that involve returning to school facilities would include new, possibly unprecedented, safety protocols for successfully reopening public schools.

“This summer and fall will be about flexibility, creativity, and above all, safety,” said Amy Cashwell, HCPS superintendent. “We’re going to keep working hard to find innovative ways to support all our students as they continue learning this summer, and to prepare for a safe return to school in the fall, no matter what that may look like.”

Summer student pathways

Summer learning pathways are part of HCPS’ “Henrico Edflix” learning plan and will enable all students to build skills directly related to the grade-level content they will encounter during the 2020-21 school year. Some of the pathways are designed for students who may have gaps in learning, while others are designed for review, enrichment and acceleration. There are also several exceptional education options under consideration for students with disabilities. The plan will include students who, in other years, might have taken part in HCPS’ Summer Academy, accelerated learning or extended-school-year programs. For details about the pathways, go to HCPS’ On-Demand Learning webpage athttps://henricoschools.us/covid19/ondemandlearning/.

Fall options for 2020-21 school year

Henrico County Public Schools is considering five possible formats for 2020-21 school attendance, depending on factors related to the pandemic. New safety measures would be adopted for on-campus options, and under all options, the pace of learning would be adjusted to include content students may have missed in the spring. The five options under consideration are:

  • Option A: On-campus learning. All students would be back on campus, with new, possibly unprecedented, safety measures in place.
  • Option B: Remote learning that is structured and enhanced. All students would participate in required daily remote learning that includes graded schoolwork. While HCPS’ March closure necessitated emergency distance-learning measures, this option would more closely resemble the traditional expectations of a typical school day.
  • Option C: Interrupted on-campus learning. All students would be back on campus for several weeks or months at a time, which could be interrupted by periods of structured remote learning in response to health concerns that may arise.
  • Option D: Hybrid learning. One portion of the student body would attend classes on campus for a period of time, while another portion would learn remotely. The two groups might switch after a number of months, or alternate days on campus to build a blended learning environment. Having fewer students on campus would make it easier to implement distancing guidelines.
  • Option E: Parallel learning. Part of the student body would attend all classes on campus while another group would learn remotely for the entire school year because of choice or necessity. This option would not require students to alternate days, unless a student needed to shift from one track to the other.

Each of the five options would require extensive coordination and planning by HCPS staff members. At this time a final plan has not been determined. The school division will make additional announcements as plans continue to be developed in accordance with health and safety guidelines.

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College admissions deans from multiple schools to offer Virtual College Night May 27th

Virginia high school students who want to learn more about the college admission process and financial aid can attend Virtual College Night for Virginia at 6 p.m. on May 27.

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Virginia high school students who want to learn more about the college admission process and financial aid can attend Virtual College Night for Virginia at 6 p.m. on May 27.

The virtual opportunity is the brainchild of admission deans from the University of Richmond, University of Virginia, Washington and Lee University, and William & Mary. The deans were batting around ideas on how to reach high school students during this time of social distancing. They recognized that many topics are important to potential college students. Rather than provide all of the information individually, they decided to join forces to create the Virtual College Night.

The pilot evening, which will be held via Zoom, will focus on central and south central Virginia. Students who have expressed interest in the four institutions will receive an invitation via email.

If the evening is successful, Virtual College Nights will be scheduled in other regions.

Admission deans will provide information on college search, application review and selection, financial aid, and trends in higher education.

The deans include:

  • Sally Stone Richmond, Washington and Lee University
  • Greg Roberts, University of Virginia
  • Gil Villanueva, University of Richmond
  • Tim Wolfe, William & Mary

They will cover the topics in about 40 minutes followed by a 20 minute Q&A.

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Henrico County Public Schools considering starting school before Labor Day in 2021

The 2020-21 school year is already scheduled to begin the day after Labor Day, which is Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. The proposal would apply to the 2021-2022 school year and going forward.

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In early March, Henrico County Public Schools introduced the idea of a pre-Labor Day start to the 2021-22 school year. That was before the educational landscape shifted with HCPS’ closure to combat the coronavirus pandemic. At its May 14 work session, the Henrico School Board decided to revisit the issue and consider two calendar options for 2021-22 — one with a pre-Labor Day start and another with a more traditional post-Labor Day start.

Members of the public are invited to share their thoughts on the two options by taking a survey, open until June 3 at 8 a.m. The survey is available by going to HCPS’ website, henricoschools.us, and looking under “Hot Topics,” or by going to henricoschools.us/2021-22-calendar-options/.

The two calendar options under consideration for 2021-22 are:

  • Calendar Option A (pre-Labor Day start.) School would begin on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. School would end on Friday, June 3, 2022.
  • Calendar Option B (traditional post-Labor Day start.) School would begin on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. School would end on Friday, June 17, 2022.

At the work session, conducted in a virtual format, the Board also considered a third option, where students would attend school year-round, with intermittent breaks. After discussing the “extended school year” idea, the Board decided to eliminate that option, citing a desire for more research and collaboration with other school divisions in central Virginia.

While the first and last days of school differ, as well as student and staff holidays, all options would include the same number of instructional days.

Possible advantages of a pre-Labor Day start (Option A) include:

  • Provides two additional weeks of instruction before International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement testing, resulting in less time between the completion of testing and the end of the school year.
  • The academic calendar would more closely align with the start of fall extracurricular activities, as well as college and university schedules.
  • Provides at least a four-day break for Labor Day weekend.

Possible advantages of a post-Labor Day start (Option B) include:

  • Maintains traditional HCPS school calendar.
  • Keeps intact the construction schedule for the new J.R. Tucker and Highland Springs high schools and the expansion of Holladay Elementary School (a pre-Labor Day schedule would move up the construction deadline).
  • Maintains the length of the 2021 summer break for students and HCPS staff members (a pre-Labor Day start would require a one-time reduction of summer break).

There are no significant budgetary differences between the two options.

The 2020-21 school year is already scheduled to begin the day after Labor Day, which is Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

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