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Meet some of the remarkable students who are receiving their degrees this December

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Pride will be the primary emotion on display at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Dec. 10 commencement ceremony in the E.J. Wade Arena of the Stuart C. Siegel Center. The 2,000-plus students graduating that day have accomplished something monumental in their lives — whether it’s a bachelor’s degree, a master’s or a Ph.D. — and along the way they’ve traveled the world, held down internships, met new people, contributed to their community and put countless hours into gaining new knowledge in their chosen fields. Below, we share the stories of some of VCU’s newest graduates.


 

Shai-Enne Haynes

Shari-Enne Haynes.
Shari-Enne Haynes.

During her time at VCU, Shai-Enne Haynes combined her interests in criminal justice and exercise science to create a customized major and plans to soon put her degree into practice as a police officer in New Orleans.

Haynes, who works four jobs while studying as a full-time VCU student, will graduate in December and then enter the police academy in January.

I want to make a difference in my community.

“I’m from New Orleans so I’ll be going back home. When I moved to Richmond, I didn’t ever really have the opportunity to go back home. I never left for breaks. So I want to move back since I haven’t seen my family since I’ve been here,” she said. “And I want to make a difference in my community.”

Haynes transferred to VCU from a smaller college to study in the College of Humanities and Sciences’ Department of Forensic Science. At VCU, she found she was also passionate for health and exercise science. So she combined her interests into a “criminal justice and integrated wellness” major under the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program. And, one day, she realized she wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement.

“I always thought I’d [one day] work as a crime analyst — that’s why I was studying forensic science,” she said. “But all of a sudden — I don’t know what happened — I just got a calling and wanted to become a police officer. I’ve heard something similar from police officers since then — that this field picks you and you get a calling. I feel like with everything that’s going on in the world, I need to be one of the ones to step up and make a difference.”

As graduation approaches, Haynes is staying characteristically busy. She works at VCU Recreational Sports, teaches aquatics at the downtown YMCA and at Sheltering Arms’ physical therapy center, and has a job at Victoria’s Secret at Short Pump. She is also committed to an Olympic weightlifting class three times a week. 

Looking back on her time at VCU, Haynes says she will miss the people and the diverse culture.

“I love the people here. Since I don’t really go home, I consider everybody here to be my family,” she said. “I love the different views. VCU offers so many perspectives from so many different people. I really appreciate that because it has shaped me and emboldened me. Because everybody sees things a little bit differently. And it’s OK to take a little piece from what they see in the world.”

 

Owen Duffy

Owen Duffy.
Owen Duffy.

Ranging from working at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, mere miles away on the Boulevard, to racking up new stamps in his passport around the globe, Owen Duffy took advantage of every opportunity during his time at the VCU School of the Arts.

After graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, the Maryland native was drawn to advanced studies at VCU by the chance to work with his advisor, Robert Hobbs, Ph.D., professor of art history and Rhoda Thalhimer Endowed Chair of American Art.

Starting VCUarts’ combined master’s/doctoral program in art historical studies, he enveloped himself in opportunities in the thriving art scene on and off campus. Duffy dove into curating undergraduate and M.F.A. exhibits, researching and writing exhibit catalogs and connecting with fellow students. 

One particular project bridged the Monroe Park and MCV campuses. The Tapia Twins exhibit, focused on the role artists played in the complex separation of conjoined twins, drew 400 people to opening night at the Depot.

“It was a great story in the sense that it really was this concrete example of the value of art in relation to medicine,” Duffy said. “It was about intersections between art and medicine, and art and science.”

Thanks to VCU’s established connections with the VMFA, Duffy gained further experience.

“Starting there my first year and working my way up to curatorial assistant, that was very formative to me. By the time I graduated, I had a host of professional experience that’s relevant to the museum industry,” he said.

Duffy traveled extensively during his VCU studies, visiting 15 nations — including Nepal, South Korea, India, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece and Qatar — with support from campus and independent grant funding. That included an award from the Henry Moore Foundation.

“I don’t think I’d be who I am without those experiences,” he said. “You have a better understanding of yourself and who you are in the world.”

Among all those activities, Duffy found the time to focus on his research and scholarship.

“I’m interested in the pursuit of knowledge. There’s something really satisfying in being able to execute a book-length project, like [what] is required of you in the Ph.D. program,” Duffy said.

Today, the debt-free graduate is living in New York City and seeking his next opportunity in the art world.

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. I’m pretty optimistic with this degree in hand and the experience I had at VCU, New York will be an exciting place,” Duffy said.

  

Kim Jarrelle and Janet Makris

Kim Jarrelle and Janet Makris.
Kim Jarrelle and Janet Makris.

As a student at Saint Gertrude High School in Richmond, Janet Makris participated in a mentoring program that paired freshmen with upperclassmen. As a graduate student in the VCU School of Nursing, Makris modeled her practicum project after Saint Gertrude’s “Big Sister” program. 

“We wanted to ensure that new graduate nurses had someone they could reach out to with questions they may feel uncomfortable asking,” Makris said of the mentoring program she developed with classmate and nursing colleague Kim Jarrelle. 

