October faculty and staff features 2013

Leigh Small, Ph.D., associate professor and chair, Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, School of Nursing

Leigh Small, Ph.D.
Leigh Small, Ph.D.

Small was among 172 nurse leaders inducted as fellows during the American Academy of Nursing’s 40th annual meeting held recently in Washington, D.C.

The academy is composed of more than 2,000 nurse leaders in education, management, practice, policy and research. The academy fellows include hospital and government administrators, college deans and renowned scientific researchers. With this new class, fellows represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia and 19 countries.

“Selection for fellowship in the academy is one of the most prestigious honors in the field of nursing,” said Joanne Disch, Ph.D., president of the academy.

Selection criteria include evidence of significant contributions to nursing and health care and sponsorship by two current academy fellows. Applicants are reviewed by a panel comprised of elected and appointed fellows, and selection is based, in part, on the extent the nominee’s nursing careers influenced health policies and the heath and well-being of all.

A nationally renowned nursing researcher, Small studies prevention and treatment interventions with obese/overweight young children and their parents to enhance parental and child outcomes, and she studies young children who have experienced an unanticipated ICU hospitalization, and their parents. She has published in several professional journals and has been nationally recognized for nursing education excellence.  

Small is the eighth VCU School of Nursing faculty member to be recognized as a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing. Past inductees include Jean Giddens, Ph.D., dean and professor; Mary Jo Grap, Ph.D., Nursing Alumni Distinguished Professor; Linda Haddad, Ph.D., associate professor; Ann Hamric, Ph.D., professor and associate dean of academic programs; Debra Lyon, Ph.D., associate dean of research and the Judith B. Collins and Joseph M. Teefey Distinguished Professor; Nancy McCain, D.S.N., Nursing Alumni Distinguished Professor; and Deborah McGuire, Ph.D., the Florence E. Elliott Professor.


James Vonesh, Ph.D., College of Humanities and Sciences

James Vonesh, Ph.D.
James Vonesh, Ph.D.

Vonesh, associate professor in the VCU Department of Biology, has been invited by the Tropical Biology Association (TBA) to teach a field course in tropical biology in Madagascar this winter.

For one month, Vonesh will visit a remote region of Madagascar called Kirindy, where he and four other experts will teach key skills for conducting field research to approximately 18 students from 15 different nations. The goal of the program is to provide foundational skills and networking opportunities for the next generation of conservation biologists working in Africa.

Vonesh will focus his teaching efforts on applied population ecology, specifically methodology for quantifying animal presence, abundance and diversity.

Students will investigate the dry forests of the Menabe region – an area of distinctive ecosystems with diverse animal and plant species populations. The area has been the subject of research for many years. It supports at least seven species of lemur and the fossa, Madagascar’s largest predator. According to the TBA website, this area “provides a good case study of the effect of human impacts on indigenous biodiversity which include fragmentation, burning and other forms of degradation.”

Vonesh has previously served as a guest lecturer for the TBA. This will be his first time teaching for the organization in Madagascar.

The TBA is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization working in partnership with environmental institutions throughout the Africa region. TBA was established in 1993 by a group of dedicated biologists in order to give a high standard of ecology and conservation training to African and European biologists, thereby strengthening the international scientific and conservation community. TBA has trained more than 1,500 biologists from more than 50 different countries since 1993.


Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Special Education and Disability Policy, School of Education

Colleen Thoma, Ph.D.
Colleen Thoma, Ph.D.

The award is named in honor of Oliver P. Kolstoe, Ph.D., a former president of the Division of Career Development and Transition, whose early research and publications significantly shaped the field of transition.

“It definitely means a great deal to receive this award, especially since it comes from my colleagues,” said Thoma, who was nominated by Ronald Tamura, Ph.D., her co-author on the book  “Demystifying Transition Assessment.” “(Tamura) and the review committee members are people I respect and it means more than I can say to learn they value my work in the field.”

Thoma will be honored in November at the annual Division of Career Development and Transition conference.

Thomas received a Switzer Distinguished Research Fellowship in 2012 that allowed her to conduct a qualitative study of transition postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual disabilities.

“I know that being here at VCU for the past 12 years has helped me accomplish much of this work,” she said. “I have great role models and collaborators in the other members of our department, particularly those who also focus their work on supporting the transition from school to adult life for students with disabilities.I believe that the quality of the faculty in our department is one of the best-kept secrets at VCU.”


Preetam Ghosh, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, School of Engineering.

Preetam Ghosh, Ph.D.
Preetam Ghosh, Ph.D.

Ghosh was awarded a two-year $100,000 Early Concept Grant for Exploratory Research from the National Science Foundation for his research, “Exploring Biological Networks Robustness using Bio-Inspired Wireless Sensor Networks: A Novel Paradigm for Systems Research.”

As principal investigator, Ghosh is working with two Ph.D. students, Bhanu Kamapantula, and Ahmed Abdelzaher, both from the VCU Department of Computer Science.

"We're working to understand the properties of biological networks and to make predictions based on those properties," Ghosh said. "The predictions in gene regulatory networks and protein interaction networks, for example, can play a significant role not just in health care but also motivate the design of smart man-made networks like sensor and transport networks."

The genes in the human body, Ghosh's research has found, do not communicate randomly, and rely on their encoded intelligence supplied by graph structures, making genes robust against perturbations or gene deletions. Ghosh's current research seeks to understand how these robust graph structures were designed by nature.


Steven Woolf, M.D., Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, VCU School of Medicine, and Director, VCU Center on Society and Health

Steven Woolf, M.D.
Steven Woolf, M.D.

Woolf recently participated in a forum, “Defund Obamacare: Thousands Will Die,” at the United States Senate in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of Sen. Bernard Saunders (I-VT). The event was a discussion of the possible negative impacts on many Americans of defunding, delaying or repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“This discussion will set the groundwork for further conversations on the intersection of poverty, health and disparities in life expectancy,” Sanders wrote in a letter to Woolf following the forum. “As Congress continues to explore policies to improve the health of all Americans, I hope we may call upon you in the future.”

Woolf also had the opportunity to meet with Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).