Makris and Jarrelle, who are both from Richmond and both graduated from the VCU School of Nursing’s R.N.-to-B.S. program, will graduate in December from the Master of Science in Nursing program with a concentration in nursing administration and leadership. They collaborated during their guided practicum experience on a project for Chippenham and Johnston-Willis Hospitals, where they work together as nursing directors. Using managerial tools and organizational assessment techniques that they learned in their VCU classes, they conducted a comprehensive organizational assessment of the hospital system. Based on the assessment, they determined the largest issue they could influence was retention of new registered nurses. 

“As nurse leaders, one of our most important roles is to support the nurses that are at the bedside,” Jarrelle said. “If they are supported then they will take good care of their patients.” 

Nurses have to be a close-knit family and support one another every day.

The comprehensive mentoring program she designed with Makris connects new nursing school graduates who have been nurses for less than one year with experienced staff nurses who have been recognized as informal leaders within the hospital. Mentors and mentees meet twice a month to touch base and discuss their experience thus far on the unit. 

“Nurses have to be a close-knit family and support one another every day,” Jarrelle said. “Our practicum project was designed to do just that.” 

So far, she says, the program has been successful. “The feedback we have received from mentees is that they feel supported,” Jarrelle said. “That was our goal.” 

Soon after graduating in December, Jarrelle and Makris will present the program to leaders at HCA Healthcare’s corporate headquarters, which is the health system that owns Chippenham and Johnston-Willis Hospitals. They hope eventually to expand the model to all HCA hospitals.

“Our classes in the graduate program have guided us through the different models that we applied to our practicum project,” Makris said. “It was instrumental to our success.” 

 

Arshelle Carter

Arshelle Carter.
Arshelle Carter.

Arshelle Carter’s life at VCU has been packed with experiences. As a student in the School of Business and the College of Humanities and Sciences, she completed internships with the U.S. Department of State and the Virginia General Assembly. She served on the Activities Programming Board and was part of the inaugural cohort at VCU Globe, a living-learning program that prepares students to be global citizens.

Carter, who will graduate this week with dual degrees in business management and international studies and a minor in Spanish, said joining Globe and spending two years as a resident assistant in Globe’s residence hall were defining moments for her at the university.

“Helping build the community as an R.A. and a member of VCU Globe is the source of some of my fondest memories at VCU,” Carter said. “That first year we were figuring everything out — not just the students but also the faculty. We were trying to figure out what VCU Globe was and what it would mean to our lives.”

For Carter, Globe sparked a passion for international development. Through VCU she participated in trips that took her to Mexico, Spain and Qatar. Her state department internship was in Suriname, South America.

They were life-changing experiences.

“We were in Oaxaca [Mexico] on a short-term abroad trip, and we had the opportunity to help engineers who were building fuel-efficient stoves for women entrepreneurs and families,” Carter said. “That experience wasn’t on our itinerary but it was an opportunity to see a different community within Oaxaca. 

“My education abroad has been an extension of VCU outside of Richmond.”

Up next for Carter: a semester fellowship at the Partnership for Public Service in Washington, D.C. She plans to enroll in graduate school in 2018 — possibly in public administration — to further blend her passion for business, policy and international service.

But first, she is looking forward to commencement. A large group of family and friends will be traveling to Richmond.

“They are coming from Connecticut, South Carolina, Arizona, Kansas, Maryland, Virginia. The group keeps getting bigger,” she said. “I was expecting 20 people but now we’re pushing 40. I have a big family and they are really supportive and I love them for that.”

 

Ananda Newmark

Ananda Newmark.
Ananda Newmark.

From a young age, Ananda Newmark understood the impact of social work and the importance of helping those who are not in a position to help themselves. He observed his parents, Hamsa and Moshe Newmark, build clean water drinking systems in the rural villages of Nicaragua through a humanitarian aid organization they established. 

Instilled with the desire to support his communities, Newmark earned his Master of Social Work from VCU in 2002 and began working as a prevention specialist at Mental Health & Developmental Services in Henrico County, Virginia. His role was to develop violence and drug prevention programs for at-risk school-aged youth in their community.

“I loved being a prevention counselor. It was hands-on and I had the opportunity to provide children in our community a safe space to learn and grow,” he said.

Two years into his career as a prevention specialist, Newmark renewed his relationship with the VCU School of Social Work and began providing field instruction to Bachelor of Social Work and M.S.W. students. 

In 2005 Newmark, took a position in the School of Social Work as the retention and recruitment coordinator where he supported undergraduate students on their path to graduation. This marked a turning point in his own educational path. For the first time, Newmark began thinking about pursuing a doctorate degree. He wanted to develop the skills necessary to better understand the varying components of student success.

“This is when the next stage of my passions began to take form. I started to wonder, Why are some students successful and some are not? I asked myself how I can help students be successful in their educational pursuits,” he said. 

In 2009, Newmark enrolled in his first doctoral class.

“It was my first post-M.S.W. academic experience that allowed me to understand the complexity of the human experience through a variety of phenomenological perspectives. I knew I was in the right place and I knew I would gain the expertise to make a systematic difference,” he said.

Soon after he began the doctoral program, Newmark was appointed as the school’s B.S.W. program director, where he was able to marry his scholarly passions with his professional position, creating transfer agreements with local community colleges to provide local students with the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s in social work.   

Following graduation, Newmark aims to continue supporting and providing new opportunities for undergraduates as program director. 

“I am thankful for the privilege to attend such an amazing university and now, forever, be tied to it. And, I am thankful for the support of my colleagues, friends and family without whom I would not have been able to earn this degree.”

 

Candace Parrish.
Candace Parrish.

Candace Parrish

When doctoral recipient Candace Parrish walks across the stage during the commencement ceremony Dec. 10, she’ll be in the company of some of her own students. And that comes as a surprise to many of her former undergraduate classmates.

“It’s so shocking to everyone that I got my Ph.D., because I hated undergrad. I was going to drop out every second of the day,” said Parrish, who also received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from VCU. “I never imagined that I would teach. And it was so funny that when I started teaching at VCU I was teaching in the same classrooms that I sat in so many years ago.” 

Parrish came to VCU in 2008 as a transfer student with a background in fine arts, her own fashion clientele that she has had since she was 14 and experience in the entertainment industry, having worked with Teen Vogue and MTV. She intended to study business before transferring to the Department of Fashion Design and Merchandising, but several mentors suggested it might be better to major in something outside of fashion before pursuing a master’s in the field.  

She discovered the public relations program in the Robertson School of Media and Culture and, because of her fine arts background, became the resident graphic designer in all of her group projects. After receiving her first degree in 2011, Parrish interned at health-based nonprofits the American Heart Association of Richmond and the American Diabetes Association of Richmond. She redesigned the groups’ informational materials, which later became the foundation of her dissertation work. 

When Parrish enrolled in the fast-track strategic public relations master’s program, her undergraduate mentors were in the process of starting the Center for Media and Health. 

“I told them about my interest in research and that focus on design impact for communicating on health materials and they encouraged me to apply for the [Media, Art and Text] doctoral program,” Parrish said. “The interdisciplinary focus [let me intertwine] visual communications within health communications looking at various aspects from health psychology to sociobehavioral health to graphic design theory and, of course, communication theory.” 

Throughout her time at VCU, Parrish kept up with her passion for fashion and sewing, participating in several fashion shows. She was able to incorporate work she had created during her AMA internship — an all-red line of garments for women fighting heart disease — into one of the shows and was featured in Richmond Fashion Week 2013

VCU made it possible for me to just be great.

Between her studies, teaching and fashion designing, Parrish somehow had time to work on a service-learning grant. In the summer of 2015, Parrish had met with the Central Virginia Emergency Management Alliance to discuss the possibility of using the group as her service-learning client for her graphic design class that fall. The association comprises emergency managers from 25 localities in Central Virginia and needed a strategy to prepare people for national disasters year-round.

“I realized they needed much more than graphics, which is tactical,” Parrish said. “I reached out to a public relations research professor and a public relations campaigns professor, and together our three classes worked together for a full year to create a massive campaign for the 25 localities in Central Virginia.

“We applied for a grant and we won it. … It actually was such a struggle for me to finish out my dissertation and manage the grant, [but] at the end it was well worth it. I just spoke with someone from CVEMA last week and they are still so pleased with the collaboration and the outcome.”

This fall, Parrish began teaching public relations at North Carolina Central University in Durham and is already planning lines for fashion shows this spring and summer. It’s good to get experience at a different university and learn new ideas, she said, but she could see returning to VCU in the future if the circumstances are right. 

“VCU made it possible for me to just be great,” she said.

 

Rob Seiler.
Rob Seiler.

Robert Seiler

After leaving the military in 2014, Robert Seiler felt like VCU was the right place to study business. 

“I felt that being at an institution where I am in a classroom environment learning amongst others instead of an online setting, it would be more beneficial,” said Seiler, who is majoring in business management with a concentration in supply chain management. “I felt that VCU’s School of Business would help prepare me for any job I would want in the future.”

He was right. Seiler is one of the lucky graduates this week who already has a job lined up. Altria recently hired him as a customer supply chain specialist. He will assist the company’s supply chain department in resolving customer issues and ensuring invoices are complete. 

He also plans to return to VCU in the fall to complete the Master of Supply Chain Management program, to which he’s already been accepted. 

Seiler credits VCU with instilling in him knowledge about industry practices along with concepts that are key to being successful in the supply chain management field. Being a student at VCU has also made professional networking for professional growth and development easier and smoother.

“One of the most important things I am taking away from my time at VCU is that determination and staying with something when times get hard is the best avenue instead of abandoning them when they come your way,” Seiler said. “Also, being able to present yourself in a manner that brings good light on you and those around you. 

“One key statement I have heard over and over is, ‘What is your brand? How do you market your brand?’ This is all about who you are as a person and how you want others to view you professionally and personally.” 

Seiler is amazed that what started with school and a part-time job helping run a mentoring program has finally led to graduating and a place at a Fortune 200 company. 

“I will miss sitting down and talking with younger students, providing guidance and insight along with listening and sharing stories with them,” he said. “I will also miss visiting and talking with staff and faculty.”

 

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